Youth Academy

The Denver Kickers Sports Club
est. 1962

Coerver Coaching & Positive Coaching Alliance
Program for Under 11 Boys and Under 11-12 Girls

U11 Boys and U11/U12 Girls 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 the 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 one's Self.

This idea is the second underpinning of the program. 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 play 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.

"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." That standard, adopted from the World Cup and Olympic Champions on the U.S. Women’s National Team, is what is expected of every player on the team. Every day.

Players will be expected to be at every practice, game and tournament unless excused in advance for reasons of illness, injury, family emergency, religious observance, or the occasional academic school function. (Parents, or better yet the player, need to notify the coach as soon as they know a player will not be attending some activity.) While other requests for excused absences might have individual merit, their collective effect on the team can be devastating. In this program, a player makes a commitment to teammates that must be fulfilled.

That is a demanding standard about the significant team first commitment that is at the very core of team sports. And it can sometimes run smack into our belief that players, especially younger ones, should be able to pursue a number of interests if that is what they want to do. We would love to have some hard and fast way of dealing with the conflicts that can arise here, but there just does not seem to be one. So, we will deal with them on a case by case basis. What we will expect is that players in these situations keep up with what their teams are doing. We also recommend that you talk to one of our coaches beforehand if you anticipate any conflict between the commitment to this soccer program and the requirements of other activities.

The schedule provides a mix of training periods (each with its own mix of intensity levels) and resting periods during the year, including times with no planned soccer activities. There is no rush to get this done, and players will need time off as a balance to the intensity of the time on. 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.

Working hard at practice is pretty easy when all your teammates do it. It is harder to prepare your game away from practice. But a champion has the discipline to train when no one else is watching. That is a key element of the team culture and something that is absolutely necessary if players are to fulfill that dual commitment to teammates and their own potential. Players will need to devote a minimum of 60-90 minutes every week to quality work with the ball, another hour a week on average without the ball: watching games, doing weekly game evaluations, doing visualization exercises, etc. Some skills are tested weekly and it becomes immediately apparent when this work is not being done. The obvious sign is that the scores do not improve. But it also shows on the field, since preparation builds the confidence needed to play well. Players will be expected to honor this important part of their commitment to team and teammates.

For now, significant away-from-practice preparation time for players will be devoted to soccer juggling. Juggling ability impacts every other touch on the ball. It is an essential ingredient in developing a dynamic first touch on the ball and is also an important element in all forms of striking the ball. We have a six level progression of juggling activities, and levels of proficiency that players should attain by the end of each season. Players will be expected to finish the progression in the U12 year.

We know that some families’ summer plans are already set for this summer, and that those plans might not fit with ours. This will not be a problem for us.

The schedule provides for approximately 80 training sessions and 35 games a year:
  • SUMMER: We will begin with a 5 session program in June designed to introduce players to our curriculum and give them things to work on "when no one else is watching" during the summer.
  • THE FALL SEASON: Training for the fall season will begin on Monday, July 31, and the first six weeks will be busy. Teams will play in tournaments the weekend of August 11-13 and in the Mile High Soccer fest August 18-20. There will then be league games August 26 and 27, before taking a breather over Labor Day Weekend. League games will continue on Saturdays through the beginning of November, with no games the weekend of October 7-8. We will schedule a week off around that weekend.

    Training will be on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, an average of 8 sessions every 3 weeks, with each lasting an hour and forty-five minutes. 10 sessions each season will be conducted by the Age Group Head Coach. A draft of the fall schedule is available.
  • WINTER: 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". We will offer opportunities to play futsal (mini-soccer), which is a great game for developing foot skills.
  • PERFORMANCE TRAINING: This is a program that provides technical training related to agility and running form that we will run for eight weeks � one session weekly � during the winter. We will probably offer this on three different days each week to accommodate players other winter activities.
  • SPRING/SUMMER: Training will resume in early February, and teams will be entered in one of the pre-season tournaments. The league season runs from early March through mid-May. Note that games are usually scheduled for both weekends of players’ spring break: players will need to be available for those games. The team can expect to play into June, with a pair of tournaments for each squad following league play. (The schedule for these will be set by the end of the fall season.) We will try to include a driving-distance tournament in the mix (e.g. Pueblo, Durango, Albuquerque) which we will use not just for the soccer experience but to begin to establish the protocols for team travel that teams will use throughout their time with the Kickers.
The overriding parental responsibility in youth sports is to provide their child with unconditioned love that is not based on performance. Indeed, all matters of performance should be left between player and coach. (Note that one of the primary factors kids cite for dropping out of sports has been identified as the PGA - post-game analysis - during the CRH � car ride home - after practices and games.) Remember: it is their thing. But parents should observe to see that the athletes are happy with their efforts, with what they are learning, and with their relationships within the team. When these are not as they should be, you may need to encourage your child to talk to the coach about what is wrong. (It is an important way of asking the players to "take responsibility.") If that fails, though, parents should contact the coach.

Just about all of the players will need help with time management so they can meet the demands of family, school and soccer as well as the other interests, activities and friendships that provide balance to their lives. Parents will also need to make sure that their child is eating and sleeping properly.

Formal player evaluations will be done twice per season. This, too, should be a matter between coaches and players, with players contributing more each season to defining goals and collaborating with their coach in evaluating progress toward meeting them. For the athletes, it is an important exercise in taking responsibility for their performance as well as learning how to function in a more grown up world. Parents will be notified if some aspect of a player’s performance is putting a child’s place in the program at risk.

We do ask that parents refrain from any comment to or about a referee at games, and that they do not coach from the sidelines at any time. Games belong to the players. We also ask that you be as unconditionally supportive of your child’s teammates as you are of her or him, and that you fully honor the commitment the athlete has made to the team. The referee standard pretty much applies with regard to opposing players and their supporters. Compliment good play, if you wish, particularly at the end of the game. But no negative comments please, no matter how barbaric the behavior directed at your child, your spouse or yourself. Our approach with the athletes is that "you are better than that." They must have that example on the sidelines

To be announced.