Youth Academy

The Denver Kickers Sports Club
est. 1962

Coerver Coaching & Positive Coaching Alliance
Program for Under 11-14

U11-14 Program
The best youth sports programs pursue twin goals. The first is to put winning teams on the field. The second is to recognize the importance of Life Lessons, which will be learned through sport. For almost every young athlete, the Life Lessons will be a more enduring legacy of their participation in sports than anything they learn about soccer.

The Positive Coaching Alliance provides such a model and it is a major philosophical underpinning of this program. That model is based on three principles. The first is to define winning not so much in terms of the scoreboard as in terms of "Mastery" - being the best you can be. In that definition, "Winners make the maximum effort, continue to learn and improve, don't let mistakes - or the fear of mistakes - stop them." The next principle is to maintain a relentlessly positive approach that "Fills the Emotional Tanks" of the athletes. Finally, all participants are taught to "Honor the Game." This is a proactive view of sportsmanship - based on what you will do, not what you won't - where participants demonstrate respect for the Rules, Opponents, Officials, Teammates, and Self.

This idea is the second underpinning of the program. With the Kickers, the path to our goal of "winning teams" will be a different one than is commonly found in youth soccer. Here the development, skills and habits of the individual player comes first. Particularly in the U9-14 age groups. Until that is done, attention to team play is limited to basic offensive and defensive organization.

Many programs talk about the importance of individual player development. Too often, though, the commitment to that principle disappears under pressures tied to wins and losses. The development of creative and skillful individual players can be at some initial cost to team "success," especially if measured just by the scoreboard. We know, though, that teams developed using the "Players First" philosophy quickly becomes surprisingly "successful." Not because they are better teams, but because of the superior skills of the players. And those skills form a rock solid foundation for the development of creative, attractive, and effective team play that is successful by any definition.

There is particular emphasis on promoting from U11-14:
  • Superior 1-on-1 Skills: The ability and confidence to take on and beat an opponent in a one-on-one situation, together with the poise to keep possession of the ball under strong defensive pressure. Players can expect some sort of one-on-one activity at every session.
  • A Dynamic First Touch: The skill and vision to place the ball with the first touch to a spot where it can be played again quickly and productively. This is also found at every session.
  • Accuracy and Power: When striking a ball - with several surfaces of either foot.
  • Mastery of the Small Group Situations: Including 2 versus 1, 3 versus 1, 3 versus 2, etc. which are the building blocks of team play.
  • Effective "Soccer Habits": The little things great players do that make a big difference on the field.
  • An Appreciation of the Competitive Process: Learning to play your hardest at practice as well as in the games, both to make yourself better and to challenge your teammates to be their best.
By the end of the Under-14 year, players will be exceptionally skilled. They will be poised, confident and creative with the ball, and make excellent use of the fundamental elements of team play. They will see the game and regularly anticipate the coming movements of players and the ball. They will demonstrate the ability to make good decisions about the mix of individualism ("I can beat you myself") and team play ("or with the help of my teammates").

Our approach to the second goal, learning positive Life Lessons and Life Skills, begins by recognizing that strong team chemistry develops when members are recognized as people, more for their character than their athletic ability. People first, players second. In sports, certain character traits are particularly helpful, and we will seek to nurture in our players these personal qualities of lifelong value. They are: confidence based on their preparation, having a teachable spirit, developing a pride that comes from collective accomplishment, self-discipline, competitive perseverance, accountability and taking responsibility, and having a "team first" attitude.

The common element in those seven qualities is that are choices made by the athlete, completely under his or her control. Not everyone can be the next Landon Donovan or Mia Hamm. But that player can pursue individual greatness as an athlete that has nothing to do with his or her athleticism. Not every team can be the North Carolina women or Real Madrid. But every team can achieve the greatness of becoming the best that it can be. Our program has an unwavering commitment to those ideals.

At the same time, membership on a team revolves around the opportunity to be part of something bigger than you. In the words of World Champion player and coach Tracey Bates Leone, "You owe it to yourself and your teammates to do everything you can and give everything you have toward your goal of Being the Best." Athletes in the Kickers Youth Academy will be asked to live up to that standard at all times.

We want each player to acquire the ability to find satisfaction in making strong efforts, developing new skills, challenging self and teammates, finding pride and "fun" in their accomplishments as well as one's own. This requires being open to learning lots of new things and a willingness to work hard to eliminate weaknesses. But it will also involve developing one's strengths, the things that make a player special and sets him or her apart, that define what coaches call a "soccer personality."

