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#174818 - 05/02/18 12:51 PM US Soccer blundered badly on high school soccer
coachsloan Offline

Corner Kick

Registered: 04/14/11
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Loc: South Carolina
Soccer America article

U.S. Soccer blundered badly on high school soccer by Mike Woitalla @MikeWoitalla, Apr 20, 2018 American soccer, so plagued by the pay-to-play problem. If only there was youth soccer that didn't charge kids so much money.
Hold on! It does exist, and it’s massive. Nationwide. It’s called high school soccer.

Sometimes, hundreds of people show up for a high school game, the players are celebrated on campus, rivalries date back for decades, there’s even local media coverage.

Not always, but often around the country, high school games create a special kind of atmosphere in the stadium.

As you enter, there’s a snack bar with homemade baked goods and hot chocolate to raise money for senior night, the annual game when parents tear up like they do at graduation.

There’s a scoreboard, a PA announcer, and music blasting from the mixtape the captains compiled -- making sure they downloaded the censored versions of the latest rap songs -- while the players warm up.

Players from the same clubs play against each other – and the parents who usually root together are on separate sides after exchanging pleasantries. Postgame they congratulate and console each other.

Some club coaches are there too, proud that they’ve got current or former players on the teams. They mingle with the parents and catch up on old times. The boys team shows up to cheer on the girls, or vice versa. Friends and boyfriends and girlfriends are in the stands. The class clowns are leading cheers and jeers.

High school soccer differs from club soccer not just by exposing players to the pressure and exhilaration of playing in front of crowds, it also puts players from ages 14 to 18 -- from freshmen to seniors -- on the same field.

None of that seems to impress the U.S. Soccer Federation.

It started on the boys’ side. When U.S. Soccer launched the boys Development Academy in 2007, it allowed a break for high school soccer. But in 2012, it introduced a 10-month DA season and banned high school play.

Jurgen Klinsmann, the U.S. national team coach at the time, announced that, "If we want our players to someday compete against the best in the world, it is critical for their development that they train and play as much as possible and in the right environment."

One would not expect the German Klinsmann to have any appreciation for American high school sports, but the ban also got the blessing of then U.S. Soccer Youth Technical Director Claudio Reyna, former U.S. World Cup captain and Hall of Famer, a big part of whose youth soccer experience was at St. Benedict’s Prep, the same high school where Tab Ramos, another Hall of Famer who is now the Youth Technical Director, starred.

So, although the likes of Reyna, Ramos, Clint Dempsey and Tim Howard played high school soccer, the Federation had decided that high school soccer was no good for today’s players -- even though for whatever faults the high school game has, it had certainly improved over the years.

The high school vs. club battle predated U.S Soccer’s 2012 decree for its DA. And I imagine U.S. Soccer was doing a favor for the club coaches, who could now blame the Federation when telling kids to give up high school ball. Because it had to have been difficult to tell each of the 20-some players on the roster that sacrificing high school ball would be worthwhile in the long run.

Club coaches may be able to sincerely tell some of their players that they wouldn’t regret forgoing high school ball -- but no way would that be the case for every single player.

But U.S. Soccer was smart on the boys’ side by waiting until the DA was well-established before becoming so heavy-handed. It erred badly on the girls’ side.

The 2017-18 Girls DA season is in its first season and major clubs are already defecting, with the high school issue being a key reason. Those clubs can play in the well-established ECNL, launched in 2009.

Just as Mallory Pugh was emerging as a super talent, with everyone knowing she played high school soccer, in addition to ECNL ball, U.S. Soccer was disparaging high school ball while setting up a league to compete for the nation’s top talent with the ECNL.

Talk about bad timing.

People who know a heckuva a lot about girls and women's soccer, such as Anson Dorrance, Tony DiCicco, Amanda Cromwell, Julie Foudy, disagreed with U.S. Soccer’s attitude toward high school soccer.

But U.S. Soccer believes it’s paramount that kids play in one environment for 10 months. It only allows DA kids to play in its competitions. Dempsey, when he was a teenager, played club ball, high school and in the Hispanic adult leagues in the East Texas town of Nacogdoches. He’s managed to have a stellar career without having spent 10 months of every year as a teen in the same Federation-run environment.

Why the USSF has the confidence to believe only it knows exactly how every child should be coached is hard to see. That it didn’t have the foresight to see how problematic a high school ban would be for the Girls DA is puzzling.

