By Bob Hall
Youth soccer players across the Kootenay will have an opportunity to take their game to the next level fostered through a partnership between the Vancouver Whitecaps and Nelson’s Soccer Quest.
At the end of the month the Whitecaps FC Academy will kick off with two evaluation camps to be held in Cranbrook on August 21 and 22 and Nelson on August 28 and 29.
“We have recognized that over the past few years that it is very difficult for certain regions to get exposure,” said Dan Lenarduzzi, director of youth development for the Whitecaps. “The academy programs are meant to give players that are already with clubs supplemental training, but also for us to identify players in hopes of moving them up to our more professionalized programs.”
The academy will include four age groups for both girls and boys: U11/12, U13/14, U15/16 and U17/18. Its reach extends to both the East and West Kootenay, plus the Boundary.
The program runs for seven months starting in September and ending in April (there is a two month winter break in December and January). The training includes eight weekends at Nelson’s Soccer Quest indoor facility. Four travel events per age group will also be part of the academy.
“It’s a major move for Soccer Quest and for the Kootenays,” said Soccer Quest’s Dave Spendlove.
Soccer Quest set up its indoor facility in Nelson five years ago. Two years ago Spendlove started both a boys and girls regional program for 16 to 18 year old players. Those teams travelled to high performance tournaments throughout Western Canada and the Pacific Northwest. The program resulted in 11 post-secondary scholarship offers.
The partnership with the Whitecaps is an extension of the work started by Spendlove. This will be the second academy set up outside the Lower Mainland, the first being in Vernon.
“The Whitecaps are wanting to extend their brand and their development across Canada,” said Lenarduzzi. “To do that we are looking at setting up academy centres in different locations.”
The Whitecaps feel the academy route is an opportunity try and even the pitch for young players living in rural BC.
“There are great places to live all over BC and all over Canada,” said Lenarduzzi. “Unfortunately, sometimes where people live is a bit of a problem because they are not close enough to some of the larger opportunities. That is the case with our club for sure because obviously a lot of our activities are out of Vancouver. It’s a real good opportunity for us to reach more kids in areas that don’t normally get exposure.”
The academy will include monthly coaching visits from Whitecaps staff, led by Whitecaps Okanagan regional head coach David Broadhurst. It will also include Soccer Quest coaches working with approved Whitecaps academy curriculum. Some of that curriculum includes technical development, strength training, nutrition and sport psychology.
Starting the academy at a younger age is also an opportunity to immerse players into a soccer culture sooner.
“In other countries they start even younger with high performance programs,” said Lenarduzzi. “We feel that if we are going to make a difference in the game we need to start getting kids into these environments sooner. Of course at those ages you have to make it fun and something they want to be going to, but if you can identify kids of like-mindedness together earlier then I think you have a better chance of developing that player to a higher level. It’s about growing the base and starting that pyramid a little bit earlier.”
Both Lenarduzzi and Spendlove stress that the academy is a regional program. The hope is to gather together the best players from Invermere to Grand Forks. Both men realize this will take a commitment on behalf of families.
“You have to pick a centre for everybody to get to,” said Lenarduzzi. “We can’t get to all those locations, so we have to pick a place and put the programming there. There is not many ways around it when you have the geography we have in BC.”
Each age level will take 16 players for both male and female. And though the academy is looking for the best, they want to see as many hopefuls at the camps later this month.
“Rather than saying elite, we are looking for the really motivated players,” said Lenarduzzi. “We want players who want to get to the next level. If you really want to get better and you have the physical ability, then we want to have those kids in the program. I think we can make those players better.”
Registration for the evaluation camps can only be done online at whitecapsfc.com/kootenay. For more information call Soccer Quest at 250-352-4625 ( HYPERLINK “mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org” email@example.com) or the Whitecaps at 778-330-1354 (firstname.lastname@example.org).