NCYSA – The Academy Proposal

The most talked about topic this past weekend at the NCYSA Southern Soccer Show was the Academy Proposal brought forward by NCYSA DOC Chris Little and an executive committee that had reviewed the subject. I wrote a bit earlier about the original proposal. In a nutshell, the NCYSA was proposing the creation of a fourth ‘division’ of soccer called ‘Academy’ that would be in addition to the existing Recreation, Challenge, and Classic levels. The basic highlights of the proposed program were:

  • Associations must apply for permission to offer an Academy program, subject to approval by the Academy Council which is made up of the directors of existing academy programs.
  • Associations must reapply for approval each year.
  • Each club planning to offer an Academy must have:

    • Director with a National Youth License
    • All coaches with a Youth Module II certification
    • Training curriculum approved by NCYSA
  • True U10 players only are eligible.
  • Associations must administer a Parent Education program in accordance with state Academy Council guidelines.
  • Players carded into the Academy program can also play Recreation, Challenge, and/or Classic.
  • No teams will exist. Players are registered to a league ‘pool’
  • All training is done as a pool – not in team groups.
  • Teams are formed for each match/event from the pool.
  • Players play a minimum of half each match they participate in and cannot play in more than two matches per day.
  • Players receive written evaluations twice a year from the association academy director.
  • Matches scheduled via state administered scheduling meetings.
  • No scores of matches or standings will be kept.
  • Players are discouraged from attending bracketed tournaments. Festival format events are preferred.

Disclaimer: Much of what I write here is based on notes I took as well as what I recall happening at the NCYSA Presidents meeting. It should not be viewed as a definitive account, though I’m doing my best to be accurate and true to the discussion during the meeting. If you were there and notice any mistakes, or remember something different, by all means post a comment.

The discussion was kicked off by NCYSA DOC Chris Little who was a primary driver behind the proposal getting drafted. It was clear that he and the rest of the committee sensed the issue of the day would be the effect this proposal would have on smaller soccer associations. Chris noted that a program like this might help a small association retain their skilled players and train them when they might struggle to put together a U10 Challenge team. Some states including Georgia and others have already put academy programs in place. Georgia’s was mentioned often as a role model for the proposal currently in place.

After the brief introduction by Chris and other members of the executive committee, the discussion began in earnest. What follows are highlights of the discussion taken from my notes as fast as I could write them down.

One of the first questions related to why just U10 and not U9 through U12. The response was that this was an ‘experiment’ Some clubs already had academies in place, mostly from larger metropolitan associations, but having the program start out with multiple ages would be too difficult. Instead the decision was made to start small with the U10s.

The next question related to why it was restricted to ‘true’ U10s. There was some disagreement as to what this really meant. Some felt since USYS didn’t really recognize U9, that U9’s would fall under this category, but another opinion was that it meant what it said – true U10’s meaning 9 years old born Aug 1st through July 31st.

The NCYSA president admitted that some small associations probably didn’t have enough kids to make this work right away while larger associations were already doing it. But since this was just an experiment for one year, we’d have to see how it worked after a year.

At this point another president noted that he had called the folks in charge of Georgia’s much heralded academy program to discuss the NC proposal with them. He noted that their program is for U10 through U12. They had started out with an administratively heavy program, similar to what was being proposed for NC, but had learned from their mistakes. Due to all the initial requirements, the small associations stayed with select/travel while many of the larger associations put academies in place. This resulted in some small associations being starved of select opponents in those age groups and regions and making it difficult to find other select teams to play against. In the 2nd and 3rd year, the drastically revamped the program. Many of the stringent requirements were dropped to guidelines to allow the smaller associations to work their way towards the true ideals of an academy. As a result, they now have 80% of their eligible players participating in an academy. In short, when the relaxed the stringent requirements the program flourished.

Discussion then started to drift towards the question on many peoples mind – how this might benefit large associations at the expense of small associations. One concern was with players leaving their small home associations to play in a large association academy program and possible recruiting problems with they came home, or stayed away. In the same vein, others were concerned that this type of setup (academies at large associations and no restriction in terms of transfers) would result in parents shopping their kids around to different association academies trying to get them onto the best teams.

More concerns were raised along the lines of what happened in Georgia. if you had the likes of CASL, Greensboro, Charlotte, and other large associations drop their U10 Challenge teams, the smaller teams would have trouble scheduling enough matches for their U10 Challenge teams. How could this be avoided. It seemed to be a widespread assumption that the large associations would field academy programs immediately and pull out of Challenge, though I don’t recall any coming right out and saying so.

