Steve Gans on the Development Academy's flaws, the alienating turf wars, and what U.S. Soccer should do

Steve Gans  is in a unique position to assess the success and flaws of the U.S. Soccer Development Academy. Gans, who has served on the board of directors of a Development Academy club, FC Greater Boston Bolts, has also coached youth soccer, served in volunteer administrative positions, and has provided counseling for youth clubs and for pro clubs in strategic partnerships with youth clubs. Before and during his campaign for U.S. Soccer presidency, which in February was won by Carlos Cordeiro, Gans went on a nationwide listening tour in which he got plenty of feedback on U.S. Soccer's influence on the youth game. Gans is also the father of two boys who played in the Development Academy. We spoke to Gans in the wake of major clubs leaving the Girls DA after its first season.

SOCCER AMERICA: You were unique among the eight U.S. Soccer presidential candidates in that you were the only one to join the race to replace Sunil Gulati before the U.S. men failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup. How much of your decision to run was inspired by your ideas on how you as president might be able to improve American youth soccer?

STEVE GANS: I ran for two main reasons. First, it was to vindicate an important democratic principle, as the election could not remain uncontested for a fourth consecutive four-year term, and someone had to step up to challenge Sunil. Second, I felt that there was dysfunction within youth soccer and through and up to the men’s national team program (the production of successful national team players is inextricably linked to the state of youth soccer), and so it was initially a huge part of my presumptive decision to run. Meeting with so many youth state association presidents, board members and executive directors shed even more light on that dysfunction, and was confirmation that the time to run was now for the good of the game and for the good of the kids.

I knew that there was a fractured landscape and confusing player pathway. I knew that parents were confused and frustrated by the patchwork landscape of leagues and state cups, and inconsistent and untimely communication (in many cases) from their club DOC’s. I knew that pay-to play and associated travel was/is out of control. I knew that the current system was sucking the joy out the game for so many youth players. But many youth state association leaders expressed their frustration and opinion that, as to youth soccer, U.S. Soccer only focused on the top of the pyramid -- the U.S. Development Academy. Moreover, they shared their opinion that U.S. Soccer did not look down below the topline of 4 million registered players to engage in and solve the infighting for turf occurring below between sanctioning organizations, which was contributing to the confusion and dysfunction in youth soccer.

I came out of those meetings more convinced than ever that running to provide more engaged and better leadership was the right thing to do.

SA: The Boys Development Academy is now in its 11th season. In what areas do you think the Boys DA has been successful?

STEVE GANS: U.S. Soccer’s fundamental premise – that the training, coaching and competition in the Development Academy are generally superior to that in high school (and for that matter, most other non-DA clubs) -- is fundamentally correct. The technical development of many young American players is better for having gone through the DA. But that is not where the analysis and inquiry can or should stop. So commonly with U.S. Soccer a linear approach is instituted (i.e., “this is how they are doing it in Belgium, and we must adopt that whole cloth”), without regard for what makes the U.S. different. We are indeed producing more technically sound players, but at a great cost. So we are producing more technically sound players, but many of those players come out of the DA robotic in playing style and/or having lost the passion and joy for the game. Understanding why that is is a sociological inquiry which is essential to moving U.S. Soccer forward.

SA: What would you say the Boys DA's main flaws are?

STEVE GANS: I sat on the Board of a DA club for 5 ½ years, and I was a DA parent for 7 years. My pretty consistent experience was that U.S. Soccer would introduce another more restrictive rule every half year or year, no doubt aimed at making the boys more professional, but which instead had a deleterious effect. My impression was that U.S. Soccer was making those decisions from 30,000 feet in a conference room in Chicago, and was out of touch with those in the trenches who could provide essential feedback to aid in informed decision-making.

One example in this regard which I discussed during the campaign was the implementation of the restrictive FIFA substitution rule in the DA. U.S. Soccer thought they were creating more professional “game ready” players by employing this rule. Instead, it was just another more restrictive and joy-sucking rule, which contributed to the “death by 1,000 cuts” experience of a good many boys in the DA.

Think about it for a minute: in regular club soccer, if a coach substitutes a player either for tactical reasons or to give him/her a pointer, that player can return to the game. DA players know the real FIFA rule in this area, they don’t need to play under it at U-14. As it is, many boys would come to me on game days and say “The Cornell coach is here to see me, the Tufts coach is here, and if I have two bad touches in the first 12 minutes, I will be pulled.”

