The year-long U.S. Soccer Academy Director Course prepares club leaders to create an elite youth development environment at their club. This month, the course travels to Europe to take an inside look at some of the world's top youth academies. After visiting the Belgian FA, Club Brugge and AZ Alkmaar, Girls' Development Academy Director Miriam Hickey talked to the candidates about their journey so far.

We are already on our sixth day of the international component of the Academy Director Course!

Over the past few days, the 15 Academy Directors and four Technical Advisors have soaked up the experiences in Belgium. We asked a few of them why they decided to embark on this year-long adventure and what they're learning in Europe that they'd like to implement in their own clubs.

Philip Presser - Indiana Fire Academy (Carmel, Ind.)

"I'm excited about being in the Academy Directors Course as I'm interested in expanding my knowledge as well as growing by learning from the instructors and other Academy Directors from around the country. This international visit to Club Brugge and AZ has given me new insight into how pro clubs work and I'm bringing back information that will benefit the players we are trying to develop as well as aid the coaching staff. New ideas on how to engage parents to give them information about what we try to accomplish in our club will help us get on the same page and will strengthen our club culture."

Paul Holocher - San Jose Earthquakes (Santa Clara, Calif.)

"It's a great opportunity to be in this course and continue to learn. Being able to see the inner-workings of clubs in Europe and how they develop a club culture over the years is very valuable. I will be bringing back ideas to the U.S., and if we can improve ourselves we will not only positively influence my club, but also the other clubs in Northern California. We want to develop different ideas to help the coaches and the players, and that can be done in different ways. I'm taking a lot of film, pictures and notes so I can put a presentation together for our club coaches, it will have a lot of positive effects.'

Jamie Smith - FC United Soccer Club (Northfield, Ill.)

"I have multiple reasons to be in this course: for my own development, for the development of my club, but mainly for the overall development of soccer in the U.S. We spent the last week visiting two European clubs who have a great history of developing players. Club Brugge has an old club feel with minimal facilities, while AZ Alkmaar has a brand-new training complex and all-modern technology. Both clubs create great environments for player development and the common thread is that all the staff at both clubs have a shared vision- everyone adheres to and believes in that vision.

"Facilities don't create the culture, the most important component in creating the right environment is to have the right people in place. When those people come together with a common goal and vision, it's an incredible thing. It is good to see the international standards, so we have something to shoot for. The biggest takeaway from this trip is that I will try, together with the staff, to instill a culture and environment in my club that is supported by all stakeholders. If everyone in the U.S. is pulling in the same direction, with the same common goal and vision, it is only going to enhance the sport of soccer in the U.S."

In the next few days, the Academy Directors will visit the Dutch FA soccer complex, watch a U-23 first division professional game and watch training sessions of AZ's U-13 and U-19 squads. We are getting the most out of this intense program and don't waste a minute of our valuable time!