The Federation could have considered that high school soccer is likely even more important for girls than for boys. It could have tried to manage a DA without its strict stance against high school ball.

The quality of high school soccer varies widely around the country. Some players are better off skipping high school ball -- and have since before the boys' DA or girls' ECNL started -- and there are players who will benefit from it. But instead of dismissing high school soccer because it has its flaws, U.S. Soccer could have appreciated its attributes and its potential, regarded it as a partner instead of a nuisance, and even taken steps to improve the high school game.

Now, if U.S. Soccer doesn't reconsider its attitude toward the high school game, it faces a major challenge in making the Girls DA the destination for the nation's top clubs and players.

But it has been clear in recent years that U.S. Soccer believes in a one-size-fits-all approach to youth soccer. That’s a perilous approach in a nation as large and diverse as the USA.

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#175043 - 05/22/18 01:14 PM Re: US Soccer blundered badly on high school soccer [Re: coachsloan]
scsoccerfan123D Online   content
Bench

Registered: 05/18/18
Posts: 22
The younger USMNTs are finally succeeding against the rest of the world due to the growth of DAs/club v HS soccer in my opinion. I'm a huge fan of the players you mention, but possibly those few exceptions prove the rule.

USWNTs will benefit in the same manner, though the changing of the mindset will be just as tough as it was for the boys.

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#175044 - 05/22/18 04:02 PM Re: US Soccer blundered badly on high school soccer [Re: scsoccerfan123D]
Coach Chass Offline
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Registered: 05/09/02
Posts: 2221
Loc: Charleston/Berkeley
In my experience, there is little to be gained by setting two potentially positive influences at odds with one another; for every benefit there is a cost, which may or may not be greater than the gain.

If the USWNT has reached the top level of world competition using the current formula--which may or may not work better for female athletes than for males--then what is the potential gain that is worth the risk of cost?
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#175045 - 05/22/18 04:20 PM Re: US Soccer blundered badly on high school soccer [Re: coachsloan]
scsoccerfan123D Online   content
Bench

Registered: 05/18/18
Posts: 22
High school soccer in SC regularly consists of lower quality, less meaningful games, which is the opposite of what US soccer and it's many lower level competing organizations say is important. I don't see it as much of a positive for those desiring to play at a high level.

I agree there is an element of risk that what is good for men's soccer may not be good for women's soccer, but in the competitive world, refusing to change because you are the best now is a decent way to ensure you aren't the best in the future.

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#175046 - 05/22/18 08:21 PM Re: US Soccer blundered badly on high school soccer [Re: coachsloan]
Chuck607 Offline
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Registered: 05/16/18
Posts: 16
For the most part, 5A soccer in S.C. for girls and boys is pretty competitive in comparison to some of the local leagues. Playing in HS is a formative experience for any athlete that allows bigger crowds outside of just parents that frequent most higher level national youth games. If you’ve been following DA on the girls side the talent is hit or miss because of the pay to play mentality still alive and well. Until there is a clear elite league in the US, kids will continue to play where they want regardless of level of play ( ECNL vs. NPL vs. DA). Look at the NWSL and USWNT rosters and you’ll be hard pressed to see any league that sets up the fast lane to that roster.

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#175047 - 05/22/18 10:44 PM Re: US Soccer blundered badly on high school soccer [Re: coachsloan]
scsoccerfan123D Online   content
Bench

Registered: 05/18/18
Posts: 22
The article suggested HS soccer prepares kids for a national stage. It jumped back and forth with the handful of men's exceptions and the women's situation to rry to prove a point that seems unsupported by either. It seems that, in equating SC HS soccer to local leagues you support the argument that DAs and clubs that travel wider distances to find decent competition are the way to develop kids' talent: Develop kids through practice and meaningful games, not by crushing local clubs/HSs. The argument that larger crowds are needed for proper soccer development is a new one for me and perhaps a holdover from the era of large format high school American football that plays more to an adult sense of ego rather than child's progress as a player, but perhaps I miss the point there.

I agree with the statements about girls/women's soccer.

