Much has been made of the U.S. Soccer Federation moving its prized youth development outlet, the Development Academy, to a ten-month schedule and banning full-time players from playing high school sports.
Last week at the Gatorade High School Athlete of the Year ceremony, Landon Donovan and Brandi Chastain, on hand as presenters, had plenty to say on the subject, and where they would like to see player development in the U.S. improve.
“Not my cup of tea,” Chastain told TopDrawerSoccer.com. “I loved high school sports and always will. I’ll encourage my son to play high school sports. There is a wonderful experience to be had in playing high school sports.”
Chastain’s son just turned six years old this month, so it is a while off before he will make the difficult choice between Academy and high school, but the former U.S. women’s national team great has put a lot of thought into her opinion on the subject already.
“Now, some high schools have wonderful teams and the level doesn’t go down. Other high schools don’t [play at that level] but there is something to be said about being amongst your peers and wearing that letterman’s jacket with the block letter on the chest. I think there is room for that.”
Social aspects aside, Chastain questioned the thought process from those signing off on the new rule.
“I honestly think that sometimes I want to shake the people in charge because it is not about you. It is about these kids having this experience because they cannot get it back.”
While Donovan was not quite as outspoken about the new rule, he did reflect positively on his brief time at Redlands East Valley High School.
“Those couple of years were some of the best memories of my life,” Donovan told TopDrawerSoccer.com. “I remember the bus rides when you get on the bus after school and had somewhere to play a game. It was just fun.
“There is such a hierarchy because when you are a freshman, you are just watching the seniors and soaking it in. And I do miss that. I wish I had gotten to the point where I could have been a senior and paved the way for the younger guys.”
While Donovan reminisces about the missed opportunity, he does believe that USSF is taking the right step with the Academy.
“I think it was inevitable. When you look at the game around the world, the way it is played and the way players are developed, that is the model they use.
“It is difficult because some of my best times were playing high school soccer. It wasn’t the best for my development, but it was some of the best times. There is still a place for kids who want to play high school soccer, but I think the elite players are going to shift to playing against other elite players. That is the only way you make the game better and better.”
The all time leading scorer in U.S. Men’s National Team history also had other comments on improving the structure in the youth soccer game.
“I think the most important thing is that we are indentifying enough talented players. I played on a club team with four or five players more talented than I was, but never would’ve had a chance to make it – some for their own doing but others because there was no system in place to recognize the kids. My hope is that we can start indentifying more kids and giving more kids an opportunity.”
When asked about stepping into a coaching role after his playing days ended, Donovan was open to the idea.
“I am not sure I would want to be a coach of a professional team – the pressure and travel is what I like the least - but I think coaching a youth team would be fun. If I get that opportunity, it is something I would like to do.”