Why does the Development Academy Bar Players from High School Soccer?High School Soccer vs DA

Why does the Development Academy Bar Players from High School Soccer?

US Soccer Director of Talent Identification explains why DA players can not play for their high schools.

The Boys’ Development Academy started in 2007, and the Girls’ Development Academy started in 2017. Since then, many families strongly disagree with US Soccer’s directive that DA players are not permitted to play for their high school teams while they are on a DA roster.

Mirelle van Rijbroek is the Director of Talent Identification for US Soccer. I asked her to explain US Soccer’s decision to not allow DA players to play for their high school teams.

“Imagine you get into Harvard.  You go to Harvard, and you’re in a very high-level environment. There are big group projects to work on that are crucial to your education. Those projects are going to help you learn how to handle huge stressful situations later in life. But then you want to take a few months off to go to a different school for a while. Think Harvard will be OK with that? You think that’s going to be beneficial to your Harvard education? Furthermore, you’ll be leaving the members of your group without an important member of the team, while you take a few months to go do something else. It’s not fair to the group left behind. Additionally, it’s not going to be good for your own education. You can’t just leave for a few months.”

High school sports are a treasured rite of passage for teenagers and their parents. Many highly experienced club coaches confidently explain the benefits of high school soccer: Learning from different coaches, leadership opportunities, playing with and against opponents who are years older and stronger.

However, the Development Academy is not changing their policy. Van Rijbroek’s Harvard metaphor clearly exposes US Soccer’s view that the Development Academy is not an extra-curricular activity or a league.

Van Rijbroek explains:

“The Development Academy is a nation-wide programme designed to develop individual players to reach their full potential.”

“That will help every player that is is in the program. It will also improve the quality of players that eventually make up the US Men’s and Women’s National Teams. The DA is not a league. It’s a nation-wide philosophy. The DA is not a team that practices a few times a week. It’s a program that makes sure players are in the best environment for their development. US Soccer ensures DA players have at least four training sessions every week, with the best coaches available, with the most competitive matches.”

I asked Van Rijbroek what a player should do if he or she really wants to play high school soccer.  She easily answered, “They should play for their school! It’s a choice. It’s an important choice, but I believe that every player needs to decide what is best for them. If they want to play for their school, they’re making that choice, and that choice means they can’t stay on their DA team. Only the players with their families can decide what the best choice is for each particular player. Of course the DA isn’t for everyone.”

“I am passionate about every player having the opportunity to reach their highest potential at whatever level that may be.”

“Basically, what you want is that every player has/gets the possibility/opportunity to play on his/her own level, ambition, talent, motivation and experience or that fits their talent, ambition, motivation. The beauty of the American soccer landscape is that there are so many opportunities for players at so many different levels to choose what is the best route for them.”

Should a player choose a club team that allows him/her to play high school soccer?
Should he/she join a DA team?

US Soccer’s viewpoint is crystal clear:

Families in the DA program understand that they are choosing to be part of a high-level, highly competitive developmental system that doesn’t include playing for their high school.

As is the case with all important decisions, there is no standard answer, and each family must decide their own individual path through the high school years.


  • comment-avatar
    Joseph Guardiola 4 years

    How many players made into higher levels teams less than 1%that were in the academy the Las 3 years.
    Cuz academies don’t develop a anybody. Just recruit new players and get rid of the others.

    • comment-avatar
      Dale 3 years

      Amen. They don’t develop anything but their own bank accounts.

      • comment-avatar
        Joe fig 3 years

        US soccer system is a PAY For Play System. The DA system is free after U14 but the DA program changes every year. The DA still is trying to figure out first and foremost to make the MOST Money and then the 2nd goal is developing good youth system and unfortunately the $$$$ supersede the development. Also there is no consistency to the clubs scene in the youth system; it changes every year.

        As long as these dysfunction exists in US soccer system, the US soccer system stay irrelevant.

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    Amanda Crotty 4 years

    The Development Academy is not an extra-curricular activity. Exactly! Couldn’t be happier that my daughter is training at the level she is.

