First, what is a U9 Academy? Or Pre-Academy? To most clubs, it is a professional staff (meaning paid, trained, and licensed coaches, more on that later) teaching your kids the critical ball skills that are foundational to success. Training sessions (we used to call them practices back in the day) a few times per week and some friendlies (soccer-speak for scrimmages) against other clubs throughout the year. And that’s it. No league championship, no win-loss record, no separation of the great kids from the ones that…well…are coordination challenged. It’s like a year of practice. How freakin un-American is that?
I hated it. I had a Division I women’s assistant coach with world cup experience working with my 8-year-old and I hated it. There was little competition, rarely was my “superstar” grouped with the other “superstars”. They just did many of the same individual ball skills over and over and over and over. I didn’t get it. I hated it.
After a few years passing and finding that the most technically skilled players at my daughters’ U12 and U14 age levels were most certainly Academy participants, the results are obvious. The need to develop (that’s an important word by the way) that fundamental skill on the ball is far superior to the need for gameplay. It’s hard to teach kids the pick and roll in basketball when they can’t yet dribble. This is the same thing. This sucks as a parent. It shouldn’t…but it does. You need to deal with it.
So prepare your overly competitive self…I know…me too…that if you are seeking the competitive drive in your kid, that’s fine, but don’t seek scoreboard as your elixir. Challenge your child to work on the skills on their own, and get faster and faster at them while doing them correctly. Challenge them to do the skills faster than his/her fellow academy mates. Challenge them to bring maximum effort while having fun. Always be light-hearted about it and fun while encouraging this.
You want your kid to fall in love with the ball. Not winning, not playing up top or any other position, but falling in love with the ball. If you have an academy kid that is always attached to their ball while in the yard and around the house, dialing up soccer on tv, and cannot wait to get to “training” to show off their moves…you’re doing something really right. But if this is not happening…they’re 7 & 8. Chill.
After a year of this and if you’re lucky your club will take these kids to a tournament just to give them a taste of the big time,. Then your kid…and you….will be ready for competitive soccer, right? You’re never really ready for the scale of this commitment if you’re new to it, but this is the place to start.