High school coaches sound off on Academy's ban

By Mike Woitalla

A youth soccer issue has never stirred as much public debate and gotten as much media coverage as the U.S. Soccer Development Academy's "ban" on high school ball for the players of its 78 clubs.

Sunday’s New York Times addressed the issue in an article by Sam Borden, who wrote that, “Those in favor have lauded the move as a requisite (and obvious) step to raising the quality of soccer in the United States, while critics have labeled it misguided, overzealous and an unnecessary denial of a longstanding American experience for children.”

In the Times articles, Dan Woog, coach of Staples High School in Westport, Conn., recalled when his team won a league championship and a group of players showed up at a diner afterward with their championship medals around their necks. The other customers -- a majority of them Westport residents -- stood up and spontaneously gave the players a standing ovation.

“They’re going to remember that the rest of their lives,” Woog said. “They felt like kings. That’s not going to happen in the academy. …

“We should be in the business of letting kids be kids. Not forcing them into thinking they’re going to be playing for Arsenal or Manchester United two years from now.”

Terry Michler, coach at St. Louis’ Christian Brothers College High School, said that keeping a larger number of children from playing with their schools as a service to the significantly smaller number who may ultimately turn professional or play for the national team was unreasonable.

“There’s about 3,000 kids on these teams across the country, but there’s not 3,000 future professionals out there,” Michler said. “There’s not 300 of them. So some of these kids and their parents are going to be misled.”

GOOD FOR ALL? Kevin Baxter’s Los Angeles Times’ article is headlined, “Expanded soccer academy decision is a win-win: Elite young U.S. players will get more training and more opportunities will be created for high school players.”

Baxter interviewed Marie Ishida, executive director of the California Interscholastic Federation, which oversees sports programs at more than 1,500 member schools.

Ishida said, "Our attitude's kind of been 'OK, we lose the elite athletes. But that leaves a spot for somebody else.’”

The particulars and criteria have not been revealed yet by U.S. Soccer, but its Academy league will grant waivers to some players allowing them to play high school ball.

Youth Technical Director Claudio Reyna said the waivers will help clubs manage their rosters as they make the transition to the 10-month season.

“If a team wants to carry 15 players and leave some spots open for players who can join at a certain deadline after a high school season, there’s basically a waiver for that player and he’s got to be rostered in,” Reyna said. “Eventually it will be used less, but it’s still available during this transition to make some things work because we needed to have a little bit of give and take with it for this year.”

But a key reason for the waivers is to accommodate low-income players who receive financial aid at private schools thanks in part to their soccer talent.

RULE CHANGE. Among the knocks on high school soccer are its different rules, such as unlimited substitution, as opposed to the seven subs per game, no-reentry policy of U.S. Soccer Academy play.

The National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) has made one change to put it more in line with standard soccer rules by eliminating the so-called “soft-red card,” effective with the 2012-13 season.

Under the previous high school rules, players receiving a red card for a second caution had to leave the game but could be replaced by a substitute. Now the team will play short-handed.

STATS: The NFHS’s participation figures for 2010-11 revealed soccer is the fifth-most popular high school sport for boys and girls.

On the boys side, 398,351 played high school ball last season, behind baseball (471,025), basketball (545,844), track & field (579,309) and football (1,108,441).

The ranking on the girls side: soccer (361,556), softball (373,535), volleyball (409,332), basketball (438,933) and track & field (475,265).

(Mike Woitalla, the executive editor of Soccer America, coaches youth soccer for East Bay United in Oakland, Calif. His youth soccer articles are archived at

16 comments about "High school coaches sound off on Academy's ban".
  1. Pelusa Bastida, March 5, 2012 at 3:19 p.m.

