NSCAA opposed, but couldn't stop, high school ban (Joe Cummings Q&A)

Interview by Mike Woitalla

The impact of the U.S. Soccer Development Academy's banning its players from high school ball is being felt across the nation as the fall scholastic season begins. We spoke with Joe Cummings, the CEO of the National Soccer Coaches Association of America (NSCAA), more than a third of whose 30,000-plus members are high school coaches.

SOCCER AMERICA: What do you say to high school coaches who are upset that the NSCAA didn’t prevent U.S. Soccer from implementing the high school ban on Development Academy players?

JOE CUMMINGS: First of all, the statement we issued last year is one we still believe in. We are predominantly an educational institution and we feel that you should not mandate choice.

And that in the case of the Development Academy, they have mandated you must choose, and we feel that high school players should have the opportunity to do both. It shouldn’t be an either or situation.

To those who feel that the NSCAA should have done more -- we are an individual membership organization. We wouldn’t be the ones to take this on. The NFHS (the National Federation of State High School Associations) would be the one to take this on. Not the NSCAA.

The companion to this would be for a college coach to feel that the NSCAA should take on and issue the deals with legislation at the Division I, II, III, junior college or NAIA level. And that’s not our role. It’s not the function we would serve for the colleges, nor is it a function we would serve for the high schools. Nor is it a function that we would serve for our youth members if it were relative to a youth issue.

I will say that we work very closely with the NCAA, we speak with them, and we have spoken with NFHS about a couple of initiatives. But for us to be lead of this issue is not a function of the NSCAA.

SA: The NSCAA’s statement is pretty clearly disapproving of U.S. Soccer’s high school ban …

JOE CUMMINGS: Of all of the things that we could do or would do, we’ve done. Anything that we feel is within our purview, we have done. I’ve spoken to U.S. Soccer. I’ve spoken to anyone within U.S. Soccer I felt I should address it with. I’ve met multiple times with the folks at NHFS. We have had a meeting with NHFS with both of our boards' members. We’ve given our high school membership a forum, a separate forum on our Web site.

We have posted both sides of the view on our Web site. Those who feel the decision by the Development Academy is wrong, we’ve given them an opportunity to express themselves using our Web site.

SA: What do you know about the NHFS effort on behalf of high school soccer coaches?

JOE CUMMINGS: As the governing body of the high schools I feel they have taken a very active role, whether it be through meetings, phone calls and letter-writing.

They have taken an active role in expressing their position on this and that’s the group that should do it. We certainly have spoken with them and helped them with the message. We’ve been active with them.

SA: What was the NSCAA’s stance in discussions with U.S. Soccer?

JOE CUMMINGS: Isn’t there a way for peaceful co-existence? Isn’t there a way for a player to still participate in high school and continue to play on his Academy team? I would have hoped that would have been the decision.

Personally -- this is not an NSCAA position – if this was all under the umbrella of the professional teams I’d be much more -- not accepting of it – but I could nod my head and say, “OK, fine.” Because most of the professional teams I believe aren’t charging the kids a fee. And then it would the number of MLS clubs times 40 or so kids [kept out of high school ball]. Instead of 80 Development Academy programs times 40 kids or whatever.

[Editor’s note: Academy clubs field one team in each of the two groups: U-15/16 and U-17/18. Minimum roster size is 18.]

SA: One argument for the ban from the Academy, which is a national league, is that high school seasons are played at different times throughout the nation, making it difficult to have a break for high school play …

JOE CUMMINGS: In that regard I agree with Development Academy folks. It’s very hard to schedule something when you know some of the kids won’t be there in the fall, some of the kids won’t be there in the winter, some won’t be there in the spring.  If we were all playing high school soccer during one season, or even during two seasons, it might be a little easier.

SA: What has obviously angered high school coaches is U.S. Soccer’s implication that they can’t be trusted to develop talent. And that three months playing high school ball is going to impede the players’ progress …

JOE CUMMINGS: This is one that I do bristle at, not only because I was a high school coach. We have some really, really good high school coaches. I don’t think you can say a kid’s not going to improve by playing high school soccer.

