One Vision of How An Academy Might Work

With all the talk about the NCYSA trying to form an academy program, I wanted to jot down my own thoughts on how an Academy might work in the local soccer association I’m a part of. Now, while I’m president of our local association, I’m just one person out of many who help run things. These are my own opinions and don’t reflect what our league might do or how our board feels as a whole.

In case you’re joining us late, you should read up on the NCYSA Academy Proposal and the reaction of the member associations.

To try and put this academy debate in perspective, I figured I’d write up my ideas on how an academy might work in our league. While some large associations already have academy programs in place (CSC, CASL, etc), this would be new to many smaller leagues. Even among the large associations, the structure of the academies varies.

So what about our league?

First, some background. The Mebane Youth Soccer Association is a young league formed in the Spring of 2002. We attained NCYSA Level 2 membership in January of 2006. We are what could be called a ‘mid-sized’ league, ranking 21st out of 101 NCYSA leagues in total players for 2006. We expect to have around 600 recreational players this spring and next fall expect our Challenge program to grow to about 150 players if all goes well.

The first issue is where would an Academy ‘fit’ within our league. Right now we have 133 U9/U10 players signed up for our U10 Coed Recreational division. We have two U10 Boys Challenge teams. We’re hoping to have two next year along with a new U10 girls team. One of the U10 teams we have today is really a U9 development team. I foresee us having one boys and one girls true U10 Challenge team for the next few years then perhaps expanding to a second U10 boys team. Part of the reason for not having more kids in Challenge at U10 is parents and/or kids who don’t think they are ready even when the kid has good enough skills. Sure, we aren’t a huge league, but with our numbers we could probably support 2-3 U10 teams (total between boys and girls). And this is where I see an academy helping us out.

We currently pool train our Challenge teams from June through September, primarily for core skills work and conditioning. Then the teams fall back into team practices. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the pools reinstated, maybe once every other week this season. To me, it would be ideal to have a new academy program that fit between Rec and Challenge. Have it be for U9 and U10, expanding to U11/U12 later if the interest is there. The academy players would train in a pool alongside the current Challenge players. This would get the Academy players paying time with the Challenge players (I’m a big believer in cross level exposure). Then when the Challenge teams began their match schedule, the academy players would play their academy matches with teams formed in the academy philosophy for each event. Hopefully both groups of kids would continue to train together at least 2-4 times a month.

The idea here would be to get kids who might want to play Challenge some day, but aren’t quite ready (either skill wise or just confidence wise) into a program where they can receive additional training in a non-pressured environment. Even though our Challenge program is in it’s first year, it is clear to us we have a number of kids in that ‘layer’ of wanting more than Rec but not sure if they are ready for Challenge. This makes an Academy an ideal fit. I also think we have a number of U9 age players who would like to ‘prepare’ for Challenge tryouts, so allowing U9’s into the academy would be a good thing.

That said, what about the other aspects of an Academy? Why wouldn’t we replace our U10 Challenge program with just an Academy? Personally, I happen to be one of those parents and coaches who doesn’t feel competition is BAD. It’s coaches and parents who must win at all costs who are bad and taking away competition won’t magically make them good coaches and parents. I think you take something away from the player experience by taking them off a team. I know my son has bonded with his coach and his teammates. In an academy, it wouldn’t be the same. Also, our recreational program is competitive. Not on purpose, but our customers – the parents, like having scores kept in U10 and a season ending tournament. We did an end of season festival in U8 and the reaction was mixed. We’ll probably keep doing it but the push to eliminate the end of season tournament at U8 and maybe U10 was primarily from our DOC. I don’t see our U10 Rec division going non-competitive anytime soon. We have a healthy competitive environment. U10 Challenge is part of that. That said, are there players who would develop better in an Academy format? Absolutely – so offer both.

Beyond that, there is the licensing requirement. We as a league already work hard to develop our coaches. We have been strongly encouraging coaches to get certified, with 18 coaches already E licensed. We’re hoping to get more U5/U6/U8 coaches to take Youth Modules by attending classes held locally (Youth I in Mebane, Jan 28th for $25!). We had hoped to get our DOC her National Youth License last year but the class got canceled. We’re currently working on a coaching handbook for new coaches to get acclimated with our league and player development philosophy. The point being that the coaching education philosophy of the Academy program should be applied at ALL levels. We as a league know that in order to have a successful program at all levels we need to develop coaches along with players. An academy program would server to help coaches move up to Challenge from Rec with confidence. Today, it is seen by many Rec coaches (myself included) as a big leap.

