The Difference Between High School, Club, Academy & ODP Soccer

Next to lacrosse, soccer is one of the fastest growing youth sports in the nation.  As such, there are different levels of competition.  Each stage in the youth development process is somewhat siloed and can often have more to do with surrounding talent, competition and coaching than anything else.  Today, US youth soccer can essentially be broken into four unique segments: high school soccer, club soccer, academy soccer and ODP soccer.  All of these tiers offer unique experiences, and an opportunity for a player to grow.  But what’s the real difference between them?

1) High School Soccer


High school soccer is one of the most memorable times of an athlete’s career.  Playing alongside friends for four years on your home field is an experience unlike any other.  Bottom line, the camaraderie established in high school ball is difficult to replicate.  Depending on the size of your school, however, the competition may vary.  Prestigious private schools and large public schools often have an advantage over small public schools. Private schools will often recruit public school players, and large public schools have a prospective field of thousands to choose from.  

High School soccer and the speed of play can be dictated by both your team’s talent, and the strength of play within an academic conference. Speed, stamina, and athleticism tend to dominate this level. As such, the team that’s in better shape typically holds the distinct competitive advantage over the course of 90 minutes.  Train Like Legends’ training videos are designed to build stamina and refine agility, allowing high school athletes to hold the edge over their competition.

 2) Club Soccer

Club soccer is somewhat like an all-star team, and the rosters are typically composed of players from multiple high schools.  The old adage may not ring true across the board, but more often than not, the best high school players also play club soccer. Typically, club soccer is more competitive than high school.  Club teams will often play year-round, so the kids that sign up for it are typically more committed to soccer as their main sport.  This fact immediately raises the level of internal competition.

Clubs will also participate in showcase tournaments, which are regional tournaments that local college coaches sign up to attend.  At these showcase events, players have the opportunity to not only perform against other top teams in the state, region or nation, but do so in front of the coaches who register.  For a high school athlete trying to get recruited, taking the time to scout the roster of attending coaches and reaching out to let coaches know where and when they can watch you play in a tournament is crucial.  For more info on this, check out our blog of what college coaches look for in a soccer player.

3) ODP Soccer 


ODP stands for Olympic Development Program.  The ODP program was established in 1977 as a way to ensure the development of future U.S. national soccer teams and raise the level of competition nationwide. Every year, more than 100,000 players from age 13-18 participate in ODP, and it’s essentially broken down into brackets: 

The ODP program starts at the state level, and most states in the nation are involved. Each state has their own team, composed of the best players in the state.   ODP tryouts typically involve upwards of 100 kids from each state, competing for roughly 30 roster spots.  The young athletes at the tryouts are often the most competitive on their club teams, and the coaches of ODP state teams are typically highly renowned. The players that make the state ODP team are considered to be the active roster, while some reserves may be added to the state pool.  The state pool can be called up onto the ODP state team.  These state teams compete against one another at showcases and tournaments and are often highly recruited. 

After the state level, the next level is regional.  Take the country, split it into quarters, and you have your four regional ODP teams.  The regional team consists of the best players from the collective states within that region. Regional teams will play against one another and may even travel for international showcases. 

Finally, after the regional team, you have the national team.  National tryouts are invitation only, competitive as anything, and a once-in-a-lifetime experience.  The US youth national team competes in international showcases and is considered to represent the feeder pool for the men’s national team.  If you make the national team, chances are you’re guaranteed a D1 roster spot somewhere.

Regardless of which ODP tier you compete in, the playing field is dictated by speed of play and the ability to transition between offense and defense quickly. As such, combining Train Like Legends’ strength and agility content with our on-the-ball training results in a true competitive advantage at this level as well. 

4) Academy Soccer 


Following a review of the youth soccer landscape, U.S. Soccer launched the Development Academy in 2007 to create a more structured player development environment for elite players to develop to their highest potential.  Academy programs exist in nearly 200 total clubs from U-12 to U-19.   Academy teams are also involved with national development, as they are recognized as feeder programs for players that could potentially be called up to perform at the national level. Every academy team plays around 30 games in a season, competing against one another until the championships every summer.  Academy programs are competitive and lead by professionalized coaches; all Academy coaches are required to hold a U.S. Soccer “B” coaching license and all Academy Directors must hold an “A” license.

Much like ODP, the Academy level is dominated by touch, consistency, and being able to transition quickly. Utilizing Train Like Legends’ strength, agility, and stamina content alongside our guided on-the-ball training allows a soccer player to grow and develop through every level.

Learn from the Pros


One person that knows what it takes to transition through high school, club, ODP and Academy soccer is 3X USWNT Gold Medalist Heather Mitts.  That’s why she decided to launch Train Like Legends.  Whether you’re a coach or player at the high school, club, ODP or academy level,  Train like Legends is designed to help you and your team improve.  Combining world class instructional videos with a digital platform that allows coaches to assign workouts and track individual development can help ensure consistent, tangible results, even when COVID-19 has limited in-person workouts or team activities.  Reach out today to learn more about how Train Like Legends can help compliment your program and goals.