There are various types of soccer academies in the soccer industry, which often makes it difficult for athletes, parents, and even coaches to understand the value of a particular training program. To remove misunderstandings and dispel myths, we have prepared this guide on how to choose the most suitable soccer academy for long-term training of an athlete.

What makes a good soccer academy?

   One of the fastest ways for a player to break into a professional soccer club is to join a soccer academy.   A soccer academy is a training program for young and talented players, usually lasting from 6 months to several years. Athletes live on the campus of the academy (if they come from another city), train, and at the same time study according to the school curriculum. Most often, athletes are selected at the academy through local soccer clubs.A good training program includes intensive soccer training, gym training, theory sessions with video analysis of matches, friendly games and official matches. In addition, lessons and master classes are held on diet and proper nutrition, recovery, injury prevention, and sports psychology.   The better the soccer academy, the stronger the team of coaches. As a rule, in many international soccer academies coaches have a UEFA A or PRO license, as well as significant experience in coaching youth or senior teams.

   Leading academies also always focus on the academic training of athletes so that they successfully complete their school or university education. They almost always offer several training options — training at a local school, remote training via the Internet, training with tutors, etc.

   The main distinguishing features of a good soccer academy are:

  • The purpose of the academy is to prepare an athlete to play at a semi-professional (collegiate level) or professional level (top leagues)
  • High level of students’ play. Strict selection at the academy. Before enrollment, a video resume and cuts of the athlete’s game are often requested
  • Duration from 6 months to 2 years
  • Training process: in general, the academy has developed their own training methodology or adopted from the club where the academy operates. All aspects of the game are covered.

   Successful soccer academies solve a key task — to create an optimal environment for young athletes, allowing them to focus on the progress of their game, individual development, including through communication, joint training and schooling with other students with similar skills, potential and ambitions. Simply put, in a soccer academy, the athlete is focused on their soccer development and progresses “organically”.

   The coaches and management staff of these soccer academies clearly know:

  • how to reach a professional level and play in PRO clubs
  • have connections, contacts, partnerships with other leading soccer academies, clubs, scouts and coaches — and invite them to joint training or games to show the talents of their players
  • that strict selection to the academy is important, otherwise the development of the players in the group might be limited

   However, not all soccer academies are the same. In addition to territorial division, academies differ in their organizational structures: some have many years of work behind them and hundreds of enrolled students with many successful soccer careers stories; other academies — may work with fewer students (create a family atmosphere, so to speak), but provide a comparable, and often even better quality of education and future potential after graduation; other soccer academies are just a lot of promises, but in fact, they have very few successful stories, if any.

How should you choose a soccer academy, what should you pay attention to?

   While all soccer academies share a common goal of preparing young players to play at a professional level, they do so in different ways depending on which training methodology and/or business model they pursue.

   Thus, the FAB Soccer Academy in England (London) has a reputation as one of the best independent academies in the UK for athletes aged U16-U19. In their methodology, the academy adheres to traditional English soccer, where physical fitness plays an important role. Its graduates play for Stoke City (Premier League), Birmingham City (Premier League), Bolton (Championship) etc.

   In turn, the WOSPAC soccer academy in Barcelona has a different approach. It adheres to the concept of Spanish / Catalan soccer. Therefore, whether it is short-term camps or long-term academic programs, the players will train like Spanish clubs. That is why part of the training at WOSPAC takes place in conjunction with FC UECornella (the top 3 clubs in Barcelona after FC Barcelona and FC Espanyol), whose youth soccer academy is known all over the world.  WOSPAC has a special short-term soccer camp, where the focus is also on training with FC UECornella.

   In addition, a soccer academy may be affiliated with a professional soccer club and be located in a completely different place (for example, Global Premier Soccer is affiliated with FC Valencia (Spain) and FC Bayern (Germany), but the academies are scattered around the world); can be affiliated with the club and be located at the same place (for example, one of the top European soccer academies Michel Hidalgo Soccer Academy is located in Cannes (France) next to FC Cannes, playing in Ligue 1 of France) and works closely with it.

   In practice, partnership structures between soccer academies and soccer clubs can vary. If an academy does not have a partnership with a soccer club it does not make that academy any less of quality at all. As a rule, such independent academies have their own teaching methodology, which can be more effective than the one used, for example, in a professional club. Therefore, it is vital to look at the results of the academy and the success of its students, rather than the existence of partnerships.

