International Youth Players Experience At West Ham United Academy
Each year, West Ham United Academy invites top youth soccer players from around the world – primarily America – to come to West Ham Academy in London, England. This once-in-a-lifetime training week provides a unique opportunity to attend one of England’s top-rated EPL academies. Legendary West Ham Academy Coach Tony Carr, his longtime Assistant Coach Paul Heffer and Technical Director Ian Yuill watch and train the elite players. Paul Heffer is the Head Coach for the International Teams.
What makes West Ham United International Academy Player ID Camps different from other soccer camps? The West Ham United Academy has a proven reputation of producing some of the best soccer players in the world. The camps utilize the same drills and coaching philosophies used at the Academy and on the First Team. These academy coaches develop players — not youth soccer teams to win weekend games. The competitive and progressive nature of the Player ID Camps, National Camps, and the West Ham United Academy Experience in London, adds a dynamic not found in any other soccer camp experience.
How is a player invited to be on the West Ham International Team? Players first start by attending a local Regional West Ham camp where the top performers are identified and invited to a National Camp held at Darlington in Rome, Georgia. Then, at the National level, an elite player pool is selected and invited to attend the training and scrimmages in London, England, at the West Ham Academy. The players on the International Team are selected from the original 3,000 players attending Regional camps.
This year that international team training took place in March. GoalNation asked several players and their families to share their experiences from that week. All in all, every player we spoke to was thrilled with the experience and looks forward to returning to the National Camp with the hopes of being selected again to train for a week at the Academy at West Ham United in London.
The English Premier League’s Elite Player Performance Plan (EPPP) awarded West Ham United’s Academy with the top honors for their academy training and the number and quality of Home Grown Players produced. West Ham United’s Academy has long been acknowledged as a proven training ground for elite players in England. ITV Football wrote, “The biggest single contributor to the current England national squad is not Manchester United, Arsenal, Liverpool or Chelsea, but the West Ham Youth Academy.”
Last March, a group of American and Australian boys (with one player from Singapore) stepped past the gates at the Upton Park stadium of English Premier League (EPL) top-rated academy West Ham United for the beginning of their West Ham United Academy International Experience. It was a moment of excitement and some nervousness as the youth soccer players met Assistant Academy Director Paul Heffer and several of the coaches who would work with them over the next several days. During that time the players would train the West Ham United way in preparation for a match against an Academy team.
Heffer and his staff took the players through several rounds of training at both the Chadwell Heath and Rush Green academy facilities in preparation for the International soccer match. (Afterward the training, each player will receive an individual written evaluation of his/her performance over the week.) While all of the boys and girls had been through West Ham United Academy identification and national camps, the level of focus they experienced at the EPL Academy was another step higher.
“The expectations were high, regardless of the age of the players,” explained Charmaine Reaves, whose son Anthony was one of the talented young Americans at the camp. “They were expected to stay focused and disciplined during the training sessions. The kids trained regardless of the weather – rain, cold or snow. There was a real dedication to football and to learning.”
“The West Ham Academy in England was tougher than what we usually see in America; it was better and the coaches had more experience,” said Anthony Reaves. “The training was really good; it was really technical and required skill.”
“The coaches stressed the mental aspect of the game in every situation,” said Agnetha Stephenson, mother of Derrick Stephenson who now plays for the LA Galaxy Academy. “The coaches stopped the game-style practices to ask players what they did or did not do. They also enforced the one- and two-touches strongly, as well as speed of the game and awareness at all times during the game.”
“The standard of technical training is extremely high, but the players are not afraid to make mistakes,” said Matt Daly, whose two daughters Angeline and Gabrielle were selected on the Girls International Team that traveled separately. “There is a great freedom for a player training at the West Ham Academy. The coaches sincerely encourage players to develop and not fear to make an error.”
“This whole world exists about soccer,” said Ginny Sinnott from Pennsylvania, who also took her daughter Sarah to West Ham for the Girls International Team. “So many layers of soccer. All the girls here are very strong players and this doesn’t happen at home. Usually, there are a couple of players on every team who are not as well trained. Here, all the players are incredibly committed, passionate and talented. The coaches do an amazing job selecting the players for the International Team.”
Who are the coaches? Academy Director Tony Carr has been a fixture for nearly 40 years and is acknowledged as one of the most influential men in English football. Beginning as a youth in the 1960s, Carr worked his way up the ranks before an injury cut his playing career short. In 1973 he became a coach with the Academy, eventually advancing to the position of Director in 1998.
Over the years he has helped train and develop many of the players the ITV Football article refers to, as well as others who have gone on to professional success. The list of those coming through the West Ham United Academy under Carr’s tutelage reads like a veritable who’s-who of English football stars, including John Terry, Frank Lampard, Rio Ferdinand, Joe Cole, Michael Carrick and Glen Johnson. Many soccer experts believe that if West Ham had kept their Academy “graduates” since Rio Ferdinand, they would in the top tier of EPL teams.
“Heffer, who was a key to the excellent training the boys received in the camp, is also a veteran of the Academy as both a player and coach. He has been Academy Director Tony Carr’s right-hand man for 35 years, helping to train many of those same English stars. Between the two, training and development are the main focus.
