At the youth level, it is now being taught in sophisticated, curriculum-based programs by professionally accredited coaches. Enrollment numbers are growing. For evidence close to home, just look at the Weston Soccer Club that kicked off its fall season last week.
Centered around the extensive soccer facility at Morehouse Farm Park, the club has more than 470 boys and girls enrolled. Three professional coaching companies with a roster of more than a dozen professional coaches lead practices and weekend games.
Practices continue throughout the year (in addition to the regular spring and fall seasons there are winter indoor sessions and a summer pickup game available for children ages six and up). And Weston is gaining a reputation as a soccer center, developing strong, college-ready players and achieving impressive results against neighboring, much larger towns. For the last two years both high school teams (boys and girls) have qualified for state tournaments.
“We’re excited,” says Club President Christopher Myers. “The program really seems to be working.”
The town soccer experience starts for tots as young as three and runs through under-14, after which the players leave the club and progress to the high school teams. The developmental curriculum is designed by professional coaching director Kevin Fitzsimmons (and Weston High boys varsity coach) and draws from recommendations by the United States Soccer Federation for youth players.
For the youngest players it starts with two one-hour practices per week, always run by the same professional coach to ensure consistency. Games played against neighboring towns begin at the academy level at under-nine. At the under-11 level, the players graduate out of the academy and play travel. Practice sessions increase to three times per week. At under-12 the young athletes begin playing in an 11 vs. 11 format in a more competitive environment.
“At the end of the day, it’s the high standard of our coaches that make the difference,” said Myers.
The boys are trained all the way through under-14 by Soccer Edge run by Kevin Fitzsimmons. The girls teams are trained under-12 through under 14 by RNunes Soccer Academy (by Gustavo Reaes, Weston High girls varsity coach). Their coaches represent a United Nations of talent, coming from the U.S., England, Brazil, Albania, Portugal, and Mali (Ibrahima Kone, a new Soccer Edge coach was captain of the Mali team and took the team all the way to the Olympics). Before turning to coaching, RNunes coach Rafael Fava had a successful career in Europe as a professional goalkeeper.
As the players progress through the age levels they focus on age-appropriate skills such as passing, foot skills, ball control, dribbling techniques, and take-on moves, steadily building in speed and agility. Weekend games allow them to put these skills to the test (even the youngest kids scrimmage on Saturday mornings to prepare them for later competition).
“First and foremost soccer is about having fun,” says Fitzsimmons, a native of Liverpool England, who has worked in Weston for the past eight years. “But, at its best, it’s also a challenging and developmental environment that teaches the kids life lessons that benefit them far beyond the sidelines.”
“We’re confident that the Weston Soccer Club offers something for every kind of player,” said Myers. “There is room to develop at your own speed and we offer competitive environments for the most skilled and determined.”