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#175049 - 05/23/18 02:09 AM Re: US Soccer blundered badly on high school soccer [Re: scsoccerfan123D]
Coach Chass Offline
Coach

Registered: 05/09/02
Posts: 2221
Loc: Charleston/Berkeley
Overlooking for the moment the statement about "lower quality" (which is supportable in a substantial number of cases, but highly debatable in many of the more competitive regions in high school soccer), a large part of the argument hinges on what you define as "meaningful games"--or, more importantly, what the players find to be "meaningful games."

If by "meaningful" you mean "competitive"--games that are between skilled, well-matched teams and challenge players physically and mentally--then perhaps those games are more consistently found in a DA model than in the average high school season, where factors like school size and geography determine a team's schedule of opponents, rather than comparable skill level and opportunity for development.

But then, "meaningful" and "competitive" don't really mean the same thing, do they? What do our players find to be "meaningful" in the game?

Matches played between ranks of players with a common goal--presumably to train to be the best of the best--may be highly developmental in skill and knowledge of the game, but are those matches always truly "meaningful" to those who play them? Do they stand out as significant in the players' minds, form lasting memories, instill a sense of pride, bring players closer together in a common purpose, against a common rival?

Because those are elements of the game that our highest-level players also need to be training for. Not just to use competition as a venue for developing and showcasing each player's talent in the hopes that they will move on to the next level--with or without the players around them--but to learn to be a part of something greater than their individual selves. To take on an adopted collective identity that becomes a part of who you really are. To become a part of an adopted family that's just as real as the one you're born with and sometimes even tighter-knit, because we might be dysfunctional with each other, but nobody else better come onto this field disrespecting or underestimating any one of us, because they just messed with ALL of us.

Those are some of the lessons that I think high school soccer at its best teaches well. It's an environment where players learn to function at their best with the people around them, because they can't--and aren't encouraged to--function successfully with their individual goals as their highest priority. In high school ball, you can't just go find another team when things aren't going your way; if you want to be successful, you have to learn to BE the team you want to be a part of. It's a powerful lesson to learn.

Let's think about it. If the goal on the girls' side is to develop the next USWNT, what do we expect those players to do, to be, in order to be successful on the world stage? Without a doubt, exceptional technical and tactical skills are a must, and those require time training and competing with the best at the highest levels possible.

But technical and tactical skills alone are not enough. We are asking those young women to go out there on the world stage and represent not just themselves but us--to stand under a common banner, to fight for the collective pride, to pour it all out there on the field beyond what any individual skill or tactical knowledge could provide, because they are doing something MEANINGFUL that outweighs exhaustion, pain, self-doubt, and any obstacle the other team can throw in their way. Our USWNT is strong, not just because they have trained themselves into skilled players, but because they have learned to fight together not just for themselves, but for each other and for what they represent. That belief can carry players beyond their physical limits, fuel their runs when they are exhausted, and allow them to do even things that they can't. It can make the difference between two equally skilled teams, when one team digs deeper because they will not allow any individual weakness to undermine our sense of who WE are.

It is a powerful mindset--and it's one that many players first develop in high school sports. The sense of team identity, of representing something bigger than themselves, of associating personal achievement with the pride and honor of your teammates around you and all of those you represent. A player who learns to represent her school with pride has learned a valuable lesson that easily translates into representing her nation with pride, and while that match between the Gold and the Elite teams may have done a lot to develop her skills, that come-from-behind win in the final minutes against the biggest region rivals, with the hugs and celebration and chants of unity in its wake, now that--that was meaningful.

It stands to reason that in order to compete with the best, a player needs to train with the best at the highest level, and to experience competition at the highest level. In that, the elite player development models certainly have a valuable place. But there are other lessons to develop complete players, and complete teams, that the high school environment can teach as well, even with all of its faults and follies, its mishaps and triumphs, its passion and pride.

Again, two entities that both have the potential to be powerful positive influences, even if in different ways; there could be an argument for the highest level players gaining valuable experience from both, rather than setting them at odds with one another.
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#175050 - 05/23/18 08:28 AM Re: US Soccer blundered badly on high school soccer [Re: coachsloan]
SharksFutbol Online   content
Goal

