Now that the NCYSA Academy Committee has met, there is a lot of new information regarding the academies and what kind of proposal will actually go before the NCYSA league presidents for approval this Spring.

I apologize for not getting this post out earlier – like many of you, we’re in the think of Spring registration and getting everything organized for the Spring. We’re on track for close to 700 registrations this season, which may seem small by most standards, but considering our league only started 5 years ago in a town of < 10,000 people – it’s a lot. But I digress…

If you haven’t already, be sure to read my earlier posts on the first NCYSA Academy proposal to get up to speed.

Disclaimer: What I include here is my recollection of what took place at the meeting from the notes I took. I tried to get as many details down on paper as possible, but if I missed something and you were there – by all means let me know! This is not mean to be the official ‘minutes’ of the meeting by any stretch.

As the meeting began, many of the same concerns were raised that had been raised at the AGM. This helped set the stage for why we were meeting. Then there was a somewhat startling revelation that, at least for me, was a complete surprise. The proposal that was sent to the NCYSA league presidents for approval was different than the original proposal put forth by the NCYSA DOC and his committee that had worked on it. During the discussion, there were disconnects between the presidents and the original academy members to the point one asked how many of us had actually read the proposal. We all had read it as league presidents – but not the version he was talking about!

A couple minutes of copying later – we all had the original proposal, so before I go into the discussion, it is important to understand the difference between the proposal sent to the president’s by the NCYSA Executive Board and the original academy proposal. Since I don’t have the original in soft copy, I’ll highlight the key changes from the version I do have a copy of – the ‘modified version’. So compared to the modified version above, the original differed in two key areas:

  • The original proposal prohibits players who participate in an academy from participating in any other level of soccer (Recreation, Challenge, or Classic) The modified version specifically allowed this.
  • The original proposal allowed U9 players to participate while the modified version seemed to limit the program to true U10 age players.

Otherwise the proposals were the same. But these were key differences. Now on to the debate.

Discussion was kicked off by the NCYSA DOC reading the mission statement of the document and explaining why this was important. There is the feeling that the NCYSA has a void in it’s program offerings because there is no academy program.

An interesting observation was made by someone that the Challenge Council could not be counted on to do the ‘right’ thing for player development. The continued existence of the State Cup for U10 and the continued calling of offside were raised as examples. The context being that it was doubtful the Challenge Council would do away with competition at the younger age levels.

I personally objected to this, noting that not everyone feels calling offside at U10 is wrong and in my personal experiences, without offside – teams cherry pick, thus drawing players out of the action which goes directly against the goals of ‘many touches’ with small sided matches. The key point being raised here was that there was a feeling players weren’t getting the development they needed at U10 in the existing Challenge program due to a perceived fixation on competition.

This was the same discussion that had taken place at the AGM and the group quickly realized it was time to move on. It was noted any program would be optional, though many agreed that ‘optional’ was relative since some clubs could quickly find their Challenge options limited if most other leagues, primarily the larger ones, switched to academy programs at U10.

To hep frame the debate, we talked about how leagues might implement an academy. This was a good discussion to have early since it would help to list the drivers for whatever proposal we came up with. There were four common possibilities:

  1. ‘Above’ Challenge – a Classic prep program for players identified by the league as probable Classic participants when they get older. Commonly mentioned aspects of this version would be professional coaches, higher fees than Challenge, and the program would be by invitation or tryout.
  2. ‘Peer’ of Challenge – in this version the program would be an alternative to Challenge for leagues and/or parents who felt the pool training and lack of team hierarchy and competition was preferable to the current Challenge offering.
  3. ‘Replacement’ of Challenge – Challenge would be done away with for U10 and replaced by an Academy program. Some would hold tryouts, others would have open admission.
  4. ‘Preparation’ for Challenge – A sort of ‘Rec Plus’ program where players who felt they weren’t quite ready for the rigors of Challenge could get intensive development to prepare them for playing Challenge and/or Classic at an older age level. Some felt it could be an added program for existing Rec players while others felt it would be a one or the other type of thing.

The ‘replacement of U10 Challenge’ was brought up often throughout the discussion. A few noted that people complained when small side was implemented, but it was mandated anyway and was successful – why shouldn’t the NCYSA just mandate the elimination of U10 Challenge as well and replace it with an Academy? Others (myself included) noted that they felt the Academy proposal had a better chance of passing if it was kept as an ‘alternative’ to Challenge, not a replacement. While there is always the risk that leagues moving to an Academy structure will starve other leagues out of Challenge (nobody left to play), from a state standpoint it should remain optional. Some disagreed and felt that coming right out and mandating the elimination of U10 Challenge would help it’s chances for passage.