    es muy lamentable! que los eruditos del futbol en este pais no tengan la menor idea de trabajar en conjunto para el bien-estar de de los chicos.Es verdaderamente increible, la falta de vision y de entendimiento del fulbol, creo que la razon de este fracazo se da por querer inventar la rueda de nuevo, tenemos a la vista de todo el mundo la historia de acontecimientos positivos y negativos que las culturas futboleras no dejan de ejemplo, un chico Americano contemporanio no es tan diferente que otros e inclusive no muy diferente que otros en otras esencia del futbol ( soccer) no ha cambiado, los apectos fisicos y tacticos si en sierta medida,pero la esencia del futbolista siempre es la misma, Cuando estos sabios del soccer hablan de ELITE players me causa gracia, si ustedes ven realmemte, el 99% de estos jugadores son ELITE ATLETES, eso teine muy poco que ver con elite "soccer players".the big question is where are those elite players we are developing?most of them are in college and college is jus like high school soccer but usted no cree? vea un juego de high school y de college y determine por si mismo, por lo general muy pobre tecnicamente y para que decir un desastre tactico,es un matarse fisicamente al estilo de futboll americano,los chicos jovenes jugadores de futbol no tienen edentidad individual, juegan el ego-centrismo de un entrenador politico que entiende poco de los "entrenadores" del high school no saben de futbol y los "entrenadores"del college creen que saben que depara a nuestra juventud y fururo de este deporte? yo diria dejen tranquilos a los chicos! den les pelotas y no se metan SABIOS!ellos presizan docentes, no entrenadores! por lo menos NO del los que organizan equipos para competir a temprana edad.

  2. Don Monell, March 5, 2012 at 3:50 p.m.

    A few thoughts. The number of kids actually attending academies will probably never adversly affect HS soccer. And it will be a long time (maybe never) before the success at the academy can replace the success kids feel at the local HS level. And lastly I know we are trying to recreate the model that is working for other countries but what 'academy' did Michael Jordan go to? Derek Jeter? Troy Aikman? Seems like we have a good model for creating awesome professional athletes. Maybe we should mirror what is working in our other US sports.

  3. Rob Azarcon, March 5, 2012 at 3:51 p.m.

    In terms of participation, baseball probably won't sustain those numbers in the next decade. Basketball is really impressive, considering they only carry 12 players per team. Track has a ton of events, so that number is bloated. Football carries a lot more players on the team than soccer. Would be interested to see the actual number of players on football teams that play at least 51% of the snaps.

  4. Douglas Mohrmann, March 5, 2012 at 5:35 p.m.

    I must say I agree with the comment that we should do it our own way. the belief that the United States is not a top ten world soccer power is because we do not have academies is ridiculous. it is a generational development process. We already have three or four MAJOR professional sports and European countries do not. We are not acclimated to soccer yet and may never be, so we are what we are. the worlds best baseball, basketball and american football country

    One more comment: Waivers are an outrage! weather it is Obama-care or academy football what is good for one is good for all. period. Everybody has a good excuse if they seek a waiver but only some get it. Forget it! compete or quite, choose between your options and do not expect to be glutenous! It is a pathetic excuse to try and engineer a situation for the better of some against the good of others

  5. Ken Sweda, March 5, 2012 at 7:20 p.m.

    This is all pretty amusing. First, what the HS coaches (and parents) are really upset about is losing out on the chance to win conference and state championships losing their (presumably) best players. Don't kid yourselves. And now, a whole big bunch of HS coaches will actually have to figure out how to coach, rather than rely on those players that grew up from a young age loving the game, training, and shooting for the highest level. Second, do you really think HS and College programs aren't every bit as mercenary the way they use their sports programs to recruit and promise the dream of going pro? In many instances, those institutions serve the very same purpose as a DA, precisely BECAUSE there are no actual DAs for Americans sports. A large number of the kids that play football, baseball, basketball or hockey in a D1 (or even D2)program have a hope of becoming a professional. If there was a true DA path for American sports, a large proportion of those kids would NEVER go to college, they'd go the DA route. I'm amazed at some of the whiny ignorance in this discussion.