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    Dan 4 years

    Harvard would be ok with that, and it’s done all the time. People go on Study abroad, they go on Fulbrights. Etc.

    • comment-avatar
      Ted Hudock 4 years

      Dan that is the exact point I would have made the opening analogy is 100 % terrible. There are many colleges that actually encourage all students to go elsewhere to expand learning and to add a different point of view. Some schools actually force you to take “Field Periods” or whatever they choose to call them to graduate. That doesn’t just mean a work internship it means other experiences that are valuable.

      I went to a Jesuit school where all education is based on being well rounded- all students must take a broad base of courses many not directly related to your course of study to expand ones knowledge and teach you to look at other ways. Its made me a better educator and a much better person having learned about many things I might have missed.

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      Heather 3 years

      EXACTLY, I thought the same reading that. Our highest quality education ENCOURAGES well rounded experiences. I think it’s telling that the USMNT doesn’t seem to be improving post-DA and concerned that the DA just started for the women. In the US, elite athletes have a number of sports to choose and this philosophy is not going to get us the best and brightest, well-rounded athletes in the country.

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    Jasen 4 years

    That would be great if every DA program was equal. Our daughter almost left the game after playing in the inaugural season of the Girl’s DA. All the promises that went unmet.

    • comment-avatar
      Joe Fig 4 years

      Typical US Cub soccer scene…

    • comment-avatar
      Christina 4 years

      Our club just entered the DA. Those are some of the fears we have. All the promises sound great but will they be met? It’s a hard decision for these girls. Wish I had a crystal ball.

    • comment-avatar
      DSK 3 years

      We are in the midst of the same experience – daughter is now considering quitting the sport. My daughter still loves soccer but has HATED the transition from ECNL to DA. Much of it has to do with the new club executives and the unilateral decisions made without thought of consequences and the resultant unnecessary stress on young ladies. EXAMPLE; Moved practice location an additional 20 minutes away. Stripped all uniform numbers from girls and reallocated – younger girls received typical soccer numbers where older girls who wore the same number for many years are now wearing football numbers. So much for recruiting continuity.

      It seems like US soccer is ONLY looking at this through the lens of developing players for the national team and the rest of the girls are disposable. They prescribe a standard, UNPROVEN formula to all clubs and our daughters are essentially lab rats. They fail to recognize that the additional time commitment to practice reduces the STUDENT’s time to study – which for an honor student is an extreme stressor. Let’s be honest – most of us are looking for our girls to experience structured, balanced, healthy physical and mental activity that helps them prepare for the future. This especially applies to the goal of reaching a primary objective – education. We are looking for long term balance not for Navy Seal training environment w/ high level drop out.

      Our daughter went from being a highly recruited sophomore in HS, practicing 3 days per week, captain of her team(s) while maintaining a 4.3 GPA to one that now is required to participate in 4 practices and usually one other non game activity per week. Her one way drive time is at least 40 minutes to practice – one way in rush hour that is longer. This forces her start her homework usually after 9pm and most often in bed well after midnight. Obviously US soccer. has applied theory and hypothesis in the expedited roll out of girls DA in order to take share from the already proven and successful ECNL.

      Can you say short term oriented, self serving, ego driven program – that is micro focused on a 20 person team vs building the country wide foundation love of the game?!

  • comment-avatar
    Eliot 4 years

    The largest problem is cost and some markets tauting a professional system that barely makes the cut on some premier teams. Main example is Empire United in Rochester NY. No matter what they say or do they see the game and players as a zero sum game and talent as set in stone. Sure winning isn’t everything but winning 1 out of every 5 games would be better than what they have accomplished with the girls side. 5500 dollars and I can find better coaches easily. Sad and even sadder for the parents that are bamboozled into thinking they are it. The culture is terrible. Everyone is out to get everyone else on the team. So cliquey. When they play it’s like 2-3 teams against the 1 opponent which is why they lose so much.

    • comment-avatar
      Truth 4 years

      Looks like someone isn’t paying attention.

  • comment-avatar

    These instances are considered unlawful because they were
    considered outlawed underneath the Structure.

