Elite youth soccer in the USA used to send its kids through this rotation of clubs: Youth club, ODP, high school, youth club, ODP, high school, big-time summer league (Super-Y, etc.), college, USL, college, USL … then maybe pro.
Now it’s supposed to look like this: Development Academy, Development Academy, Development Academy, Development Academy, pro.
The reason we’re supposed to be shifting to this new system is, of course, because That’s The Way They Do It In Europe. Just ask Jurgen Klinsmann.
Now consider this point about Klinsmann’s playing career and how it affected him as a coach:
Klinsmann, 48, agrees to revisit the experiences he amassed playing for eight clubs over the course of 17 seasons, exploring each coach’s philosophy and mining the elements he synthesized into his own.
So Klinsmann has grown in soccer by playing for different clubs. But our elite kids are supposed to sign up with FC Bigname Youth Club Vipers at age 12 and play for no other coaches in no other situations until college or the pros?
The old system is certainly chaotic. The summer leagues — PDL, W-League, NPSL, WPSL — are strange entities that grab players for a handful of games. ODP can require a ton of time and money on top of the time and money already spent on travel.
But when I speak with players and parents, I sometimes hear that they’ve learned more from their ODP coaches than from their club coaches. Or vice versa. Or that one coach pigeonholes a player as a left back, while another rotates him or her through different positions.
The “solution” to this situation is supposed to be greater uniformity in coaching. You get one coach. If that coach leaves, the new coach will have the same principles in mind.
Why not expose players to different coaches? Different ideas? Different positions? Don’t we want players who can adapt?
And going through different teams exposes players to different environments. High school soccer games may not be the lore of Friday Night Lights treatment just yet, but they’ll have more of an atmosphere than an ODP event. A youth soccer showcase is more likely to be highly competitive on the field and subdued off it.
The Academy system has the allure of simplicity. But could it also dumb down youth soccer?