“I think the difference is that we are player-led; we are not focused on winning,” Carr explained to GoalNation editor Diane Scavuzzo, on hand for the training in England with her son Michael Scavuzzo who was identified for the National Camp and earned a spot in the international camp. “The bottom line is that the whole judgment of the system is based upon how many individual players go on to become professionals in the future. We are not trying to build teams that win a tournament but delevop players to be the best they can be.”
That level of intensity in training was on display during the International training as the future American, Australian and Singapore stars went through their sessions.
“The coaches told the players that they were getting the same training that the West Ham Youth Academy players received,” said Reaves. “The kids all loved the technical training sessions by coach Ian Yuill. The technical skills being taught to the players were challenging and exciting.”
“The soccer was great,” said Xolos USA Academy Program Director Rachid El Bekraoui, who took his son to the olders’ week. The West Ham training is tremendous and the intensity is higher on every level. The style of play is excellent; the Academy players move the ball so well.”
“The technical training was superb,” said Stephenson. “When doing a skills move, the coaches would add one, two or even three more moves to the same exercise, so players really had to think and look over their shoulder and be aware at all times. It was awesome.”
“The training is unbelievable,” said Jim Folds, whose son Kyle came from Cleveland, Ohio, to participate. “The talent level amongst the kids is very high and they all share the same passion for the game. I know my son always has a ball at his feet, and I imagine the other kids do too.”
All the parents agreed that the training the boys were receiving was levels above what they were experiencing with their home clubs. And the kids were always smiling.“The training at West Ham Academy is different from most American clubs in that technical skills were taught at each training session, along with the tactical skills,” said Reaves, “and the kids are encouraged to execute these skills during the scrimmages.”
“In England, it’s a lot more technical,” said Anthony. “At home we take more touches on the ball in games, but England plays one- and two-touches.”
“Being around a professional EPL Academy is very special,” said Sal Iamarino, who flew with his son Damian from Florida to attend the program. “The knowledge and experience the coaches have is hard to find in the USA. My son was very fortunate to be selected.”
North Carolina’s Patrick Roux said his son Donovan dreams of being a professional. “The idea of coming to London to see what it is like to be an EPL Academy player at one of the top rated academies was too good to pass up,” he said. “This is the beginning of the road to being a professional. Having access for the boys to see what the benchmark is for a player of their age is tremendous. If they have the desire to be a pro, now these players have an idea of what it is going to take; the high level technical abilities and the vision of the game.”
“There is defiantly a faster pace of soccer here at West Ham,” said Sinnott. “Character obviously counts too, as all the players are very supportive of each other.”
Another important difference that many players and their parents saw was an emphasis on creativity and taking risks. “There is a healthy encouragement to be creative versus a cautiousness in Georgia,” said Reaves. “At home they want you to try something only if you know you can do it and to try not to mess up or lose the ball. In Georgia most kids are afraid to try because they don’t want their coach to yell at them.”
“I liked how they stopped the training to address an issue and continued to remind the players and show them how to improve. And they did this with the kids all smiling,” said Iamarino.
“It is great to hear the coaches telling the kids not to worry if they make a mistake,” said Folds, “and yet they demand and receive a high level of concentration from all the players. The focus is not on scoring but making quick and good decisions with an emphasis on 1 and 2 touches.”
That freedom to make decisions is one of the key differences between the training at an EPL Academy and most American clubs, according to Yuill, who is West Ham United Academy Technical Skills Coach.
“We leave the decision making to our players,” Yuill explained. “We will show the players at the U12 age the drills and moves a couple of times, and then we will leave the variation to the players. We want them to be creative.”
“Another difference is that our training is more match-like, more game-like,” Yuill said. “We try to put the players into scenarios where they have to think as if they were in a game. Our coaches ask a lot of questions and want the players to really use their brains. Soccer is so much more than foot skills. A lot of it is repetition but at the end of the sessions, we want the boys to take responsibility.”
“I would give my right arm up to my elbow for my son to play for Ian Yuill for even a year,” said Roux. “He started sharing invaluable tips from the first moment of training. When he told the boys on the first day the always check over their shoulder, I knew we were in the right place. The coaches take a passing training and make it passing and awareness; they real take coaching to the next level.”
Roux was not alone is wanting more access to these top rated coaches. All the parents and the players were united in eagerly seeking advice and more time with Ian, Paul and even Tony — and all the West Ham coaches were happy to speak with the visiting parents and answer questions. One the final day, parents surrounded Tony on the field and the legendary academy coach spoke with warmth and passion on a variety of topics.
All-in-all, the week was a resounding success both as a training camp and as a life experience. In between the training sessions, players and their families had the chance to visit many of the sights in and around London, including the Tower of London and the London Eye. Perhaps most important, the trip gave players and families the chance to make new connections that for some will last a lifetime.
Gary and Irene Higgins’ son Euan was the youngest player on the International U12 Team and was warmly accepted by all his teammates. “The level of soccer is even higher here than at the West Ham National Camp in Rome, Georgia, and we were impressed there,” Gary Higgins said. “We love seeing our son asked to think quicker and perform on a more demanding level. The increased speed of play is exactly what American players need for success. We are both from Europe and this has been an amazing opportunity to see soccer in the UK.”
