Dure: Ditching high-school soccer is a questionable decision

BeauDure-HeaderAs a journalist, I’ve been to four Olympics and one Women’s World Cup. I’ve had one-on-one interviews with celebrities ranging from David Beckham to Brock Lesnar.

And yet some of the most fun I’ve ever had was covering high-school soccer. The rivalries and the crowds ramped up the drama, and big goals were magnified. Some of the players were also accomplished club players, but these games gave them a chance to shine before hometown crowds against crosstown rivals.

At another game, I had to leap out of the way before shaking hands with a coach whose players were racing up from behind to dump the Gatorade bucket on him.

+READ: Dure: Is U.S. Soccer trying to fix what isn’t broken?

Do U.S. Soccer Development Academy players get this experience? Who’s in the crowd besides parents and scouts?

MJS STATESCO20 001.JPGIs “development” so important that we have to take kids away from the camaraderie of high school and make their parents spend 10 months a year driving them somewhere else to play?

And how many players has the Development Academy produced? Who’s at the level of Tab Ramos, Claudio Reyna or the rest of the high school soccer alumni who blazed the trail for U.S. players in Europe? Has the boys’ Academy been so successful that we have to do the same thing for girls?

Eric Wynalda touts the European way for anyone who’ll listen — and at his typical session at the NSCAA Convention, that’s a lot of people. So why did he beat the drum to keep the high-school game open for academy kids, drawing a raucous ovation from the assembled coaches?

What do U.S. Soccer’s powers-that-be know about high-school soccer that Wynalda doesn’t?

We fret about “pay-to-play” programs, and we know the new girls’ Development Academy won’t have the resources to make everything free, at least not right away. We know this country has plenty of talented players who can’t afford elite travel soccer. So why do USSF and college coaches ignore high-school soccer, where some of these players may have an outlet to play? How many more Andy Najars are floating around high-school soccer fields?

Coaches are supposed to be teachers. Why not give kids more exposure to teachers who happen to be coaches as well?

John D. Halloran: “In most cases, teachers functioning as coaches boast decades of experience working with kids — and are professionally trained to do so. Worrying to many teacher-coaches are the standards of respect often lacking in the club environment. Coaches throw temper tantrums on the sidelines, verbally abuse referees and belittle their own players.”

+PODCAST: Beau Dure on the chaos caused by USSF’s youth soccer age group mandates

Why ask players to choose between club and high-school soccer at age 14, when they still have so much growing to do? Why let scouts give up on players who aren’t in the DA before they’ve fully grown?

Carson, Calif. - Saturday, July 18, 2015: The Chicago Fire defeat Real Salt Lake to win the 2014-15 U-18 US Soccer Development Academy Championship at Glenn "Mooch" Myernick Field at StubHub Center.

Here’s a compromise idea: Phase players into a 10-month program. At U-14 and under, being an “Academy” player should just mean getting exposure to top coaching, and clubs are forming partnerships to cast a wide net. In the early high-school years, let academy players play a couple of seasons of high school soccer.

By U-17, some players have established that they’re on professional or high-level college track. Let those players stick with the academy year-round.

We’ll end up with well-rounded players who may have filled different roles on their high school and Academy teams. We’ll have fewer regrets for people looking back at wondering “What if?”

So why not? Why not keep something uniquely American (and fun!) while we’re also ramping up elite play?

By | March 3, 2016 | 8 Comments | Tags: , , , ,


  1. B Smith says:

    I’m experiencing my first season of high school soccer after 4 to 5 years of club. It is frustrating to watch. I agree with a previous comment that high school coaches should have a minimum certification level. The knowledge is missing in many cases, and so is the passion for the game.

  2. brian laird says:

    I haven’t been in High School in a long time, but no one ever showed up to our games when I played High School soccer. The gym was full for our Basketball games and the football team drew a good crowd, but we didn’t even have bleachers for soccer since there were about 20 parents on the sidelines. I wonder if it is different now.

