The newest crown jewel of American soccer is taking shape in Kansas City, Kansas.
The construction of the National Training and Coaching Development Center fulfills a vision shared by U.S. Soccer, Sporting Club and Children’s Mercy to build a first-class environment to develop elite players, coaches and referees of all ages.
Set to open in December, the state-of-the-art NTCDC will become the new, expansive training home of Sporting Kansas City, capable of hosting clubs and national teams from around the world thanks to its stunning facilities and countless cutting-edge amenities. It will also accommodate the Children’s Mercy Sports Medicine and Rehabilitation Center and the U.S. Soccer National Coaching Education Center, making Kansas City the hub for youth athlete sports medicine services and overall coaching and referee development in the United States.
Day by day, month by month, the NTCDC inches closer and closer to completion — consisting of five full-size fields, an 80,000-square-foot building and the nearby Wyandotte Youth Soccer Complex.
When the NTCDC opens its doors this winter, the U.S. Soccer Coaching Department will have a permanent home for the first time.
Located along the north side of the NTCDC, the U.S. Soccer Coaching Education Center will provide a world-class environment uniquely designed to maximize the development of coaches and referees at all levels.
“This place was built specifically for coaching education,” said Scott Flood, U.S. Soccer Manager of Coaching Programs. “It’s the first facility of our time, and it will provide a terrific opportunity for coaches to develop.”
The Coaching Education Center features multiple components that will streamline the coaching education process like never before. Within the NTCDC building, U.S. Soccer will utilize two locker rooms, three classrooms with operable walls for courses and seminars, six breakout rooms ideal for small-group interaction, as well as a cafeteria for meals throughout the day.
Less than 50 yards north of the Coaching Education Center’s entrance, U.S. Soccer will have exclusive access to two full-size, synthetic turf fields with LED sports lighting, permitting year-round usage in all weather conditions.
Situated between the two fields will be the two-story coaching pavilion, the innovative brainchild of Sporting Club and U.S. Soccer whose concept was developed during the early stages of NTCDC planning. The first floor will include restrooms, storage space and two additional breakout rooms. The second floor will contain two classrooms — one facing east, the other facing west — that will allow coaching candidates and instructors to observe coaches working on both fields. The roof will serve as a spacious observation deck with camera positions.
The two playing fields and the pavilion comprise what U.S. Soccer will call its “Coaching Laboratory.”
“When you’re looking at the ambition of coaching education in the U.S., I would say that the facility in Kansas City is a big part of it,” said Nico Romeijn, U.S. Soccer Director of Coaching Education. “In Kansas City, we will have the chance to work in a facility that is fully equipped with the latest educational and technological innovations, but also with fields.”
Rendering of entryway to new National Training and Coaching Development Center in Kansas City.
Flood and Romeijn said U.S. Soccer has faced several logistical challenges while holding coaching educations courses throughout the country. A typical day, for example, would begin with classroom instruction in a hotel meeting room. Coaches would then have to travel to playing fields for training sessions, travel back to the hotel to eat, then return to the fields for afternoon sessions. All the while, U.S. Soccer would have to ensure hotel and field availability months in advance.
Now, coaches will arrive at the NTCDC from a hotel less than a mile away and comfortably spend the entire day there. Fields, a cafeteria, classrooms, breakout rooms and locker rooms will all be laid out in the same venue. Candidates will also have the ability to instruct youth players in a more realistic coaching environment.
“We won’t have any challenges in terms of facilities being available,” Flood said. “We’ve got designated meeting spaces and technology that will help develop coaches. For us, it’s really about finding a place where we can call home, grow and make yearly improvements. That’s really the true essence of what the NTCDC will provide us.”
Added Romeijn, “The first benefit is you have everything under one roof. You’ve got your classrooms, you’ve got your fields, you’ve got all the equipment and technology that you need. The biggest advantage, when you compare it with what we’re doing now, is that.”
The technology Flood and Romeijn allude to is best illustrated by the coaching laboratory’s groundbreaking capabilities.
- A fiber-optic cable will surround the perimeter of both fields, allowing cameras to be placed at numerous locations to capture both audio and video footage during coaching sessions.
- Coaches and instructors will be “mic’d-up” and recorded during drills, giving candidates the opportunity to review and analyze their on-field interactions with players and peers afterward in a classroom setting.
- All classroom sessions will be filmed and recorded, opening up the doors for video conferencing and remote teaching for guests off-site.
