Column: The dilemma between academy and high school soccer
For those of us who, once upon a time, had the luxury of playing sports in high school, we can easily remember the extreme highs and the lowest of lows. Whether it be on the high school soccer team or the golf team - which I'd imagine half of the student body knew nothing about - high school sports offer numerous qualities: becoming a part of the community, the "high school hero" mantra and of course, playing the beloved sport with lifelong friends.
However, what if we told you high school soccer no longer meant best friends would pass back and forth through the opposition's defense? Or what if we had another option other than high school soccer - a 10-month long professional environment that allows its players to further their playing careers far more likely than high school soccer?
Enacted in 2008, the United States has begun an Academy program which will work to catch Americans in the world of soccer (or football, as we should start deeming it). Nevertheless, the Academy program is simple: better training, more quality matches, a 10-month long season and national team scouts offering direction to the under-18 players throughout the country.
Here is the real kicker: if an individual chooses to play for an Academy they are not allowed to play for their high school team. A tough decision for a 17 or 18-year-old, right? While these kids may be the best soccer players in their respective towns, or even in the state, this does not necessarily mean they will make the United States National Team.
Understandably, the United States will continue to enact matters to discover talent at a quicker pace and by using the Academy program as a filter, there will be a more likely tendency to catch up to the soccer powerhouses of England, Spain, Italy and Brazil.
And as matters appear, the Academy soccer program, especially throughout Connecticut, has brought immediate success. Yet despite the club success of Oakwood Soccer Academy or the personal accolades a member of the Academy team may receive, proponents of the high school game believe there is more to say about the development of the students rather than the athlete.
Take the "high school hero mantra" for instance. While Academy programs certainly have plenty of people in attendance to their matches - for instance, Oakwood sports their "Blue Crew" which storms throughout their home grounds in Portland, Conn. there are plenty of drawbacks to the experience. The professional environment does provide for a more soccer-minded individual ready for the collegiate game at top-notch universities throughout the country. However, we must first take into account high schools offering of camaraderie and unity. Growing up with fellow classmates and getting to know them for 17 plus years, the connection beyond the pitch is readily apparent.
And of course, who doesn't remember the envious glares at the soccer player who notched the game-winning goal on a Thursday night under the lights in front of the entire town, teachers, friends and family. Even though my soccer career ended after four years of varsity high school soccer, I still relish in those memories where I scored in a big game and being congratulated the following morning entering school.
I understand that not everyone will agree with my aforementioned statements. To be completely honest, I am not even quite sure where I stand on the matter between high school soccer and Academy soccer. I would lose numerous nights of sleep, should I be told to choose between playing with my friends in high school or with the better players in the surrounding area. It is a decision which I do not wish any child would have to make. It is a program which may be the best entity that's ever happened in the United States. But with the additional pressures, we all may have our doubts whether or not the benefits exceed the risks.
Then again, 30 quality matches throughout 10 months and traveling throughout the country to face some of the best competition in all of the land - it's a hard decision to turn down if it's in the back pocket.
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