Features of soccer academies at professional clubs

   In North America, Australia and some other countries, athletes develop within the educational system (that is, first at the school and college level, then in university teams). For example, almost every US university has its own basketball team that play in the NCAA league, the best of which are then selected in the NBA draft. In Europe, as a rule, the academy at a professional club is responsible for the training of athletes. Such players then also continue their sports career in their home club, another club, or end their sports career.

   It is important to remember that for club academies every athlete is an investment. In most cases, players admitted to the soccer club are not required pay tuition fees, all expenses are covered from the club’s budget. The club hopes that in the future one of the students of the academy will excel and will be possible to transfer for a profit. For clubs with small budgets, this is more expedient than spending big money on transferring good players “from the outside”. The problem is that only a few people out of hundreds of children reach the level of a professional team and/or a successful transfer. Therefore, it is believed that the more successful students the academy has (consider “transfers”), the higher status the academy has, since it knows how to nurture talents.

   In addition, it must be taken into account that club academies almost always recruit players locally — most of them from their region, and a small percentage from the country. It means that it is almost impossible for an athlete from another city, and even more so from a country, to make it into the club. In 2019, the European Club Association conducted a study of the work of professional soccer clubs in Europe (including Bayern, Arsenal, Ajax, etc.), with the most successful soccer academies.

   The results of the studies turned out that:

  • such academies accept only 1% of foreign athletes aged 10-23 years old and up to 3% aged 16-23 years old for training, all other students of the academies are citizens of the country, while 71-78% live an hour’s drive from the soccer academy
  • in about half of the clubs in the adult team, 20% of the players who spent at least 5 years in the soccer academy

   On average, there are 5-6 players in the first team that graduates from the clubs’ soccer academy. Here it is necessary to make a note that these are players of different ages. Let’s say that both a 19-year-old soccer player (just from the academy) and a 28-year-old soccer player (he graduated from the academy a long time ago) can play in the first team. Although the total number (5-6 players) seems to be quite good, these athletes came to the first team in different years.

   One of the best academies in the world — the academy of FC Ajax (Amsterdam) contains 12 teams of all ages, about 200 students, of which 95% are citizens of the Netherlands. The selection of students is carried out only from Amsterdam and the suburbs. The aim of the soccer academy is to have 3 players promoted to the first team every two years. Imagine 3 players in two years, that’s 3 players out of about 400 people (less than 1% of academy players make it to the adult team).

Features of soccer academies affiliated with professional clubs.

   There are also soccer academies, which are independent organizations with their own owners, but they are affiliated with one or another professional club. In this case, the training process may include the participation of the club’s coaches in the training sessions of the academy players, or vice versa, the academy players participation in certain training sessions with the club or club’s youth academy, the academy players’ playing the game for the club team. But ultimately, it is the soccer academy that is responsible for the development of the player and their progress.

   A good example is the soccer academy Michel Hidalgo (Michel Hidalgo) in Cannes (France). This is one of the leading academies in France, cooperating with FC Cannes (Ligue 1). Many academy graduates have continued their careers in professional clubs in France and Europe. The Academy accepts athletes from 14 to 22 years old for a one-year program or for one semester only.

Soccer academies not affiliated with professional clubs.

   This is the largest group of soccer academies in the soccer training market. Some of the best soccer academies do not have any connections with professional clubs and train players according to their methodology, with the help of their coaches, at their sports facilities, promote players to clubs through their connections and partnerships. As we noted earlier, it is important to look at the results of the academy and how training in it influenced the progress of the player (sports, academic), and not the presence of affiliation.

   The EduKick Soccer Academy is a good example. Firstly, it uses its own training methodology under the guidance of coaches with a UEFA B, A and Pro license. At the same time, the approach to training varies depending on the country where the academy is located. At the EduKick soccer academy in Italy, the focus is on Italian soccer, at the academy in Spain (Tarragona) — on the Spanish style of play, at the soccer academy in Manchester — on English (moreover, in England there is both a youth soccer academy and a separate one for juniors). And the graduates ended up playing for Leeds United (Championship), Seattle Sunders (MLS), Accrington (Championship), Derby County (Championship), etc.

   Obviously, if an athlete attends a soccer academy in England or Spain, he is more likely to be exposed to European soccer (be in the view of coaches, scouts, etc.), these athletes will be ready for the conditions of playing in European leagues at an international level.

What do soccer academies offer?