And improvement can be in a lot levels besides just talking about shoot, pass, dribble, head and receive. Couldn’t it be true they’re going to improve a lot of ways, from a leadership standpoint, from a management standpoint, from a teamwork standpoint?


16 comments about "NSCAA opposed, but couldn't stop, high school ban (Joe Cummings Q&A)".
  1. Bill Dumler, August 28, 2012 at 9:14 a.m.

    I don't necessarily agree with the US Development restriction on playing High School. There shouldn't be a restriction, it should be up to the player and parents.

    This can also be said with the restrictions High School leagues put on players and coaches. I strongly disagree with any restriction on when a coach can coach a player outside of the High School season. If it is about development then why do High School leagues put restriction on coaches. In my opinion, this is the one restriction why I would recommend that my son does not play in the High School league.

  2. Antonius Molay, August 28, 2012 at 10:29 a.m.

    Kudos to Bill Dumler. High School policy was always that you could not play another sport (whether high shool or outside of high school)during a high school varsity season. Most high school coaches even dispise when their athlete plays another high school sport. Mr. Cummings knows better than to appease the progressive high school coaches, and should step-down from his position as CEO at the NSCAA. It is now very obvious that High Schools (having a monopoly on sports) all of a sudden have a concern, when all they do is have student athlete sign an agreement not to participate in outside sports during a varsity season. The penalty for doing so would be to forfeit any wins and be banned from high school sports. The fact that a legitimate organization like the USSDA is trying to promote Soccer (actually Football) at the highest level in a country with approx. 313 million people, and be competitive in world soccer, is honorable and a necessity for the development of a player at the highest level. Mr. Cummings knows that if an athlete does not develop the soccer skills by the time he/she is 13 years old (well before H.S.), it is most likely that athlete will not be competitive and drop off the map before college. There is plenty of evidence why an elite athlete should not play high school soccer. Playing high school soccer is for enjoyment, for the parents, and yes for the student body and friends. A truly gifted athlete will not benefit from High School Soccer. The statistics show that approx. 60,562 players are currently participating in college soccer. 7.7 million players participate in High School Sports (an all-time high). H.S. soccer players has more than doubled since 1990, to 730,106 athletes, the fastest growth rate among any major sport, according to Sporting Goods Mfr. Assoc.

    Elite boys who play U-15/16 and U-17/18 U.S. Soccer Development Academy is approx. 3,000+ (only 78 clubs throughout the entire U.S.A). Percentage of USSDA players per U.S.A. population equals .000957%. The percentage of High School Players per U.S.A. population equals .23%. This analysis alone shows that the NSCAA and High School Coaches are only concerned about themsleves, and not the student athlete. Fact: Div. 1 soccer programs very seldom go to or recruit from high school. Our sons and daughters benefit most from following the model of the rest of the international body of soccer programs...CLUB SOCCER. It is the top soccer clubs that have the most talented athletes and play at the highest level.

    I recommend that the High School coaches embrace USSDA and get over having a monopoly for the past 50+ years. There are plenty of student athletes available to participate in H.S. Sports. What every happened to the H.S. Coaches being charged with providing guidance to a student athlete, and wishing them the best opportunity available? High School Soccer is for fun and not real competitive training and play. :-)

  3. Luis Arreola, August 28, 2012 at 10:42 a.m.

    Antonious, Academies arent looking out for themselves as well? H.S. soccer in its majority sucks. There may be a few good coaches in H.S. but not even close to enough. I see academies worry more bout wins than anything else, including development at all ages. Why? Because thats tere the money is. Lets just be honest about it. As much as I disagree with the Academy sytem in place I still have to admit that it is better than H.S. only because its for the ore serious players and because its been given te credibilty

  4. Luis Arreola, August 28, 2012 at 10:56 a.m.

    Sorry, its been given full credebility, without merit in my opinion, by U.S.S.F and Collge scouts. If you want to get scouted this is where you need to be. Will Acadmies abuse this status? I think so. Academies in other countries practice every day and offer their own schooling. We are too far?away frm being like REAL academies, especialmy if our Academies have to keep depending on wins to attract the paying U8-U14 customers. These paying customers have the least chance of aking the U15/U16+ teams as the y do not develop because its all about the wins. Instead small club players that actually do develop are the ones wit the talent to ake these teams more often than not. Some Acadenies though, politically choose least talented long time paying customers to show they develop. Clubs should be raked and develoed players and not wins. I see no quick or long lasting solution to this failed system unless rules are changes. Homegrown is a joke in Usa. Make these Ls clubs play these kids and there will be a better effort of development or scoting the best players. Let people know where top players developed and for how many years so Academies make sevelopment their first priority or risk ridicule.