    Some kids in this country want to grow up to be professional soccer players, make a very good living (i.e. NOT MLS), and play for their country at a level higher than we play right now. Just like Derrick Rose did with basketball. Remember him? had a friend take his SAT for him to get into college, then left after a year? Or Lebron James, who didn't go to college at all? I'm sure you've never watched them play or cheered for them because they only had one goal--to become professionals.) It's the kids/parents decision. Please stop bellyaching over it. They now have another option, which they are entitled to have. It takes NO option away from you. You all sound like the parents on my colleague's son's team. When he signed him up for additional skills training, the parents all said "you can't do that by yourself, we're a team." So he said "oh, sorry, I didn't know anyone else was interested. well who else wants to sign up?" No one. Why? They didn't care enough to do so, but they couldn't stand the idea that someone else did and would--God forbid--actually do it. It's fine not to be interested, but then you have no right to hold others to your own selfish (yes, you are behaving just as selfishly) expectations.

  6. Paul Bryant, March 5, 2012 at 7:51 p.m.

    It's about time. nobody has addressed the fact that many, maybe most high school coaches retard the growth of a promising soccer player. In addition, most "elite" club players are playing for college scholarships, not for professional contracts. Being recruited by a D1 college just playing high school ball is as rare as hens teeth.

  7. mark courtney, March 5, 2012 at 7:55 p.m.

    All are amusing. Mark my words ... As I have high hopes for my U8 son, and am learning how all soccer (development) is playing out in this country ... I can guarantee that this is all a non issue. The simple fact that one must cough up serious $$ to help a young player prosper basically knocks out more than 2/3 of the kids with true raw talent in the beginning. Now couple this with the fact that "Free Play" (which is actually free) is basically non existent .... well there you have it ... US soccer in all it's mediocrity.
    Ask any NBA player how much practice/play was outside team practice and games ??? Probably 80% ! Upon talking with a few involved with soccer at a serious level ... and to hear that free play in not that important ... just blows me away. But it does help with collecting those training fees !

    Soccer is an elitist sport for the most part ... and now rugby is the new fashion. And Please, I am all for seeing soccer improve ... but it's not going to happen with or without this ban.

  8. Juan Planells, March 5, 2012 at 9:03 p.m.

    The academy is best for the elite players.

  9. John Molinda, March 5, 2012 at 9:57 p.m.

    Both sides have very strong arguements. No doubt that High School athletic achievement can be one of the most memorable experiences for our kids. These kids love winning a state championship and seeing their All-American, All-State pictures hanging in the High School hallway. And parents like me love seeing them too. But elite soccer athletes are already paying a very high price for that high school experience. Several college coaches have told me that every year some Western PA players miss out on scholarships worth as much as $200,000 or more because they are prohibited from playing with their clubs (during key recruiting showcase periods) while playing high school. Also, I have been told by the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association that they absolutely do not want their referees to use yellow and red cards for fouls because it discourages kids who are not experienced at soccer from giving it a try. Imagine the physical risk that this presents for the elite players! As tough as it is for these elite players to miss the HS experience, it may be in thier best interest.

  10. Juan R, March 5, 2012 at 10:53 p.m.

    Academy is the future, there are enough High Schoolers out there to round out the teams and provide a second tier experience. Some of those High Schools have garbage coaches anyway.

  11. Jack Niner, March 6, 2012 at 6:31 p.m.

    The DA argument would be more credible if the didn't charge fees, like the Kickers just did. Otherwise it's a money grab to keep a lot of soccer bums employed.

  12. Luis Arreola, March 7, 2012 at 12:02 a.m.

    Pelusa Bautiza, bien dicho. I hope everyone here takes the time to translate that message. It is full of wisdom. All academy soccer players can look forward to is college soccer and all college soccer is a bigger, faster version of H.S. soccer. So why spend the money to end up in the same place? Academies at every age in their majority are worried first about winning to elevate the club name and rankings. Rankings are solely based on wins and amazingly not on pro player development or even college player development. These rankings help justify the crazy academy fees. I keep hearing that Academy soccer is the best thing to develop players yet I have yet to see the best players develop under those same academy clubs. These top players usually come out of small clubs and then play for these academies for 1 year before they go pro. These academies are actually ruining more talent than the ones they are exposing because that is all they are really doing, not developing. They get all these top players under free scholarships at all younger ages, as long as they produce wins, faze out the ones that are not performing well enough, meanwhile all these new players join the club willing to pay whatever it takes in hopes of playing on these top teams with these top players that did not even develop there. Win, win, win. I have yet to see a top U11, U12, U13, or U14 team make these Academy teams within the same club with 70-80% of its players. This is development?? Winning at all ages(U8-U14) at all costs and player development does not go together.