   Soccer academies usually offer several training options, each of which has two key factors — training duration and price. Although the main “product” of soccer academies is always a year-round program (1 or 2 years of study), often players can also study for 6 months, in some academies, there is also the possibility to register only for 3 months, etc. Depending on the duration of training, the “package” of the program differs, the requirements for the player upon admission and the price.Thus, the WOSPAC soccer academy in Barcelona offers players its flagship product — an annual program. However, its content and price range from the basic 49,000 euros for children aged 12 to 16, to 18,000 euros for teenagers aged 16 and over. The price can be reduced by eliminating nutrition, reducing the number of workouts, etc. This is a logical approach, given that many academy students are local — and, for example, they may not need food and accommodation, but only need training.

   Similarly, the WOSPAC academy conducts short-term professional programs «Soccer Stages» from 2 weeks to 3 months («Normal» package and «Pro» package). The difference in price is due to the fact that the Pro package includes additional training sessions with FC UE Cornella (Barcelona’s top 3 clubs).

   Such short-term programs are also convenient in that athletes can come for a couple of months, train, evaluate whether the academy suits them and meets their needs. If they like it, they can stay longer.

   Upon admission, soccer academies most often ask the student for their soccer resume and game video cuts, in addition to standard questionnaires with general information about the athlete. Other academies have a stricter selection process and invite athletes only after they have been screened — when the athlete arrives for a short-term soccer camp (in the summer, before the start of the season) or for formal screenings (various dates throughout the year).

Coaching staff and qualifications

   Obviously, the quality of training at the academy depends on the qualifications and experience of the coaching staff. This is not only soccer training, mentoring athletes, psychological preparation, but also understanding how the soccer industry works at a semi-professional and professional level. The coaches’ experience as a professional player is also important, as well as the connections with scouts, other coaches, soccer clubs and federations.

   UEFA Pro and A licenses are the most prestigious coaching licenses. If there are owners among the coaches in the soccer academy, this speaks of the high class of the coaching staff. However, if we are talking about young athletes (8-12 years old), the presence of Pro and A licenses for coaches are not necessary, category B licenses are quite enough there.

   Studying the academy’s coaching staff, their experience and licenses are important in choosing an academy. The athlete must be sure that the coaches will be able to help him achieve their goals.

   The following licenses exist in the UEFA system (European soccer):

  • Level 1 (Level 1) — for teaching children at the earliest stages. The training course takes only a few weeks.
  • Level 2 (Level 2) — for training at the level of amateur soccer and amateur leagues. To obtain a license, coaches are required to complete approximately 6 months of training.
  • Level 3 (license category “B”) is a mandatory license for studying soccer academies in Europe. It takes 12-18 months to complete the course.
  • Level 4 (license category “A”) — allows coaches to train professional teams and academies. To receive this license coaches must take a course that take about 2 years to complete.
  • Level 5 (“Pro” category license) — allows you to manage and train teams at the level of the top divisions of European leagues. It takes 12 months to complete the course.

   In turn, North American soccer has a different system of coaching licenses. In the USA there are two organizations that are responsible for the development of soccer in the country — USSF (United States Soccer Federation) and NSCAA (National Soccer Coaches Association of America) — both have the right to issue licenses. We will not list all types of licenses; we will only note that they are also issued based on training and work experience of candidates.

   Often, in the US academies (Canada, Australia) coaches with UEFA licenses work as part of the coaching staff. This will allow academies to have a diverse experience.

Training process

   The effectiveness of the training process in the academy depends on many factors, such as the coaching staff, teaching methodology, the level of students in the academy (when all the players progress together in daily training), the ability to play friendly matches and official matches with other clubs, the technologies used, etc. Given that we have already mentioned the importance of coaches and methodology, here we will consider other important aspects.

Training facility

   The state of the training facility is, in a sense, an indicator of the development of the academy. At the same time, the place of residence of students can be modest, since this not crucial for training (and in most academies, athletes live in pairs), but the training infrastructure is important. This includes high-quality soccer fields (both natural and artificial turf), a gym, swimming pool, recovery and rehabilitation, etc.

