Crew Soccer Academy Director of Coaching Billy Thompson has joined 20 other coaches from Major League Soccer and U.S. Soccer in France to help build a curriculum to develop better youth players in the U.S. Soccer Development Academy. In a partnership between MLS and the French Football Federation, the coaches will complete a 16-month development course and earn their Elite Formation Coaching License.
"The MLS commitment to the youth academies is significant," Thompson said last week before departing for Europe. "The League felt it was critical to set something like this up. It's a 16-month program where we will be back-and-forth between Europe and the United States as a group of youth technical directors to see what the Europeans are doing and try to bring back some information for our youth academies."
The program is spread out over eight two-week sessions between February 2013 and May 2014. MLS academies will begin implementing the curriculum starting in July 2014. The first two-week trip includes spending a week with the French National Team in Clairefontaine to help further understand the French perspective of youth development at the international level. Coaches will spend the second half of the first trip studying the academy systems of various clubs across Europe including Paris St. Germain, Olympique Lyonnais, Real Madrid, Athletic Bilbao and VfB Stuttgart. Thompson has been assigned to remain in France with Paris St. Germain.
The ultimate goal of the partnership is to further develop the United States into a leading soccer nation and MLS into one of the top leagues in the world by 2022. It all begins with the youth level, Thompson says.
"The ultimate goal is to not only produce better players, but better younger players," Thompson explained. "Eventually, we want our National Team players to be better and our pro players have to be better. Our development model is probably four years behind the European model, and even then, our end result is not as good as their's. Our top players are identified at ages 22-24, where [Europe's] top players are seen at 18. It's arguable that their top 18-year-olds are better than our top kids at 22. We're trying to close that gap."
He continued: "For us, with the Development Academies starting at U-14 now, it's a huge step. Instead of focusing on 16-18-year-olds, where we started and it's great, we've got to dive into the 14 and even the 12-year-old age groups. If we can make sure that by 12 years old that the players are technically sound, which is where the U.S. is way behind currently-- our 12-year-olds don't compare with the Europeans-- then we can start talking about 18-year-old pros that are equal to the European level. Our end-goal is to make sure we can come back with the right information to share with the rest our youth models to get on track with the younger age groups to ultimately have better 18-year-olds who are better pros at 18, who are National Team players at 18-22."
In acquiring a Elite Formation Coaching License, Thompson and his fellow coaches will become an exclusive rank in the United States.
"It's exciting, it's something that's never been done before," Thompson said. "It's an exclusive group of coaches that will take part in this over the next 16 months to come back with a level of coaching education that just doesn't exist in America. It's a great opportunity."