Elite Player Development - A Comparative Study

It would appear that some US families have unlimited time, energy and resources to invest in the mission for their child to become an elite athlete!

How then, does a US elite youth soccer program compare with the FA Academy program in place at English professional clubs. We compared the experience of an elite 15 year old male soccer player in Atlanta and at an English Premier League Club Academy.

Playing Time

English academy players can play only for their academy team and are ineligible for youth club or school sports activities. As such they can play in a maximum of 38 games per year. In Atlanta, players can play for clubs, high school, state ODP, and Super-Y league teams which can total as many as 90 games per year. Add in tournament play and elite US soccer players are playing up to 115 games per year.

Practice to Games Ratio

Central to the English academy system is the focus on coaching and training with 3.15 practices for every game. In the US, the amount of games slashes this figure to a game every 1.71 practices in every twelve month period.

Total Soccer Contacts

When you combine total soccer contacts through practice and games the results are staggering. The English elite player will have a total of 152 to 158 soccer contacts in a twelve month period. In the US, elite players are on the field a total of 214 to 253 times per year, with a soccer activity every 1.7 to 1.4 days, every year


English Academies have strict rules regarding the conduct of parents at practice and games. They are encouraged to watch silently from a distance and are given a twice-yearly review of the progress of their players. The exclusive focus of the club, its coaches and management staff is the deveopment of the player and the team. As such, the clubs will not hide their low tolerance level for interfering parents.

   Education and Welfare
By excluding players from youth soccer, school sports and a significant portion of their week, professional clubs assume the responsibility for the players' education and welfare during their time at the club. Each team will have physical therapists and athletic trainers at every game and practice and fully equipped medical treatment rooms exclusively for the treatment and rehabilitation of injured players. The Education and Welfare Officer is charged with ensuring that young players maintain their educational progress and assist players in developing appropriate study habits during their time at the club.

Fees and Expenses

The business of the English clubs is to develop professional soccer players for their club. Therefore all expenses of the academy program are covered by the clubs to the tune of around $1.5 million per year. The family has the responsibility of getting their child to practice and games, and is often compensated by the clubs for their travel and gas expenses. In the USA, each elite player will be required to pay in the region of $4150 to $9000 per year to complete their elite level program.

Less is More!

The dangers are real. Overuse injuries, family financial challenges, barriers to participation from potential elite players. Perhaps there are lessons to be learned from the English system to give our players and parents the chance to enjoy and embrace the love for the game. US soccer should be unique and reflect the huge advantages of our society. Until we, as members of the US youth soccer community are able is able to address the issues of price, pressure and parents, elite athletes will be produced despite our system and not because of it. In the case of youth soccer in the USA, less may indeed be more!