Registered: 05/05/06
Posts: 686
Loc: Bluffton, SC
Coach Chass beautifully summed it up. There's a way both entities can work for the player's development to become a world class athlete. Unfortunately the USSF is more concerned about it$ $elf de$ired goals with the DA academies. We've been doing this DA expirement for how long now and what has that garnered so far with the growth of US Soccer? Our national team isn't in Russia, our younger teams haven't really made substantial leaps and bounds, and our current system needs an overhaul. Is high school the missing piece? Nope. But I think there is a way where you can balance a player's technical development and growth at the highest leven and still allow them the opportunity, if that player wants it, to represent their community and school
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#175054 - 05/23/18 09:39 AM Re: US Soccer blundered badly on high school soccer [Re: coachsloan]
scsoccerfan123D Online   content
Bench

Registered: 05/18/18
Posts: 22
Sorry for the confusion. The phrase “meaningful games” is US Soccer terminology that is meant to help describe how US Soccer and countries that are producing top talent, feel about the ratio of games to player/team development time. It is not meant to describe how children feel about that ratio.

The description about team/family feeling of a HS soccer team was well written. The feelings of striving together with purpose and the lessons learned from that struggle can be associated to any organization and set of “co-strivers” a child identifies with: any club soccer team; a national soccer team; a HS jazz ensemble; or any other team in any team competition. It is not unique to HS soccer teams and therefore not a pro or con in the discussion about the positives of playing on HS soccer team v any other soccer team.

With that in mind, I understand US Soccer’s use of the terminology "meaningful games" to describe not just playing for the sake of playing. The games should be competitive and not regularly winning 4-0, 7-0, 11-0, etc. Limiting games to just those that provide competition between teams of similar levels (whatever the level) allows enough time for player/team development (technical, tactical, psychological) and ensures enough rest between games. The soccer clubs well versed in the sport (or any activity) prepare/train a player for the psychological aspects of the game. This can apply to the individual position(s); the role as part of a team; and as part of the game/competition/entertainment.

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#175055 - 05/23/18 10:34 AM Re: US Soccer blundered badly on high school soccer [Re: coachsloan]
Phil Boyer Offline
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Registered: 02/14/17
Posts: 37
I think HS soccer is soccer in one of its purest forms. At the heart of HS soccer, it's about the love of the game and reppin for your family, friends and community. It's essentially a chance for athletes that spend so much time on this game to showcase what they can do. I agree with everyone here, HS soccer doesn't do much to develop the top players in the state into better players. If done right, it definitely develops them into better people, but as mentioned, there are other ways for that to happen as well. But, at the heart of soccer, why is it played? For those moments of glory, point blank period. Nothing beats the feeling of grinding in a game for over an hour and then finally scoring that important goal. Or defending a lead for large parts of the game and bending but never breaking. It's those glory moments that drive every player's desire to play this game we love. HS soccer gives opportunities for athletes to have those glory moments AND share them with their communities. Club soccer, for the most part, doesn't do that. So for me, I think HS soccer will always have a place in the soccer landscape.

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#175056 - 05/23/18 10:49 AM Re: US Soccer blundered badly on high school soccer [Re: coachsloan]
coachsloan Offline

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Registered: 04/14/11
Posts: 264
Loc: South Carolina
I typed a long, wordy response that would have made an English teacher, like Coach Chass, proud. And, then, my computer crashed.

Suffice it to say, there is a beautiful ying/yang relationship between the high school and club systems. When you coach both, it is beautiful to see how each one nourishes the other. I agree, that for the few kids who can get into a professional club or the top 1% who could become national team players, high school may not be for them. But There is an almost perfect cycle between the two seasons that develops and encourages kids to play year-round.

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#175057 - 05/23/18 10:50 AM Re: US Soccer blundered badly on high school soccer [Re: Coach Chass]
coachsloan Offline

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Registered: 04/14/11
Posts: 264
Loc: South Carolina
Originally Posted By: Coach Chass
In my experience, there is little to be gained by setting two potentially positive influences at odds with one another; for every benefit there is a cost, which may or may not be greater than the gain.

If the USWNT has reached the top level of world competition using the current formula--which may or may not work better for female athletes than for males--then what is the potential gain that is worth the risk of cost?


Thank goodness Title IX ensures that our WNT can have the same mediocre results that out MNT has

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#175058 - 05/23/18 02:20 PM Re: US Soccer blundered badly on high school soccer [Re: coachsloan]
eMnAvA Offline
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Registered: 03/31/08
Posts: 367
Originally Posted By: coachsloan
I typed a long, wordy response that would have made an English teacher, like Coach Chass, proud. And, then, my computer crashed.


Don't you love when that happens??

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