  3. Jay Schimek says:

    I am a high school coach and a former club coach. I am also the parent of an incredibly talented player. I think this background gives me a pretty good picture of the scene from all sides. I strongly believe that players should play high school soccer for all of the reasons stated . I encourage my players to play club Ball if they can afford it during the majority of the year, when there is no high school soccer. I know that in my own case, my son could not play with a travel or Academy team for 2 different years due to finances. Fortunately some scouts do show up at state championship or even a couple of playoff matches. He got lucky and was spotted at one of these matches. Luckily he happened to have a great game that particular day. What if he had not? Nobody is on their best every match. I have had several players through the years that did not get that lucky break. Most of the people in my area can not afford club ball. On the girl’s side it is even worse. The main reason I encourage my players to play club Ball is to keep them playing as much as possible and for the exposure.
    The other issue is developing players. We divide players by age in club ball. A talented 13 year old does not play with older players to learn from them or be challenged by them. In high school, a 9th grader can compete with a d learn from a senior. That develops kids better than almost any amount of training.

  4. yeatts330 says:

    The sad truth is even for most Club players, HS may be the only chance to represent a student body, play in a “stadium” and have fans fervently and rabidly cheer for our against you. There is no club level equivalent – not even the various national championships have as much emotion as a HS regional final match-up against rival schools. The quality of play may not as consistent as high level club soccer but the atmosphere and pride of representing a school can’t be matched. Unless a player is very likely to turn pro and to do so means he or she can’t possibly set aside or risk 12 a couple of months HS soccer, depriving them of that experience in the name of development is short sighted and a bit sad.

  5. Coach Nathan says:

    “It’s the development of the rest of the team that during High School has that role of being the best or one of the top players. That leadership role is so important in developing as a playing that only High School offers.”

    Do you really think that being one of the best players on the team means that you are a leader? And that if you aren’t one of the best players, then you can’t be a leader? Being a leader has nothing to do with skill and everything to do with personality. There are many different ways to be a leader on a team. And there are many leaders on the same team who can lead together.

  6. HS Soccer is an opportunity for kids to play with community, friends in front of community & friends. Club cannot do that. Club is paying dollars to Hopefully achieve an end goal. TOTALLY different set of goals. Club coaches also have little, if any background in Child Psychology and Sports Psychology. The door is open for a wrong statement, a wrong word which leads to tragedy.

  7. David Shafer says:

    Beau, Thanks for asking the right questions. The problem is we don’t have the same soccer culture as Europe. Simply copying what they do is not only counter cultural but is counter the science of what is known about developing elite soccer players. For example, studies done of EPL soccer players and other professional leagues demonstrate “late developers” being over represented among these professionals. Yet, with the DAs, we simply push aside the late bloomers as not worthy of consideration. Scientific studies of all sports note the impossibility of identifying future elite athletes at ages under 17. The DAs probably eliminate up to 90% of our youth soccer playing population by eliminating “late developers, multi-sport kids, rural kids and kids who live several hours away from the academies practice fields, and kids whose parents aren’t able to commit either monetarily or time wise to getting kids to practices and tournaments in far flung areas. Americans approach sport much more democratically believing that any kid should have the opportunity to work hard, get good coaching and succeed to the best of his/her ability. Of course the worst part of all this is the utter lack of any evidence that the DAs work to produce more and better elite soccer players.

  8. Robert K says:

    I definitely have mixed feeling on this. On one hand I really enjoyed my high school sports experiences and think kids should have the opportunity to play in front of their classmates, friends and community. On the other hand US DA players are getting top level coaching, playing with top level teammates and playing against top level competition. So is taking 3-4 months away from this environment – to go play on a team that may not have great coaching, will probably have a wide range of skill level among teammates and will most likely be playing against a wide range of competitive levels – worth it? Many high school soccer programs just play a kick and run strategy. Also high school soccer is definitely more about winning – than it is about development. Ultimately I think the players should be able to decide for themselves.

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