Home » US Soccer's High School Ban: A Question of Integrity?

US Soccer's High School Ban: A Question of Integrity?

In February 2012, the US Soccer Federation passed a rule barring all athletes on its Development Academy teams from playing high school soccer beginning in the fall of 2012.  The idea behind the ban was to help the United States produce better elite-level soccer players and teams by following the international model of club soccer.  High school soccer, it seems, got in the way.

US Soccer is no different than the governing bodies for softball, volleyball or swimming in recognizing that elite club competition may be more important than high school sports to an elite athlete's development.  People in those sports acknowledge that clubs offer better competition, and make college scouting easier, since so many elite athletes are in one place.  But, unlike US Soccer, they don't view a 10- to 12-week high school season as an outright impediment to an athlete's development or force athletes into an either-or choice.

Female soccer players forming wall

The fear was that new rule would hurt high school soccer, and now that the high school soccer season has started, those fears, unfortunately, are being realized.  It's only mid-September, but high school soccer administrators and coaches are already feeling the impact, with the Detroit News reporting that dozens of top soccer players in Michigan are sitting out the high school season, and the coach of New York City's Martin Luther King High School, which has won thirteen championships in the last seventeen years, saying that his program is being hit hard.

The high school soccer community could probably buy into US Soccer's plan a little more if it sensed there was a real nexus between US Soccer's rule and the development of elite players who'll someday play for the national team.  You see, people involved in high school sports, like I am, aren't that self-serving.  We could live with losing twenty, thirty or forty players from across the nation in order to build the foundation for future Olympic and World Cup teams. 

But US Soccer isn't forcing forty players, or fifty, or one hundred, or even five hundred high school soccer players to choose between being true to their school and professing fealty to US Soccer.  No, they are taking out of circulation enough players to stock two teams at 78 clubs across the country.  That's somewhere between 2,000 and 3,000 players!

When US Soccer believes it needs to take over 2,000 players a year out of the high school sports system in order to develope future elite players,  one can only draw one of two conclusions: that US Soccer is either very inefficient in identifying future elites or it is putting its own interests first and not being completely honest about what is behind the ban. 

High school soccer will survive because it has integrity. One can debate the merits of what US Soccer is doing, but when they tell over 2,000 players that they are somehow all future international prospects, I don't think it is demonstrating that same integrity. 

We deserve better from the national governing body of a major sport. 

Posted September 16, 2012



Taking youth away from the youth

Why are we in a constant hurry to remove the experience of youth from so many youth?

What is going to create a better memory, winning some sort of confernce, region or state championship with friends from childhood, in front of the student body you are a member of and with the community watching? Or some sort of club championship at some sort of soccer complex, minus the friends from childhood, the student body and the community?

I just do not understand how this is good for the kids.

Club soccer is committing a crime against the youth of America and parents are gleefully taking part. This decision to remove thousands of kids from their high school teams so that a few can develop is just sad.

"A fool and his money are soon parted", is an old saying. Today it should be "A fool and his kids childhood are soon parted".

Go ahead and rant away.

Brian King

Good point

Thanks for your comment, Brian. I think you nailed it. Unfortunately, US Soccer's action is just a reflection, in my view, of a much larger problem: the commercialization of youth sports. Indeed, and I don't want to talk politics here, but it is also consistent with a even larger debate about public versus private schools.

I think the Development

I think the Development Academy system still is not really working as it should and it has now been around for 5 years so many of the bugs should have been worked out by now. However, there clearly are some real positives that have resulted from the implementation and trickle down of the D.A. rules/approach through-out youth soccer. I would point to such things as only playing one game a day at tournaments, and in improving player development by practicing more and playing fewer games. I have seen those changes affect youth soccer as a whole even with my own kids who do not play for a D.A. club.

The article's view about the impact of players not participating for their high school teams is, I think, overstated. According to the NFHS survey last year my state, had over 14,000 boys playing high school soccer. There are two D.A. clubs in the state so about 120 boys would be precluded from playing high school due to the new D.A. rule. It's a choice for them and their families to make, but really not that impactful on high school soccer as a whole or even as to the kids specifically. Every single one of the kids playing for a D.A. team in my state could elect to play high school soccer AND play for another (non-D.A.) quality soccer club. The D.A. clubs certainly attract college soccer coach attention, but so do a great many other non-D.A. teams.

