YSC Academy

YSC Academy opens its doors: Three points

Photo: Courtesy of Philadelphia Union

Although the Men’s National team suffered its worst CONCACAF shutout defeat since 1957 on Tuesday evening, the evening was not a total loss.

YSC Academy opened its doors to the public for the first time.

And the soccer academy in Wayne preceded its viewing party of the Costa Rican debacle with a question and answer session for early-bird fans and then a panel discussion for later arrivals that began to put some independently observed substance behind the praise organization insiders have been lavishing on the school for some time.

Maximizing excellence not only on the pitch

Probably the single most striking statement of the evening came from school founder Richie Graham when he said that it was “actually irrelevant” how far Academy players progress in the game of soccer itself, that the academy’s more profound goal is to maximize “who [the students] become in life.”

Dr. Nooha Ahmed-Lee, Head of School, further reinforced Graham’s point when she posited the cross-fertilization between using analysis, synthesis and creativity to solve academic problems in the classroom and using exactly those same skills to solve problems on the soccer field. First team head coach Jim Curtin also reinforced the point. Developing the skills in one place helps their growth in the other. Development flows both ways.

Educational psychology veterans will of course recognize Analysis, Synthesis and Creativity as the three “higher order” thinking skills of Dr. Benjamin Bloom’s taxonomy of cognitive thought.

Successfully thinking for one’s self can be a lot of fun.

Community and culture

A second point comes collectively from Academy Director Tommy Wilson, Union Sporting Director Earnie Stewart, and founder Richie Graham.

To join the YSC “soccer guys” a national scouting organization identifies talent, a candidate’s academic record must present college-preparatory strength, the candidate must be of good character, and an in-person visit to the school must occur.

Twenty-one or twenty-two young men in the older grades live in four homes run by three full-time house mothers and one other full time staff member.

When asked the obvious question about the off-field, out-of-school behaviors of older high school adolescents, a number of points were described that help to keep “wild oats sowing” to a minimum.

  • the high commitment of the students to achieving a dream,
  • the intense twice a day demands of the soccer pitch,
  • the strong demands of a rigorous academic program,
  • the “brotherhood” created by the common goal shared among the group,
  • and the group’s mutual support for group members striving to achieve the dream

The school-built community has a culture of good decision-making.

Practicing meaningful trust

From all panel participants came the message of empowering students, believing in students, and trusting students. It came especially from Head of School Dr. Ahmed-Lee and from Earnie Stewart who is not only Sporting Director but also a parent of a current YSC student.

An important symbol is that adults and adolescents are on a first name basis.

Not so symbolic and even more important is that everybody knows everybody. Anonymity is impossible. When Stewart characterized the number of people his child interacts with at the academy, without thought he said “ninety.”  That is the approximate sum of the students and the adults in the daily community at YSC.

For trust to be meaningful, responsibility has to be real. Failure to carry it out must be allowed to create real problems. No adult should swoop in to “make it all better.”

One example is clear cut. The Academy has a kitchen where students may go for meals or snacks as needed. The students order the groceries, manage the budget for them, and take care of storage [stock rotation, etc.]. They do so in consultation with the nutritionist, but the responsibility is meaningful. Ineffective execution has consequences for the whole group, all of them “bottomless pit” teenage-athlete mouths. Mr. Graham did comment that the adults had not anticipated the needed size of the food budget very well.

Other assertions for such belief and trust have been made but are harder to verify without direct observation. Academic mentoring and students participating in determining what they need to learn next are two important examples. Probably the question “why” gets asked a lot, but that’s a guess.

More to come

Fortunately, Mr. Graham and Dr. Ahmed-Lee responded most enthusiastically to PSP’s inquiry about an all-day future visit.

When, is yet to be determined.


  1. I very much appreciated last night, what it stands for and what the purpose is.. I get it. I appreciated that the panel spoke about the goals of becoming a professional and the whole development of excellent citizens capable of making a difference.
    I thought the questions from the moderator were lobs and they often kept coming back to the same thing but, hey…it is what it is. A happy experience.
    I actually thought the two best questions of the night came from the audience regarding the influx of European clubs into clubs in the states whether to help develop players or to increase market share of their brand which really is what is happening IMO.
    Unfortunately I think the question was misunderstood and not answered in the context it was asked in. I also thought the question regarding growing the 6-10 youth organically was spot on and ES answered that question pretty well.
    I appreciate the Union recognizing it is up to the franchise and its culture to dig a deep taproot locally to get kids playing organically as this is the single most important factor in developing true difference makers… that are then honed and refined within the academy. We cannot expect the academy to actually build players…it is a misnomer.
    My one point of contention with the whole thing was the panel (ES) consistently coming back to this idea that we have the athletes here in america… our failures are not athletic failures and it is troubling that the vernacular of ‘the athlete’ still permeates the narrative and damn it I’d expect Earnie Stewart to know this and if he’s dumbing it down… well— I’m not dumb.
    You want to solve the greater IQ problem locally, host free education clinics once or twice a month and teach the Horst Wein model… They did it once and if it happened consistently for a number of years raising the IQ of teachers this would raise the bar on the players at 5,6,7,8 years of age.

  2. Sorry I missed seeing both El Pach and Tim at the gathering. As a teacher, I’m looking forward to going back to visit the classrooms in January. I had a great conversation with the head of school about the educational part of the equation. Would love to have the opportunity to be a part of it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *