Shortly after being elected U.S. Soccer President in March of 2006, Sunil Gulati launched a complete review of all the Federation's technical areas. The Technical Committee, headed by Kevin Payne, concluded that on the youth player development front, at ages 13 to 17, elite players needed an increase in the quality and quantity of training; an increase in the number of quality games, but a reduction in the overall amount of games. Between the myriad state, regional and national competitions, showcase tournaments and ODP events, a typical young American elite player was "stretched too thin." Said U.S. U-15 boys national team coach Jim Barlow, "It was never more clear to me that things in our youth soccer structure needed to change than at our first U-15 camp last summer when about half of the players, on the very first day of national team camp, told their coaches that they were tired of soccer. Too many games, too many leagues, too many tournaments and camps, too much structured soccer had already taken its toll on this group of talented young players." And thus came the launch of the U.S. Soccer Development Academy.
"I applaud U.S. Soccer for taking some bold steps to change directions and to make its top priority the players," said Barlow.
Bob Jenkins, U.S. Soccer Director of Youth Development, found that the club coaches whose teams participate in an excessive amount of competitions - placing an emphasis on results over player development - often agreed that their players were asked to play too many games. But they go along with it because the parents who pay them judge them on their teams' trophy-collecting ability and believe that if the children miss a showcase event they may miss a chance to be discovered by college or national team coaches.
The U.S. Soccer Development Academy will incorporate the elite clubs and their coaches but limit the number of games and travel while ensuring that the players will be seen by U.S. Soccer staff coaches and college coaches.
"For the good of the game, this is a welcome and long overdue concept," says Sasho Cirovski, University of Maryland coach and chair of the NSCAA Division I Coaches. "Youth soccer has become obsessed with winning and learning through games at the expense of development of fundamental techniques.
"The emphasis on training, combined with a periodization schedule that will allow players to train and play games mentally and physically at 100 percent, is exciting.
"It has become increasingly frustrating for all of my colleagues to watch 'tired' players, knowing that they are being paced in practices so that they can survive in the games. College coaches will be able to evaluate players in a consistent high quality competitive environment. In the long run, I believe that this will make our recruiting less costly and more efficient. This is something that all of us in college soccer welcome with open arms."
Says U.S. Soccer President Sunil Gulati, "We need to shift the focus of our young elite players from an 'overburdened, game emphasis' model to a 'meaningful training and competition' model. This will ultimately lead to more success and will allow players to develop to their full potential."