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.