What Does the Demise of the DA Mean To American Youth Soccer?
This article is written by a guest columnist
The Impact of COVID-19 on Youth Soccer: Finding the simplicity and solution in all of the chaos.
U.S. Soccer has dropped the ball on America’s most elite youth soccer program, designed to develop the best of our hand-picked young players. Leaving approximately 160 of America’s top youth soccer clubs who were awarded the privilege of a Development Academy (DA) to now have to move into different leagues.
U.S. Soccer created the first and maybe only league where it was housing all the top clubs under one league structure with selections based on merit.
These clubs who invested substantial money, and committed to the DA standards should be rewarded, recognized, and not forgotten, ever.
To reflect, a DA was awarded by U.S. Soccer on the basis of a youth soccer club’s structure, facilities, coaching staff, the overall capability to represent the ability to develop players and past successes.
The DA pushed the country to be better and held all to a new standard that was not an ask but a requirement.
U.S. Soccer, while they did not get everything right, did raise the standards and establish guidelines that were great for the game. One thing to note, all the clubs that were part of the DA still have the same existing structure, the exact facilities, the identical coaching staff, and are still more than capable of developing the best players in the country.
While many were uncomfortable, all had to conform.
When the U.S. Soccer Federation announced the DA Program was folding, it left the former DA clubs to decide which league to compete in next. This has left the clubs to individually determine their player development pathway, philosophy, their competitive values — and, what really matters.
The sudden closing of the DA is forcing the youth clubs to navigate the murky waters of politics once again.
With some clubs deciding to join leagues that are known, giving the security of the tested and familiar to their coaches, players and their families, others are exploring new opportunities in just-launched leagues created to fill the void left by the demise of the DA — and, there is no right or wrong.
THERE IS NO LEAGUE THAT DETERMINES THE FUTURE OF A PLAYER. AND, THERE HAS NEVER BEEN.
Titles and leagues don’t determine the future of a player. Players are made during the weeks of training. Players are made by the sheer fabric of their character.
What is true is that players need opportunity — they need to be visible. What is also true is that players are able to find exposure when their teams participate in showcases around the country, or at college camps, and other programs that promote players.
All leagues will create showcase opportunities for players. One benefit of the DA going away is greater flexibility to showcase players. The DA did not allow competition in events outside of their structure.
What is critical at this moment is that the best interest of players, teams, and coaches align ALL WILL REBALANCE, RESHUFFLE AND REORGANIZE.
We need to work through the pandemic and get back on the field.
While the focus has been on a league that teams play in, we need to turn the focus to the core of where a player finds their way.
Players are developed in the week, they perform on the weekend.
Weekend competition is important, but playing a game is like taking a test. The games must provide challenging competition. Great coaching makes great players and great players will always find their way to the top. This has been proven for decades.
Players that are of quality will always find their way. There is no formula and certainly not a league that players have to be in to make it to college, the national team or become a professional.
We need to realize is that titles, leagues, do not equate to recruitment.
Recruitment is about the marketing of the player and being ready in the moment, that moment inside a game, a college camp, or within training when the coach is on the sideline.
The one thing we know is competition is needed and competition comes in all shapes and forms and whether it is USYS, US Club, ECNL or a new leagues, all youth soccer teams need to go out and compete.
With the closure of the DA, we know that this country will have top talent spread across the country and not be one league. The landscape is now broken and the truth is we will have a lot of talent in a lot of pockets aligned under different leagues.
One day it would be nice to see every team under one umbrella, in one fluid pyramid competing and letting the cream rise the top.
Truly, this is the only way to know who is the best.
The DA was a gift to the country and right now it is hard maybe for all of us to recognize or honor it, but what it did was select clubs on the basis of qualification, not on politics, regional loyalties and set a standard that all had to live by if they wanted to be a part of it. This forced the country to operate at a much higher standard.
This country now has taken a step backward to a landscape divided. Teams playing in multiple leagues will not bring the best of the best together. Splintering talent all across the nation does not make it easier to scout nor help players develop. The true test lies inside the weekly training and the inner workings of a club and coach.
A parent and a player should understand and be educated on the process and truly understand the future, not just look at the now.
To answer the question, What does the demise of the DA mean to American youth soccer … it means temporary confusion, an opportunity for new leagues to form, new alignment and a chance to really reflect on what is important inside the game.
In the homogenized DA world, the importance of the individual coach was diminished. All DA coaches had to have a minimum of a U.S. Soccer B License and the license level became more important than a coach’s experience, or their ability to connect and develop players.
Somehow we lost the focus on the coach. The importance of great coaching.
Now is the time to remember what is important; the quality of the youth soccer club, and the coaches who are coaching the players.
Since it is the club’s coach who develops the player — the DA was just the structure they played in — we should remember what development is about. Great coaching supported by great youth soccer clubs.
It is the professionalism and standards set by the individual club that hires and develops the coach that is important. The critical challenge going forward for a player and their family is to seek out those great clubs, and great coaches, where the standard rises above simply any single league.