This led someone to ask the executive committee directly what was behind this proposal long term – was this setting the stage at the state level to do away with U10 Challenge? The answer was an emphatic NO. However, a few presidents mentioned that replacing U10 Challenge with academies was the right thing to do, however that did not seem to be the prevailing opinion in the room. The executive committee noted they DID want to expand the program to other ages in future years, but again, wanted to keep it small (U10 only) at first to see how it went.

The next concern related to scheduling. Assuming the small associations met the requirements and got academies in place, how would it be ensured they got their full allotment of matches. A large association could play most of their matches internally. Small associations might be left with just other small associations, resulting in long travel distances for what is billed as a non competitive program. The NCYSA was involved to only ‘assist’ in the scheduling but it was up to the clubs to handle it. Georgia requires every association get six matches for each team. It was expected that the academy schedule would be set in scheduling meetings similar to how Classic is handled. This would avoid big clubs playing 100% in house.

Another idea to help get more match opportunities were regional festivals that would be open to area academy programs – you could get two matches in a single weekend day.

One president finally came out and said the NCYSA had to make sure they supported all associations in this including the smaller associations. Concerns were raised that if all the large associations joined immediately, they would form the bulk of the ‘Academy Council’ which help approval power over smaller associations who might apply for admission later. It was asked why the Academy program would have a different approval process for membership than all the other ‘levels’ of soccer, which all go before the board of directors and NCYSA membership committee. There wasn’t really a clear answer to this beyond "that isn’t the intent of the council" though it was admitted that as written, that’s how it would be setup.

One idea brought up was that an academy program could be used as a league’s pool training program, both for Academy players and Challenge players. Many associations train their Challenge players partly in pools. By allowing kids who weren’t on travel teams to participate in that training with the Challenge players, it might benefit everyone. The concept of Rec ‘plus’ was raised where the Academy fit between Rec and Challenge. However, another president noted that in his eyes, U10 Challenge is really U10 Classic since there is not U10 Classic program and that he would see a U10 Academy as the place his BEST players got trained, with Challenge below it and then Rec.

Circling back to scheduling, it was suggested that the existing Challenge scheduling leagues handle the scheduling for academies in their region. Since they already had established policies and programs in place, they would simply be doing what they do best for the academy teams. This seemed to get a positive response from the NCYSA executive committee members and if any Challenge scheduling league presidents were against this in the room, I don’t recall them saying so. The NCYSA president did note that he would expect the scheduling leagues to behave themselves in terms of collecting fees and not to gouge the academies :)

Many were concerned that getting a National Youth license was difficult since it spanned 6 full days and cost over $500. While the course can be split up into evenings and weekends to make it easier, this would present a sizable hurdle to many clubs (our association had our DOC scheduled to get this last year but they canceled the course) An idea was brought up that you could have each region, likely based on the scheduling league territories, have a NYL certified director who could ‘advise’ the smaller clubs on their programs until they got someone local certified. Basically regional National Youth Academy Directors who could work with smaller associations to setup their programs.

At this point the discussion started to repeat itself a bit before lunch, though the final idea proposed was to have a statewide scheduling clearinghouse that would list regional academy festivals and teams looking for opponents to help smaller clubs get playing opportunities.

I’m not 100% sure on the timing, but I believe it was right before the lunch break. The NCYSA president did an informal show of hands. First he asked how many felt the idea of an Academy program for associations was a good thing. Almost all hands went up. He then asked how many felt they would support the specific proposal being discussed and very few hands went up.

After lunch, which featured a presentation on referees and were they employees or independent contractors, the meeting turned it’s attention back to the Academy proposal.

A new proposal was brought up at this point. Scheduling leagues would schedule the matches, with each association ‘team slot’ assured of 6 matches. Academy festival weekends would be formed to help get the additional matches (in addition to regularly scheduled matches). The NCYSA DOC, Chris Little, would work through the challenge leagues to help clubs without an NYL director to help organize their program. Chris would draft a boilerplate curriculum to help associations get started, or he would approve an already existing or in house drafted curriculum. Instead of having a standing NCYSA Academy committee, perhaps their primary role should be that of the academy advisers to smaller clubs.

At this point, more presidents brought up their ideas to make the proposal more acceptable. One was that normal membership procedures be used, just like for adding Challenge or Classic level play. Since the NCYSA membership committee had gotten out of the business of making recommendations and was now simply ensuring an association met all the requirements needed to attain a given level, it fit well. The council and/or NCYSA DOC would approve the curriculum of each association and the age levels should be expanded to U9 through U12. Note that while these suggestions were being put out there, there wasn’t any developing consensus.