There have also been discussions with PRO about using the NTCDC for referee education and training once it opens. PRO is the organization that manages referee programs in professional soccer leagues across the U.S. and Canada, working with the likes of Major League Soccer and U.S. Soccer.
“The time, effort and thought put into the technology of the classrooms and fields allows us to plan well into future decades,” said Sporting Kansas City Vice President of Development David Ficklin. “Instructors and coaches will always be recorded audibly and on video so that they can go back and revisit full dialogues on the field and in all their seminars. On-site, we’ll be able to accommodate lectures for well over 200 people while at the same time the high-tech breakout rooms will allow for multiple small working sessions. With the classroom conferencing capabilities, US Soccer can conceivably expand their reach to teach thousands of additional coaches across the country.
“U.S. Soccer will have a state-of-the-art technology throughout the entire facility, and as coaching education continues to evolve, the physical infrastructure and the adjacencies of everything at the NTCDC should continue to accommodate all their needs.”
Romeijn believes the new facility will foster greater interactivity and self-evaluation for coaching candidates. Most on-site coaching courses consist of 36 candidates, making consistent interaction between instructors and students less frequent.
“With these classrooms and breakout rooms, we can really work in small groups. That means programming will be very interactive,” Romeijn said. “That is a big difference when you go from having these meetings with 36 candidates and then dividing it down in breakout rooms in groups of four or six.”
The ability for coaches to go back and watch their recorded sessions with an instructor will present a new opportunity altogether. More than ever, candidates will be fully immersed in their learning and development process.
“Being able to provide greater development for the coaches through filming technology and the coaching lab that’s being built, we think that’s really exciting,” Flood said. “That’s cutting edge in our opinion.”
As Ficklin points out, the surrounding components of the NTCDC — such as the physical training room, the gymnasium and the sports research laboratory — give U.S. Soccer the opportunity to use those spaces for further instruction.
“One of the great features this facility is that allows for the inclusion of Children’s Mercy’s expertise into the coaching curriculum with simple things that we’re all concerned about right now,” Ficklin said. “For instance: concussion diagnosis, education and protocol. You could envision coaching seminars having a class taught by a Children’s Mercy physician about the effects of, concussions and other injuries, something that all coaches immediately benefit from having access to.”
U.S. Soccer will oversee all programming at the Coaching Education Center. Flood and Romeijn said that the NTCDC will predominantly host courses for coaches working toward their A and B licenses under the U.S. Soccer Coaching License Pathway. The A-Senior, A-Youth and B licenses are succeeded only by the prestigious Pro Course — newly introduced in 2015 — on the U.S. Soccer coaching ladder. Throughout the year, the NTCDC will welcome hundreds of coaches pursuing these badges.
In addition to hosting courses across the Coaching License Pathway, U.S. Soccer will use the NTCDC for year-round programming, including a variety of conferences, symposiums, workshops and periodic training camps for youth and senior national teams. As Ficklin put it, “There is an appetite for soccer coaching education to fill just about every day on the calendar.”
Flood said U.S. Soccer will initially have six-to-10 full-time employees working at the Coaching Education Center once it opens this winter, comprised mostly of educators who will oversee coaching courses on a weekly basis. That number is likely to increase, Flood said, as the U.S. Soccer Coaching Education Department gets bigger.
“We certainly have seen a tremendous amount of growth over the last 5-6 years, with a greater concentration in terms of resources and attention towards coaching education,” Flood said. “That’s through the hiring of full-time educators and instructors, hiring office staff, and certainly building the NTCDC with Sporting KC.
“In general, we’re really focusing on the infrastructure that is necessary to start to build something for the future, and that’s through staff and facilities.”
The Coaching Department introduced significant changes to its license structure last fall. Whereas A, B and C license courses used to take nine days to complete, they now take six, four and two months, respectively.
“Our goal is to improve the quality of coaching at all levels. When you’re looking at the size of the country, and when you’re looking at the number of coaches — and we’re talking about all the coaches — that’s a big ambition,” Romeijn said. “With (the NTCDC), we are continuing to build a culture of soccer in the United States. In a way it’s really tangible, and in a way it’s intangible. We can connect this facility to the story of soccer in the U.S. It’s a story of growth.”
Ficklin believes the facility will be instrumental for the advancement of soccer across the country. As the U.S. seeks its first World Cup on the men’s side and strives to retain its No. 1 world ranking on the women’s side, the NTCDC will serve as an integral part of U.S. Soccer’s development strategy well into the future.