Michael Barr on Restructuring our Youth System
A Soccer Development article written by Michael Barr – Originally provided to Touchline.
Michael Barr, Technical Director of Eastern Pennsylvania Youth Soccer, is one of the most successful soccer coaches in the country. Barr holds an USSF “A” coaching license, the NSCAA International Premier License, the National Youth License, and Scottish Football Association’s “B” license. Barr shares his insights on the need for restructuring of our youth system and the drawbacks of the development academy.
Soccer News: A look at soccer in the USA and whether or not the initiatives from U.S. Soccer are working.
With the amazing loss to Costa Rica, we should begin to examine the whole youth development system within our country.
The U.S. Men’s National Team battled but ultimately lost to Costa Rica — with the final score a whopping a 4-0 defeat — and this match was important, it was the first away-qualifier of the Final Round of 2018 FIFA World Cup Qualifying. With the chance of being a significant or even a player at the 2018 World Cup growing dimmer, U.S. Soccer parted ways with Head Coach Jurgen Klinsmann and chose to replace him with Bruce Arena.
We have had the U.S. Soccer Development Academy (DA) system since 2007 with the same national support personnel directing the program with little input from others.
Could it be the minimal development is due to academies coaching the creativity and flair out of individual players?
What is the focus of our US Soccer Development Academies?
Playing not to lose or give up goals? Playing to win matches of little consequence at the expense of development? Players at age 10 or 11 are now part of a system that disrupts a child’s social experience, focuses on sports specialization and tries to suggest they can predict what players will be national level or MLS stars in the future.
I cannot imagine children never having the joyful experience of free play with their friends, playing for their local club, examining other sports or to gain confidence in their ability through individual success on their own terms.
By early identification, are you eliminating players who mature later or were not introduced to soccer at an early age?
The maturation difference is often not taken into consideration when you identify one eleven-year-old player over another. Once we identify players at younger ages the playing field is never level for those not identified.
Shouldn’t there be different pathways to national teams or the MLS? Should every high school player be off the radar for national teams or D1 Scholarships because they do not get the quality training of academies.
What of the gifted player who opts for more than one sport?
What about High School soccer?
Sure the high school schedule is too compact for the games they play and the credentials of high school coaches may be lacking in comparison, but there are highly qualified coaches in high school and local clubs who emphasize development as well as winning and have an awareness of periodization.
Shouldn’t a process that helps identify the top level youth players in our country examine all players?
Why have only three or four individuals making decisions for a country our size? Why not a national consortium of top level coaches, former national team players, youth coaches, administrators and even parents exploring the needs, costs and infrastructure needed to give American soccer a jump start with a plan that has a positive end in sight.
Within that consortium construct a five-year plan to meet the needs of all youth players. There are brilliant minds within the United States who are not being utilized and have various opinions that may offer positive change.
Instead of four regions why not create twelve regions to better manage and locate talent. Bring players into those 12 regional centers on a consistent basis for training and evaluation.
Within that identification process direct the top level players to MLS academies or send them back to their clubs with a formal evaluation of strengths and weaknesses. As each player is evaluated, keep a profile and create a nationwide data base of players who go through the 12 regional centers.
Allow the MLS to run the academies.
Wasn’t the original intent of U.S. Soccer’s Developmental Academies to develop players for the MLS or national teams? Unfortunately, teams in Developmental Academies are pulling players from smaller clubs, with promises to players and parents alike that playing within an academy’s structure of travel teams below the academy level teams will provide you with a better opportunity to finally make the academy team.
Many of the academy travel teams have three or four teams in each age group, as they recruit players from smaller clubs.
This recruitment process brings money into the academies but is also slowly eroding the value of smaller and less expensive clubs.
Continue with the residency program in Bradenton, but bring in larger pools to develop national level players.
Get quality coaches with all U12 players. Utilize the new education platform within US Soccer to drive a change to make soccer coaches accountable and confident in their ability, even if a coach is a volunteer.
What is the solution?
Get Grassroots programs into the cities and rural areas of the United States.
U.S. Soccer made a major step in their new player initiatives this year, but the impact they could make through thoughtful dialogue and reshaping our youth programs to be uniquely American could bring about the success we all have expected and looked forward to for the last twenty years.
Michael Barr is a motivated, teacher and soccer coach with nationally recognized expertise and a thirty year history in working with top level soccer players, instructing youth coaches and speaking to numerous groups about player development.
Technical Director of Eastern Pennsylvania Youth Soccer, Barr is also a National Staff Coach for the United States Soccer Federation, Barr is a National Youth License Instructor, and holds the USSF “A” coaching license, the NSCAA International Premier License, the national youth license, and Scottish Football Association’s “B” license.