As a consequence, many boys play “safe” and inhibited, with no risk-taking and no expression. And by the way, if U.S. Soccer’s intention behind the rule is to get boys to get off to a fast start and have their heads in the game from the get-go, that message can be delivered on a case-by-case basis other than by this suffocating rule (i.e., via a coach’s decision). The FIFA substitution rule is just one of a series of ever more restrictive rules issued by U.S. Soccer during my seven years as a DA parent, which served to suck the joy out of the game for young players, and which in my opinion evidenced how out of touch U.S. Soccer has been.

Other flaws include:

Too much travel, which contributes to burnout.
Ban on high school play, which is a huge alienating factor, contributing to players losing passion for and ultimately even resenting the sport.
Not enough monitored standards for coaches and DOC’s, many of whom emphasize winning over development, in an effort to build their own coaching resumes rather than truly focusing on what’s best for the young players.

In my experience, by the end of the system at U18-U19 if there are more than six players on a DA team who are still happy players, then that is a lot. Why should that be?

Lionel Messi went to one of the most serious academies in the world, yet look how he came out: a player who plays with passion and joy, and who had his original passion for the game preserved. Many if not most American boys come out of our no-name DA academies as players who have lost that expression and joy. Why should that be?

SA: How could the DA be run in a way that addressed some of the problems while still achieving its goal of producing "world-class" players?

STEVE GANS: The ethos of the DA should change to one which focuses on ensuring that players who go through the system maintain their joy and passion for the game. The lack of joy for so many American youth players was an early and constant theme of mine during the campaign. Other candidates kind of co-opted it, and it became almost a trite refrain after awhile. But that does not detract from the fact that it is a very real and essential issue.

The DA should of course be demanding, but it should not be as alienating, divisive and joy sapping as it is for so many young players.

My father came from Germany and passed on his passion for soccer to me, and I in turn passed it on to my two sons. Noah and Josh, who have been immersed in the sport their whole lives, as players and fans. Noah played in the DA for seven years, but my wife and I looked up prior to his U-18 senior high school year, and realized that he was losing his passion for playing, and was generally miserable. The dedication to the DA and its opportunity cost (no high school play, a somewhat less than normal social life) yet presented something most desirable: admission to the college of his choice.

Noah originally committed to a leading D1 college, and the admonition in our club (complete with examples) was that college coaches will not let one leave the DA or they will likely pull their commitment. We were thus left with a torturous conundrum. Noah had come so far and sacrificed so much to be in this position, and to risk it now would seem illogical. On the other hand, he was clearly miserable, and it was painful to see. Of course, the love of our son won out, and we jointly decided that Noah would leave the DA for his final season, for a chance to experience high school soccer and to get back that happiness. I haltingly called the recruiting coach with the news, and to his credit, he OK’d the move.

Noah thus played his last season for his high school and for a regular non-DA club in the spring, and by doing so, he got his joy for the game back. As a college freshman this year he helped lead Brandeis (not the school to which he originally committed) to the final four and was named one of New England’s top freshman players. He loves the sport again, and his playing future is relatively unlimited. But it would not have happened unless he had left the DA as he did.

Another personal story is even more stark and illustrative. A boy I once coached named Conor also played seven years in the DA. He remained in the DA for his senior year, but by the end of the experience he was so alienated and unhappy that he decided not to play college soccer at all. Can you imagine? All that dedication and sacrifice as a youth player, but the DA had sucked the joy of the sport from Conor, and he presumptively decided to give the game up. I took Conor to breakfast and told him that when he got some distance from and perspective on the DA he would get his joy back. Conor did not play college soccer his freshman year, but by the end of the first semester he had the passion for the game back. He is now a happy and successful college player at Colby College.

These are but two examples. U.S. Soccer’s myopic and attenuated perspective is harming the development of many players. You can’t play this game at a high level if you are not a happy player. So “joy” -- far from being a soft term for pampered kids -- is an essential component to developing elite young players and ultimately national team players.

So what can U.S. Soccer do? For starters:

Liberalize the restriction on high school play.
Roll back some of the other needlessly restrictive rules which choke the joy out of the game for so many youth players.
Reduce the travel demands, which also lead to burnout.
Mandate some freestyle play in most practices to let kids express themselves, and to reduce some of the regimented robotic development which occurs.
Establish strict standards for coaches, so that coach emphasis on team harmony and development is prioritized over the coach’s career personal agendas.
Coordinate and work together with state ODP programs. Players are being missed from states who do not have a DA club.