Training will take place under "a fundamental philosophy that if you chase perfection doggedly enough you'll catch a healthy dose of excellence in the process." This learning environment sets standards above the norm and constantly challenges the players "comfort zone". Yet it accepts, even welcomes, the mistakes that happen as athletes learn "to train at the edge of their game in order to play at the edge of their game." We will seek a high level of intensity in our training and games, but we will nurture an intensity that comes from within the player, not one that is driven by the coaches.

In this setting, ownership in teams is increasingly vested in their players. By the end of that U14 year, we expect that "we play for each other" is not a slogan but a reality.

The program is designed for teams of no more than 50 players in an age group. Each team will play in three "groups" (four when Colorado adopts the US Youth Soccer guidelines concerning small-sided games U11 and U12), organized by the abilities players show in the tryout process. The groups will usually train side by side and often train together; with an emphasis at first that promotes membership in the program as much as membership on a particular squad. Teams of fifty players, if you will, that just plays three (or four) different games on Saturdays.

This is an "academy" style applied to teaching the game. With the age group following a single curriculum under direction of an Age Group Head Coach, each player will receive essentially the same program of instruction and opportunity for competition, yet within a structure that is as challenging for the most talented athlete as it is for the less gifted one simply pursuing a love of the games.

Clubs can be less than attentive to teams beyond their first. That's wrong on its face but also ignores research showing the difficulty of predicting athletic success at younger ages. Relegation of 10 year olds to "B" and "C" teams in those settings becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. The Kickers Youth Academy will very different in this respect, committed to providing all the players and teams with that same solid soccer background as well as the full range of collateral benefits associated with participation on first rate teams.

This "academy" approach has also been tested the past four years, and has been found to be a particularly good method for developing skillful players, strong teams and individuals who will bring greater strength, responsibility and confidence from athletics to all areas of their lives.

More and more the focus on youth sports is on collecting, sometimes at any cost, national rankings, championship teams, elite athletes and college scholarships. In some instances, the "soccer industry" that has evolved around the pursuit of those things has become something of an arms race.
It should be clear that this is not what we're about. But there's a paradox here in that experience shows that such achievements are more likely to follow as a logical consequence of an environment which keeps the focus just on “being the best you can be." Even greater achievements are found when a Mastery approach is combined with an emphasis on solid character traits. That's the environment we will provide.
You will find this program different in other ways:
  • Less is More: For our new Under-11 players, this will be a higher level of participation in soccer with a greater commitment of an athlete's time and effort. But ours will be far from the 24/7/365 experience that this can become in other venues. We're in no rush to get it done; patience and perseverance work at least as well. During the fall and spring seasons, teams train on average, 8 times every three weeks. The schedule provides a mix o training periods (each with its own mix of intensity levels) and resting periods during the year, including times with no planned soccer activities. Players will need time off to recharge for the intensity of the time on, to pursue other sports and activities which give balance to their lives, and to just be kids. We even provide a week long mid-season break during both the fall and spring seasons. Longer stretches of down time include the month after the completion of the fall season and six weeks over the summer. Activities between seasons are normally optional and low key, designed to allow the players to get together with their buddies and to keep the real "soccer junkies" from driving their parents crazy! We have strong evidence that this sort of schedule is vital to keep players fresh, enthusiastic and always "wanting more."
  • Value: Our structure revolves around the coaches, and they will be fairly compensated for the experience they bring as educators and master teachers of the game. But we intend to keep administrative costs to a minimum. Those resources spent "off the field" will be dedicated to improving what happens on the field, coach development, curriculum development, parent education and communication.
  • Parent Education: Parents want their athletes to be successful. There are ways they can really help this to happen. Many parents will also want to understand more about what the players are doing on and off the field. We'll provide plenty of information in both areas.
  • Accountability: We produce a detailed annual Program Description for each age group. We intend to be held accountable for doing what we say we will in those descriptions, and will have a formal program of assessment and evaluation to review how we've done.
This is a soccer program, not brain surgery. That said, the program should still be done thoughtfully, carefully and professionally, with clear goals and the paths to achieve them in mind. It should be based on high standards and integrity, and feature the best levels of sportsmanship and fair play. It should function at the "cutting edge" of thinking about the development of soccer players and teams. It should expect to the held accountable for doing what it says it will do. It should promote a high level of soccer but recognize that, in the end, it's the impact on the personal growth of the athletes that counts. And above all, it should be immensely enjoyable and rewarding for the players.