American “Aca-letic” Academies

The first mission of coaches is to help boys with their behaviour; the second is to show them how to be good players. — Albert Puig, Head of FC Barcelona Youth Academy

I have been thinking a lot recently about how the NCAA and NFHS could do a lot better. But, it also invades all associated with those institutions: Department of Education (state and federal), accrediting bodies, faculty, staff, and students…just to name a few.

A couple weeks ago, I got my hands on a report on European football (read: soccer) academies. And I was completely baffled at its content.

One of the biggest arguments against club sports is because they do not emphasize anything other than excellence on the playing field (read: not enough emphasis on education). This is also one of the biggest joke arguments — especially if you look at the success these European academies have. In the study, 75% of the academies have relations with schools, 50% have relations with a university, and 50% have study opportunities at the club.

The principles of education are to combine football with school in building the character of a player. His personality and mental strength are decisive on the pitch. The focus on education, school results and the disciplinary behaviour of players is the core philosophy in most clubs nowadays.

It’s also amazing to see the budget these academies operate on. The average population of the academies is around 220 athletes. The budget looks like this: 30% of clubs spend up to $641,800 on the youth academy, 30% of clubs spend between $641,800 and $1,925,400, and 30% of clubs spend above $3,850,800 on their youth academy. This is a small amount of money spent on these academies, considering they are the best academies for football in the whole world! Compare this to the $11,000 that the US spends per student per year for education. If an academy has 220 athletes and it spends $641,800 on its youth academy, that’s a $2,917 per athlete cost. WHAT?! Take that figure and compare it to what NCAA schools spend — Division III schools average $5,000 per athlete and Division I schools can spend up to $90,000 on their football players…all for one year! This is an amazing price tag difference in academies and our high schools and universities. You throw in the financial fair play restrictions that have been implemented, it’s making it so European football academies invest more on their youth academies instead of buying players.

Even if there is no blueprint for 100% success in this field, a youth academy is central to building a club programme. — Bodo Menze, FC Schalke 04 Youth Academy Director

Meanwhile, what we do in the US is limit the opportunities for kids to succeed and develop by limiting what they can and can’t do. Ohio high school soccer players can only play 16 regular season games played within the end of August and the second week in October — or two months. South Dakota is shorter. Kentucky is longer. And this makes sense how? Kids train 5 days a week, unless they have matches. Kids play 2-3 matches a week! Compare this to European academies where kids train 2-3 times a week and play matches once a week. Shocking! They still account for family time? What?!

AFC Ajax coaches believe that even this [training three times a week and a match on a weekend] is a lot for such young players. The coaches believe that children have their own lives and families and they should not be taken away from their daily lives, families, and social environment for too long.

It’s amazing that this can happen, and yet we hinder our kids’ development from age 5 to 22+.

In college, the kids live at the schools. The facilities are there year-round. Coaches get paid full-time. And what do we tell the athletes: you can only train when the NCAA allows you to. That means you are restricted to playing competitively in 2ish months and getting 20 games in during that time span. In the offseason, you are limited to maybe a day or two of competition. Oh, and you are limited to the time you can spend with the coach that is paid to recruit you, nurture you, and care for you. All this for the sake of “education” right?

Try not to forget that the NCAA has almost a $850 million revenue!

Many European countries have educational classes that finish at 5:00pm. Training starts around 6:00-7:00 (depending on the age). It’s amazing that these student-athletes across the pond can still have a life with that schedule…but it happens when you don’t try to cram like we do. Get your games and get out of your season because we have another sport or season to get to.

Coaches are making the difference. — Roberto Samaden, FC Internazionale Milano’s Head of Technical Department

It’s the truth. So many people can identify with those that directly influence him or her. I cannot remember one thing my 4th grade social studies teacher taught. But, I can almost remember every single coach I’ve had in baseball, basketball, wrestling, or soccer. I’ve had some tremendous teachers that I’ve respected, but…I still didn’t care about the subject matter all that much.