SA: If we agree that: For some players it's beneficial to skip high school soccer, but for others it's a sacrifice that's not worthwhile in the long-run -- how could the DA balance that?

STEVE GANS: U.S. Soccer has to liberalize the restriction on high school play, so that it is a choice for all players at the outset. If it is not, it will lead to burnout and indeed in many cases, actual resentment of the sport. In its myopic view, U.S. Soccer over-discounted the significant fact that playing high school sports is a quintessential America experience, and denial of that experience has some important detrimental effects.

I think what is key is that every kid gets the choice, and is not automatically forced into the dilemma of the DA opportunity having attendant to it the substantial opportunity cost of no high school. Prior to entering 9th grade, I asked my son Noah if he wanted to stay in the DA or play for his high school. At the time, reasoning that the quality of play in the DA was superior, he immediately chose to stay in the DA, and said, “Why would I want to play high school?” I continued to check-in prior to every high school year, and Noah’s answer prior to 10th grade was similar – DA all the way. But when I posed the question prior to his junior year, Noah said “Well, it would make no sense to leave, as I have come this far.”

That answer was a distinction with a huge difference, and in hindsight, it represented Noah’s tepid cry out that he was losing his passion in the DA for playing the sport. He was being recruited by many colleges, and so inherent in his answer was a pragmatism that he had gone through the process for so long with the goal (i.e., admission to a top college) in sight, such that it would be foolish to upset that process, irrespective of how wistful he was about missing the high school experience. But it is clear that over time he realized that he was paying a big cost and missing out on a quintessential high school experience: representing your school and playing with your close friends from your formative years. The experience of walking around your high school but not being recognized for what in many ways defines you and related to which you have dedicated countless hours to reach an elite level, is inherently alienating.

It may dawn on them early in their high school years or not until the end, but I believe that many youth players start to resent the DA once they realize the huge cost they must pay to be part of the program, and then thereby lose some joy for the sport.

To further illustrate U.S. Soccer’s misread of this situation, I would site a few more examples. Noah played senior year only for his high school, and the fear that somehow he would lose his technical edge by not playing in the DA for those three months went unrealized. Noah did not lose any technical sharpness or abilities, and indeed, I believe the less refined and more physical nature (athleticism over technical skills) of high school soccer actually enhanced his readiness to be a college player, as it rounded his game off.

Moreover, if U.S. Soccer’s focus (basis of the FIFA substitution rule) is to create players who are better prepared to be professionals, then I would submit that the high school game milieu does a better job in this regard then does the DA. To wit, the typical DA game (especially in the fall when there are few college coaches scouting) is attended by 40 white-knuckled (intense but simmering) parents and one USSF observer. The atmosphere is, to put it mildly, pretty sterile. Contrast that with many high school games which, at least in the game against the school rival, is apt to draw hundreds of fans or more.

Learning to play in front of a large crowd is a huge part of elite player development. Noah started as a freshman in the final four this year, and the moment was not too big for him. I would submit that having played in front of hundreds of fans in an electric atmosphere vs. a high school rival during senior year better prepared him to play in front of thousands of fans in the college final four than did the DA.

It is true that while some DA kids would choose to play high school soccer, others would choose to forego high school, but the point is that providing the choice could go a long way toward helping preserve enthusiasm for the sport. Liberalizing the high school playing restriction should be a top consideration of U.S. Soccer.

SA: When I queried U.S. Soccer in February on whether it was accurate that less than 6% of A, B and C license coaches are Latino, I was told that the coaching course application's ethnicity question is voluntary -- and that U.S. Soccer has not tracked the number of Latinos going through its coaching schools. In a nation in which 25% of the population under the age of 18 is Hispanic I would think a national governing body would be interested in such of demographic information. What's your opinion on that?

STEVE GANS: I would absolutely agree with you that U.S. Soccer should be interested in such demographic information, and if I had become president tracking the number of Latinos going through U.S. Soccer coaching schools would have become a priority. We have a disconnect across the board with the soccer-rich Latino community, and we should do everything we can to bridge that gap, and to make U.S. Soccer more inclusive.

SA: One of the aims of the DA was to provide less expensive youth soccer for the nation's elite players. The MLS clubs do fund their DA clubs, but obviously it's a struggle for most youth clubs in America to alleviate costs for their players. How would you gauge the DA's success at making elite youth soccer less expensive?