  • comment-avatar
    Joe Fig 4 years

    The problem with that analogy of Harvard and DA is flawed in many ways. First and foremost Harvard is an established institution with history and DA is not. Secondly some of DA club teams in boys side are not that competitive, not even close to a strong or decent F1 level teams. I have seen small clubs in Los Angeles area that constantly demolish some smaller DA club teams on constant basis and on every tournaments. And it does not help that DA is approving clubs for DA badge that are sub par to some established clubs such as LA Galaxy, Pateadores, or Strikers. US Soccer can’t have pathway for success by limiting the pool of the players on constant basis.

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    Shawn 4 years

    What a horrible explanation. Clearly, he didn’t go to Harvard, lol. Perhaps the explanation could’ve been that the development academy has highly skilled licensed coaches as opposed to most high schools that have high school teachers or former high school players wanting to coach their kids or to earn a little extra money..

    I believe the better coaches ARE in the clubs and not in the schools. Players are more skilled, faster, higher soccer IQ in the academy’s. The level of play demands quicker thinking. Watching high school soccer a lot of the times is like watching recreation soccer. A few good players that attempt to dribble through everything; thus, changing their style of play once they finish fall soccer and get back to the club. In other words, they may have regressed. It is a choice. It’s a family decision. If your young player truly has the potential to move on to college of pro then it would be my suggestion to stick with the development academy.

  • comment-avatar
    Tim Mactuttle 4 years

    Curious what the value of the da approach really is? Just watched England v US. Figure a decade plus in, we’d start to see better soccer being played by the US. Entirely too much focus on speed and athleticism. Small improvement in technical skill. Lacking tactical awareness and execution. Meanwhile da academy demands 100% commitment. What’s their deliverable for this sacrifice and 5-10k? Perhaps a pathway to sub par level US college play? It’s really hard to understand how 5000+ players committing to da academy approach for 10+ years can produce 15-20 talented international players. Unless the approach is flawed?

    • comment-avatar
      Joe Fig 3 years

      So True team. Most DA clubs in USA don’t put soccer players together; it is like that USA coaches are interested in track and field team.

    • comment-avatar
      Heather 3 years


  • comment-avatar
    JC 3 years

    Players can easily do both DA and HS. Our HS teams work hand and hand each year with the top clubs to plan their schedules and away trips. Many times, the HS coaching staff is also the club coach and at the very least both sides know each other very well and constantly work together for the benefit of the player.

    PS. that was a very weak answer. You can attend Harvard and also be on a bowling team, or take an online course, or be involved in a play, or play intramurals, or etc, etc. You don’t have to leave DA to play HS, you can do both, just like you can with ECNL. It is just a business decision/model (and a mistake IMHO).

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    barry Politi 3 years

    US Soccer/USSF could not care LESS about the kids and parents. Until we, the money holders, develop our own leagues or put our feet down together, these *** at USSF and DA system will continue with their antics.

  • comment-avatar
    Justin 3 years

    This article has a lot of flaws with the College analogy. Yes, you as the player and parents make the choice to attend that college for a reason – but guess you pick your class or…you can change your major – let alone travel abroad to learn.

    As someone who is new to the soccer world with a son approaching the time to make decisions about DA or something else. I keep reading about the program and some of the common themes I read in articles and comments is there is no reference to team build. It’s all about the individual and learning skills. Learn skills is great but team building a major skill and I think the apparent lack of that idea in the DA is why the US Men’s team is very lacking. As one commenter mentioned, a decade into the DA program you would think we would see signs of something happening in/on the Men’s team but if anything – it seems to be on a downturn. Yes there are some talented players for sure – but I thought the DA was the best of the best? If that is the case – then I have serious doubts about the overall program and it’s goals.

    Which begs the question as an outsider looking in – what is the actual end game for DA? Is it to produce world-class athletes? To groom a potentially formidable national team?

    I guess in the next year or so I will learn more to make the best choice for my son – but the current results of the DA program have left very underwhelmed about spending a lot of money, time for him and a family that in the end – he could have a very fulfilling experience and a chance to be on something potential more memorable.

