As soccer fans, we often assume that players have it all. However when I asked Sam Craven what motivated him and business partner Lance Stimpson to set up ‘Sports Academy USA,’ he told me “I just wanted more from life.” Up until recently Craven had been plying his trade with FC New York, but now back in England along with Lance, they aim to give the same opportunity they had to talented British players wanting more.
‘Sports Academy USA’ aims to help British soccer players through the potentially daunting process of applying for a scholarship stateside. “I know so many talented players back home,” said Craven. Home to them is Nottingham with the pair having both spent time at Notts County in their youth before embarking to America.
With the news that University tuition fees are set to triple in Britain, scholarships abroad are becoming a much more viable option for those wishing to expand their horizons and gain an education. “They just don’t have the financial backing to get a degree in the UK,” said Stimpson, who studied at Neosho County Community College and Mesa State University.
Looking to work as the bridge between schools and potential players, Craven believes they are the ideal candidates for this kind of work. He said, “I’ve made a lot of contacts in the collegiate, professional development, and professional sectors of soccer in the US. I’m hoping to use these contacts to meet the needs of both school and player.”
It’s hard not to admire the pair for their ambitious efforts. While the venture is a business first and foremost, the potential change they can enact in these player’s lives can only be a good thing. With Craven having gone on to play for FC New York after College, the potential for graduates is exactly what they make of it.
The pair are quick to admit that this is no holiday however. Work is required by the player just as much as the school. Stimpson said, “College athletics in the US is no hobby. Believe me schools want to win. Not only are players studying full time for a degree, but they are also training and playing everyday. The only teams in the UK that have that level of training are professional senior and youth teams.”
He also believe the top class facilities are what the player gains in return for hard work adding, “The facilities at a lot of colleges in the US are as good if not better than many professional teams (in England).”
As for Sport Academy USA, their work doesn’t stop when the player enters school. In fact it just begins. With everything from dietary advice, to academic assessments and meetings with candidates parents, the service is a comprehensive one throughout their study.
In time they aim to build a solid reputation of providing the collegiate programs of America with quality players. With one clear mantra Craven explained; “ We want to be known for delivering high quality players to colleges all over the US. We are focusing on the old fashion rule of quality, not quantity.”
Even when school has finished, the decision on what to do next comes with the advice of experienced individuals. Having already begun sending players through the system, they are able to see the fruits of their labour with players like Kash Siddiqi a shining example.
Now a Pakistan international, and considering offers both in Europe and Asia, Kash believes he owes a lot to the academy. He said, “It was the best four years of my life and I wish I had the chance to do it all again. I’ve played football and studied in California and Florida, made some great friends, and most importantly I’ve got my international business degree.”
Still in it’s infancy however, both Craven and Stimpson are projecting big things for the future of the company and British players in America “ There’s no reason why talented British players can’t take their ability to America and make a name for both themselves and the college they represent. “Just look at Craig Sutherland. He has just spent four years at a US college and this summer signed a two-year contract with Blackpool FC,” said Sam.
With Craven’s good friend Luke Rodgers also enjoying an impressive debut season in MLS, it would appear the once narrow road for British soccer players is beginning to widen. You can find out more about the academy at www.sportsacademyusa.com or by contacting them at [email protected] or [email protected].