STEVE GANS: The pay-to-play issue is of course out of control, and the cost of playing youth club soccer makes the opportunity prohibitive for many deserving players; and that is a terrible shame. U.S. Soccer cannot just mandate that each non-MLS DA club scholarship every DA player, as the majority (if not all) of such clubs simply could not afford to do so. In addition to scholarships based on financial need, there is a movement in many DA clubs to provide playing merit-based scholarships. For instance, I recently drafted a model Merit Scholarship Player Agreement for a DA club. However, as well intended as it may be, this development has its own controversy, as economic relief for the best players means that the costs of running the club fall more heavily on parents of players in the club who play on non-DA teams, and that is not lost on many of these parents.

Overall, I don’t think that the skyrocketing pay-to-play fees issue is specific to DA clubs. Rather, it is an issue throughout youth club soccer, and I believe that U.S. Soccer could do a better job making clubs accountable, or exposing clubs who are overcharging, such that market forces would actually lower these accessibility costs.

SA: U.S. Soccer launched the Girls DA in 2017 under different circumstances than the boys, including the fact the ECNL was well established, and now we've got the Girls DA competing with the ECNL for the nation's top players and clubs. This hasn't gone well so far for the DA, as some top clubs who did join the DA have already announced they're pulling out. How would you suggest U.S. Soccer go forward with the Girls DA?

STEVE GANS: The close timing of the establishment of the Girls DA and then the Boys ECNL was a little troubling to me, because without more, it kind of appeared to be two competitors matching shots across the bow, and if that was the case, then once again focus on the kids was lost in the shuffle, and the kids lose out. Now that the Girls DA is here, I would simply say that if the restriction on high school participation is an excruciating and painful one on the boys side, it is even more so on the girls side of the DA.

As on the Boys DA, I would recommend that U.S. Soccer liberalize the restriction on high school play as to the Girls DA. And as a central focus of mine during the campaign was solving the disruptive infighting between sanctioning organizations within youth soccer in America, I would suggest that the DA and the ECNL talk about where they have common ground and perhaps can come together in order to eliminate some of the confusion and alienation caused by such turf wars, and thereby put the focus back where it belongs: on the kids and on the successful development of youth players.

28 comments about "Steve Gans on the Development Academy's flaws, the alienating turf wars, and what U.S. Soccer should do".
  1. humble 1, May 9, 2018 at 9:41 a.m.

    Is there a DA desease that infect folks?  Surely Mr. Gans has it.  No matter how bad your experience, you just cannot admit that it is the wrong approach.  He makes a very good case to dismantel the DA. Lionel Messi would not have attended a National Federation academy in either Argentina or Spain, he played and trained in clubs.  Argentina and Spain are not foolish enough to let their National Federations and take over development of players from families, communities and clubs.  Only here.  Last week Tony Lepore head of Talent ID for USSF was on with Glenn Crooks Coaching Academy and stated, 90% of USSF scouting is at DA.  Gans has just described how the DA is ruining kids love for game and that coaches are more focused on their own interests, winning and advancing their careers, and that HS soccer actually did not ruin his son.  DA soccer is not even in 50% of US states!  So we are ignorinig kids in more than half of our state, and focusing 90% of our recruiting on a very flawed development academies.  Would it be a better use of resources to focus all USSF resources on Talent ID, Coaching Development and support for Clubs development platform and practices?  I personally do not accept the premise that DA in the aggregate is the 'best' place to develop ones skills, for all the reasons above, and also for the simple fact that the aggregate is not where diamonds are cut.  Diamonds are cut one at time.  One amazing family, community, club and/or HS that turns out a diamond is what we need, then we need to replicate that.  Trying to paint a Picasso with a broad brush will not work.  I am not a propopent of HS soccer, but I am not a proponent to deep six it either.  Juan Carlos Osario in an interview with Grant Wahl some time back, maybe 2016, marvelled at the sporting environment HS's create and how they help prepare so many world class american athletes.  He did not state, in every sport but soccer, but this is the case.  We need to put all our resources to work.     

