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Northwest and Texas Divisions Latest to Commit to 10-Month Development Academy Season

When teams from Texas joined the Development Academy for the 2008-09 season, a year after the program began in other parts of the country, the clubs were excited to take part in one of the biggest player development movements in history.

After watching the program from the outside for a year and preparing for his club’s own debut season, Texans SC Houston Director of Coaching Scott James saw the benefits of the Academy, but also the potential to expand its impact on players in the U.S. With the Texas Division entering its fourth season in the program in 2011-12, the clubs, along with all the clubs in the Northwest and SoCal, have come together to raise the bar for their player development.

The three conferences have decided to expand their seasons from the current schedule, which breaks for high school, to a full 10-month schedule.

The concept of the extended season, which allows for more training and for games to be played on single-fixture weekends, had been discussed in the past, but the decision by clubs in Southern California to move in that direction gave it new life.

“Here in Texas we have been playing from September through December, taking three and a half months away from each other and then we have to cram nine to 12 games into a two-month span,” explained James. “We didn’t have to be sold on moving to single-game weekends or having more training sessions. It was a no brainer for us to move in that direction.”

The move supports an improved player development model in which players can train together three to four times per week and play one game on the weekend nearly year-round. Having mostly single-fixture weekends instead two games in two days will allow adequate preparation and rest for the players.

Technical Advisors at U.S. Soccer have welcomed the idea of the extended Academy season for clubs in the Northwest and Texas.

“We are very excited that now two more divisions of the Development Academy have decided to move to a 10-month season,” said Director of Scouting & Technical Advisor Tony Lepore. “This will help to optimize the development of the elite players from these clubs. Our technical staff will provide them with full support as we feel it is a very positive step towards improving their overall match and training environment.”

Scott James agreed, recognizing the importance of training for player development.

“It allows us to potentially add an extra session per week, going from three times per week to four,” Scott James explained. “We may have up to 40 extra training sessions per season, which can only enhance player development and is just tremendous in my eyes.”

In the Northwest, some clubs had already experimented with a longer season, but with every club now on board, the schedule can be more defined and consistent. What has never been in question, according to Crossfire Premier Director of Coaching Bernie James, is that this model will benefit the elite players in the Development Academy program.

“It’s pretty simple really,” said Bernie James. “If you practice and play with better players, you are going to be challenged more and, in turn, you’ll get better. Losing such a big piece of our time together, three to four months really, to the high school season was difficult in keeping continuity for the players and for our team. If you’re talking about the top kids in the area, which the Academy teams are now, playing with other teams and competitions just doesn’t work as well for them from a player development standpoint.”

In the Northwest and Texas, the process of putting together the 10-month season was similar. All of the clubs agreed that moving to the year-round schedule would benefit their players, it was mostly a matter of figuring out the logistics.

“I think at some point in the near future this model will be picked up by with other areas of the country,” said Scott James. “If you’re involved in the Development Academy, you can’t really put too much of an argument against this model."

As other parts of the country explore ways to raise the player development bar even higher, almost half of the 78 current Academy teams are looking into longer seasons and other options that optimize the environment for the players.

“We’re very excited about the way that clubs in different parts of the country are coming together to raise their standard even higher,” said Lepore. “We are looking forward to working with the other clubs and divisions to decide whether a longer season, or maybe other ideas that will be brought to the table, make sense.”