The United States Soccer Federation recently announced a major rule change that requires its players to participate exclusively in its league. This means that male high school athletes who participate in the federation league—in what is known as Development Academy teams—can no longer play for their high school teams. If they remain with the Development Academy, they submit to a year-long soccer commitment.
The shift in rules aims at closing the gap between the U.S. and other countries in developing the best soccer players in the world. Started in 2007, the U.S. Soccer Development Academy consists of 78 clubs nationwide dedicated to providing advanced coaching, training and levels of competition. According to Tony Lepore, the Academy’s scouting director, the teams now practice between 200 and 260 hours a season (European teams work 600 hours a year, while Brazilian teams train 1,000 hours per year).
Responses have been mixed from the soccer community. In many ways, high school sports are a part of U.S. culture, with important social and academic elements that could be compromised if players choose the club route. Academy backers, however, affirmed their organization’s commitment to their athletes on multiple fronts, including academics and college recruiting.
In a NYTimes.com article, Coach Terry Michler of Christian Brothers College High School expressed a common concern that “keeping a larger number of children from playing with their schools as a service to the significantly smaller number who may ultimately turn professional or play for the national team was unreasonable.” Will this rule increase or decrease your chances, as a high school soccer players, of getting looks from college coaches and competing for a scholarship? We don’t know. But playing multiple sports in high school will cease to exist as a viable option.
Those who favor the structural shift claim it is necessary to step up the level of talent to the standard set by top national teams from around the world. In that sense, the Academy is attempting to make the sport more accessible to players, some of whom will in fact choose (and benefit from) the federation’s more demanding regimen.
Dedication to a single sport is required of the great majority of collegiate and professional athletes. High school soccer or club soccer? Both require sacrifices. Having to choose puts the pressure on high school athletes. And it’s an extremely difficult decision to make so early in a sports career.