  2. R2 Dad replied, May 9, 2018 at 11:09 a.m.

    The problem is that DA, on the whole, is better and more accountable than HS. There may be great HS coaches in your area, and DA may be poor or non-existent in your area. AND MLS may own your players hide and do everything to maintain ownership vs player development. But we don't have a feasible national alternative. Clubs don't have independence in this country--they're just league members. Clubs aren't vertically integrated from pros to U8. Clubs are for the most part mom-and-pop entities (regardless of what the tax return says) so don't have the resources to invest in players.And even if we do have MLS clubs with DA teams, the standard of practice is not world class. As long as we are making pros one-at-a-time, we'll never reach our potential like other countries do.  We should be developing 5 Pulisics/McKennies every year at every age group. The kids are there--they just can't all get to Germany at 16.

  3. Bob Ashpole replied, May 9, 2018 at 5:06 p.m.

    R2 Dad, looking for a "national" alternative or solution is the wrong focus. Althlete development should be focused on individual players. For that local clubs are fine. Having training opportunities throughout the country is great and fair, but not necessary to develop an individual athlete. 

  4. beautiful game replied, May 9, 2018 at 5:10 p.m.

    Gans is right. DAs have too many flaws. Club development is much better and should be partly funded by the USSF.

  5. R2 Dad replied, May 10, 2018 at 12:43 a.m.

    Unfortunately, MLS/USSF has done everything in its power to prevent funding of clubs--it's all only to be funneled through approved channels (DA/MLS/USSF). Athletes don't train in a vacuum--it's the training with other top players that is the forge that makes the iron stronger. Players do additional training on their own to hone skills but that can't replace the competitive training environment required to improve. Our clubs are too weak, our talent too difuse. The problem as I see it isn't a matter of time, but structure. Oh well, we'll go along with this DA thing for 20 years and MAYBE there will be a small improvement, but our top players will continue to escape to Europe or Mexico to make their mark. USSF/MLS isn't happy with a smaller slice of a bigger pie, though--they have to have the whole thing--just a larger version of the inadequate mom-and-pop clubs.

  6. Bob Ashpole replied, May 10, 2018 at 11:26 a.m.

    R2 you are correct that playing against and with better players are important to development, but you are thinking "inside the box". Breaking out the best players by age in separate league-team competitions is not the only way. In fact it is not the most effective or most efficient way.

  7. humble 1, May 9, 2018 at 9:45 a.m.

    May I add, another fine article from SoccerAmerica.  Your team continues to get the folks that count to speak and bring that content forward.  Thank you Mike W. and SoccerAmerica for your work.

  8. Bob Ashpole, May 9, 2018 at 11:56 a.m.

    Excellent interview Mike. You helped Gans get his views across.

    The pyramid is a great model for athletic competition, but not for athlete development. In player development, the base is more important than the pinnacle. Elitism in player development is counterproductive. Opportunities should be available based on future potential and motivation. Where someone trained yesterday shouldn't matter. In sports science "talent" refers to how fast someone improves compared to others. The more experienced the athlete, the more individualized the training plan should be to promote development. 

    If we want the most talented players to be at the top of the pyramid, then we should make it easier for talent to move to the top of the pyramid. Our team focused competitive structure makes it very difficult for individual players to move to the top. For instance generally players can only play for 1 team and can change teams only once a year.

    Gans sees the need for managers of development to delegate control down to the club level. Uniformity is not desireable. Standards--yes, uniformity--no. 

  9. Ric Fonseca replied, May 9, 2018 at 11:16 p.m.

    Hey you might want to look at UCLA Basketball Coach JOHN WOODEN'S PYRAMI OF SUCCESS.

  10. Bob Ashpole replied, May 10, 2018 at 11:30 a.m.

    Cute Ric, but Wooden's pyramid describes the characteristics of a successful person, not an organization.

  11. Ben Myers, May 9, 2018 at 12:31 p.m.

    From what I have seen, Gans is spot on with his observations, and even tho he was not elected to replace Gulati, the USSF needs to listen to him.

    I am appalled that ZERO of the NINE senior starters on the Massachusetts Division 4 Boys State Championship team, the Bromfield School, intend to play college soccer.  Part of that is demographics, an affluent town where education takes precedence over sports once the players graduate.  But I also see in these boys the loss of love for the game with a steady diet of DA play, or multi-state travel in club play and high school win at all costs play.  I coached 8 of those boys as U12s for a soccer year, fall then spring.  They had a lot of fun and they made the first steps of learning to think about how the game is played.  Our town no longer has summer Sunday evening pickup soccer, because everyone is too busy to take the tiniest amount of time to organize it, which is simply to announce that children of all ages should show up to play soccer at a field at 6pm on Sunday.  Bring some pinnies and a ball and let them play.  These events, or the lack thereof, sadden me.