  • comment-avatar
    barry Politi 3 years

    DA is just another failed system from USSF/US Soccer. Many excellent players never play DA.

  • comment-avatar
    Joe Fig 3 years

    @ Barry Politi: I share the same EXACT Sentiment.

  • comment-avatar
    Pimenta, Marcos 3 years

    Good Morning.
    I have been accompanying with interest the comments, because I have a Brazilian son who chose to study in an Academy in the US and to play soccer by that Academy.
    And we see that the DA system, based on pay-to-play, leaves many good athletes out, rather than being structured in investing in good players.
    Anyone who can afford to pay 5k-10k will not always be a good player.
    On the other hand, very real good players can not afford 5k-10k.
    Looking at where the good players come from in Brazil, Argentina and France (where we know them), the teams invest in the formation of good base teams. They recruit athletes based on their abilities, rather than for the possibility of payment.
    Not that there is no investment, money at stake. There is much more. There are big companies that sponsor the training of these athletes and then reap the high fruits of these investments.
    In this way, there is great competition for recruitment and it results in a natural “filter”: only the good ones are recruited.
    And the Clubs (PSG, PALERMO, SAO PAULO, RIVER PLATE, ETC) invest in these young athletes and they will certainly be the big and expensive players in the future.

  • comment-avatar
    MA 3 years

    Development Academy (pay-to-play model) kills the community-based soccer culture that is unique in high school soccer (free-to-play model) .

    Why is the US Women’s soccer much more successful than US Men’s soccer outside DA program? It would be interesting to see how DA would change the successful landscape of US Women’s Soccer as clubs move into the Girl’s DA Business Inc.

  • comment-avatar
    Robert Hawkins 3 years

    My daughter has played DA since inception but now wants a year to play with her Sister in high school. She told the coach her intention was to come back to DA after the high school season. These ego- maniac DA coaches told her if she leaves she likely wouldn’t get much playing time if she comes back…Incredible what they are getting away with!

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    Ann 3 years

    DA on the girls side is not even a tryout team. It’s teams that are t in ECNL that transferred there so called top team to DA. 5 teams have left and gone back to ECNL. Does that tell you something. Parents and players unhappy and unsatisfied. New coaches were not added. Teams just changed leaves. Nuts!
    Sadly HS kids did not wake up and say I do t want to play HS soccer. Coaches told them this was the deal.
    People have gone as far as saying “you won’t go to Harvard if you do t go DA”. First off who cares and second the coach of Harvard is involved in a DA program. Ask any other college coach. They dont care what league you play in and they like multi sport athletes. Sadly parents drink the kool aide because no one has the balls to stand up and say DA is a joke.
    ECNL is a great proven competitive league. DA is not and that is why ECNL teams gave it a chance and jumped ship as quickly as possible.
    Girls don’t give up your HS experience. A chance to captain your team, celebrated by your community, play with all levels of talent,learn to overcome adversity and still play high level club soccer. Don’t drink the kool aide even if your parents are!! Be strong!
    PS. If playing on the national team is your dream. If you are good enough-They will find you!!
    Players are not running to DA teams. Teams are announcing their participation in DA and then players are choosing to stay or leave.

  • comment-avatar
    Eddie Seade 3 years

    The Harvard analogy is horrible. I don’t know of a single institution which does not expect one to challenge themselves outside of the walls of that particular institution. There are countless teachers, coaches and mentors outside of the DA program who are excellent at what they do and who have a lot to teach our kids. For the US soccer to think they cornered the market on the right coaching talent is immature and short sighted to say the least. Keep on being elitist and you will never reach the world stage.

  • comment-avatar
    RGA 3 years

    The hypocrisy is that players enrolled in private or prep schools are allowed to play for their school and for DA simultaneously. Does all the above magically NOT happen to players who attend private vs a public high school? My player recently had to make the choice, and chose high school…for the experience and the HS has a strong program. But we happen to live in an area saturated with prep schools (again the HS is a good one, so he chose to forego that route), and about 1/3 of the DA teams play on both rosters. I don’t understand the double standard. I would think that would disprove theory that playing for your school somehow negatively affects your performance in DA. Oh, and the Harvard analogy is awful.

