One of the keys to sustained success at the senior level of international soccer is a productive development system. Becoming effective at developing talent can be distilled into the following equation: Better Coaches + Better Environments = Better Players.
Headlining the efforts to put that equation into practice in the USA is U.S. Soccer’s Academy Director Course, a year-long training program for leaders of the Development Academy’s 80 clubs. The course educates and informs academy directors on current trends and best practices in youth soccer, so that by graduation, participants have learned how to manage the everyday environment of their club.
“This course is part of the coaching education pathway, and improving our coaches is one of the biggest and one of the most important targets for us right now to help improve player development,” U.S. Soccer Director of Scouting Tony Lepore said.
The latest iteration of the course features 18 participants who will convene six times, including a stop at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., from Feb. 6-12. While there, the group will study and learn from the U-17 Men’s National Team as it prepares for U-17 CONCACAF World Cup Qualifying in Panama this April.
In addition to observing the team train and compete in two matches, participants will learn from the program’s extensive curriculum. The program is broken down into modules, with each designed to give participants insight into how to build an optimal youth soccer environment. The modules are:
- Club Policy
- Talent Development Plan
- Managing Day to Day
- Leading the Staff
The modules teach a wide range of topics including match strategy, how to create a positive academy culture, how to use and understand advanced statistics, what goes into managing a coaching staff and the best ways to develop youth players.
“We believe this course is a great benefit to directors as the course is specific to their everyday needs,” said U.S. Soccer Coach Educator Aloys Wijnker, who serves as one of the program’s lead instructors. “It’s so important they understand their role and their importance within the club.”
The program is demanding, and the current participants still have much to learn before graduation, but going through the process is well worth it. U.S. Soccer has already graduated 40 members since its inception in 2013, resulting in positive changes throughout the Development Academy.
“There are a number of cases where the course has been transformative,” Lepore said. “In the end, it’s all about leadership. We’ve seen a number of leaders go through the course and go back and implement change and drive change within their own club, even to the point where they’re revisiting their own club’s philosophy and mission and doing a lot of rebuilding.”
While the course directly impacts each academy represented, it in turn creates a broader impact on American soccer as a whole. Productive environments are helping highly-skilled players develop faster and in larger quantities.
“Academy directors are having a big impact with their clubs,” Wijnker said. “We feel the everyday environments are improving and players are developing.”
With each passing year and the continued growth of the U.S. Soccer Development Academy, the future of soccer in the U.S. looks brighter and brighter, and the Academy Director Course is an essential part of the rising soccer tide.