  12. frank schoon, May 9, 2018 at 1:08 p.m.

    STEVE, after reading your interview, I can see why you weren't voted president for you at least have a clue, a sense of what is really going on...You have your finger on the pulse, so to speak, compared to this current president, who is excellent at creating more administrative committees to tackle the problems at hand. I've come away with a feeling from this recent 3rd world type of election for president, that whoever wins must have the least knowledge; I just hope this current president where the hole is to pump up a ball...
    I agree with you on the mess of Pay for play , AD, and the current run of things. As a whole, I would like to identify better what we mean by development, or rather what do we expect to see in our kids after having been in DA program after 5 years , let us say. We need a yardstick ,a measure of what our kids suppose to able capable of doing technically with a ball, not to mention tactical aspects which is whole other aspect. For example, can he cross the ball, accurately, placing it where you want it, low, waist high, high for head ball, to either post, on the run or stationary, or against a defender. Is able to dribble the ball with either foot, weak or strong; trap the ball coming out of the air with either foot and able to place it in a manner so his foot can pass it; trap the ball from high goalie kicks with either foot; receive a ball with his weak foot when he's tightly guarded: 
    able to shoot with either foot on the run, or stationary, or cutting back and shoot with other foot;
    placing a diagonally 40yard pass on the run or stationary, to a player on the run. This is just sample and of course there is more of what I like my kids should be able to do after being in a AD program after 6years or so. 
    Cruyff stated kids at Ajax have a trainers  who can demonstrate the technical variations to show how it is done for there nothing better for kids to see how it's done. I'm afraid that these cowboys  with their coaching license at the DA are not proficient in demonstating the various technical qualifications but follow more their laptop technical teaching programs, for after all the USSF does not teach the technical qualification but the theoretical.
    I'm just scratching surface here, but I wonder if your son is able to carry these technical qualifications since he's been in the DA program. In sum ,  we need to have a better way of judging , measuring developmental success of the players rather than DA team wins for this will help us weed out the incompetent  licensed cowboys in whose hands we placed these kids.  NEXT POST

  13. frank schoon replied, May 9, 2018 at 1:30 p.m.

    Steve, I agree with lifting any restrictions, too much travel,etc,etc. You mentioned something interesting- more freestyle play in practice.. What we need is to develop playing more pickup games where kids are allowed to express themselves which is not happening. We need to develop pickup/street soccer culture for when that is established many of the problems like "pay for play" aalong with the ineffient DA developmental programs will fall by the wayside.
    Burnout comes about when coaches who themselves don't know or appreciate the history and stars of the game. Again, the USSF should have a coaching course on soccer appreciation which covers the great players of yesteryear and what they did and what influence they have on the game. I can't teach skills to players without crediting previous players ,their anecdotes, and what their presence on the field evoked. Now with Youtube it is even easier. Years ago I had a player on the JV team, who asked who is Cruyff, after mentioning him. You mentioned MESSI, but I will guarantee you as a kid he knew who Cruyff was, Pele, Maradona, Burruchaga, Ortega...all the great stars all over the world.  Unfortunately the American kids are not brought up with that history, and worse so many of the coaches, likewise have little familiarity  because there is no course offered by the USSF called "Soccer Appreciation' and How to Teach the Beauty of the game".
    Again , thanks for the great illuminating interview....

  14. Wallace Wade, May 9, 2018 at 2:05 p.m.

    If I read another article or hear another interview speaking to US DA’s producing “World Class Players”, I don’t what I’m good no to do. Everyone who knows anything about this sport knows that is not even close to accurate. As long as youth soccer in this country is fractured, as mentioned in this article, Elite or “World Class” players will not be developed. Big changes are needed. 

  15. s fatschel, May 9, 2018 at 2:06 p.m.

    Gans and son did the right thing by dropping out of DA and enjoying HS. Everything worked out great and an excellent college opportunity. Same choice all kids have. Gans then suggests, I think, that others play HS and then come into the DA after 4 months. But how would that work for kids  who commited to the full season? Do they hold spots? Discounted tuition?