The same applies for parent education. We do what we can to clue parents into the ‘right’ way, though no formal program exists. If we created one to meet an Academy requirement, then I’d push to have it implemented for ALL our parents. While these possible parts of an Academy program are good, to me they should be part of all levels in a league, not just an Academy. The overall point being these parts of an Academy program (coaching and parent education) don’t really affect where it would fit – since they should be used for an entire league.

Finally, there is no denying the financial implications. Academies will make some money for leagues. The difference between Rec fees and Challenge fees in most associations is large. Academies will likely raise some additional funds for the league from players who normally might not play Challenge. It won’t be huge given the total numbers of players, but it may help some associations improve their bottom line (which since they’re all non-profits means just staying in the black :) ) Especially since any Academy proposal will likely allow for dual rostering, you’ll find many players signing up for this ‘additional training’ while staying in Rec. Personally I don’t view it as a critical part of our budget for our league, but for some small associations it may be helpful. Of course if they don’t implement an Academy program and a nearby association does, it will hurt them financially.

So there you have it. My personal opinion, subject to change at any time and likely to instigate voracious disagreement :)

In short, I think an Academy program that doesn’t have extensive ‘on high’ administrative overhead, that gives small associations an equal footing, and allows for league flexibility while still ensuring they stick to the Academy ideals is a good thing.
I think leagues will implement academy programs in a variety of forms which is also a good thing. I know for us, it will be a great option for our parents/players, but I’ll never personally advocate for it to replace U10 Challenge. I just hope we aren’t forced into that by other leagues pulling out of U10 Challenge in TCL. Only time will tell.

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  1. Again, another well thought out post – they say the true measure of a man’s intelligence is how much he agrees with you! 😉

    I like the idea of an academy as an alternative to – not a replacement for – Challenge. It would make a nice stepping stone between Rec and Challenge, especially for those kids who may be too skilled for Rec, but whose parents aren’t sure about the greater financial and time committment of Challenge. It could allow them to “ease” into Challenge-level soccer – I know for a lot of the parents of my U9 girls, the biggest shock of moving from rec to challenge (besides money!) was how much more physical the game is at Challenge.

    As for teams pulling out of U10 Challenge at TCL…considering that my club fielded six U10 girls’ teams for TCL this year, if we pull out it would reduce the field significantly. Add the Greensboro clubs to that and it will make for a lot more travel and expense for smaller clubs.

  2. True enough about the numbers, but then again, for U10 boys anyway, there were 32 teams. Even if a couple large associations pulled their teams, I expect there would still be a full division. Don’t know though.

    I’d be surprised if leagues with academies pulled out of Challenge permanently. There are a number of parents who won’t like the academy format and if their association decides not to offer Challenge at U10, they may go elsewhere. It can cut both ways.

    Only time will tell!

  3. I think the basic idea is a good one, but it was such a thrill to see two divisions for the TCL U10 girls this year. If GYSA and Twin City pull out too many teams, there will be only one U10 girls division spread from King to Lewisville/Mocksville to Lexington to High Point to Kernersville to Northeast Greensboro to Burlington (maybe Mebane?), with a big hole in the middle. It decreases the variety, the amount of competition, and increases our cost. NCYSA has to allow this to be offered for both girls and boys. One can only hope that at least in the TCL area, good competition will remain for the girls.

  4. I agree 100%. it will be interesting IF a flexible enough Academy program is put forward, what direction the leagues take. Rec , Challenge replacement, or something else. But like I said before – I expect many parents may not tolerate the elimination of U10 Challenge by their league and if it happens, expecting it’ll be the metro based clubs that do it, there are always other options nearby and they may vote with their feet.. Who knows. the flight could happen in the opposite direction too.