The NCYSA DOC noted in his view (and his view was shared by others there), the Academy program should eventually be implemented up through U12. Another member felt that an Academy program should eventually replace U10 through U12 Challenge AND Classic. There was a push by some on the committee to ensure any proposal included some type of statement about what the NCYSA’s long term goals were related to this proposal. If they want to replace U10-U12 competitive travel soccer with academies – they need to come out and say so.
But that wasn’t anything the committee could mandate so we moved on.

Discussion moved to another issue which was debated at length during the AGM – how to ensure smaller leagues got enough matches to keep their program solvent. Some felt mandating ‘X’ matches was unfair – they may not want to play actual matches at all. Others noted the mandate that matches be played by U10 modified laws limited what they might want to do on a given weekend (four goals, odd shaped fields, and other often used development drills/concepts) However, most felt there was a need for SOME type of state involvement to help ensure smaller leagues who ran academy programs got the matches they needed. But the larger clubs were still wary of any wide scale ‘scheduling meeting’ ala Classic since most of their matches would likely remain in house among their numerous development ‘teams’. In the end most felt comfortable with simply mandating a scheduling meeting each season where the NCYSA could ensure everyone got the matches they needed without placing undo restrictions on what larger clubs had to do with their schedules.

The idea of regional festivals was talked about to help leagues get matches and provide a fun environment for the pool players to spend a weekend playing soccer. It was unclear who would sponsor these festivals (individual leagues, districts, the state)

Most agreed something had to be done to ensure fairness in match scheduling, but things quickly returned back to the bigger issue of replacing U10 Challenge vs providing an alternative. Smaller clubs worried that their kids would jump to larger leagues that were able to provide an Academy, even if the smaller club had one too. Once those kids went, it was felt they wouldn’t come back. It was noted it the Academy program is mandated and not made optional, many smaller clubs risk losing their best players to nearby larger clubs if they can’t implement a viable Academy program due to cost, numbers, or whatever.

At this point everyone got some interesting insights from CASL’s representative. He noted that CASL had done academies for a while, but had started to offer U10 Challenge this past season because people had asked for it. In their structure, the Academy program would be the ‘top’ program with professional coaches. Their ‘U10 Classic’ if you will. Below that is the new Challenge program which uses unpaid coaches and is less expensive. It was noted that even if the Academy program replaced U10-U12 Classic, Challenge level play would likely continue for them.

This provided some very useful insights from the state’s largest soccer association. While other large clubs had made clear their desire to switch to academy programs in place of Challenge, another larger club noted they likely would continue Challenge because there was demand for it.

The issue with the Academy Council ‘approving’ new membership was brought up. It was made very clear that this was simply an approval of a leagues curriculum. If you met the criteria and your program was within the guidelines laid out – you were in. The proposal noted that the Academy Council would be under the auspices of the NCYSA Board like any other so it was felt if ther ewere abuses, they would be dealt with.

At this point in the meeting, most of the hot button issues had been discussed so it was suggested that the ORIGINAL Academy proposal be used as the starting point for the proposal that the committee would send up. I only have a ‘draft’ version of this proposal in electronic form so I won’t publish that until it’s final. Instead, you can use the AGM version to go from since it only changed two key things and I’ll highlight the changes here.

  • [Assoc #4] To reduce paperwork and overhead, clubs who meet the criteria for participating only have to ‘re-apply’ every two years. If their curriculum changes, they have to get that approved regardless.
  • [Assoc #5] To help clubs meet the licensing requirements (National Youth for the director and Youth II for the coaches), clubs will have two years to get their Academy director licensed and one year to get the coaches licensed.
  • [Players #11] ‘U11’ was removed to prevent academy players from participating in U12 or higher Classic.
  • [Players #13] The age criteria was altered to allow younger players to ‘age up’ into an Academy. Keeping in line with USYSA guidelines, any true U8, U9, or U10 player would be eligible to participate in an Academy.
  • [Players #15] Removed the part about the Director doing the evaluations. It was expected the staff coaches would generate them and they would be approved by the Academy Director.
  • [Games #16] Moved to the General Section
  • [Games #20] Removed. Instead of limiting the number of matches per day, this section was rewritten to state programs must limit the maximum minutes per day played in line with current USYSA guidelines.
  • [Games #23] Added that the NCYSA would sponsor an end of season statewide festival. This was a compromise where the state would do one festival while leagues would be relied upon to do others with the districts hopefully stepping in as well.
  • [Referees #25] Removed the requirement that the fees be split and instead noted the fees would be agreed upon by both associations setting up a friendly. This way a host league could offer to pay all the referee fees if the away teams had to travel far, etc.
  • [Training #26] Removed the mandatory section which allows programs to hold as many training sessions as they see fit (up to 3 per week) while allowing the leagues to set attendance guidelines.

