Will the US Soccer Development Academy or ECNL get your child to the World Cup? Only if they buy a ticket.

32 countries will compete in Russia to determine the top soccer country in the world. Sadly the United States team did not qualify for the world cup and will be a spectator; part of the 3.4 billion people that will watch it on their TV, mobile device, or in person.

The World Cup is the most viewed sporting event in the world, with almost half the world population tuning in to watch the tournament. Each team has 23 players – 20 field and 3 goalkeepers. Simple math, throughout this tournament we will watch arguably the top 736 soccer players in the world. The goal of many burgeoning soccer players is to the play in the World Cup, but based on the numbers, it may not be realistic.

US Soccer created the Development Academy (DA) with a singular goal, make US soccer competitive on the world stage. Youth soccer clubs & US Soccer sell the notion that you must play DA if you want a shot at playing for the National Team or exposure to colleges.

Is US soccer perpetuating a false hope with the girls and boys Development Academy? Is it worth giving up high school soccer and other sports to chase this opportunity? Why are youth soccer clubs promoting DA and ECNL?

We recently penned a blog post comparing Development Academy, ECNL and competitive soccer. The intent, helping you and your athlete make an informed soccer decision as their career progresses. We promised a follow up with our opinion on the merits of each option. Fortunately we had to opportunity to experience both ECNL and DA first-hand.

It is important for your child to be honest with their athletics goals IF they are interested in playing ECNL or Development Academy. To be clear, I am not advocating they need to have specific goals, other than to have fun, but there is a REAL sacrifice to play DA and ECNL.

I have learned a simple lesson through my experience with DA, Competitive and ECNL soccer – if the coaching is bad and there is a lack of club support the experience and player development will be poor. Sadly, there is a dearth of quality youth & high school soccer coaches and most clubs lack the resources to develop proper curriculum and evaluate their coaches.

As parents we place too much emphasis on our child being on the top team and very little research and inquiry into the coach and club philosophy. It is normal human behavior to research large product and service purchases. We use Yelp and other review platforms prior to visiting a restaurant or engaging an auto mechanic. This behavior does not manifest when selecting the proper team and coach for our child. We blindly follow the club’s recommendation, believing the club knows best.

US Soccer created the Development Academy to develop soccer players to compete for a spot on the national team. This is a realistic goal for only a handful of DA players. The rest of the players may be sacrificing a lot for nothing in return.

Is DA a good option? I don’t think there is a huge benefit to play DA, unless your child is a special player and is 100% dedicated to the sport of soccer. If they can’t check these boxes, competitive soccer is appropriate. DA is expensive, both time and money, and removes the opportunity for your child to play high school sports.

ECNL allows the players to play high school soccer but it is difficult to play a 2nd sport. The goal for an ECNL player is to play in college but is the sacrifice worth the opportunity? The ECNL team for most clubs is the 2nd team (DA is #1).

Is ECNL a good option? No. It is expensive, too much travel and the quality of play is not much different than normal competitive soccer

It is incumbent for you to research each option, the coach and the club. We listened to the clubs, did not research the coaches or hold the club accountable and the results were unfortunate.

In one season I watched a coach destroy the confidence of many players on a Development Academy team. He was hired because he had a B license (required by US Soccer). The club was scrambling to fill a DA coaching void and chose poorly, there was a lack of vetting by the club and zero accountability by the club and the coach.

This was a Development Academy team, ostensibly one of the top teams in their age group without a proper coach and no club support. The sacrifice to play DA – cost was approximately $5,000 and the players were not allowed to participate in high school soccer (mandated by US soccer). A year later the coach was removed from his position, but the damage was done. What was learned, what was lost during this season? Hard to know, except player development was non-existent.

Recently I watched the inaugural season of ECNL for boys. I saw a coach in over his head and lacking the ability to discipline and build a team. He might have good coaching qualities but they were overshadowed by his inability to lead and develop players. This was front and center for the parents to observe – each match there was fighting and swearing on the pitch, an overall embarrassment to the sport of soccer. The team did not win a single game. Cost for a season, including travel, was approximately $4,500. Did the boys improve individually and as a team? No. Was the experience and development worth the time and money? No. Did it get the boys exposure for the National Team or potential colleges? No.

Nothing is perfect in youth sports, but you can always be an advocate for your child. Understanding the options available and how they align with your child’s goals is important. The top team, top club, DA, ECNL…. does not always equate to the best coaches, best curriculum, best experience, and overall development for your child. You are spending a lot of time and money for this experience; make sure it is worth it.


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Joshua is married with three active children. He has experienced the good, the bad, and the politics of youth sports as a coach (12 years youth basketball coach) and a parent. All three kids have played soccer (Competitive, Development Academy, ECNL, High School) and basketball (Competitive & High School). Joshua is a co-founder at StriveFar, a marketplace connecting athletes with coaches for individual and small group training. Joshua has taught as an adjunct professor at the University of Denver since 2008. Joshua holds an undergraduate degree in Communication from the University of Colorado and an MBA in IT from the University of Denver.

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