Starting next school year, the nation’s top male soccer players will be forced to choose between playing for their high school teams or participating in the U.S. Soccer Development Academy, due to a change to the academy’s schedule announced Friday.
The Development Academy was launched in 2007 by U.S. Soccer, the nation’s governing body for soccer of all ages, in an effort to provide a premiere training environment for the best U.S. youth players.
As of Friday, that development effort will be taking the next logical step forward: expanding to a 10-month season that runs from September through June (or July, for the postseason). The move to a 10-month season “creates a format similar to those followed by the elite soccer-playing nations around the world,” the organization says.
“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,” said U.S. men’s national team coach Jurgen Klinsmann in a statement. “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.”
According to a FAQ about the new schedule, expanding to a 10-month season will provide academy players with anywhere from 32-40 weeks of active training—far more than the regular 12-week high school soccer season.
However, starting this coming school year, youth athletes that participate on academy teams will no longer be allowed to play for their high school soccer teams as well. U.S. Soccer says it doesn’t want to discourage players from participating in high school soccer, but instead wants to help aid the development of the truly elite youth players through the academy.
The organization estimates that academy players, in the new schedule, can focus on training sessions three or four times during the week, saving the weekends for games against fellow academy clubs. After launching with 64 teams in 2007, the academy now includes 78 elite teams across the U.S., divided into conferences based on geography.
The 10-month schedule “provides the ideal platform to combine an increase in the amount of high-value training on a regular basis with the opportunity to play in quality, competitive games throughout an extended season,” said U.S. Soccer youth technical director Claudio Reyna in a statement. “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. “
If you’re a subscriber to author Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hour rule—that it takes 10,000 hours of practice for someone to truly become elite in a given field—the idea of a 10-month Development Academy likely appeals to you.
Currently, only 1 percent of active high school soccer players participate in the Development Academy, according to U.S. Soccer, so this change will affect a small fraction of the total number of boys playing high school soccer.
Photo: A youth soccer team practices last summer in Moreland Hills, Ohio. (Amy Sancetta/AP-File)
A version of this news article first appeared in the Schooled in Sports blog.