November 19, 2010
By Charles Cuttone
PATH TO PPL
Union, YSC create new youth programs
Sometime in the not too distant future, a locally developed player will step onto the field at PPL Park in Chester wearing the Union colors. That player will have worn those colors since he was five years old.
|Union Coach/Youth Director John Hackworth says the development of the Union’s program with YSC was a key reason he came to Philadelphia.
Linda Cuttone/Sports Vue Images
That’s the hope shared by the Union and their youth development partner, YSC, who are unveiling a long-term youth development partnership next week at YSC’s brand new 90,000 sq. ft. state-of-the-art training facility in Wayne, Pa.
The YSC Union Juniors program (ages 8-12), was launched in the spring, and has already seen more than 550 of the area’s top youth players receive training at YSC.
The next two steps of the program, Union Juniors Academy (ages 13-14) and Union Youth Academy (ages 15-18), will enable the Union and YSC to work in conjunction with local youth clubs to share in the process of developing players. The club-neutral format enables gifted youth players to remain registered and playing with their local club teams while receiving free supplemental training and competition opportunities when “called up” to represent Philadelphia Union.
The program is unlike any youth development program in the country.
According to YSC Owner Rich Graham, the process will be modeled after the “club and country” format used in international soccer.
Youth players will play for their club throughout most of the year, but will be called into special camps under the Union/YSC banner and will participate in competitions, which could include domestic or foreign tournaments.
All of the training and costs associated with the program will be fully funded by the Union and YSC.
Graham says the new program will focus on more than just on-field training, and include sports psychology, sports science and nutrition. The program was devised not only to help young athletes develop as soccer players, but also as people.
“If we measure how many kids will make it to PPL Park, we will fail 99.99% of the time,” said Graham.
Union Manager Peter Nowak and Coach/Youth Development Director John Hackworth will oversee the program, along with YSC staff, which includes UEFA-licensed coach Ian Munro.
“We have a deep passion for developing youth and the model that we’ve created with our partners is extremely innovative, collaborative and barrier-free for every player and every club,” said Nick Sakiewicz, CEO & Operating Partner of Philadelphia Union. “We felt it is more important to work with the existing youth soccer infrastructure than compete with it in order to add value and inspiration to the players and partner clubs.”
While other clubs in Major League Soccer have created youth development programs, they often compete with local youth teams by siphoning off the best talent.
“This focuses on development and skills,” Graham said of the program. “We want to shift away from results, there is plenty of time for winning.”
As part of the development model, The Union and YSC have formed a Youth Development Affiliation program open to all clubs that meet certain technical criteria (i.e., coaching staff qualifications, curriculum plan design, etc.). The founding Youth Development Affiliate clubs include both U.S. Soccer Development Academies (FC DELCO, PA Classics, and PDA) and non U.S. Development Academy clubs (Lehigh Valley United, Penn Fusion and YMS). This program provides selected players a direct link to the professional game, while offering affiliate clubs oversight and guidance from the Union/YSC Technical Staff on player development best practices.
Graham says any club can apply to be a part of the program. “The real intent is to get involved with the clubs and help them get better.”
Hackworth, who formerly worked with U.S. Soccer’s youth teams, says the development of the Union’s program with YSC was a key reason he came to Philadelphia.
“When Peter and Nick hired me and we started having discussions about coming here, the idea was we want to build the top youth development program in the country and every other MLS team around the country started with the oldest age, like a U-18 team, and the question was asked, hey is that the direction we want to go in. I said no, we want to go the opposite direction. We want to start with the youngest kids so we can have the greatest influence and build the proper habits and then build this bridge to the first team. That’s what YSC and the Union Juniors program essentially allowed us to do.”
“The aim of our program is twofold,” said Hackworth. “First, we want to improve the soccer environment for all youth players in the Philadelphia area. Secondly, we want to create a realistic and progressive path for the elite players in this area. We feel like this partnership with YSC and our affiliate clubs will enable us to begin the long-term process of creating a better learning environment for Philadelphia’s young soccer players.”
With the announcement of the two new steps to the program coming on Tuesday, the Union will have the complete ladder to PPL Park in place, including minor league affiliations with the Harrisburg City Islanders (USL Pro) and Reading United A.C. (PDL).