Fredericksburg Football Club could quite possibly be the start of a soccer revolution in the United States. Here in the U.S., young kids usually start their recreational soccer career by playing for their local town league just to get their feet wet and test the waters. This allows the aspiring soccer players and their parents to figure out if soccer is something they should get their kid seriously involved in. Once the child and their parents have agreed that soccer is going to be a real part of their life, they start to search for a program that will help them progress and get their skills up. This is called a “travel team.” When the family feels like their son/daughter has outgrown that team, they search for a new program to take their child to the next level. This creates an ongoing cycle of discontinuity and inconsistency of training due to the fact that the children are hopping from team to team.
Grover Gibson, President and Executive Director of FFC, has an incredible vision to change how the U.S. approaches youth soccer development. It starts with “true club culture, where everyone eats, lives, and breathes for the club.” As a player for the FFC NPSL team, I cannot emphasize enough how impactful the atmosphere Grover has created for us is. Being one of the oldest players in the club, it is unfortunate that I spent most of my playing days in different training environments. Also, as an older player in the club, it is expected that I, along with my teammates, help to train and mentor our club’s youth players. When I was their age, my dad taught me small things in the backyard or the local father (that thought he knew soccer) volunteered and coached me twice a week. Still, through all of that I ended up being a collegiate soccer player. I can only imagine what I could’ve accomplished if I had this level of training from the beginning of my career.
FFC is a young club with a strong vision and big dreams. In the short term, the club is trying to create a sound business model where they can ensure continuity in excellent training and maintain expectations. Further down the road, once FFC has a strong identity and a great reputation, they see themselves becoming a household name in the soccer community with their extensive infrastructure and facilities to meet the needs of all soccer players and anyone looking to receive high level training. By this time, the original youth players will have grown up as outstanding soccer players, gone to great schools, and hopefully made a name for themselves. They possibly may even find themselves playing for the FFC men’s or woman’s professional teams that Grover has a dream of creating.
One of the more positive and significant things that FFC has accomplished in its first year is using the NPSL (National Premier Soccer League) platform to integrate themselves into the Fredericksburg community. Thanks to the fact that NPSL has created a high-level, competitive league, FFC now has a way to encourage the community and youth teams to come out and spend an afternoon supporting FFC and their eldest players. Being able to support older, higher level FFC players gives the younger players in the club something to aspire to through the example of hard work and commitment. This NPSL team also gives opportunities to older players that may have even played professionally to come back and get quality training, as well as younger players that have excelled in their age group and want to play on a higher level. The roster consists of players from ages 15 to mid 20’s.
The identity of FFC is unique in this U.S. soccer community. The club offers Virginia soccer players a single address to develop every aspect of their game and to see their dreams through from start to finish. As Grover explains, “The complete development from U4's all the way through to the senior men’s and woman’s teams is a must, if you are truly trying to develop players to their maximum potential and move them hopefully on to the top collegiate and professional levels.” Grover draws his experience largely from his time playing in Europe. He grew up in the youth programs and went on to the professional level in Europe, and one of his key take-aways was that “the training environment, club culture, and focus on training over tournaments should be a welcomed change for almost all youth clubs stuck in the old ways of doing things.” U.S. development programs focus on exposure and game experience instead of proper training. You all know the saying “practice makes perfect,” and in this case because its soccer, we call it training; we need to get back to training correctly and not cutting corners. You may be saying, “Is it right just because the Europeans do it that way?” To answer that, I encourage you to look up the World Cup champions all the way back to 1966. In the past 40 years, eight of the last 12 champions were European, and guess how many the U.S. have won? Yup, you got it: zero.
As an FFC NPSL player, I am preparing myself for our first playoff game this weekend. Having made it through most of the season already, I can say that this is the best I’ve felt about my game, and my confidence as a player has never been greater. I call each and every member of the FFC community my friend and every teammate I’ve sweat and bled with this summer, my brothers. I think that fully embodies the essence of FFC, and why I think FFC is here to stay and make a difference in U.S. soccer.