  16. Mike Lynch, May 9, 2018 at 3:03 p.m.

    Good interview Mike on a key subject pivotal to our Soccer future. The DA burnout is real and not from being soft but rather from unintended maybe but avoidable consequences. I tell my team before every game, “No one runs into a burning building to save someone without emotion!” and emotion is being drained from our players. I see it all the time on the recruiting trail. Before they even go to college, they have lost much of their spunk and drive. Then in college, either the name school they chose if not truly at that level or some of the crazy training regimens get them. Ask the Club how many of your players from your top team are still playing college soccer by their sophomore or junior years? I bet less than 50%. Why? No Joy left in the tank and overshot their school choice (driven by coach and club business model).  Players still playing thru their college years would be a great stat for youth clubs to make public especially from their top team players. Great article Mike. Keep it up!

  17. Bryan Holland, May 9, 2018 at 4:03 p.m.

    Or maybe the high school soccer governing bodies could create a better product and compete with the USSDA. Maybe the USYS State Associations could compete with US Soccer's DA by offering all of the ideas suggested by Mr. Gans, none of which I disagree with. What happened to competition, market forces, and the struggle to achieve a better product? Should every applicant be accepted into Harvard? What happened to ODP? Personally, I don't have any problems with what US Soccer is trying to achieve with its Development Academy. Its main purpose is to develop and track players for the youth national teams. So what if it draws from global/international standards. Kids and their parents have many, many, many choices: ECNL, PDP, ID2, ODP, ENPL, high school ball, etc. I have worked in the airline industry for 25 years. We have competition and we know that customers have choices. If we do a poor job we lose customers to brand XYZ. Let kids go play high school soccer where they fit 10 months of soccer into a 2.5 window and are not allowed to use the ball during the "conditioning" period or whatever the crazy high school rules are. Let all kids play ODP and sub in and out every 2 minutes the whole game. Our players and parents have choices in American youth soccer. Regarding pay to play, I cant tell you how many coaches in my area that are paid to coach sponsor underprivileged Hispanic, African, etc. players to play on their team. they often do this because the players are so good. We all need to raise the bar in terms of coaching education, best practices, and teaching. The youth soccer experience for a kid should be a holistic one and an experience the child should own. 675eewq

  18. uffe gustafsson, May 9, 2018 at 5:42 p.m.

    First great article as usual.
    quick comment, we are an NPL team and we just played a club that have girls academy teams, noticed at the game one of their player had an academy uniform, I don’t think the NPL coach loaded his team but more importantly think that player didn’t get much play time on the academy team and got to play on the NOL team. I know that’s not allowed, and that’s the issue for academy players. That substitute rule is not a good one for player development. Yes you are on a team with very good players but riding the bench don’t do you any good. Plus HS is very important social aspect of girls and not playing HS is a problem.

  19. Bob Ashpole replied, May 9, 2018 at 10:50 p.m.

    Good points, Uffe.

  20. Ric Fonseca, May 9, 2018 at 11:28 p.m.

    ... "and the beat goes on.... revolution, evoli\ution, all it is is a ball of confusion..."  We'll always have this discussion and will forever continue to confuse it for what it should be, the development of players.  I was interested to note Mike's mention of US Soccer not keeping stats on how many Latino/Hispanic coaches have gone through the national coaching "schools,' well gee willikers and golly pilgrim, remember when we did have a national Latino coaches Association (Latin American Soccer Coaches Association - LASCA) well, back then in them thar days, we did tell US Soccer, all the way from Miller, Gansler, even Hank S, and Alan R that we'd need to rectify this omission.  So, que paso, senore?  Only the old NSCAA [aid any attention, helped us conduct some clinics, but then subsumed LASCA, and then the group faded into the glorious sunset never to be seen or heard from again.  Que lastima!!! And so 'tis back to square one and wait for tomorrow....  

  21. Ginger Peeler replied, May 10, 2018 at 2:17 a.m.

    Ric...”the more things change, the more they stay the same”, huh? When Klinsmann took over the technical aspect of the US men’s teams, I believe he let most of the Hispanic coaches go, except for Tab Ramos. I’d say that was a major loss for the US program. Well meaning folks keep trying to reinvent the wheel, while failing to understand and incorporate past history. It’s the same in some areas of education. There was a big deal made of “why Johnny can’t read” in the 1950s. . Phonics worked, but there are always younger people who’re sure they’ve found a better way to teach reading, so years have been spent trying these better ways without helping our kids!  And, guess what? A whole lot of Johnnys from nearly every generation since the 50s STILL can’t read! So now, in soccer, the DAs have placed more restrictions on the kids to “help make them better players”with some of the direct results being very the point of losing some of these talented players altogether. At some point, you’d think that everyone could see the inherent problems in the system. However, the powers-that-be are often heavily invested in whatever the latest system is, so rectifying the problems can be very difficult. In the meantime, the kids are the ones paying the price and the soccer program is failing to produce bunches of future world class players. Human nature being what it is, the folks in charge are more likely to “double down” than to rethink the system. 