  13. Luis Arreola, March 7, 2012 at 12:10 a.m.

    Courtney, right on brother.

  14. Antonius Molay, March 7, 2012 at 11:25 a.m.

    The USSDA is the best program for youth soccer players in the USA. My son played rec, town, HS soccer,
    and now plays Academy. He has been playing 10 years of youth soccer since 6 years old, and I call tell
    you that HS is awful soccer. The quality of coaching and play is like a bunch of chickens running around
    the pitch with no concept of the game. The referees are equally incompetent. It's a travesty Dan Woog,
    Staples HS coach Westport, CT, is promoting his values on the most beautiful sport in the world. This
    coach is a sports writer, blogger, and has written numerous articles "upon information and belief" about
    alternative lifestyles in sports. He himself has a lifestyle that is not always conducive to contact sports.
    Google his name…he is not just a coach. No wonder he just wants the "kids to have fun." It is obvious by
    Mr. Woog's outside activities, he is more interested in becoming a HS hall of fame coach or being
    recognized as having an excellent HS program. HS's cannot develop players at a young age or have the
    capacity to do so. Soccer skills develop between 10-12 years old (if not earlier). Sports like football,
    basketball, can begin in HS since coordination, maturity, and growth play a huge factor(many kids do not
    play before HS). HS has a place for soccer, as a rec sport. Too many coaches, including Dan Woog try to
    take credit for an excellent soccer program, when it is the parent(s)that have invested in their child's
    soccer development. It is generally tenure that keeps HS coaches in their jobs. If it were like the EPL or
    int'l soccer, most HS coaches would be fired. Most kids that play HS soccer could not play at the Academy
    level (78 clubs in a country with over 311 million people). We should embrace the USSDA and other soccer
    clubs for bringing to our kids the best training and development that is currently available. We should also
    praise our children that participate in the Academy, since they have achieved a level of play and
    competition that most kids only dream about. If we follow the beliefs of individuals like Dan Woog, we do
    it at our own peril! I know, because I have witnessed the politics in towns like Westport, CT and other
    towns when it comes to sports. We need to promote the best opportunities for our children...and to the
    soccer moms and need to decide, it is your choice. If your kids just want to have fun, like Mr.
    Woog mentioned, then play HS, town, or recreational sports. There is no place for progressive academic
    individuals to promote their own agenda and disrupt the growth of soccer in the US. It is the world's
    greatest sport and will continue to grow here too. The US National Team finally has a great coach that is
    bringing the team to a higher level. Competitive sports is competitive. For success you want the best
    athletes on the pitch. HS soccer can't provide this level of soccer. Currently, USSDA is providing the top
    soccer in the country for our youth soccer players.

  15. Nancy Drew, March 10, 2012 at 7:13 p.m.

    The solution is not to do away with the American system of HS and college. That is part of the American pschyse. Soccer will NEVER grow in the US the way US Soccer is pushing it -- trying to emuluate somewone else. It's simply too un-American. We will be going NOWHERE without a huge fan base (like football and basketbal) and that starts at HS level. Soccer coaching in the US HS system is simply horrendous. Most of the coaches learn soccer by reading a book. What we really need to change is to put some real money into HS soccer program and hire real coahces at HS level so the kids will learn how to play real soccer. Leverage the system you have ... US soccer is simply too stupid or too arrogant to recognize this and have been floundering over the last 20 yrs and has shown no progress. That is my 2 cents

  16. a f, March 12, 2012 at 1:57 p.m.

    I completely understand the concept of academy and think it is the right direction. However, if your going to do away with hs soccer then do the same in college. You want to compare with players in Europe? Ok Ronaldo was playing pro at 16 with sporting, chamberlain 17 with arsenal, cesc too. The list goes on and on! The real issue is that 5-10% of America's top athletes play soccer other countries its 80-90%. Its in their culture! Bottom line is if the kid is talented enough, has the right mind frame, and makes the right choices; then he can go pro regardless if he plays academy or high school

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