And there you have it. The original proposal ended up being tweaked in a number of places, but overall remains unchanged. This will be what the presidents consider for approval in late March I believe. When the ‘official’ proposal comes out, I’ll be sure to link to it from here.

I’ve covered my thoughts on the Academy program in many previous posts, though they are evolving as changes are suggested and I get more familiar with how we can possibly implement one here locally. So have my views changed much?

Only time will tell if the pool training concept is ‘better’ than what kids get from Challenge and Classic in U10-U12. I’m not ready to write off U10 Challenge primarily because our U10 teams seem to have done well in terms of development. We already pool train the Challenge teams during the preseason, though most coaches decided to switch to team practices once the season began. Many of the kids were bored with the pool training – which doesn’t mean it’s bad per se. But it would need to be changed. All of our Challenge coaches are E licensed, though we likely will push to get the U10 coaches their Youth II certification as well.

My biggest concern about the new proposal is the prohibition of dual rostering. While I’m not advocating overloading the kids, I believe the loss of a team structure at that age will not sit well with parents or the kids. So we figured a number of academy participants in our league would also continue to play on their Rec teams while also pool training. Most of our U10 Recreational matches are held Thursday and Friday, so they could still play in an Academy match on Saturday or Sunday.

That said, one club representative mentioned to me that they likely will still retain some type of ‘team’ structure within their Academy anyway since their existing teams are formed to be ‘balanced’ vs. ‘A’ and ‘B’ teams. Since rosters for any friendlies are up to the Academy Director, it is conceivable that an association can have the same roster each week. But this goes against the ideals of the Academy concept.

I’m really torn. While I feel the academy program has many merits, I can’t shake the feeling that it is being pushed by many people with an almost fanatical aversion to competition. They will tell you over and over how we are ruining our children by keeping score. I’ve heard the 1999 TIME survey mentioned so many times I’ve lost count. That survey noted that 73% of kids drop out of sports by age 13. Two reasons given were "It’s not fun anymore" and "Too much pressure" The key is, there are all sorts of drivers at that age. Lack of recreational programs past age 12, limited school team slots, it’s no longer ‘cool’ (ah teenagers), and many more. It’s not ALL about competition and as I’ve said before – you need to train the parents and coaches on how to properly DEAL with competition, not take it away from the kids.

While the NCYSA executive board members made clear at the AGM they see the Academy as an ‘option’, there are a number of people within both the state and regional soccer structure who feel U10-U12 Challenge MUST be eliminated because they view it as harmful. For some that may be reason enough to vote against an Academy proposal. I tend to agree with this because I do see the risks that could result in Challenge going away – something I don’t agree with.

DOCs nationwide have repeatedly pushed against competition in soccer up through U12. Yet at the grassroots level there continues to be significant pushback against this. Both sides are convinced they are right and so it continues. Even at a league level. The debates between our DOC and myself are legendary :)

That said, there are many clubs that already sponsor academy programs via US Club soccer and would like to see the NCYSA offer the option. Other clubs want to start one. So it’s hard to vote against a proposal like this because you fear what ‘might happen’.

My biggest concern is the dual rostering limit. The NCYSA allows dual rostering now. In my eyes an academy program should be no different. Much of what went into the discussion about this proposal was giving clubs the flexibility they needed to implement an academy that worked for them yet still adhered to the ideals set forth in the mission. Prohibiting dual rostering seemed to go against that.

For our league, I’m not sure what the future holds related to an Academy program. The elimination of dual rostering means we probably will have a smaller group of players willing to participate in one. I think we have enough players to have a viable program since we have about 225 true U8-U10 players, but I fear many will balk at ‘losing their team’. The licensing isn’t an issue – we had tried to get our DOC her NYL but the class was canceled. Many of our coaches have E licenses or Youth I certifications. Getting some to take Youth II should not be a big deal.

So what do you all think? Should the proposal be adopted? If so, what will happen long term to competitive and non-competitive soccer at the U10-U12 age levels?