Development Academy Club Evaluations Help Raise the Standard of Youth Soccer in the United States
Holistic Evaluations Consolidate Regular Feedback from U.S. Soccer;
Ensures Clubs Remain Focused on Providing the Best Environment for Player Development
One of the goals when the U.S. Soccer Development Academy was created in 2007 was to raise the standards of elite youth soccer in the United States. Three years later, the program has made a major impact on the development of thousands of young players, specifically by emphasizing the importance of providing an everyday environment focused on elite player development instead of collecting trophies in local leagues or regional tournaments.
To ensure that all clubs in the Academy program are following U.S. Soccer Best Practices, each club receives annual midyear and end of year evaluations based on regular communication with U.S. Soccer staff, visits to training sessions, game evaluations, participation in continuing education opportunities and performance metrics. As clubs train and prepare for next weekend’s Academy opponents, they are also awaiting their midyear evaluations from their technical advisors.
The four Academy technical advisors – Tony Lepore (East Conference), Chris Brewer (South Conference), Louis Mateus (Central Conference) and Hugo Perez (West Conference) – keep in constant contact with the clubs in their respective conferences through site visits to training and games and reports from youth national team, professional and college coaches working in the national team scouting network.
“We attend as many training sessions as possible,” said Mateus. “We want to make sure that training sessions are competitive and that the kids are being challenged on a day-to-day basis.”
The communication between advisors and Academy club coaches is critical to ensure Academy clubs continue to improve. Advisors provide immediate feedback to Academy coaches after training sessions and games, reviewing positive developments and providing constructive criticisms to improve coaching performance. The goal of this regular feedback is to continue to develop the coaches responsible for developing elite players by connecting them closer to the best practices of the youth national teams.
“Most of what we do to provide coaches with U.S. Soccer Best Practices, such as roster management, periodization of training or individual player needs,” explained Lepore. “It’s ongoing and there is really a need to be communicating all the time. The main job of the technical advisors is to have an intimate understanding of the clubs player development plan and its execution, so we can provide meaningful feedback to improve them.”
The technical advisors and U.S. Soccer staff grade every club in over 80 technical, administrative and programmatic areas that are used to calculate on overall score compared to other Academy programs. Each club then receives an overall rating in one of four categories: exemplary, good, needs improvement or probationary. Technical advisors communicate the overall score directly to the Academy coaches and a written overview is provided to the club to distribute and reference going forward.
If a clubs needs major improvements, they are given a probationary score and U.S. Soccer provides specific steps to follow in order to bring the club up to standard before the next evaluation.
“We work with these clubs so closely, that we don’t expect there to be many surprises when evaluations are finished,” said Lepore. “But when we come across a club that does not meet the Academy standard, we are very specific with them about areas to improve. If a club is unable to fulfill these expectations, maybe they are not a good fit for our program. We want to give clubs an opportunity to address areas of concern, but we also have to maintain high expectations across the board in order for our program to continue to improve.”
Since the launch of the Academy in 2007, three clubs have been removed via the evaluation process.