The winter season was once a time of relative quiet in the local soccer scene. In recent years, however, more than 1000 youth have taken to the gyms to feed their soccer appetite though indoor soccer leagues and supplemental training programs.
With the acquisition of the indoor SOCA Training Center, SOCA now has a dedicated indoor training space capable of hosting Futsal leagues and focused Winter Academies. The recently completed winter season saw more than 1300 youth players in Augusta and Charlottesville participate in SOCA winter programming. Traditional WISL play (5v5 format in gyms with walls in play) continued to be a popular option while the initial Futsal league hosted by SOCA exceeded all expectations. Futsal is the world’s version of indoor soccer, which is played to out-of-bounds lines and thus has an increased technical skill demand.
“We believe any reasonable soccer play is beneficial for our youth players,” said Bill Mueller, SOCA’s Director of Soccer. “We’ve been offering WISL for more than 25 years, and we really love the features of limited coaching, no refs, kids forming their own teams, and the general low key organizational component coupled with high energy and super fun play. Clearly we’re fans of that approach. The addition of Futsal to our line-up has been most beneficial for our advanced players. The game has high technical demands and our Travel players certainly benefit from the challenge.”
Mueller, who has been at SOCA for more than 20 years, has seen great advancement in local player quality and in the programming which aids their development. “In one of my first years on the job we tried to implement Futsal play and it was roundly rejected by the players. They wanted to play and enjoy themselves without having to work too hard or have too much skill requirement. Over the years we’ve tempered WISL to be more skillful, but the addition of Futsal was a game changer. And the kids were begging for it! Futsal is a global game and our kids are aware of what is happening in global soccer, so the time was right to move our top players into a Futsal environment with the opportunity we had at the STC.”
In addition to league play, the SOCA Winter Academies have evolved to provide comprehensive skill development training for players at all ages and levels. This past winter the Academy program was overhauled to provide a greater number of individual Academies, but each was narrowly focused by age, gender and level. A key feature was that the size of the sessions was capped to allow for close interaction between the players and coach. A whole series of sessions were offered for Travel players only, allowing them to train under staff coach guidance among their peers. “We found that we had the demand to support single age group Academies for U11-U14 Travel players, and the training environment was terrific. The coaches were able to really focus on fine points of the game and make significant advancement over the winter.” Recreation and Challenge players were similarly served through a variety of skill training sessions, typically using a maximum two-year age grouping.
Early spring season results indicate that the players benefitted from the winter experience. SOCA Travel teams have been racking up the wins at pre-season tournaments at all levels.
Mueller was enthusiastic about the Academy system changes. “We’ll continue to offer both Winter and Summer Academies in narrow age, gender and level groupings. We know that this allows for a hugely beneficial training situation for the kids. We can really make significant progress in a short time period. We’re planning for Week 3 of the Summer Academy to be devoted entirely to Travel players, with sessions offered U10 (Jamboree) through U19.”
SOCA continues to offer ever-evolving innovative programming that helps players achieve their goals. The winter is no longer an off season for committed athletes, rather it is an opportunity to advance skills and game acumen while always preparing for the next challenge.