    As for U10 Girls, I really hope Mebane has a team next fall. I know we have a good group of girls moving up (our league averages 60/40 boys and girls) If most of the girls who SHOULD go out actually tryout, we’ll have a good U11 girls team as well. Our U12’s struggled early but won their Greensboro Clash bracket and are really looking sharp. We’ll see in the fall!

  5. I can vouch for how neat it was to have two u10 divisions this year. My daughter was on a U9 team and the exposure those girls had to varying levels and styles of play was an eye opener. I a hoping that Twins does not change so that they may play as true u10’s next fall…

    I understand the benefits, I jsut think that we get most of it already through pool training. Our coach is great in that he reinforces the pool training in our own practice, maybe other teams are not so lucky. I dunno, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it…

  6. usd2busmc – excellent point. I know my personal take on this is an Academy should be an option. There are a few people who want to have it replace U10 Challenge, but I got the feeling a lot of associations were against this. As noted above, the big question is what the larger leagues will do and what parents will do if their association does away with U10 Challenge. I hope it doesn’t come to that.

    Your points about existing pool training are excellent – we’re in the same situation in our league and expect to continue using it. I look forward to hearing what all your associations do if an academy proposal gets adopted this Spring.

  7. We had a coaches meeting a few nights ago and discussion of the Academy program was tabled due to NCYSA’s continued work to put a coherent proposal together. However, my gut feeling from what little did come up about it is that TCYSA will most likely implement the Academy program. Again, this is my gut feeling, with nothing else to back it up. Whether or not it replaces or augments Challenge at the U10 level remains to be seen, but I’m not optimistic.

  8. It will be interesting to see what happens with associations who forgo U10 challenge for a U10 Academy. Either the parents will vote with their feet, taking kids to associations that have U10 Challenge, or the kids coming out of Academies will wipe the pitch with those that went right into Challenge. Or somewhere in between.

    I think our league will look to an academy as a U9/U10 extra training program and still keep U10 Challenge IF there are enough teams left in our local scheduling league at U10. We’ll see!

  9. If TCYSA goes totally Academy, there are several other options available within 20 to 25 miles for those parents who don’t like the idea. It will be interesting to see how it plays out. It could benefit the other clubs in the short term.

  10. I agree – it will be very interesting to see how this shakes out in the individual scheduling leagues and how clubs handle it. One aspect that nobody mentions because it’s ‘taboo’ is that US Club soccer is out there as well. Part of the driver for academies is due to other national programs offering them, however, if they aren’t done right, you could end up driving people to competing national associations as well.

    Who knows. I’m sure I’ll have lots to write about :)

  11. Within our club we have a U-9 Girls and a U-9 boys team playing U-10. While our coach has been great communicating what he knows, and how it will impact us, it does not seem to me that the club office has truly communicated what will happen to our teams.

    My daughter enjoys the game but truly gets her kicks from the social aspects of the game. For her, being part of the team, makes her try harder. Quite frankly, without the social aspects, she would probably quit the game, which would be a shame. To her the games are fun, practice is not…to be honest that is how I felt throughout my sports career.

    I just hope that our league will let us play up again next year if this goes forward. Although, the thought has crossed my mind that politically, it might hurt her chances for U-11 classic when the time comes. Oh well.

    Truth be told I would be onboard with this had we not played a year in the current environment. The academy training does seem to be a good transition from rec league play.

    The club just needs to reach out and communicate!!!!

  12. Well to be fair to your club – there isn’t really anything to tell yet. The NCYSA proposal was rejected flat out. ALl that got done at the AGM officially was to modify the bylaws to allow for a to be determined academy program IF the board approved it.

    The mtg to discuss a new proposal will be Feb 10th. The hope is to have a firm proposal in front of the league presidents in mid March for approval. THEN clubs can decide if they’re going to do it or not. I’d expect communications to members would happen then.

    I haven’t sent academy info to our club either, I’ve just kept the board apprised of what is happening. Once something ‘official’ happens – then it’ll make sense to tell our parents, most likely at our Spring AGM.

  13. Thanks for the insight. I realize that there are still a few uknowns at this point and need to be patient.

    And truth be told as the incomming U10’s will be none the wiser, it is reasonable to assume that the club has not given the impact to our two u-9 teams too much thought.

    Thanks for gving us a place to vent/ask questions.