  5. Antonius Molay, August 28, 2012 at 11:06 a.m.

    I use to tell the parents at Youth Sports games (whether soccer, baseball, PAL football, basketball, etc.), when they would yell out the old tired cliché, "Just let the kids have fun.", that a child is not having fun when he/she cannot catch a pop up ball or hit a ball in baseball, catch a football or tackle another player, or dribble a basketball or hit a foul shot, let alone try to dribble a soccer ball or strike at goal (which is one of the most unorthodox sports in the world and requires extreme skill...all with your feet). Having played both youth, high school, and collegiate sports, I can tell you that the kids have more FUN when they learn the skill, train hard, and become a student of the game. Generally, it is the parents lack of knowledge and/or having never competed in competitive sports who drive the youth coaches and high school coaches to accommodate the parents, thus creating an environment of less than talented athletes, when as a great country with enormous potential, we should be at the highest level of soccer in the world. I agree not all programs are perfect. However, I leave you with this one comment: "We do not have the most perfect government, but there is no better in the world." The USSDA is right now the best program in the U.S., and we need to support and promote whenever we can. Our youth athletes will benefit the most from the highest level of training and competitive play. :-)

  6. David Whitehouse, August 28, 2012 at 11:19 a.m.

    Left unsaid in all of this is the long time ban many State High School Associations have had against playing soccer anywhere else during the High School season. What's good for the goose is good for the gander. I remember my son being told, when he was in 9th grade, he could not also play on a Co-Ed AYSO Rec team (which frankly was mostlyl about girls, and not much about soccer).
    Since many High School teams cut players they are telling kids they can't play at all, since they have effectively prevented U15-U19 competition during their season. These kids don't leave soccer because of burnout, but because of school policies.
    Also unmentioned in this discussion is sub varsity level High School soccer, which is of very poor quality and poorly coached. Most High School players play one or two years at this level and have no other choice during the High School season. As a local College coach once told me, speaking about High School play, "You know Dave, I think they got worse last Fall".
    High School sports, other than perhaps football, is not about player development, at least for kids who player soccer for years already.. Kids mostly want to play with their school friends; winning is often overemphasized by Coaches and Spectators alike; and in Michigan at least, they play way too many games to do any training (18 games +2 formal scrimmages+ 1-7 tournament games in 2+ months). Far too much money is spent on High School sports so that it can aspire to the "look and feel" of collegiate athletics, but which does not benefit the players.
    Of course, many schools do not care one way or the other about the USSF policy, but they are typically the ones who try to keep school sports in some sort of perspective.
    The silver lining in all of this is that High School soccer may eventually be dialed down a notch, since it will lose some of the top players, and have to replace them with others who did not previously have a place to play.
    When school associations stop telling kids and their parents where they can play, then they have a right to complain about others who do. Until then, I have absolutely no sympathy for them.

  7. Chad Jackson, August 28, 2012 at 1:20 p.m.

    There is a choice. If don't like what USSF implemented then play HS soccer and play on a club team (non-DA) when HS soccer is not playing. The HS coaches are acting like a bunch of babies. If you want these types of players then make your HS program more appealing.

  8. Teresa Buffington, August 28, 2012 at 2:02 p.m.

    There is no mistake and everyone would agree that at the US Development Academy level they are playing a different kind of soccer. They are working towards "perfect soccer" Coming from a gk parent The US Development Academy is training GK's to play in that way not to just get the boys up and kick the ball down the field and shot stop. The idea is to UNDERSTAND the game completely. It is difficult to do that if the player is interupted by playing soccer that takes him backward. Very few coaches are able to take teams to that US Development Academy level. Therefore, on the idea that HS soccer hurts athletes..maybe not permanently but definitely takes them away from the pot of gold! So ask your you want to eat train then eat again then train again every day? Or do you want to go to the school dance and have get togethers with school buddies on weekends. Easy questions with difficult answers for our young children.