The subject of combining Challenge players and Academy players (or players doing both programs) came up. If the scheduling leagues were suddenly doing both programs would the matches have to remain separate? Most felt they should.

As the end of the meeting approached, the NCYSA decided to punt. They did not feel comfortable bring the proposal up at the Annual General Meeting on Sunday due to the lack of support. One concern was to do a program this year, the bylaws had to be amended to allow for it and the bylaws can only be changed at the AGM. It was felt the NCYSA really needed to get on board, as other competing soccer organizations were already offering Academy type programs. Rather than have the executive committee go back and just rework the proposal, a new committee was formed, made up primarily of presidents who offered to help (myself included). The goal is to have a temporary bylaw approved at the AGM simply allowing an Academy program to be formed, subject to approval by the board of directors at a later date based on the new proposal brought forth. The new proposal is to be drafted by mid March and the hope is that the special board of directors meeting to approve it will be held in April, giving clubs time to form Academy programs in the Fall of 2007.

That’s it in a nutshell. I think there was some very good discussion and a lot of good ideas brought up. While I personally don’t believe Academies should replace U10 Challenge, I think they are a great program offering and I expect if a suitable proposal is adopted, many associations will start offering Academy training, either in parallel with their Challenge programs (good) or in place of them (bad since it forces everyone else to follow suit). I’ll be sure to keep you all posted on how the new proposal is coming along.

While I plan to write up a post about the Annual General Meeting in detail, I can tell you that a temporary bylaw WAS approved the next day allowing for an Academy program to be formed for 2007-2008 only, and only if approved by the board of directors.

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  1. I followed your link from NC-Soccer forum, and I’ve found your posts on this subject much more informative than the scant information I’ve gotten from my club (where I’m a U9 coach whose team will be directly impacted by this decision!).

    I have a number of reservations about the Academy concept as I understand it. Individual player development is a good thing. But is that individual development going to come at the expense of learning teamwork and how to play as a group? Soccer is a team sport and learning the cooperation and give-and-take that comes from working as part of a group is just as important to player development as honing the foot skills. A big part of the reason my kids play soccer is that they like being on a team, and the comraderie that comes from playing and practicing with the same group of kids week in and week out. My club already pools the U10 kids for training once a week, but the kids all say they really like their team practices better.

    Competition is part of the sport, and it seems that a major purpose of this proposal is to get away from a fixation on winning. But this doesn’t get at the root cause – parents and coaches. The high-intensity parents and coaches will be that way regardless of the format, and frankly, kids see right through the “we don’t keep score” ploy. Kids ALWAYS know the score. I doubt the academies will put an end to the histrionics of poisonous parents and carping coaches.

  2. I agree with you. I think academy training is a good idea, but I don’t think it should replace Challenge for U10-U12. I think it’s an ideal prep program, the ‘Rec ‘ if you will, for U9-U10 who want to play Challenge.

    We pool trained our Challenge teams last fall and by the early part of the match season, most had stopped going. The kids and the coaches wanted more time together as a team. The value of teamwork is VERY important, even for 9 year olds.

    Will we pool train again? I expect so – it morphed into a skills/conditioning workout for the teams and was a good thing, but after that the teams really wanted to practice together.

    Like you noted, these ‘take away the temptation’ efforts to deal with bad coaches and parents simply take something away from the sport at the expense of the kids and don’t deal with the root cause of the problem. As those parents and coaches advance into Challenge and Classic, they’re still going to be a problem. Just because the kids are older doesn’t make it any better.

