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Academy Program

 

PHILOSOPHY:

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 worldwide.
  • 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 through 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) or current volunteer DOC.
  • 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.

  • 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…)
  • 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 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 - 7v7 or 4v4 teams with some kids of various ages.  It may mean one group of 6 players.  Depends on the size/structure of the 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 kid 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. 

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 the game is obviously up to the club (closed league) or clubs (combined league/friendly)

Recommendations: 7v7, 2 x 25 minutes is standard. If playing 4v4, then 4 x 10 is recommended.  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 undue 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.

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