  9. Dennis Mueller, August 28, 2012 at 6:22 p.m.

    Very few Academy players will play professional soccer, many will go to college, nearly all will earn their living outside of soccer. A lot of the reasons students play school sports of any ilk are more for social reasons than any burning desire to be a professional athlete. I think this is a decision best left to the players and their parents. If it were my kid and he wanted to play high school sports, it would be simple enough to get him from an Academy team to any one of hundreds of other teams. I don't think the coaches at the next level would mind at all. OF course, if my kid sere Messi I might have a different perspective, but what are the odds?

  10. Andy Wagner, August 28, 2012 at 7:40 p.m.

    First of all, let's cut to the chase. If you are banning players from playing high school soccer than they should also be banned from playing college soccer. I do not want to hear the replies about age...after all it is about developing these players into professionals and we see the college players making that jump. That will not happen because the college coaches are running the academies.
    The next point is this...when these players elect to play in college who is going to provide the academic background on these players? Not the academy coaches. I do not care who the player is or what background he has I am going to place the best players in the team not look at what academy he has played for. The best players in the world developed in the streets not at academies. They have come from squalor and used the game as an outlet to get away from their situations. The joy of playing is what motivated these players not following any particular club. By the way...this country has one place where all youth have to go until they graduate 12th your eyes and jump on board, all schools funnel all players through its door. These academy coaches will not see all the players. US Soccer plane your scouts in the schools and you will see what the US has to offer.

  11. Luis Arreola, August 28, 2012 at 10:20 p.m.

    Andy, ecellent ppint. Is college a step forward after Academy as far as development is cncerned? Not from what I have seen. Is it just e or has anyone here noticed that most of these Academy's best players developed U8-U14 else where, often in small clubs? So if these Academies are truly the best in training and coaching where is the proof? I want to beleive in it because thats easier but we must ask these questions first.

  12. Jack Niner, August 29, 2012 at 10:45 a.m.

    I'm tired of the pro-academy types talking as if academies are inclusive and not pay-to-play. The nearest academies to me is 170 miles away, and costs many thousands of $$$ in fees - It's not accessable for the top players in my town - so just forget it. I would like to see US Soccer work with the HS's, not against them, for HS's represent the most affordable and accessable oppotion for the most top players. Otherwise it's just about academy's and pay-to-play.

  13. Stephen White, August 29, 2012 at 2:10 p.m.

    I agree with Jack...Academy is pay-to-play! It also is "pie in the sky" for most players. Many of our most talented players will be overlooked for Academy teams because economic-social and geographic reality of this system. For many years the US soccer talk was that we needed more ethno-centric players playing in the city on vacant lots waiting to be "discovered". Now we have come full circle and want an academy system like the premier clubs of the world on the best fields and commited to the Academy only. We are not Europe and our school boy system of athletics serves our traditional sports of American football, basketball, and track very well. Let the kids have their day of glory in front of their schoolmates and local community....if they are good enough after that they may play some college ball, and at the very least will become life long supporters of the game!

  14. Mark Hodson, August 29, 2012 at 2:36 p.m.

    Isn't it a simple role reversal of the same restrictions imposed by high schools who forbid players from playing for the club teams, that train and develop them year round, during the HS season in favor of running the players into the ground in daily endurance training....I think that their should be the freedom to choose both ways....but until it's free to play...the development of top players is a mute point anyway and we're only going to get 10% of the top talent!

  15. Mark Grody, August 29, 2012 at 4:28 p.m.

    There are plenty of "great" players being left out of the high school mix as well, (eg grade problems), so it's not just pay-for-play that limits the demographics of access.

  16. Steve Austin, August 29, 2012 at 7:18 p.m.

    I suspect a good lawyer could cause a lot of trouble here, it's very difficult to take opportunities away from someone. Plenty of kids play both and gain benefits from both programs. A side note...this belief that "club " coaches are good and hs coaches are bad is stupid. There are so many highly qualified hs coaches where I live in Massachusetts, coaches with years of playing experience and plenty of coaching diplomas too. Players benefit from seeing different approaches to the game not just one clubs system.

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