Did you know that soccer is the second most popular sport among young Americans after basketball? The national soccer league has four million members compared to just two million in France, and it is estimated that there are 24 million amateur soccer players in the United States! America’s victory in the Women’s World Cup last summer has also encouraged this soccer mania.
This trend inspired the French Football Federation (FFF) to open a soccer school in New York. Several European clubs including Real Madrid, FC Barcelona, and Bayern Munich already train American children and teenagers, but this is the first time a national federation has set up a training institution abroad.
“France has real expertise in training players,” says Zohair Ghenania, director of the French Football Academy. This former head of the FC Lorient soccer school in Brittany now splits his time between the pitch and the Lycée Français de New York, where he teaches social and economic sciences. “There’s a reason there are French players in the world’s best clubs.”
Courses, Training, and After-School Programs
In New York, the FFF asked Jean-Claude Lafargue, the former director of the training center for professional players in Clairefontaine, to organize training. Six week-long courses were held this summer on Randall’s Island between Manhattan and Queens, and 15 teams were picked for the 2019-2020 season. After-school programs have also been launched in several Francophone schools in New York, including the Lyceum Kennedy, the FASNY, PS 20, PS 58, and PS 84, as well as at the Tessa International School in New Jersey.
The programs at the French Football Academy are led by 12 coaches and open to boys between the ages of 5 and 15. (A girls’ team will be created next year.) “Smaller children who are often left out of sports in the United States are the ones we are interested in,” says Ghenania. “They are often more agile than their classmates who measure well over 5 feet 5 and whose early development is seen as more impressive. The French coaches are renowned for their ability to identify and train children with high technical potential.”
Another way the French school stands out is by focusing on personal development rather than on winning matches. The American way of teaching soccer is based on teaching methods from England and Spain, and results are the name of the game. This pressure is partly down to the high level required to obtain a university scholarship. “Our objective is not necessarily to train the professional players of tomorrow,” says Ghenania, “but rather to help young people reach their potential while having fun.”