Academy Program

 

PHILOSOPHY: We must start somewhere.

An Academy program is to be defined as a developmental program run by professionally educated staff and professionally maintained by a club’s administration. 
“Academy” is not about a certain level of a league, or a brand.  An Academy program is about providing opportunities for young players who show a passion and affinity for the game to be challenged and encouraged to explore playing the game skillfully and creatively.  What the logistics might look like from club to club will differ based on many variables.  Regardless, the philosophy should be the same.
Care should be taken when selecting staff for such a program. These Academy kids will likely be a club’s lifeblood for its competitive program in the coming years.  It is essential that clubs make a point in creating an atmosphere in their Academy this is FUN, FAIR, and about FAMILY.  Without these key elements, the kids and families will either:
·         Leave to find another club or (worse)
·         Stop playing soccer.
A flourishing Academy experience will be less about what the PLAYER can bring to the CLUB and more about what the CLUB can do for the PLAYER in terms of fostering a belief in one’s self as a young athlete and a love for the game.  A successful Academy program sees kids that are generational players. Their older brother/sister went through the program and now they cannot wait to get a taste of the same experience.

BUILDING THE ENVIRONMENT:
Of course, it would be naive and simplistic to believe that there is ONE way to structure a community of families and staff and multiple clubs to come together to create such an environment.
In what follows, here is what you will find:
·         Best practices taken from developmental models world-wide.
·         Position statements that explain a bit of the “why” we make certain recommendations.
What you will NOT find:
·         Countless rules and regulations
·         Layers of administrative hoops and tracking.
It is our hope/desire that though education and encouragement and partnership, OSA and its member clubs can foster Academy programs of all sizes and shapes throughout the state that can flourish.  There is not a “one-size-fits-all” solution for the clubs across the state.  We want to help empower clubs and get them what they need to be successful.  Not to rule over them with some sort of iron fist full of red tape and restrictions.
 
 
BEST PRACTICES
Leadership
It is recommended that each Academy program has a professionally trained Academy Director.  This position should have a USSF/US Youth Soccer National Youth License.  This curriculum was originally designed for state DOC’s and their instructional staff to be able to turn around and TEACH the US Youth Soccer’s Youth Module courses.  As such, it is perfect for teaching the theory and practice of developmentally appropriate soccer.
·         If the club is not so large as to be able to fund another full/part time position, the duties of this position could be folded into a full-time Director of Coaching (DOC).
o   In this case: it is recommended that the DOC not be a coach of any particular team. But be left free to mentor and evaluate the rest of the club/Academy staff.
·         If the club can fund a full/part time Director of Academy (DOA), then this is recommended.
·         If the programs are large enough, it may be wise to have a Boys DOA and Girls DOA.

Registration
Player should be registered through Oklahoma Soccer Association (OSA) and therefore, US Youth Soccer (USYS) to the CLUB. 
This should be the same process for Academy as it would be for any player in the club.  The main difference would be that they need not be assigned to a TEAM ROSTER. Just signed to the club.
U11’s and up are considered Recreation or Competitive.  There would not be an Academy program for U11’s and above. There are already multiple developmental levels for those ages.
It is recommended that each club that creates an Academy program continues to maintain its Recreation Program. Club structures can get complicated, but the idea here to make sure a child in a community still has the CHOICE to play Recreation soccer if they so desire.  Some communities are big enough where the Recreation and Academy programs can be totally separate.  Some must use many of the same players to keep both groups viable. This is allowed.  However, it is recommended that your Academy group is not put into the Recreational League as a TEAM.  They should still be dispersed among the whole league.
The club will determine age minimums for their players in their Academy program. 
·         The vast majority of the kids should be at least 8.
o   This just makes sense developmentally: physically, cognitively, and socially, for what the game demands at that next Academy level.  (If we are asking them to “switch the ball” and they can’t kick the ball more than 10 yards because they are only 5, well…)
o   However, it must be said there are some ‘precocious’ young players who show aptitude and skill at a much higher level than their peers as young as 6.
§ It would then be up to the DOC/DOA to determine if a player could participate safely in the program.
Clubs should want to include as many kids as they can in their programs, while maintaining a quality and safe environment.
It will then be up to the DOC/DOA to organize, with input from their age group staff members, the various playing groups.  (Notice we did not say AGE GROUPS or TEAMS…)
A playing group is here defined as: a collection of players of developmentally similar physical development and current skill acquisition level.  This may mean enough players to form 4 7 v 7 teams with some kids of various ages.  It may mean one group of 6 players.  Depends on size/structure of club.

Games/Training
There should be a 2:1 ratio of training sessions to games.  This should include league and tournament games. It’s OK to have weekends OFF! Yes, I know, that’s close to blasphemy in youth soccer.
Training focusing on skillful manipulation of the ball in reaction to realistic demands will transfer into confidence, game performance, and permanent learning. (Any staff coach who has taken/passed the National Youth License and the recent USSF E/D courses should know what this looks like.)
It is recommended that a ratio of approximately 7:1 kids to coaching staff be working/interacting with the kids during a training session.  This will ensure that each player can get immediate feedback each session about his/her acquisition of the skill being taught.  Perhaps this is a junior coach and a mentor.
It is also recommended that more than one staff attend a training session. Of course, if the whole playing group is training together (recommended), then all the staff for the playing group should be present to work the club’s kids for which they are responsible.
During games, it is recommended that clubs maintain the 50% playing time rule.  If this is an Academy program that is fostering development, then the staff should be looking to play all the players present for the game and get them all significant playing time that is meaningful to the outcome of the game.  Young athletes need the opportunity to succeed and to fail to push on and develop.
It is also recommended that Academy games allow for flexible playing number/rules.  For example:
·         If a team is down by 4 goals, they may add another player.  Up by 6 add another. (If they score and game gets down to less than 4, take a player back off.)
·         If a team is up by 6 goals and the other team has already added a player, they play with only 2 touches in the attacking half.
There are countless adjustments that a good DOC/DOA can use to keep the games interesting as well as developmentally challenging for all the players—even if the score starts to become one-sided.
It is recommended that there be SOME movement from game to game.  Again, if the whole playing group is training together each week, this does not become an issue.  The kids know all the staff for the group and the staff knows all the kids.  They all pull on the same jersey and get to play each week.
Number of players/length of game is obviously up to the club (closed league) or clubs (combined league/friendly)
Recommendations: 8v8, 2 x 25 minutes is standard.  Most importantly, it is recommended that coaches are FLEXIBLE within this.
·         If the field is relatively large and the kids are more advanced, they can play 9v9 with a few more variables to handle than 8v8.
·         If the two teams find themselves with u10’s that are all pretty skilled and athletic and they find themselves on a field that is small enough for the GK to punt the entire field, they may consider making some adjustments: (For example: go 2x30 min and play 6v6 or 7v7 and no punts, by the GK, unless that team is down by 2 or more goals).
·         If it’s very hot/very cold, these age kids do not have the physiology to withstand such extremes like adults.  It would be wise to play with more players, and less time.
Again, the idea to keep the MAIN THING (Academy is for developmental purposes) the MAIN THING.
It is not recommended to keep a league table with league winners, etc.  If the players are moving around from team to team within a playing group, such a thing as a “winning team” in the league would not make sense and therefore simply cause undo complications as to whether the “champion” got there fairly.
There are Academy Divisions available in tournaments. Keep in mind the 2:1 ratio of training to games.  So, if a tournament is coming up, perhaps you forgo a league game the weekend before and after for those kids playing in that tournament and train an extra session the week of the tournament.

 
PROPOSAL FOR OSA/USYS ACADEMY CERTIFICATION (Name?)
We would like to create a “Gold Standard” of Developmental Programs in Oklahoma.
To obtain official US Youth Soccer/OSA Academy Certification:
1.      100% Registration: All Academy players must be registered through OSA/USYS.
2.      In House Mentorship Program: Coaching and Referee.  A systematic in-house program to help young Academy Coaches and Officials learn from more experienced staff in the club.
3.      Academy Director must have National Youth License
4.      Play by a few key Modified rules: (Regardless of numbers—7v7, 8v8, 9v9, etc.)
a.      No Pressing on goalkicks.
b.      No Punts by goalkeepers unless down by 3.
c.       If a team is down by 4, they may add a player.
If a club can establish that they meet the 4 criteria above, they will be granted official USYS/OSA Academy Certification.
**They must MAINTAIN these criteria from year to year to keep status.  The training and playing environment is the KEY ELEMENT.  This is the centerpiece.  This is the center of the coaching education as well as the referee education and the parent education.  If a club/coach/parent group violate the environment, they may lose their certification. We will meet with the club first and discuss a plan to work with the coach/team.  If it happens again, certification will be removed.

What does this certification do for the club?
1. Free Academy Coaching Education. A tailored mix of Developmental theory for the age groups as practical methodology for teaching on the field as well as team/player/parent management tips.
2. Free Parent Education. We will help clubs structure and present parent education for their Academy families.  With National and State backing of what the CLUB is trying to do, it can only help them sell their own program and help the parents buy into the CLUB’s way of developing these young players and keep families coming back year to year.  If we can get parents/staff/kids/refs all working together to create a positive playing environment at this age, think how pleasant it will be as this group continues to grow through the club and state competitions?
3. Invitation to OSA/USYA Academy “League”.  Only Certified Clubs.  Depending on numbers, could be full on league or simply a few play weekends.  These would be “self-scheduled” and Home clubs would provide the refs free of charge in exchange for free assessment/feedback from the State Instructors.  Two Administrative/Education Meetings (Fall/Spring) where we would all come together, meet, have an educational Keynote Speaker kick things off, make some nuts-n-bolts announcements, then have all the coaches and directors sit down together and schedule their season.  This is an EXCLUSIVE league only open those certified clubs.  However, if a club wants to take part in OTHER playing opportunities, that is totally fine and up to the club. We are wanting to protect the Game Day environment, so with OSA Certified games, everyone should know what to expect with those games.                    
4. Spring Academy Festival. Invitation to Festival (This would carry a cost per team to cover the expenses of the event.)