It’s like that new controversial tweet from Ohio State’s third string QB, “Why should we have to go to class if we came here to play FOOTBALL, we ain’t come to play SCHOOL classes are POINTLESS.” Can anyone truly blame him? He goes to a school that spends MORE money on athletics than ANY other institution in the country. Ohio State is the only school in the country that sponsors all 36 NCAA sports. Football is the top dog at OSU. The amount of money and resources that are dedicated to their academic support staff for athletes is ridiculous. He probably hasn’t been to any classes and he went to one thinking it was pointless because he had tutors that helped throughout and made more sense. But, if we allowed people to focus on what they wanted…maybe the education would be more worthwhile?

In terms of behaviour, FC Internazionale Milano is very strict. Whenever players misbehave they get bad marks and some form of sanction is administered. For example, a player may not be allowed to attend youth national games unless the situation at school improves.

But…club is all about athletics and not academic…

What about FC Levadia Tallinn in Estonia…which has over 300 student-athletes. It operates on a budget of around $154,000.

The school is open to all children, to whom we pass on football values in the hope that they become professionals. — Andres Leht, FC  Levadia Tallinn’s Board Member

There is ABSOLUTELY NO REASON why we cannot adopt this system in the United States. We spend sooooooo much money on education at all levels, athletics at all levels, extracurricular activities at all levels, and whatever else may be thrown into the potential academy setup. Imagine what we could have. We could have the top basketball, football (American-style), baseball, band, chess, choir, football (world-style), lacrosse, science, math, English, writing, technology, media, or whatever else you could come up with academies!

The aim of the academy is to offer an academy that develops football players and men. — Gervais Martel, RC Lens Chairman

Sure, the NCAA and NFHS, and whoever else is in on governing thinks they are doing a good job…but it is lousy. It could be so much better. They are soooo worried about governing because of all the stinking rules. But, if they just allowed for development and lifted rules, things could be so much better.

A young person will perform on the field and in school if he is feeling good about his everyday life. There must be a balance. Here in La Gaillette, using whatever means we can, we do everything possible to develop each child’s potential. — Georges Tournay, Head of RC Lens’ Youth Academy

Wouldn’t it be nice if we said the same thing? (Jab at No Child Left Behind here…).

Success in football only is not enough for Beşiktaş JK. The key for sustained achievement is the overall development and education of young players.

Now, I do understand that many of these clubs have been funded through professional organizations. But it’s not like we don’t spend enough in the way we operate. Clubs may spend anywhere from 6-8% of their total budget on youth development. Heck, the $11,000 that’s spent to educate a single child a year probably has the majority of those costs funding administration or overhead costs that are not directly linked to the student’s education.

The length of time these kids spend in their academies isn’t major, like I mentioned previously with their training schedule. Academy length is around 41-45 weeks (which gives 6-11 weeks off OR 2-3+ months!). Training goes 3-5 times per week totaling 4 hours for younger ages and up to 9 hours up to older ages. Compare this to our structure of training 5 days a week (potentially) at 2 hours per day and 2-3 competitions a week worth 2+ hours per day — this is anywhere from 10-15 hours per week! Which model is better suited for development and family time? Which one would allow for better educational value AND athletic excellence?

It just sucks to see yet another presidential election coming about and nothing of these sorts seems to be addressed. No one ones to fix things. The NCAA sits on their butts. The NFHS wants to come up with more rules to limit development. State associations have no clue what is going on. It’s time to change this model for the betterment of this country. Develop these academies through our current structure. It can happen and it can be VERY successful. Do it for the kids. It’ll benefit you in the future. Help the future generations. They need it.

The message that comes across to me is that the clubs that take the development of young players seriously can be the clubs to benefit most. — Liam Brady, Arsenal FC Youth Academy Director



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  3. Two things:

    1. I’m from So. Dakota, and soccer wasn’t even a high school sport a couple decades ago. It’s the LAST state to adopt ANY new idea. It’s awful…

    2. Tigres. Think a college sponsor can’t compete? Ask a Rayado. Viva Rayados!!

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