  • comment-avatar
    DNo 3 years

    Based on the comments it seems we are engaging in a local versus national soccer debate.
    My comments address the national direction.
    American soccer is being cannibalized by the many choices it provides to players. HS soccer is one example of that, but it does provide an experience of a different kind. While there are many successful HS programs, they cannot compare to what the DA pathway offers nor, on-average, match the caliber of coaches.
    In addition, the market-driven SOCCER INDUSTRIAL COMPLEX is too fragmented which slows the DA system to effectively take hold and produce the best talent pool of players at a faster rate. Top european clubs in conjunction with their national soccer federations are more successful accelerating the pathways to players playing at the highest possible level. Germany overhauled (i.e. improved coaching and mandated more club academies) their system in the mid-2000s and look what happened.

    We are on the right path to national success, but we still need more buy-in the DA philosophy and encourage communities to collaborate and align more with this model. The major flaw the DA needs to reckon with is the affordability issue where great players may be slipping through the cracks because of access and affordability.

  • comment-avatar
    Dale 3 years

    I’m very concerned. My step-Grandson plays for a DA and wants to be a professional soccer player. He has been to two European camps so far. His parents have let him stop attending school and take classes online at home so he has more time to train. Fortunately he is smart as well. His plan is to skip college altogether and go right to the top. He does nothing else but soccer, no friends, no other interests. I think they (his parents) have lost their minds! This kid is 13!!

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      Joe Fig 3 years

      Hopefully parents can get some common sense. If the kid is that good, take him to Europe to good academy. Nothing in USA will turn to pro in Europe. His best bet will be MLS signing from DA and if he gets injury, then he is done altogether.

  • comment-avatar

    what fools, very sad.

    Here is what Sunil’s corrupt minions in Chicago at USSF/US Soccer and your US Soccer club will not tell you. As hard as it is to accept here is the truth:

    1. Most kids gain no advantage developmentally by being on these pay to play, “fairy tale”, “elite” travel soccer teams, until completely after puberty.
    2. Almost all Kids that play club soccer (which is usually almost year around) LOSE athleticism because Neuroplasticity is largely programmed by mass complex different neuromuscular movements which Club soccer doesn’t really teach. Kids do better when they are exposed to multiple different sports (not just soccer) thru puberty’s end. Early specialization hurts kids, and does not make them better athletes.
    3. Kids that play Club soccer have a much, much higher rate of burnout, injury, and other disorders.
    4. Speed is critical for soccer, and actually somewhat malleable but must be done so very early on and almost daily with polymeric like movements.
    5. The 10 K hour law is bogus.

    Until more recently, historically most of the greatest players in the world grew up playing on the streets… in poor, underserved and often desolate conditions… not in expensive, suburban, US style club soccer. We have been lead astray for many years.
    For a good read try this one… The Sports Gene: Inside the Science of Extraordinary Athletic Performance. By Epstein.

  • comment-avatar
    Dale Doeller 3 years

    Get this! High School Junior Girl Age 16 plays on a Club Team (not DA) and on her High School Team. Girl challenges her High School Coach on some technique or another (Coach has been there for 22 years) and he put her on the bench. Girl has a very bad mouth anyway. Girl gives Coach “the finger” and says to him, “F— you” and then quits the High School Team. Girl is hoping for an athletic scholarship for college. What do you suppose will happen to her at School? I think she should be suspended and disciplined. She is counting on her Club Team to carry her through. What usually happens in a case like this?

  • comment-avatar
    JJ 3 years

    DA ECNL NPL all loads of crap. There are non alphabet teams that smoke these DA ECNL or NPL teams in tournaments all the time. Every club has a different level of greatness and DA is not it.

    Kids get better by playing and playing against older stronger players not just players of the same age.

    This is why I feel the game has gone to crap in the US, kids nolonger play against pr with older kids they are all birth year leagues and very few are aloud to play up.

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