19 January 2009

Where are America's Soccer Academies?

I was reading up on the New York Times Soccer Blog a day or two ago, when we were discussing Marcus Tracy’s signing with Aalborg Boldspilklub, and I think it’s time to articulate a key difference with American soccer and soccer in the rest of the world.

The thing is, Tracy is already 22 years old and he's just now getting professional touches on the ball.

So this fact got me thinking again about how professional athletes in America are cultivated and discovered. I was complaining that the "NCAA to MLS combine" model doesn't make a whole lot of sense for soccer.

But the problem really goes back further than NCAA draft picks and combines.

It goes back to our high school aged kids and how they are groomed for their next steps.

When you consider a guy like Ryan Giggs was playing at Manchester United’s academy when he was 14, while most of our 14 year olds are high school Freshman - getting 3 hours a week on the ball if they’re lucky, you begin to get a more complete picture of how our system of sports promotion is stacked against us.

The major sports clubs all over Europe have serious Academies, so that talented kids, such as Giggs, can hone their craft in an environment surrounded by other talented kids pretty much there for the same reason. They are competing against each other, learning from each other, and taking classroom instruction in sports related subjects that will benefit them as professionals.

So while our top 17 year old high school prospects are hoping for a "full ride" to a division one university, Ryan Giggs as a 17 year old was making his English Premier League debut against Everton at Old Trafford in front of tens of thousands of Red Devil faithfuls.

That being said, what is the appetite for American families to pull their kids out of “regular” school and put them in a soccer academy? People with kids committed to gymnastics or tennis or even acting, hire tutors and home school…I could imagine a fully academically accredited soccer academy might do ok if there were a some serious pathways to success.

Is it time to start Gruffgoat FC?


Jared Montz said...

Interesting post. As a player myself I agree with you that our system for developing players is not like the rest of the world. Our infrastructure is the problem, we just are not set up like them.

Keep in mind when the rest of the world has an academy that is a business and they are in the business of developing players and then selling them. Maybe when MLS clubs can buy players from each other you will see more of a better youth academy system. (even though they are doing a good job with their new academy league so far)

Ralphie B. said...

I agree with Jared, MLS clubs are a joke with the entire league owns all the teams. I thought they were starting something with Academies but probably nothing in the European model.

I think the issue is deeper. European countries allow more freedom from a younger age in everything from career choice, education choice, alcohol, or even sexual standards. America still expects people to go to high school, go to college, even if the kid knew he was playing pro sports from the crib.

An academy system would be another threat to the big money machine known as college sports and it also seems that grown ups are threatened at the thought of under 18s making a paycheck.

I'm a big fan of the european sports model as you can see from my blog and I love your blog but I don't see this happening until we here in the States take a greater interest in soccer and let loose our own premier domestic league.

Ralphie B. said...

Gruffgoat said...

First Jared, got a hell of a story! Best of luck and let me know when you get back in to action! Thanks for the comment...

and I agree with Ralphie B...our whole secondary school structure is different. We don't screen kids with master placement tests to determine whether they are bound for "University" or "trade school" part of that sort of rubs our philosophy of "equal opportunity for all" kind of the wrong way.

I don't know what the answer is...frankly the NFL is the most successful professional sports league in the world, and nobody does business better than the US (by and large)...maybe there's a middle ground somewhere, but I don't know where that is...