The majority of Americans who follow soccer are familiar with the English Premier League and its quality of play. They’re also familiar with EPL powerhouse Chelsea FC, who are managed by Carlo Ancelotti.
Those same fans are fully aware that Chelsea currently leads the league with Manchester United and Arsenal hot on their heels. I’m sure that majority of soccer fans who follow Chelsea religiously knows that “Blue is the Color” is the team’s football song.
What a majority of those fans are unaware of is the role Chelsea FC has played in developing youth soccer players in the United States. Chelsea FC Chief Executive Ron Gourlay said, “Our youth club network is designed to create long-term growth and sustainability of soccer in America by supporting elite youth clubs that provide the best soccer instruction and experience of local players.”
Since 2008, Chelsea has established youth soccer club partnerships with CASL of North Carolina, Match Fit Chelsea of New Jersey, LAFC Chelsea of Los Angeles, the Baltimore Bays, and Le Jardin Academy in Hawaii.
Recently, Chelsea has established two more partnerships in the Southwest when they expanded their U.S. Youth Soccer in Phoenix and Dallas. Both the Sereno Soccer Club of Phoenix and Solar Soccer Club of Dallas will learn the Chelsea FC coaching philosophy and curriculum.
Other incentives of this partnership include hosting training sessions and camps with Chelsea coaches. In addition, these clubs will benefit from Chelsea-sponsored tournaments and their players will have the opportunity to be part of Chelsea’s player exchange program.
From my phone conversation with Chelsea FC Head of International Youth Football Development Jeff Bookman, I was able to gain a better understanding of the club’s philosophy when he said:
“Chelsea FC is dedicated to supporting youth soccer development in the States and one of the best ways to do that is to bring our esteemed staff of coaches and personnel here to host camps, clinics and training programs.
"By no means are we saying that Chelsea model and philosophy is the one each club should be utilizing. We respect the achievements and philosophy these clubs have made over the years. All we’re doing is introducing them to our culture and curriculum.”
After my interview with Jeff, he extended an invitation to attend a Chelsea soccer camp which they were hosting in New York. He believed it would be a good way for me to observe as well as have the opportunity to interact with his staff, their partner soccer club, the parents and the participants of these camps. Immediately I accepted and agreed to attend their camp.
In partnership with Downtown United Soccer Club the camp took place from March 31 to April 2 at New York’s Randall’s Island Field. Each participant, ranging from 7 years to 16 years old, was given an Adidas soccer ball and a camp T-shirt. Running from 9:30 am – 4 pm, the participants were learning and applying the same elite Chelsea training drills, programs, and curriculum that are implemented at the English Premier Academy.
By 8:45 am, the participants were arriving and checking in with their coach. Once checked in, they immediately went to work. Some were working on their dribbling, others were working on their passes, some were practicing their goalkeeping skills, and the rest were simply playing.
What impressed me most about these young players is that they were able to take a lead without a coach’s lead.
I pointed out my observation to Jeff and he replied, “One thing we stress here is the importance of developing a player’s game intelligence. We want them to have an understanding of the game because in the pitch, they’re the ones making the decisions. All a coach can do is prepare his/her team and part of that is building up awareness and confidence.”
Once 9:30 am arrived, the coaches blew their whistle and everyone stopped what they were doing and rushed to meet their coaches. The coaches broke down the day to the participants. In addition, they commended them on their commitment and reminded them that they’re almost reaching an end to which the kids groaned in protest. A
fter their brief discussion, each coach took his group to their assigned section to begin their drills. These drills consisted of dribbling, stretching, soft bounces, chest control, and headers.
Once the drills were completed, the coaches would break their groups into two teams so they can learn tactics. Within this training session, the players had to focus on leg/chest control, volleying a header, looking for the target man, and kicking at the first opening they saw. Overall, the purpose of the day was ball movement and as Jeff stated repeatedly to his players, “It’s better to roll the ball than to create a standstill.”
What impressed the most was that the participants were able to move the ball beautifully and communicate amongst themselves. For those who decided to take the open shot, their aim wasn’t too far off the target. Some where hitting the post and cross bar but they were forcing the Goalkeeper to work.
As the day progressed, I believe the players were developing more confidence as evidenced by the way they were smashing the daylights out of the soccer balls.
I had happened to talk to Ryan and he said, “One thing I like is that I’m allowed to play and make my own decisions. In the past, I’ve had coaches who constantly screamed instructions that it made me nervous to play. At least here and with my current club, the coaches allow us to play and when we’re done, we’ll have a discussion what we could have done better.”
In a day and age where most teens would probably be hanging out with their friends over Spring Break, these teens made a personal commitment use this time to learn about soccer from the English perspective. From my conversations with them, they were enjoying their camp experience. They understood the value behind the coaching they were getting and made it a point to play and learn as much as they can.
For many of them, soccer will be key in obtaining a college scholarship as well as an opportunity to play professionally. They asked their coach about the criteria that it took to play at the level of the EPL and what could they start doing to enhance their game. All of them agreed that once this camp was over, their sense of awareness and game intelligence would have increased.
Following lunch, everyone met as a group and Jeff commended the players on their commitment and efforts. He informed them that there will be an extra practice the following day and they were more than welcome to attend.
Prior to their scrimmage games, Jeff and the coaching staff presented each player a Chelsea FC Medal and award. The players were enthusiastic about it because it symbolized their achievements and gratitude for Chelsea FC.
While everyone was scrimmaging, parents were beginning to trickle in. They supportively watched their children play. The players effectively demonstrated the plays and tools they’ve been acquiring this week to their parents.
The parents approved of the quality of the camp and appreciated how the coaches treated their children as professional players through their guidance and instruction. From the parents, I had the opportunity to talk too all of them agreed that they would have their children participate in a soccer camp hosted by Chelsea FC.
The day has come to an end and what did I learn? I learned that Youth Soccer is very much alive and evolving. Soccer is not an American-made sport, it’s a sport that’s global and depending where you are in the world, there’s a culture behind the game.
What makes this game truly special is that we can always learn and fuse cultural philosophies in order to create the best soccer out there. Without any reservations, I would recommend Chelsea’s soccer camp to anyone who truly wants to learn and experience soccer at a professional level.
I want to thank Jeff Bookman and his staff from Chelsea FC for the wonderful opportunity to observe their camps. The conversations we had on Youth Soccer Development in this country was educational and informative.
I also want to thank the folks at Downtown United Soccer Club for introducing me to their program and breaking down the services they provide for the Youth in New York. Many thanks goes out to Adidas for their continued support in Youth Soccer, not just here in the United States but everywhere around the World.
Cesar Diaz covers Soccer for Latino Sports (www.latinosports.com). Send Cesar a question or comment for potential use in a future column at firstname.lastname@example.org.