The Alphabet Soup of Youth Soccer – What Does It All Mean?
The world of youth soccer is a confusing landscape of acronyms similar to alphabet soup. From clubs and regions to the national level competitions, abbreviations and other letter designations can baffle the most knowledgeable soccer person. We aim to help demystify the wonderful world of youth soccer with a new series of articles and here is a glimpse into the world of elite girls your soccer.
The TOP Elite level of youth soccer in the world of girls soccer sits Elite Clubs National League (ECNL). One only needs to catch a glimpse of the Amazing Young Women campaign to feel the fever pitch. In brief, the Elite Clubs National League is the top female youth soccer competition and development platform in the USA , consisting of 7 conferences across the United States and 77 member clubs.
ECNL’s Amazing Young Women campaign is a ground breaking, dynamic platform of online and local market activations that celebrate female role models offering an aspirational focus for all female athletes and teens as they prepare to be our next generation of leaders. The 2014-2015 season’s #BeautifulAmbition salute is exemplified by former and current ECNL players and is a call to action for all to celebrate the endless potential of today’s girls.
Here is an interview with Christian Lavers who is both an accomplished coach and a dedicated administrator. One of the key founders in 2009 of the Elite Clubs National League (ECNL), Lavers is the organization’s President. He is also Executive Vice President of US Club Soccer, a position he has held since 2011. As the Executive Vice President, Lavers oversees club and player development programs and league initiatives for US Club Soccer. He also works with marketing and commercial strategies and help to acquire strategic partnerships and sponsorships for US Club Soccer. In addition, Since 2005 Lavers has coached men’s and women’s teams with FC Milwaukee Nationals and has been the club’s Director of Development Academy Program since 2006.
Spotlight on Girls Soccer With ECNL
Diane Scavuzzo: How and where does ECNL fit into the youth soccer puzzle?
Christian Lavers: The ECNL is the most competitive youth soccer league for girls in the country. That means that, for female soccer players, the vast majority of best players, the best teams, and the best clubs are in the ECNL. Of course there are obviously a small number of very good teams and players outside the ECNL – but no league in the country can come close to the quality and depth that is in the ECNL.
To really understand where the ECNL fits in the landscape, you also need to understand the mission of the ECNL – to make the developmental environment for elite youth girls players in this country significantly better. That can only be done by getting the best clubs and teams, which we have done, and then constantly raising the standards higher for the league, and for the clubs, coaches and leaders within the league to be better, more professional, and more effective at developing top players.
If you have a daughter playing soccer and she wants to be the best, play against the best and see how far she can go in the sport, you want to have her compete in ECNL. Beyond that, the club-based structure of the league provides a consistent path for her as she gets older within the same club in the same development and competitive platform.
Before ECNL, the path for girl soccer players was inconsistent and unreliable because of problems in the competitive structure and focus. ECNL was created to try and change this to help more aspiring players reach the goals and dreams that they have.
Diane Scavuzzo: Now on to US Club Soccer. In simple English, what does US Club offer and how does the National Leagues fit in? If we were to create a youth soccer pyramid, where would these programs fit? Would National Leagues be directly under the U.S. Development Academy?
Christian Lavers: US Club Soccer is built and based on the philosophy that youth soccer clubs are the most important vehicles for player development in this country, and that the best way to improve soccer in this country is to better meet the needs of these clubs and create better platforms for clubs. Quite simply, US Club Soccer was created to help clubs do what they do better, and to create better competition platforms, player development platforms, and player identification programs for club players.
US Club Soccer’s National Premier Leagues (the NPLs) are the most recent competitive platform created by US Club Soccer, with most NPLs only in their second year of existence. In our mind, and in most people’s minds, the U.S. Soccer Developmental Academy and the ECNL are the top youth leagues in the country – and each is doing great things for the development of the game.
The NPLs are built with very similar frameworks and philosophies. They are designed to be the best leagues in the country outside the USSDA and the ECNL, to provide a league-based national championship (where the best teams over time really stand out), and to provide a platform to integrate player identification and other developmental programs.
Diane Scavuzzo: According to U.S. Soccer, the academies were to become the center for Elite players and that the better players would naturally migrate to the development academies – and the same could be said about the ECNL. How important is this idea of destination clubs?
Christian Lavers: The idea of destination clubs is a great concept. In an ideal world, the best players work with the best coaches, in the best environments, and with the most resources – and this sorting process happens relatively easily and cooperatively. The reality isn’t so clean.
However, if the clubs in your league are truly developmentally focused (in philosophy and practice), they are raising standards and demanding constant professionalism and continuing education from their staff, and thus the competition level is high, over time you will see that some clubs tend to help great players develop a lot more frequently than others – and that will attract more players. That is the true idea behind a destination club, in my opinion.
Diane Scavuzzo: In your opinion, how do US Youth Soccer and ODP fit in?
Christian Lavers: We are constantly focused on making our own programs better – that is our sole aim and where we spend all our energies. If we (1) focus on getting better every day – listening to the clubs and other technical leaders on what we can do differently or improve – and (2) stay committed to our key philosophies, our programs will provide a great vehicle for club and player development. That will speak for itself in the long-term.
The id2 program is a great example of this. The id2 Program was only established in 2004, but even then it was free for players. Now, eight years later, that program has significantly expanded to impact hundreds of players a year, receive sanctioning from the U.S. Olympic Committee and U.S. Soccer as an Olympic Development Program, and it is still no-charge for players. That was accomplished not by focusing on competitors, but by staying focused on getting better.
Nike’s The Chance is a great program funded by Nike that partnered with id2, ECNL and U.S. Soccer last year. On the boy’s side, the partnership was with U.S. Soccer. On the girl’s side, the partnership was with id2 and ECNL to make the annual ECNL / id2 National Training Camp even more special and unique (at Nike Headquarters), and to add an incredible trip to the London Olympics for the final selected team of 18 girls. We hope to continue to work with The Chance as often as possible. The ECNL / id2 National Training Camp will be held every year.
Diane Scavuzzo: Why has it been so confusing for parents? If you were a parent, would you find it confusing? Do you have any advice to provide to parents?
Christian Lavers: Youth soccer is an incredibly confusing landscape! Even without all the massive changes that have occurred over the past few years and the rapid continuing evolutions, the landscape would be difficult to navigate. As a parent new to the sport, I can only imagine how difficult it would be to find the right place for your child. The best advice I could give to a parent can be summed up relatively simple: educate yourself, ask questions and do research.
Talking to the coaches is a great start, but it is only a start. Look at resumes – and remember that, while playing experience can be really helpful, the coaching part is a lot more important than the playing part. See what coaches have actually done in the past, not what they say they will do in the future. See if coaches are currently involved in elite player development.
Most importantly, find players that have been through that coach’s system and made it to the “next level,” whatever it is. Ask them what they think and what they wish they would have known. The most honest, and often the most illuminating, answers will come from the players who have “been there and done that.”