By Ryan McCracken on July 12, 2018.
The Vancouver Whitecaps Football Club has embedded itself in the Gas City this week, aiming to grow the beautiful game while identifying some of Southern Alberta’s top talent on the pitch.
The Whitecaps youth soccer skills camp runs through the week at Medicine Hat College, catering to players from U11 to U17, and Alberta South Academy Centre head coach Ricky King says he’s seen a lot of promise through the first three days.
“Coming here for our first time, we’ve been really impressed with the level of play by the kids,” said King. “A big part for us is to provide an opportunity, for the boys and the girls, to kind of move through our pathways in Alberta —which is our fully funded academy on the boys side and the rec program on the girls side, which is involved with Alberta Soccer.”
King, who came to Canada in September after growing up in England and spending the past 10 years with the New York Red Bulls Academy, says Medicine Hat’s young players already boast impressive knowledge and passion for the game thanks to the Rattlers Athletic Soccer Club.
“The players have a brilliant mentality in terms of their love of the game and in terms of how much they want to learn. Every single kid here has been like a sponge to teach.
“We can tell from being here that the local club is doing a terrific job giving the kids the best habits possible. It’s very tough for them being so isolated, because there’s not a lot of competition unless you drive to Calgary.”
King added their pre-packaged knowledge of the game’s fundamentals allows the camp to delve deeper into working on what the Whitecaps call essential player habits.
“There’s seven player habits, 1v1 attacking, 1v1 defending, positive forward defending — which is mainly intercepting the ball — positive forward passing — so it’s passing, but through the lines to penetrate — finishing, receiving and turning, and then vision awareness,” said King. “What we’ve done is have a primary focus for the day — for example today has been defending — but within that there’s opportunities for them to have secondary learning, which is what they’ll learn without us as a coaching staff having to emphasize … If we’re playing 1v1, even though we’re coaching the defending the kids get repetitions of attacking as well.”
King says the camp’s older players have been demonstrating those seven habits throughout the week, with some showing a lot of promise for a future in the game — like 14-year-old Wyatt Davis.
“He was actually involved with the provincial team this year. He was part of the 2004 initial squad. He didn’t make the cut for the provincial under-18s, he made the 30-man training squad but didn’t make the 18s. But he was talented enough that when we took them to a combine in Vancouver we recommended that he go play for another province to get that exposure. He went and played for Saskatchewan and he’s done fantastic,” said King. “He’s one of a number of players that we’re considering for our fully funded academy, which starts this September.”
Davis, who hails from Brooks but competes for RASC and Team Saskatchewan, says it’s been great to get out on the pitch with a focus on the finer aspects of the game at this week’s camp, especially considering he’ll be heading to China for a tournament with his provincial squad this weekend.
“It’s been great, the coaches are excellent. They teach you a lot of technical stuff, movement on and off the ball, it’s just been great,” said Davis.
King added he hopes to see players like Davis end up joining the Whitecaps’ residency program, which pairs players with billet families for an immersive soccer training program in partnership with schools in Vancouver.
“It would be great to see them have that opportunity,” said King. “We can help to hopefully increase the level of player, but most importantly it’s opportunity for the players to get exposure to higher level programs, and for us with the Whitecaps, to give them a look for our residency program. Alphonso Davies, who now plays on the first team came from Edmonton to Vancouver to our residency program and is now a professional player and plays for the national team. We’re hoping he’s one of many but I think these types of things take time.”
Regardless of how many Hatters end up joining the ranks of the Whitecaps or furthering a professional career on the pitch, King says he hopes the camp will simply help instill a lifelong love for the game among youth in Southern Alberta.
“I think our real success would be, in 20 years time if you come down to a local park and a lot of these players are still playing pickup, that’s probably the utmost success —can we spark an interest and love of the game?”