  22. Bob Ashpole replied, May 10, 2018 at 11:38 a.m.

    Great points Ric. Ginger, that is an excellent summary of the problem.

  23. James Madison, May 10, 2018 at 12:06 a.m.

    Another good inerview, Mike.  It's about time someone in prominence talked about keeping the joy in soccer.   Also about time someone talked about even DA coaches being focused more on winning---it enhances their resume--than developing.

  24. s fatschel, May 10, 2018 at 9 a.m.

    About 7 years ago this topic was discussed ad nauseum. Rather than be a hamster on a wheel I would like to see SA and MW dig a little deeper now when interviewing soccer authorities on the details of their vision.  

  25. s fatschel, May 10, 2018 at 9 a.m.

    About 7 years ago this topic was discussed ad nauseum. Rather than be a hamster on a wheel I would like to see SA and MW dig a little deeper now when interviewing soccer authorities on the details of their vision.  

  26. Jeffrey Organ, May 10, 2018 at 12:02 p.m.

    I personally believe that there is going to be a break in the future between Academies run by MLS Clubs and other DA programs.  MLS is in 20 large US cities now and in the next ten years will be in 28.  Theyand USL may eventually break away and form their own DA.  MLS will cover the overwhelming majority of the population, even more so if you include similar USL programs.  MLS and USL clubs should be allowed to adopt the professional club standards and programs set by US Soccer and other DA clubs should have the choice to do what they want.  We are rapidly approaching the point where the majority of the top USMNT, MLS and European league players will come from MLS clubs and there are now enough DA programs in every MLS/USL cities that kids can choose whether they want to try for a professional contract or go the college route.  High School soccer is fatally flawed as it relates to producing professional players and incapable of changing.  That is OK...different missions and different expectations should be allowed.  

  27. s fatschel replied, May 10, 2018 at 12:47 p.m.

    Dual pathway is an interesting idea. Parents/players would need to decide at early age if MLS/USL is really in the cards.  Then go MLS/USL-DA or College-DA.  College path could include HS.

  28. C Camacho, July 17, 2018 at 11:24 a.m.

    Great article. On point from start to finish. The responses are also very well thought out. Stupidly having just had my 15/16 year old son at a “pay to play” academy in AZ for the past year (under the guise of being “affiliated” with a prominent Spanish club). First off, the asking price for one year for residence is/was (wait for the sticker shock) - $69,500. Yes – close to $70,000 for one year of soccer. Of course, most players receive a partial scholarship, but still end up paying a large portion of that. Some families do not – some pay the full Monte. The players with ties to the US national team are fully funded. Meaning, the families who pay, are paying for these top level players to be there. The goal is to create a team in which they can say they have US National team players. Great way to brand and market the program/business. Pay to play is a business. The DA in many aspects is part of that business. I could go into what really happens behind the curtain of this type of program, but it’d take way too much time. All I will say is, buyer beware. The player we sent there, was not the player that initially came home (and he got more minutes and starts than many). And, this was after already playing 2 years of DA soccer in state. He was less dynamic, less willing to take chances and admittedly less passionate about playing. He was robotic and afraid to play the game. That’s not to say all the boys in the program are like that. For a few, it’s a very good opportunity, but for the vast majority, their parents are paying for the chosen few, and hoping this will lead to a college scholarship. Now, the DA’s that are associated to MLS team are a little different, because they are funded. However, there are a number of great players sitting on the end of a DA bench, who aren’t getting minutes they should (for whatever reason), simply getting DA training and not even being seen – matches, showcase, etc. The saddest thing I witnessed was flying out to watch a match, and being one of only two other parents/families there from his team to watch their sons play. When a DA team travels, often times only a handful of parents attend. For our son, coming back to play ECNL and the opportunity to play for his high school team has been a blessing. Admittedly, the competition isn’t as good. But, he’s now has the ability to play in front of his friends and family, and again enjoy the game. Parents need to remember that less than 1% of these players will ever play professionally. Many will never even play in college, let alone a D1 program. The system is broken and unfortuantely there are no steps being taken to correct it. If they cared about truly developing US players, it would already have been done. Realistically this is all about generating revenue, and business is good. 

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