   Use of technology New technologies are pushing sports training forward. Technology is used both for training, recovery after matches or injuries, and during games. If the soccer academy uses them in the preparation of athletes, this is a good sign. The most popular in soccer are:

  • Portable GPS-sensors to measure the individual physical indicators of the player during training or games — are used, as a rule, in the form of special wearable vests. The obtained information helps to determine the physical condition of the athlete, prevent injuries, and determine strengths and weaknesses
  • Special simulators and equipment for training and recovery. These are also isokinetic simulators that allow you to measure the strength of individual muscles of the body, predict injuries or muscle wasting. This is also a spirometric equipment for assessing the condition of the lungs and endurance of the players
  • These are various computer programs used to analyze games and training sessions, to teach soccer tactics to athletes

Official matches and professional soccer screenings

   Leading soccer academies give players a variety of opportunities to practice what they’ve learned in practice in the real game. As a rule, these are friendly matches, official matches (for example, the academy team participates in competitions or a local championship), games between different teams within the academy, as well as formal viewings in front of scouts, coaches of other academies and clubs.

   Each type of match has its advantages. For example, during friendly matches or domestic competitions, coaches can make more substitutions and give instructions to players (analyze their performance) during the match. Good academies have a wide range of sparring partners of equal level or higher so that players know where to aim.

   And many international academies organize independent tournaments or official matches with other academies, clubs — to give players the right amount of playing time.

   Therefore, when choosing academies, pay attention to their capabilities. Unfortunately, not all academies have well-established partnerships with other clubs, which means they can’t organize quality friendly or official games, where, among other things, you could show yourself in front of professional club coaches, scouts or agents.

   Training Intensity

   In general, in terms of the daily routine and intensity of training, all programs are approximately equal. In some academies there may be more training and official matches and competitive games, in others less, depending on the “package” of the program which the athlete has registered for. For example, the WOSPAC soccer academy in Barcelona has different packages and prices. But this is not a common practice, and only a few academies take this approach.

A complex approach

   Playing at a professional level is not only physical or tactical preparation in training. It is also the study of sports diets, psychological preparation. The latter is especially important when an athlete leaves the academy and, let’s say, starts his career at a club. You need to be ready for this. As well as injuries. Quite a few athletes “broke down” psychologically and ended their careers or simply failed to reach their potential. Good soccer academies understand this — and the coaches and specialists of the academy pay attention to these issues.

The reputation of the soccer academy and its coaches in the soccer community.

   Studying at the soccer academy gives athletes the opportunity to “use” the reputation of the academy and its coaches: connections and partnerships with scouts, coaches from other academies and professional clubs, and agents developed over the years.

   Scouts and club coaches receive dozens, if not hundreds, of letters and calls every day from athletes (their parents, coaches, agents) asking them to evaluate his game. By the way, this is also why various services appeared on the Internet (such as WyScout) for watching matches of various leagues in the world, where you can select any team of interest and watch any player.

   In other words, scouts and club coaches simply physically cannot watch everyone in a row, there is no time. And here the reputation of the soccer academy comes into play, whose coaches suggest to scouts or coaches come to evaluate the player at screenings or during friendly games, or watch his video in case of emergency.

   Scouts and club coaches have been working with these coaches or academies for a long time, a partnership has developed, they know that their time will not be wasted on players with no potential. But it also works in the opposite direction — the academy coaches themselves will not call scouts and club coaches for viewings if they are not sure of the talent of the athletes, as they need to maintain their reputation.

   That is why it is worth considering training only in those soccer academies who have established connections, who regularly hold friendly matches and invite scouts and club coaches to them, conduct formal reviews. Without such “intermediation” from the soccer academy, it is difficult to get scouts and agents to be viewed individually.

   Presented at our soccer academy, SEFA Burnaby Soccer academy have a high reputation for training young athletes and in the soccer community.

   At the same time, it is important that the soccer academy has connections at different levels (divisions) of professional soccer. For example, if an athlete graduates from a soccer academy, not every graduate immediately gets into a major league club. Many start their careers in the second or third division in the top leagues, or let’s say the top divisions in non-top soccer leagues. Therefore, the wider the connections between the coaches of the academy and the academy itself, the better.

   It would be fair to say that soccer academies of professional clubs in the leading top divisions have the best connections and opportunities. How realistic is it to get into their soccer academy from an early age (almost always, academies are only open to local kids), and even if you do, how realistic is it to get to the first team? As noted earlier, the chances are very small. If an athlete was release from one or another stage of training in such an academy — then their fate is in their hands (they must decide for themselves what to do next and not everyone succeeds). Independent international soccer academies, including SEFA Burnaby Soccer Academy, operates differently. Their reputation is built on how they coach and how successfully they help students pursue careers at the professional or semi-professional level.