  3. Wow, this seems like an extremely complicated way to build a “love for the game”. Both of my children play soccer, one at U10 Challenge and one at U11 Classic. They play at this level because they are committed to their teams and to themselves to become better players. We as parents support them and encourage them and have found other sports that they can do on the side for fun that they can just show up to play or attend a practice as able. If they both decided tomorrow that they were tired of the competition that soccer brings and wanted to do something different, certainly I would be a little disappointed because I love soccer, but I would honor their decision. Parents should be able to tell when their child is in over their heads with competition and the bad stress that being in over your head can bring. Many parents bring this on their child by forcing them into soccer situations where the child can’t possibly succeed. I am amazed at how many children there are playing challenge that should be playing rec, but their dad cannot stomach the idea that his son plays rec, while neighbor boy Johnny is on the challenge team in the gold division. If clubs would be more responsible in selecting players for challenge and classic and truly put kids where their skill level and level of committment stand vs. filling in teams with warm bodies so they can have 4 challenge teams, 1 in the copper division who cannot compete with the rec team in that club. But, as usual money talks, and this drives revenue for the club. I’m all for building depth in a program as the kids age up and the rosters grow larger, certainly we need that base of kids at that age to move up. But, if only 70% of the kids on each team need to be there and they are forced to play with 30% who shouldn’t be there, who is the greater loser? …the kid who struggles all year and knows he’s out of his league or the kids who want to be better so badly, but can’t because they don’t have a full compliment of skilled teamates to make them better? I think academy or pool training is a fabulous idea and both of my children have been fortunate enough to play for clubs that offer a 1 night per week consistent age divisional pool training that compliments their 1 night a week team practice. If done properly, skills/pool training can be not only valuable for the kids, but a lot of fun. They are still with their teammates, but also with other club players at that age. It builds club conhesion. It also is a valuable tool for the DOC’s and other club coaches to get to know one another and the children playing in the club….no not for recruitment purposes for next year, but so the leaders in the club know what they are working with. It helps them better plan for the next year. It also gives our children the opportunity to learn under different coaches and play with other talented players. Then, they still have the thrill of team competition in league and tournaemnt play. I see no purpose in creating yet another level of soccer play. We already have rec, challenge often with 4 differnt levels of play within it, classic A, classic B, premier, etc. When does it stop? If you create academies to exist alongside challenge and classic, you are asking to experience what I call “watering down” of all of the programs. I recall recently when NCYSA made the ruling that only a true U9 could play U10. They sited the number of 5 year olds playing U10 challenge across the state and it was ridiculus. I ask is a 5 year old truly going to be developed by playing with a 9 year old and is that even safe in a competitive environment?

    One of the best examples I have seen of player development was in another state we lived in. There was no Challenge league. There was rec and then there was competitive. And in between for the 9 year olds, there was a juniors program that pool trained all of the kids in that age group who were showing signs of being ready for competitive the next year. These kids were divided into teams as well. They had pool skills 1 night per week and team practice 1 night. The DOC ran the pool training with the club coaches rotating through weekly to help. Within that age group, the players were allowed to guest play for each other’s team, and no, not for the sole purpose of letting star Johnny play every game, but truly to fill in when a kid was absent or to give Scotty a chance to play with Pete in a game situation because the DOC had noticed some magic between the two of them at skills that week. The same kids were not asked every week either. We tried to give as many of the boys an opportunity to guest play as possible without restructuring the teams. They didn’t keep score, which I think is sort of ridiculus because my son always knew the score. But, they enjoyed it and learned a lot and when tryouts came the next year, the coaches had a idea of what they had vs. seeing 60 boys for 1 1/2 hours on 2 nights run through some drills with numbers on their backs.

    In case you can’t see my point in this verbose display, it is that soccer does not need to be made any more complicated. If anything it needs to be simplified. Keep rec, challenge, and classic. Clubs take resonsiblity in truly evaluating a kid and putting him on the team where he can be successful and help his peers be successful. Offer pool training at all 3 levels (separate levels-not together) 1 night per week to compliment the team practice. And then, offer some free kick arounds 1 night or every other week where kids just come together to play. Coaches or skilled parents play too to give kids a safe and encouraging environment to try out those new skills in a game situation. Say you’re going to play for an hour and if everyone is having a blast, stay another 1/2 hour and when everyone is tired, say last goal wins. This is what develops a love for the game. My children learned more about the game of soccer in these kick arounds with older dads who played and siblings and had a tremendous amount of fun. It means a lot when you nutmeg coach, the coach that you just saw make a beautiful run and score and you think, “wow, I might be able to do that too”.

    One more pet peve while I’m on my soap box. We need to stop feeding the cash cow that soccer has become for some “coaches”. I have personally witnessed a semi-pro player charging $75.00 for an hour of individual soccer skill instruction. I’ve also had parents tell me that their child’s private soccer instructor told them that he was a natural midfielder because of his first touch on the ball. What???? How can you tell a 10 year old is a natural anything in isolation with no team to pass to and no pressure when receiving the ball and displaying that first touch. This is the kind of crap that further fuels the craziness of some parents who are somewhat in the dark about how to watch and enjoy soccer. They think they are helping their child by hiring a private tutor and then when their coach or child doesn’t perform in the way they expect, they are outraged because they dropped $150.00 in 2 weeks to ensure that their child was at the top. Let’s relax a little and let the game teach our kids. They can develop a lot by just playing. I don’t think some complicated administrative heavy academy is the answer.

    Just my thoughts.