I am a parent, not a coach, and as I noted above none of my kids play for a D.A. team or club, but I suspect the real reasons behind the rule are the same ones that pretty much every high level club coach has thought about for many years when wishing that he/she could keep his/her team from playing high school soccer: (a) the level of play is lower than in club, and often much lower; (b) the coaching is widely varying in quality, but generally stated, high school coaching is going to be technically and tactically weaker, and often much weaker, than what you find with club teams; and (c) the risk of injury, particularly for younger players, is higher for a couple of reasons (i) quality 15 and 16 year old players will make varsity teams and compete with and against 17 and 18 year olds; and (ii) high school seasons cram way too many games into way too short of time period practically begging for those kids who are good enough to play the entire game to get injured due to overuse.

Do the kids miss out on playing for their high school teams? Yes. There are positives to playing a high school sport which cannot be duplicated in club soccer. They just have to make a decision as to which experience they want.

high school soccer

I would like to follow up that if the majority of high school soccer coaches were more qualified, focused less on winning and more on developing the talent they have, kept up to date on the latest developments in sports science and psychology, and were open a life long study with their sport, than maybe the US Soccer would not take this measure.  The truth is the coaching at the high school level is usually a teacher with little or no technical expertise in the game, but who works at the school and either volunteers or makes a few dollars extra.  The advantage of an inschool teacher is good on the social side, they are a part of the community, have better report or accountability with kids, but on the other side they are sorely lacking.  Kids who want to play in a better, more profesionally environment (and most club soccer does NOT yet fit that model) should understand this and make the decision based on their needs and wants. If playing with friends in a poorly structured sport environment (too many games crammed in, too little meaningful games parity wise, etc), is what you are happy with because you prefer to be with friends and represent your school, then the decision is yours. But lets be frank about the pro's and con's of each experience. In New York/New Jersey, those of us working professionally with kids in clubs are keenly aware of the limitations of the high school model, and also aware of the benefits...on the club side we also realize that winning and poaching is too prevalent, and development only gets lip service. Dogmatic attactment to either side discourages a more critical and enlightened discussion in my opinion.

newsocdad -- I was troubled

newsocdad -- I was troubled by the decision of US Soccer when it came out earlier in the year because of the principal involved, and see the impact being bigger for its effect on how people think about the sport, so I am not a fan of the rule.

The impact be smaller, as you describe, would be a mitigating factor. But, I have to wonder -- the rule only applies to the DA clubs. But, has there been a trickle down effect? Are top non-DA clubs increasingly likely to make similar demands, buttressed by the DA rule?

I know there were already clubs that were making demands that players stay out of school soccer even before the US Soccer rule change.

trickle down effect


Sorry I did not see your reply to my post until today.  I do not think you will see non-D.A. clubs on the boys' side implementing any similar rules.  It is a question of what leagues the club teams play in.  Most (okay all) are designed to allow kids to play for their high school teams.  There is a proviso though as the ECNL (Elite Club National League) may look to duplicate the D.A. rule.  The ECNL is a girls league which was created when USSF failed/refused to create a D.A. program for girls.

As it stands now, the ECNL is a full year league, but the league as presently designed basically allows the clubs to schedule games so that they do not conflict with their state's high school season.

While I am not a supporter of the D.A. rule myself, I think the only real effect you see on high school soccer is that it takes the level of play down a notch in those areas where D.A. kids would otherwise be on high school teams.  From a parent view, I confess I generally am not overly concerned about making sure "star" players are accomodated so that they can play on a high school team.  There are over 400,000 boys playing high school soccer in the US and if 3,000 top level players in D.A. clubs elect to play for their club rather than for their HS I say more power to them.  Hopefully those 3,000 HS player slots are being filled by kids who otherwise would not get a chance to make the HS team.