Beginning officially at U9, Georgia Soccer has two categories of Soccer.
Recreation is the normal track that the majority of players continue on. Clubs play intramural games primarily, with a lower intensity of training and programs suitable for all levels of play – from players entering the sport for the first time to players who started at four years old.
Academy is the option for players who are more dedicated to the sport and expect to continue in the sport for more than the next several years. There is supposed to be a focus on player development versus winning matches.
Our club also introduces a “Pre-Academy” for the U8 age group. The U8 Pre-Academy plays against U10 Recreation teams and is supposed to have the same focus on development as the U9 and above Academy track.
There are several large differences between Academy (and Pre-Academy at our club) and Recreation teams.
Coaching is probably the biggest difference. Recreation at our club is coached by volunteer coaches (primarily parents of players) with the aide of professional trainers who provide about 1/2 of the content of practice time and focus on providing players with the technical ball skills needed to progress in the sport.
Academy is coached by professional coaches. In Georgia, a State “E” license or above is required for coaching Academy teams – but it’s common to see many clubs with higher licensed USSF coaches coaching Academy teams. In theory, this means better instruction and coaching that applies the current philosophy in US Soccer to stress on ball development and the other facets of the US Soccer curriculum.
Recreation is coached by parent volunteers. I’ve been a volunteer coach in U5, U6, U7 and U8 at our club for two full seasons. There are many recreation coaches with great passion for the sport, and bring their own experience in playing the game to the sport. Like myself, some have taken the steps needed to become a licensed coach from the state federation (I hold Georgia Soccer F and G certificates.) But like the difference between a professional educator teaching a class and a parent helping their child with homework.
Academy teams receive another advantage – practice time. In Pre-Academy versus U8 Recreation this is especially pronounced – U8 Pre-Academy receives two 90 minute practices each week. U8 Recreation practices once a week for 60 minutes. The extra two hours of practice time provides an enormous potential for growth at this age group. In U9 and U10, the practice time is still unequal but less so – Recreation practices two hours per week and Academy three hours per week.
Of course, this comes at a price.
Recreation soccer at our club is $150 per season (thus $300 for the year) for the U10 age group and up. U8 and below is $120 per season ($240 per year).
Academy soccer is $1000 per year, with additional fees required for kit ($160 every two years) and tournaments and supplemental training. For those considering switching, this is probably the single greatest impediment to making the jump – a $800 difference in price tag.
How it Plays in Our Home
Our feelings on Academy are mixed.
There aren’t many families where the prospect of $1000+ per child per year on Soccer is without concern. It does figure into our decision on what to allow Aidan and Evan to do – since if both shift into Academy (and eventually Select) it would significantly change our future financial picture. I refuse to consider it as an investment into that college scholarship that so many parents buy into: there are too many players nationwide for this to be a serious possibility. Obviously another $1000 each into their 529 Savings Plan would go much further.
Another concern in our family is the consideration of the role of soccer in our sons’ lives. Both of them greatly enjoy playing soccer, and want to continue playing. We want to ensure that they continue to feel this way! While there’s no guarantee in either Recreation or Academy on the quality of fit between their personality and the coach’s personality, the assumption is that in Academy there is a higher expectation of performance and a perceived higher degree of pressure during practices and matches.
The time commitment is a direct offshoot of this – as it might be possible with both in Academy we could have four evenings of practices a week. Our Saturdays might be split between two soccer parks in different parts of the Atlanta metro area.
It’s also taking them down the road of specialization. With the higher cost of Academy and the multi-night practices, we would be forced to drop Tae Kwon Do. Three nights of Tae Kwon Do wouldn’t mix with two nights of practices plus matches. I’m not sure they are in Tae Kwon Do for the long run anyway – but it might be earlier than they would have ended it otherwise. Stats Dad had an excellent multi-article series on the difficulties of being a two sport youth athlete that’s definitely worth reading.
But I do think there is a lot of upside to the experience.
Both of my sons excel in soccer and academically. I attribute a part of their academic success to having great teachers at school who have inspired them to excel and given them the tools they need to do so. I would expect the same to occur under the right coach on the pitch.
Playing with other players with similar interest level and skills would also help them raise their abilities. Recreation for us has been a regular turn of players on Aidan’s team – mostly players new to the sport mixing through the team each season. While Evan’s team has been constant, Evan’s interest in soccer has greatly outpaced his teammates so far.
The Debate Continues
Tryouts for Academy are the week following Memorial Day. Until both complete tryouts and are slotted on teams, this remains a theoretical discussion.