“The training was the best,” said Stephenson, “and the kids got to meet up with other kids from around the country and the world. We parents also got to meet some other wonderful parents that we had much fun with.”
“My son Damian loves the game and I will do what I can to support his dreams,” said Iamarino. “The look on his face when the letter came after the National Camp informing us he was selected for this International team was priceless. This is a journey and a wonderful one. Damian started at the West Ham Regional Camp and then was invited to the National Camp and really feels he earned his time here in England.”
Oded Hecht and his son Leo live in Princeton, New Jersey, and both thought the experience was first rate. “I am most impressed with the love of the people for their Academy,” Hecht said, “and the soccer passion feels like a religion. I do not believe that the kids were in sufficient awe of this opportunity. It was very impressive. The coaches are the priests of soccer. These coaches teach their players how to do soccer better. Wherever this leads doesn’t matter. You come in and leave a better player.”
“Everything fit perfectly together to culminate in a memorable experience,” Reaves exclaimed. “It was great seeing how all the boys bonded immediately and to see the beginning of long-lasting friendships that will be continued even after the trip – not only for the boys but for the parents as well.”
For Anthony, while touring London was fun, what he will always remember was the thrill of the game playing against the West Ham Youth Academy team; and training in the snow was fun too. “West Ham makes a tremendous effort to incorporate the culture and take us on great sightseeing to the London Eye, Thames River Cruise, watch an EPL match and go behind the scenes at Wembley Stadium,” Sinnott said. “To train and be a part of a top EPL Academy is really amazing, and to be able to discover London is better than I could ever have thought.”
Perhaps the best indication of the success of the week was that parents were very willing to recommend the experience to other players and families.
“I would recommend this trip to other parents and players if they are selected to go,” said Stephenson. “It will give them a quick look into how a prestigious EPL Academy works and the conditions they play in year in and out. Maybe cold, rain, snow or sun, but they still train and play. That’s a big difference from here in USA.”
“If your child has a passion, you want to follow it and support it,” said Daly. “Coming to England to train and play against the West Ham Academy was a great honor and experienc“Staying in the stadium was a wonderful experience for the girls,” said Michele Daly, mother of Angeline and Gabrielle. We were all very curious to see what a hotel room in a soccer stadium would be like! It is amazing to open the drapes and look on to the beautiful green pitch. I never thought I would stay in a box suite turned hotel room! It is remarkable. The entire trip has been an unforgettable life-experience “Staying together at the West Ham Stadium was fun, and having the kids all together was fabulous. The parents and the kids were all very nice,” said Bekraoui.
“I actually came home and told my middle son that I would like him to try out for the West Ham national camp again,” said Reaves. “The entire experience was excellent, but I think the caliber of training from the West Ham coaches could help him push through to the next level. It might help him to move up from the Regional team that he has been on for the past two years. It could also possibly move him from the National Pool onto a National Team. I have already encouraged a friend in Georgia to have her two sons try out to get the opportunity to train with the West Ham coaches.”
When he was asked if he would recommend the experience, Anthony simply said, “yes, other kids would have lots of fun.”
The families who shared their experiences all hope to return to the next National Camp in Rome, Georgia, for the opportunity to continue training with the West Ham Academy coaches and the chance to reunite with their new friends.
“We feel very special to have been here,” said Folds. “We feel very proud to have been picked out of all the kids that tried out. We are definitely coming back to the National camp next year and hope to be here in the UK next year!”
“We are definitely planning on Anthony returning to Rome,” said Reaves, “not just to see the group again but because the training at the National camp is intense and more individually competitive, which is good for him.”
“I want to get more training experience and see the England group again,” admitted Anthony.
It was clear that all the players and their families want to return. As Editor in Chief Diane Brandis Scavuzzo said, “This was a huge awakening; the level of soccer training was excellent. Tony, Paul and Ian are exceptionally dedicated and experienced coaches. What makes them even more unique is how much they care. Players who are coached by them are incredibly fortunate. Their focus is on the development of individual players and making players think. This is a first rate program. My son loved every minute.”
Players and families interested in trying out for the West Ham Academy National Camp can attend any of the International Academy Identification Camps being held around the United States and in Mexico, including the Guadalajara Camp (April 12-14), the Morehead City, NC, Camp (May 24-26), the Miglietti Camp in San Pedro, Calf., (June 24-26) and the Rochester, NY, Camp (July 15-17). For more information on the coaches, click here. Additional camps in the Southern California area will be scheduled for this summer. For information, visit the West Ham United North American Identification Camps site.
The West Ham Academy National Camps are managed by Global Image Sports (GIS), a sports management company that provides opportunities and experiences in partnership with such clubs as West Ham United, Wolverhampton FC, UC Sampdoria and Chievo Verona. In addition to camps such as those for West Ham, GIS also organizes tours for youth teams and assists clubs with direct access to coaching education and player opportunities with partner clubs. For more information on what GIS can provide to youth soccer clubs, email Mike Kelleher at email@example.com.