Most people think all soccer parents are crazy, living vicariously through their kids. As a league administrator, I’ve seen a few that do this, but overwhelmingly, soccer parents want their kids to have fun and get better at a sport they usually love to play. The idea of signing their child with a professional team’s youth program is completely foreign to American soccer parents as we have VERY few teams with pro academies. Your average soccer parent of a talented player will hope someday they play on a competitive youth team, them perhaps make the ODP program, advance to the Premiere level, play in high school, and maybe, just maybe, get some sort of scholarship to college (the holy grail in many a parent’s eye – until they realize it’s partial. Very partial). The truly elite may be tapped to play on a new USSF Academy team (U16/U18 Boys only), or perhaps be invited to train at Bradenton with hopes of making a national youth team appearance. The idea of professional play is always much farther down the road – after college.
But soccer parents in the USA often have no concept of a professional team academy, where players can be signed to a team as young as U9 and train with the team’s staff. The problem is, if a player isn’t going to be good enough as they age to make the reserve or first team, they are cut loose. This can be extremely traumatic for a player and their family, as Graham Fisher recently outlined at SoccerLens. I’m glad his son recovered and is enjoying the game so much, but you have to wonder if his son was helped by bouncing around once his initial dream was shattered.
With that in mind, we now get the news that Everton has signed a seven year old to their academy. Long time readers know that I often talk about how young players are often sold short and the game is often dumbed down for them (*cough* no offside *cough*) when they are more than capable of handling it. But even I twitch at the idea that a professional team has signed a seven year old and the parents went along with it. In the long shot chance this kid grows tall and develops into a star keeper, all is well. If he trains with the professional academy for a couple years and is cut loose, he’ll have an amazing childhood experience to remember. But if he stays in the Academy from 7 through, say, 17, chasing the dream, and then is cut loose – can you imagine the damage?
What do you think? How young is too young for a child to be put into a professional training academy? Is a system like ours, where kids gradually advance to the next level more suited to pre-teeens and tweens than going straight to an academy?