Monday MLS Breakdown: Extended Development Academy season prompts concerns about its participants

Posted: February 14, 2012 at 1:01 am


without comments

or all intents and purposes, U.S. Soccer tipped its hand on its plans for the Development Academy last year when it extended the season from seven to 10 months for a selected number of clubs.

This trial run might have resembled a test drive, but it would only produce one outcome. Forget about mitigating circumstances or tweaks along the way. The revised model would trump any proffered alternatives and sweep through the Development Academy sooner or later.

The inevitable unveiling arrived on Friday afternoon as U.S. Soccer – complete with plenty of supporting documentation – announced it would enact a 10-month schedule for the 2012-13 season and prohibit all Academy players from taking part in high school athletics.

“If we want our players to someday compete against the best in the world, it is critical for their development that they train and play as much as possible and in the right environment,” U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann said in a press release issued by the federation. “The Development Academy 10-month season is the right formula and provides a good balance between training time and playing competitive matches. This is the model that the best countries around the world use for their programs and I think it makes perfect sense that we do, as well.”

Borrowing this European-style structure represents the next step in the process as federation officials attempt to establish and refine a uniform way to mine and polish raw talent.

Extending the Development Academy season represents an important step forward toward that particular objective. Players will benefit from more frequent instruction in a carefully controlled setting. Games remain critical learning tools, but training sessions serve as the primary method of skill development. No wonder then that the revised schedule will dramatically increase the time players can spend on the practice field and permit coaches to construct overarching ways to impart necessary tactical and technical knowledge.

Instead of watching their players try to recover lost time in both departments in the early stages of their professional careers, U.S. Soccer officials hope this shift will allow American prospects to compete with European and South American starlets.

“This schedule puts our elite players in line with kids in their age group internationally and places the appropriate physical demands on them at this stage in their development,” U.S. Soccer youth technical director Claudio Reyna said in a release. “The addition of as many as 50 extra training sessions per year will greatly enhance the ability of players to work on individual skills and receive advice and instruction from coaches. Along with the support of our membership, this move has been greeted with enthusiasm from soccer experts from around the world.”

MLS coaches and executives will likely concur in the long-term. This shift continues the gradual transition from profit-seeking organizations squeezing every last cent out of youth soccer to professional setups designed to develop players over the long term (and, in some instances, make some money along the way). The presence of MLS academy sides within the Development Academy structure even provides a modicum of control and supervision over the process. In time, each MLS club will possess the capability to mold and shape players in accordance with first-team needs and philosophical guidelines.

Every measure employed by the clubs and the federation shows the Development Academy program offers a level of training that far exceeds what existed in this country a decade ago. The philosophies are wiser and the structures are stronger than they once were. Room for growth remains, but these determined steps create a path worth following in some instances.

There is, however, still the open question of whether too many kids will sprint down that road without fully understanding the social education they will give up to do so.

The adults constructing these plans seem to willingly discount the significant life sacrifices ahead for the affected teenagers. No more high school soccer. No more high school sports of any kind. No more pressure-filled situations with their teammates. No more civic angst or pride at the outcome of matches. No more letter jackets. No more spaghetti dinners. Fewer nights to enjoy life as a teenager without contemplating the responsibilities of an apprentice advancing toward the professional level.

(Note: This issue has little to do with the quality of play in high school soccer.  That particular brand of the game usually doesn't offer much to the Development Academy player in terms of tactical and technical development. In fact, high school soccer may even hamper that growth, unless kicking it to the corner suddenly makes a dramatic comeback at the highest levels. Regardless of the approach of high school coaches, the concern here is that the social aspects of participating on high school teams [or in any other high school activity, for that matter] are now pushed to the side without any form of comparable replacement.)

Academy kids must now decide to eschew the traditional high school experience to pursue a distant and difficult dream. The system is now overtly designed to cultivate the most promising prospects without catering to the fundamental needs of the vast majority of players that will never make the grade.  

Sheer numbers prohibit a raft of success stories. Seventy-eight clubs participate in the Development Academy. Each club (barring any exceptions) fields a U-16 side and a U-18 side. If each team (conservatively) names 18 players to each roster during a season, then 2,808 players will feature at some point during any given Academy season. Only a modest percentage of those players will warrant a Division I scholarship by the end of their Academy careers. Barely a handful will play professional soccer. A miniscule number will appear with a national team of any sort.

(Note: The validity of these social complaints would dwindle significantly if U.S. Soccer pared down the number of clubs in the Development Academy. It's hard to envision how this accommodating structure offers a uniform level of development across clubs with varying levels of resources. A leaner model would cull some of the weaker clubs, reduce the number of players affected and likely strengthen the level of competition. Every player should participate at minimal or no cost as well, but that contention sparks a philosophical discussion too lengthy for this space.)

In its quest to mimic European developmental models, U.S. Soccer discounted the importance of crucial social development structures relied upon by American teenagers. Some potential stars and their parents won't stand for it. They will suspect the concessions demanded in exchange – the crowded schedules, the travel demands and those lost high school experiences – for Academy participation are too great for a teenager to make, especially with college and its alternative path toward the same goal looming in a few short years.

It's tough to blame them. For all of the benefits the extended Development Academy will bring for players on the field, it will force them to shoulder many burdens off of it. In the end, U.S. Soccer must hope the success of the structure outweighs the social impact felt by the scores of players that fail to reach its intended goal. Otherwise, the cost could prove too great for all parties to bear.

Kyle McCarthy writes the Monday MLS Breakdown and frequently writes opinion pieces during the week for Goal.com. He also covers the New England Revolution for the Boston Herald and MLSsoccer.com. Contact him with your questions or comments at kyle.mccarthy@goal.com and follow him on Twitter by clicking here.

View original post here:
Monday MLS Breakdown: Extended Development Academy season prompts concerns about its participants

Related Post

Written by admin |

February 14th, 2012 at 1:01 am