- Clubs Must Adjust to Winter Months To Continue Elite Player Development
- Technical Training Becomes A Priority When Clubs Move Indoors
Record snowfalls and temperatures have plagued the northeastern part of the country all winter long, presenting many challenges to the continuity of the Development Academy season. Complications with transportation and snow-covered fields have wreaked havoc on the plans many clubs have put into place, but the clubs have shown that where there is a will, and a little bit of creativity, there is a way.
“We have a lot of clubs that deserve credit for dealing with difficult circumstances,” said Development Academy Director of Scouting Tony Lepore, who serves as the technical advisor in the northeast. “They are coming up with creative ways to continue training and overall they have handled the record winter quite well.”
Training indoors, though obviously different from playing games outside, presents an opportunity for players to concentrate on individual ball work, small-sided games and playing in tight spaces. In fact, the Midwest and Northeast part of the U.S. have a strong history of player development despite having shorter playing seasons due to the longer winters.
When they have been forced inside, Seacoast United is one club taking advantage of the chance to focus on technical ability and working in small spaces.
“It’s very different, but we use indoor to help the boys as much as we can with their ball work and things like that on a faster surface,” said Seacoast United head coach John Price.
Connecticut’s South Central Premier and New Jersey’s PDA have both incorporated futsal, a variation of indoor soccer, into their regular training regimen, utilizing the indoor game that has been credited with the development of some of the best players in the world.
“We’ve actually been in far better shape I think than our counterparts in the Mid-Atlantic,” said South Central Premier head coach Brian Quinn, acknowledging the record amounts of snowfall in the Mid-Atlantic this winter. “For the most part we have been able to get outside once or twice a week, but when we are inside we have the hard surface of a field house that we use and the guys play futsal.”
“It’s something they wouldn’t get otherwise and it’s great for them to be able to work with the smaller ball,” said Quinn, who takes advantage of the weighted futsal ball, which forces players to keep it on the ground. “The guys actually really get into it and it’s great for them technically to have structured training with the ball at their feet.”
Teams with a variety of weather patterns are forced to change up training regimens throughout the year, exposing their players to a variety of conditions. While training indoors is not an ideal situation, for three to four months out of the year, clubs have made the most of it.
Long Island’s Albertson SC kept this goal in mind when the club acquired some time in the practice bubble on the campus of Hofstra University, the former training facility of the New York Jets.
“We’re very fortunate to have the opportunities that we’ve had with the facility at Hofstra, and we’re lucky that our board of directors and administrators are coming up with creative ways to allow us to continue to train there,” said Albertson SC head coach Adrian Gaitan. “In fact, we have a great relationship with [Brooklyn-based club] Met Oval, so there are times when we invite them to share the space and split the field in half.”
Gaitan admits that training indoors 100 percent of the time is not ideal in the buildup to an outdoor game, or for complete player development.
“Tactically, we have to make adjustments when we play indoors because the most we tend to get on the field is nine against nine,” he said. “Our players also have to almost re-learn the art of striking a 30-yard pass or taking a long shot on a full-sized goal when we get outside, so in those areas we’re at a bit of a disadvantage but it’s just about adjustment.”
Though limited training indoors is far better than nothing, and his teams do everything they can to make the most of the opportunities to practice.
“The area is obviously smaller, which means the guys are playing in a tighter space,” said Gaitan. “There is a bit of an adjustment when we do get outside, and the more we can get good work on the ball, the better it is for the players.”
Seacoast United has utilized everything from snow plows to shovels to clear outdoor turf fields. New Hampshire has not had quite as much snow as the Mid-Atlantic states, but has dealt with downed power lines and icy, treacherous travel.
“We are lucky to have our own facility and a snow blower that we can use most of the time, but there have been situations where we ask the parents to come out and bring their shovels,” said Seacoast United head coach John Price. “We know that’s not something easy to ask a parent to do, but what is great is that they all come together like a big family and pitch in. It’s a way for parents across the club to get to know each other.”
Price also sees the benefit of the players dealing with difficult circumstances together.
“We have had a few instances this year of power outages, but things like that have actually been kind of a positive for us,” he said. “We have really used our community phone chain and carpool systems, with the older guys who can drive making a great effort to get the younger players to the fields. After training, they’ll end up going to someone’s house, whoever has power, to shower and get a good meal. It’s actually quite nice to see them come together.”
With the end of winter hopefully in sight for that part of the country, clubs will shift their practice sessions back outside as much as possible, but according to Lepore, the themes should remain similar regardless of the elements.
“We know it’s been tough on a lot of clubs to constantly be inside,” he said. “But we have been generally pretty happy with the way they have been training, keeping technical training a priority for player development and playing indoors has been shown to be a huge catalyst for individual development.”
East Conference play continues this weekend, with the Liberty, Mid-Atlantic and Northeast Divisions all in action.