HS Notebook: HS residencies taking root?

HS Notebook: HS residencies taking root?
by Will Parchman
November 6, 2014

Can high schools and top-of-the-line development exist harmoniously? A few pockets of developmental experimentation in the U.S. are aiming to find out.

High school and the Development Academy have generally been pitted against one another since the two parted ways in 2012. The DA opted to hoe its own rows by splitting the two ventures and disallowing players to play both. Even if the move hasn’t been accepted nationwide - mainly in parts of the country where high school is still a valued talent incubator - it’s largely become part of the developmental fabric in the U.S. A largely accepted fact.

The idea that a high school and a Development Academy-level soccer program can be welded together as a kind of mutant producer of next-level talent isn’t terribly new. But it also isn’t so well established that clubs have figured out its nuances, either. The most notable of its kind is Minnesota-based Shattuck St. Mary’s, which has been in the Development Academy since its foundation in 2007. It combines an academic high school atmosphere with the rigors of a day-to-day academy lifestyle.

One of the most notable new examples of this came online in 2013, when the Philadelphia Union opened up the YSC Academy, which we documented here. More than a year later, the model is slowly entrenching itself in the day-to-day grind of life for 64 boys students in the Philly area. The intense twice-daily training sessions and convivial classroom atmosphere - the school has a conference room shaped like Bayern Munich’s Allianz Arena - are beginning to make their mark on its students

Can this model of melding the benefits of the hierarchical, holistic atmosphere of a high school with the increased training demands of a Development Academy soccer team work? One high school coach recently told TopDrawerSoccer.com that it might.

“(High school soccer) is community based, just as the professional clubs from around the world are,” said Chad Rakestraw, the head coach of Coppell High School in the Dallas, Texas area. “You play for not just your high school, but you represent an entire community and school. Another huge advantage is the minimal cost for a player to play on a high school team. When kids get to the high school and want to play, money is never going to be a reason they are not able to. But the biggest advantage is the fact that we have the ability to bring a holistic approach to the development of each of our players.

“We watch their grades, keep up with their behavior in classes, we put them on a strength program and have a college-level weight room. We do character building through leadership classes and we have indoor facilities so we can train year around. We see our kids every single day, we get to work on all four pillars of the game. We hit technique, tactics, physical strength and speed, and the mental aspect of the game.”

The idea that high schools are community based, and that that reflects the realities of many residential academies around the world, is well-founded. The vast majority of Development Academy sides in the U.S. are run like day camps, where players travel - sometimes exorbitant distances - to practice in the afternoon while molding it around their otherwise busy schedule. Forming the academy around a high school is a convenient way to circumvent that.

In a lot of ways, residencies are the next level for U.S. soccer. Dedicated training centers that both help to eliminate cost and inject talented players into the nation’s mainline soccer bloodstream at an early age. But they’re both difficult to set up and costly to maintain. That’s a major reason why most clubs still operate under a more traditional, cost-effective model. Where start-up money isn’t plentiful, clubs have to find other ways to generate capital to keep the system moving. Simple economics.

That said, Rakestraw dropped a bombshell when he noted that Coppell is looking at starting up its own academy. High schools are already rough residential translations, and the idea that a top high school can rope in its own players by starting a more robust academy model seems to follow a discernible pattern.

“Each high school should have their own youth development academy,” Rakestraw said. “These teams would be community based and provide a playing style and program philosophy from the top down. The ability to create a direct pathway from beginning to the end would benefit the players and programs. All the other clubs from around the world are this way. The kids go to school together, they live around each other, they train together and there is a level of consistency throughout their entire youth that is foreign to club soccer players here.”

Whether or not that’s feasible (or if it catches on), time will decide. But with the slow but steady churn of high school/academy hybrids like YSC and Shattuck-St. Mary’s, it’s gradually being introduced as a viable model for developing the next great American soccer star.

Related Topics: HS Notebook
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