As the Chicago Fire Soccer Club continue to make strides in Major League Soccer toward a place in the 2012 MLS playoffs, the club is also continuing work on a youth soccer club model that has thousands of boys and girls participating nationwide.
The Fire Juniors concept was first launched in 2003, when Chicago’s professional soccer club started to look at different ways to engage the local youth soccer community. Today, the program involves over 10,000 travel and recreation players in 9 youth clubs across 7 states.
YESsoccer is the Camps and Training partner of the Chicago Fire SC, and their YESconnect recruitment function provides licensed international trainers to the CFJ clubs, providing a base for the Fire's Pyramid of Player Development. A player development pyramid is a common feature in professional sports and is understood by an increased number of players participating at grassroots level with a view of one day progressing through the ranks or levels to the professional team.
The Fire pyramid also includes a youth club based at Toyota Park, eight academy teams at U10 to U-18 and a U20 and U23 teams. In 9 years, two players in the form of Victor Pineda (Chicago, IL) and Kellen Gulley (Jackson, MS), have graduated from a player development pyramid system which started with local Fire Juniors teams.
The Fire and YESsoccer have a dual approach when working with the Fire Juniors clubs: maximizing performance ‘on the field’ whilst introducing policies and procedures that support administrators ‘off the field’. On the field this year, the Fire introduced a female soccer initiative which aims at raising the profile of girls participation in Juniors clubs. Led by Kentucky Fire Juniors Technical Director and former US Women’s Youth National team boss Mike Dickey, the program started with an ID camp at Lake Forest Academy in June with players from all 9 Fire Juniors clubs taking part.
“The ID camp was really well received. All of the girls are athletes; they understand about the importance of nutrition and hydration, but the information that was presented gave them good ideas on what they should do before and after training," said Dickey. "Especially helpful were the speed and agility exercises that were specific for soccer; a lot of these drills can be done on their own, don’t require money, but do require time and creativity. The program overall was really good. All of the girls got a lot out of it.”
The female soccer initiative continues with Fire Juniors elite teams participating in both the Disney Junior and senior showcase events later this year followed by a series of girls only fire juniors tournament events during 2012/13. “This new initiative gives our female players another possible means of gaining additional training. Outside of just playing and competing locally, it will put our players on the national map,” said Dickey. “The elite team will provide players with the opportunity to surround themselves with other great players, and help push them and help them if they chose to play in college.”
The Fire also delivered a signature ‘off the field’ project in 2012 with the introduction of Community Development Officers (CDO), in partnership with YESsoccer. 19 CDO’s were installed in clubs in Illinois, Michigan and Louisiana recently.
Fire Affiliation Manager Brian Roberts commented, “as an affiliate of a professional soccer club each Fire Juniors has a responsibility to be both inward and outward looking, in other words look at ways to give back to the local soccer community. The concept follows a ‘soccer in the community’ approach which will see staff coaches deliver school discovery days and clinics for local park districts”.
CDO’s will also offer advice to the local community on current issues in youth soccer such as college recruitment and child protection. “The CDO concept gives our Fire Juniors clubs with the opportunity to promote itself as the hub of soccer activity in the soccer community, something which has been practiced in parts Europe and South America for sometime”.
Brian Roberts directs coach development for YESsoccer and manages affiliations for the Chicago Fire Soccer Club. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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