The Washington Area Girls Soccer League has unveiled plans for an all-new player development program called the Technical Performance Academy, the product of long deliberations among league officials about the growing need for a development-centric alternative to the youth game’s hyper-competitive norm.
According to a league press release issued Monday, TPA has been four years in the making, but it was the recent addition of top youth development consultant Glen Buckley that brought everything together. Buckley is a U.S. Soccer and U.S. Youth Soccer National Staff Instructor with decades of experience in coach and player development.
Those involved say TPA seeks to help young players hone their fundamentals before being immersed in the results-oriented world of elite club play.
Operating separately from WAGS league play, TPA will work through “pods” composed of participating clubs across the D.C., Maryland and Virginia regions.
Emphasizing technical skills and comfort with the ball, the program continues the process begun when WAGS and other top U.S. youth leagues spearheaded the move towards small-sided games in the 1990s.
“When we started the small-sided games, we knew that although we had reduced the number of players on the field, we still hadn’t addressed the environment that we were going to be able to provide for these players, to nurture them developmentally,” explains WAGS president Kathie Diapoulis. “The bottom line to all of this is to nurture player development.”
TPA’s initial focus is on the Under-9 and Under-10 levels, who stand at a critical juncture in terms of their relationship to the sport. The program seeks first and foremost to trim down the number of matches played in favor of focused, tailored training sessions designed to improve as well as inspire.
"These ages are critical in the development cycle," notes Buckley. "Many players drop out of all sports between the ages of 11 and 14, often because it's not fun. Trying to play a miniature version of the adult game without the required tools to do so will soon get old. They are exploring the sport, trying to be successful at it.
"Technical proficiency and competency can only come by repetition. We have to create an environment where the children can prepare and practice the tools to take to the game."
Buckley hails from England and worked his way up his home country’s coaching and training ladder before moving to the United States nearly two decades ago, subsequently experiencing all levels of our nation’s complex system.
He points out that the American fixation with winning represents a real danger to effective technical development, noting that for youngsters, every hour spent on a road trip to matches and tournaments is an hour better spent on the training ground.
"We have identified that the practice to game ratios are upside down. We must have the children practice more than they play games," said Buckley. "We’re trying to create an environment where learning will take place."
Top-quality coaching education is a pivotal element of TPA, but almost as importantly says the league, the program also includes a parental education component that will enable players’ immediate family members to become true partners in the process of skills development.
TPA will utilize a six-a-side (including goalkeepers) playing format, unlimited ‘floating’ rosters that allow players to easily shift to the level of play that suits their current ability level, as well as a pod-based block scheduling system that gives coaches the ability to monitor multiple teams and matches at the same venue.
“WAGS is thrilled to be taking this bold step forward with a leading expert like Glen Buckley,” said Diapoulis. “We believe TPA will help develop tomorrow’s stars while also enabling each and every player in the system to maximize their own unique potential.”