The Rapids Academy is taking the development of its youngest age group in a new direction, one that they think will best serve the players and the community as a whole when it comes to the future of soccer development in the state of Colorado.
The Academy recently began the first year of its Futures Program, a 10-week fully-funded program for the U-12 age group designed to supplement the player’s current club environment.
Around 20 players from across the Denver metropolitan area will join the weekly education and training sessions throughout the course of the season. This offers the opportunity for kids to experience training at a high level but at a more natural pace for their player development journey.
“We want to take care of the kids, first and foremost. The closer they are to the maturation process, the better for the players and the better for us,” Futures Program Director Andrew Kewley said. “But we can still impact their development through this program, having them here training and going out into the community and working with them.”
Kewley explained that this program was years in the making, after studying the experiences of our own Academy players and recent player development trends at academies around the world.
“A lot of times, we’ve brought players in at 11, 12 years old and found out the fit wasn’t right, and we’ve put them into a team environment, and, now, it’s more invasive to move them out of the team than it is into a training program like this,” Kewley explained. “So, we can take more chances, so to speak, we can tend to them a little bit more. It’s a bridge to get them into the Academy, but in a way that’s much more organic or holistic, and really better for the kid.”
The program is able to take more chances on players from different clubs and different areas because they aren’t tied to a long-term commitment, and the player won’t be uprooted from his current club environment. This not only is a nice feature for the Academy, but a very exciting aspect for the future of the soccer in Denver. The net that they are casting in terms of the number of players they can impact just got significantly wider.
“We took a step back and said how can we really affect players in the area?” Kewley said. “There’s a lot of good work that’s being done around the city and with our partner youth club, we’re leaning on those resources and really pulling them in. And then we can take the time, get to know the player and see if the environment is right for them to come in.”
The sessions throughout the course of the year are broken down into two training segments, with additional supplemental training in summer and winter. The dynamics of the training sessions is yet another way this program is different. Without a traditional schedule, the play book, so to speak, really opened up.
“If you think about how we build a player, the technical piece is the foundation for us,” Kewley explained. “We can spend more time in that technical format. We play games or set the training environment up, so it brings out tactical pieces, but it’s not necessarily about ‘What is tomorrow?’ It’s about a pathway we’re trying to get them down instead of about tomorrow’s game.”
There are few better people to consult on what is necessary to make a future player successful than those behind the Rapids Academy. Homegrown Players like Cole Bassett and Sam Vines are preforming at the top level in MLS, displayed not only on the pitch, but through their recognition in multiple MLS 22 Under 22 lists and call ups to the U.S. Men’s National Team.
“I think what we found is the players, like Darren [Yapi] Seb [Anderson], Cole [Bassett], who have come through, that, one, they have a great work ethic, but, two, they have technical ability,” Kewley said. “Their technical ability is really what sets them up to go beyond. This has been a time to really focus on that and get those points right.”