With the recent expansion of the US Soccer Development Academy (DA) to the younger U-12 age bracket (which will actually be the ‘old’ U-11 age bracket starting Fall 2017) for boys and the launch of the Girls’ Development Academy in the Fall next year, it might be helpful to clarify the rules for DA players doing non-DA activities.
The rules are more difficult to understand and interpret than I expected, and even emailed clarifications I received directly from the DA aren’t necessarily 100% clear, at least to me.
Please let me know in the comments below if you think there are inaccuracies and/or missing pieces of information.
With that in mind, here are the rules for all DA players, boys and girls, starting at U12:
DA clubs are responsible for developing an individual development plan for each player. This plan is meant to have each player’s best interest in mind to further his/her soccer development.
With that in mind, the DA is very focused on an appropriate train-to-play-to-rest ratio for the longer-term healthy development of players. This ratio is understood by all DA clubs and is taken into consideration when designing the individual player development plans.
Given that the DA-mandated activity load is already substantial, any additional outside activities are cause for concern.
DA players are not allowed to compete in *any* non-DA league or tourney. This includes activities such as high school soccer, beach soccer tourneys, and winter futsal leagues/tourneys. In fact, this applies to any *sport*.
DA clubs can apply for exemptions to compete in elite non-DA activities such as Dallas Cup, Surf Cup, and tournaments in Europe, but this is at the club/team level, not for individual players. Approval requires a written request by the club to academy staff for decision making.
And any non-DA *training* done outside the club’s training program such as additional strength conditioning sessions, private clinics, or weekly futsal practices are at the discretion of the player’s club and have to fit into the player’s overall development plan.
In other words, the player’s club can make a case-by-case decision to allow non-DA *training* if the DA club believes it to be beneficial for the player’s development.
However, my understanding is that any training exemptions are rare, so for all practical intents and purposes you should assume that non-DA training won’t be allowed.
During the DA off-season from mid-July (after Nationals) to the first week in September (about 6-8 weeks), players are permitted to get outside training and attend outside camps (ID camps, soccer, camps, college camps etc.).
But any consideration of outside training even during the off-season has to be brought to the attention of the club and discussed with them to make sure the training is in the best interest of the player.
I’m in two minds about this.
On the one hand, having flexibility to pursue soccer activities outside the regular DA structure could help youngsters enjoy the game more and for longer. For example, traveling to Spain during the Christmas/New Year break to train and play futsal at FC Barcelona (with a Bay Area non-DA futsal group) would surely help motivate a soccer-passionate youngster.
But on the other hand, the schedule for DA players truly is heavy already. The time commitment and physical exertion is considerable. And how many parents are in a position to make the right decisions regarding their youngster’s possible over-exertion? Many of us might think we can make the right decision “because we know our son or daughter best”, but I’m not sure about that, at least not at this elite level.
And then there are the resources that USSF and the DA clubs invest in the development of our elite players. Shouldn’t the DA and the clubs be able to protect that ‘investment’ for the longer-term?
Nevertheless, clubs need to do a much better job providing individualized holistic player development, not just focus on improving team-level play. And this is supposed to set the DA apart from non-DA programs – individual player development.
In contrast to non-DA players, who have a lot of flexibility to change teams/clubs/coaches and engage in a range of different soccer activities, DA players have to put a lot of trust into their DA club and coaches to truly take care of their entire player development needs and interests.
This isn’t easy – there are many points of view supporting both sides of this debate. Please let me know what you think in the comments section below. Keep in mind that we are talking about the most elite girls and boys players in our country when you consider the pros and cons of these DA rules.
Here are some relevant links and pasted information from those sources:
No Outside Activity/Competitions
To maintain a focus on club training environments, Academy players and teams do not play in any outside competitions without written permission from the U.S. Soccer Development Academy staff.
This includes any other leagues, tournaments, State Cup competitions, ODP or All-Star events. Development Academy players for all teams must choose to participate in the Academy full-time and forgo playing for their high school teams.
Full-time Academy players can only participate on their designated Academy team, with only two exceptions: U.S. Soccer Training Centers and Youth National Team duty.
The Development Academy upholds this rule because we believe elite players require world class environments. The Development Academy’s 10-month Program allows for a greater opportunity to institute style of play and implement a system according to U.S. Soccer’s Development Philosophy.
It also gives teams increased opportunities for younger kids in their club to “play up” against older players in both training and matches, thereby accelerating their development.
Academy players and teams cannot play in any outside competitions without written permission from the Development Academy staff. This includes any other leagues, high school season, tournaments, State Cup competitions, ODP or All-Star events. There are two potential exceptions to this rule, provided they are approved by Development Academy staff:
- Domestic and international tournaments: Domestic & international tournaments may be permitted if they meet Academy’s technical standards of one game per day and elite competition. Examples of permitted events include the Dallas Cup, Surf Cup, Disney Showcase, and other International events
- Possibility for friendly games: Academy clubs can schedule friendly games to provide players with a heightened development experience. The games must not be part of an organized competition (i.e. tournament, league or camp) as defined in the non-participation regulations, and all competitions must adhere to all Academy standards and guidelines.
Can Academy players participate with non-Academy teams during the season? Full-time Academy players are only permitted to participate on their Academy team, and National Team duty.
Which teams participate in 10-month programming and do not allow high school participation? The entire Academy program does not participate in high school programming.