Academic training

   The presence of academic education (school education, college, university) in the “package” of the program is an essential element when choosing a soccer academy. The reasons are obvious — an athlete’s career may simply not work out (injuries, not good enough for professional soccer, etc.) and you need a backup plan in the form of acquired knowledge, with which you can continue education or start working.

   So, at the FC Bayern Academy, your good performance at school is a condition for admission to training. Werner Kern, head of the academy, says “We cannot promise their parents that one day they will play for FC Bayern — but we can promise that they will be educated”.

   All good academies understand this and offer various options to athletes; however, in most cases, athletes under 16 are required to study. Only those athletes who are 16 years old or older — the academies do not mandate studies but offer them. Education helps athletes improve their communication skills with peers, learn about a foreign culture and lifestyle (if the athlete is in an international academy), and broaden their horizons.

The most popular forms of training for athletes:

online schooling (via the Internet).

   In the USA, Canada, Europe — this is a common thing. Educational organizations offering online education receive an educational license in those countries like ordinary schools, that is, they are approved by the national Ministry of Education. Athletes, in turn, receive the same credits (offsets) as students of ordinary schools. Online training is well suited for athletes with intense training throughout the day. In online education abroad, two systems stand out — British and American. This option, that is, online education, can also apply to cases where the player’s home school allows him to continue studying online (more often practiced in North America and Europe).

study at the soccer academy itself or a local school (college, university)

   It’s also a pretty popular option. Athletes over the age of 16 are encouraged to continue their education at a school or college if they wish.    With regard to athletes aged 16 and over, academies generally do not have the right to impose mandatory training on them. Therefore, they offer different options — most often foreign language courses, either online education, or college enrollment.

Accommodation and food.

   Student accommodation is organized by academies in different ways. Single rooms are rare; as a rule, rooms are designed for 2 people, but sometimes there are up to 6-8 people with shared bathrooms and toilets. Of course, these options have their pros and cons. The advantage is that athletes, living in the same room for almost a year, make friends for life, get closer, this affects both the training process and life itself at the soccer academy. Obviously, this approach may not suit everyone, someone prefers separate rooms or at least 2 people.

   Look carefully at the description of the academy program in terms of where students will live, for how many people. Almost always this information is indicated.

   As for nutrition, in most academies 3 meals a day and snacks during the day or between workouts. As a rule, this is a buffet with a different menu, so that the athletes have a choice of their preferred food. That is why, when registering for the soccer academy, athletes (and/or their parents) are asked to fill out a questionnaire, which, among other things, includes questions about diet, restrictions, medical diagnoses.

   It is also important that the diet and «kitchen» depend on the location of the academy. Let’s say in soccer academies in Spain, Greece — Mediterranean cuisine prevails with fresh seafood. If England, USA or Canada, then there will already be a scatter in the kitchen. In any case, the diet always means healthy food with all the necessary vitamins and minerals, as the diet is designed for athletes.

Child supervision and security.

   Child safety is an important aspect of the work of soccer academies, which is paid attention, first of all, by the parents of athletes. This is especially true in cases where an athlete goes to study at an academy abroad, where there are completely different laws and culture. At the same time, the administration of the academies is well aware of this and all children are received with “family” warmth, in a number of academies they even limit the number of participants so that the athletes live and study as one family. Basic security measures include:

  • internal supervision of children 24/7

   It should be based on the principle that quality control is possible when there are no more than 10 children per “counselor”. Especially for children aged 10 to 16 years. In addition to this, all academies have internal rules of conduct (Code) for students. This includes the prohibition to leave the territory of the academy without permission, keep a sleep schedule, follow the instructions of the “counselors” if the group is outside the academy, etc. In addition, the academies have child psychologists in case an athlete finds it difficult to endure leaving home, general practitioners, and sometimes entire teams of specialists. Injuries and diseases cannot be avoided during the year — and the administration of the academy, trained on its own experience, takes the necessary measures in advance, hiring certain medical workers on the staff. If the athlete needs to be sent to the hospital, then the costs are covered by insurance

  • external supervision of security services

   External supervision of security services, including cameras, security posts at the entrance to the territory of the soccer academy, inspection of the territory during the day, etc. If you have any questions regarding the security of the academy, you can either ask questions to the administration, or ask former students, or come and see for yourself.