Development Academy coaches may hate it, but players still want to represent their schools.
The Development Academy accepted this fact early on when they first wrote the rules for the elite development league. U.S. Soccer dictated that there would only be two readily-approved avenues for Development Academy player participation: U.S. national team duty and high school soccer.
Many Development Academy clubs go on seasonal breaks to accommodate players who want to participate in high school soccer. For example, the two Washington clubs, Seattle Sounders and Crossfire Premier, are both taking a break from Academy games from February to late May in compliance with the high school season in Washington.
This lengthy period of inactivity can lead to bad habits, as high school soccer simply is not a breeding ground for developing talent. It is a festering pool of result-driven coaching.
“I have to keep my habits,” Seattle Sounders Academy’s DeAndre Yedlin told Goal.com about playing high school soccer.
Yedlin is a special case, though. He recognizes high school soccer is not beneficial to his development as a player but partakes in it so his school will accommodate his desire to train with the Sounders full team during the school day.
Development Academy Director of Scouting Tony LePore explained it as a cultural issue for players. The basic premise is that players want the experience of playing in front of their friends for the local school and showcasing their talent.
In contrast to the rest of the world, school sports are still viewed as a pinnacle of success for the average American. The local newspaper is covering the high school game, not the Development Academy game, so the desire for teenage boys to play where they will get attention is not surprising.
Academy Directors have looked at ways to remedy the dilemma with high school soccer.
Seattle Sounders mentioned they would let their players compete for their high schools this season, but that probably will not be the case next year.
According to LePore, Red Bull New York and FC Westchester (NY) are both trying to implement expedited high school classes so their players can graduate school early, similar to the system at the IMG Academies in Bradenton, Florida.
The program would only be for special talent an in very rare cases, but it would solve the quandary for players like Yedlin who do not have much interest in the social aspect of high school athletics.
The other factor for Development Academies and high school is the high amount of games in a short period of time. State high school organizations regulate the maximum amount of games, but those can still climb toward 30 or so games in a three-month period.
Development Academies are squeezing a similar amount of games into their schedules to accommodate high school and inclement weather. Concorde Fire (GA) of the South Conference in the Development Academy played 24 of their 25 games this season between October and December.
While there are negatives to high school soccer from the Development Academy perspective, there are positives at that level for pretty much every other player.
It is exposure for players from smaller clubs to put their names in the local paper. Along with the headlines come the awards, including the Gatorade Player of the Year - given to the best high school player both at the state and national level. Combined with regional and city awards, the positive publicity for high school soccer players greatly outweighs any other level of youth soccer.
Although many (read: college and Development Academy coaches) may complain about the quality of high school soccer, it might just be a novelty that critics chalk up to the American sports culture for the time being.
J.R. Eskilson is the Youth Soccer Editor at Goal.com. You can follow him on Twitter @NCAAsoccer
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