ECNL Impact | Changing Club Structure and Methods

ECNL_Logo_final_colorRichmond, Va. (March 30, 2015) – The Elite Clubs National League (“ECNL”) was founded in 2009 with a very basic mission – to improve the training and competition environment for elite youth female soccer players in the United States.  This mission is frequently shortened to 3 words – RAISE THE GAME.  These words encompass a platform that seeks to improve coach, player, and club development through competition, education, development, and more.

Prior to the formation of the league, top youth female soccer players in the United States played too many overall games and not enough meaningful and highly competitive games.  In this reality, training frequency and quality suffered, and individual player development was not consistently maximized. The ECNL mission was to change this reality – by creating a platform where top players could consistently train with and compete against each other.

The 2011-2012 season was the first “full” season that ECNL teams and players competed solely in the ECNL all year.  Since that season, through consistent and meaningful high-level competition and other associated demands, there has been steady improvement in style of play, coaching, and player performance.  These improvements have come through positive change in the daily environment at ECNL clubs throughout the country.

To understand the impact of the ECNL within the clubs, we spoke to the Directors of Coaching at four top ECNL clubs.  Below is insight on how the ECNL has impacted their club and players in the past few years, and their expectations for the future:

  • Doug Landefeld – Director of Coaching, Michigan Hawks
  • Colin Chesters – Director of Coaching, San Diego Surf
  • Lorne Donaldson – Executive Director of Coaching, Real Colorado
  • Mike O’Neill – Girls Director of Coaching, Players Development Academy

How has the ECNL impacted player development in your club?

MO: The impact the ECNL has had on player development at PDA is seen at every level … to compete at this level, the club is forced to raise the bar in training, coaching and match performance on a weekly basis.

DL: When we were accepted into the ECNL, we expected that the league would provide a consistent platform for high level competition … this competition has forced our coaching staff to re-examine every aspect of our training.  We are now asking even more of our players in practice, asking individuals how they can solve problems and how they can take their talents and translate them into team success.  We have created an environment where our players and coaches are challenging each other to be the very best each and every day.

LD: The ECNL is a competitive reminder of where the level of play is on a national level.  By seeing and experiencing this level, it reminds the coaching staff and players of the work still to be done, and it provides immediate testing and assessment of the growth of the players and the quality of their training.  There is nothing better than experiencing the pressure generated through the exceptional competition in the ECNL.

CC: At San Diego Surf, being in the ECNL has forced us to up the ante in regards to enforcing club curriculum, and increasing the licensing and education requirements for our staff.

How has the ECNL impacted coaching in your club, or the development of your coaching staff?

MO:  Daily education of our coaching staff is one of the key ingredients to player development at PDA.  The ECNL club-based competition structure allows us to create a staff with a wide range of experiences, and coaches who can interact and share ideas to enhance their coaching education.

DL: We have always felt that we have had a good very good staff.  The involvement of the ECNL and the demands of the competition in one of, if not the very best, conference in the league, has forced us to evaluate the way we coach teams.  Our teams are now staff coached instead of coached by one individual.  This approach has given our players more voices and more specific feedback at every session and game, and has led to more complete development.

LD: The competitive level and rules of the ECNL have forced our coaches to become more professional in their approach to training, games and general planning.  From scouting to team management, our coaches have been forced to expand their education through licensing, observation and preparation to be successful.

CC: Our coaches are held to a higher standards and our staff work as a team with the ECNL teams. We see more collaboration between staff and support among the ECNL coaches.

What is the biggest impact ECNL has had on your club?

MO: The ECNL provides our players a unique opportunity to compete against the top clubs and elite players from across the country. Consequently, our players are given maximum preparation and exposure for the collegiate and national levels. The structure of the ECNL has been one of the leading forces behind our players’ success at those levels.

DL: The demands of the ECNL have changed the way we address the needs of the female soccer player in our club.  Our participation has demanded that the club invest additional resources, seek out the very best coaches, and put together a five-year plan to help our club stay at the very top of the league.  This new professional approach can be seen in the way we train, travel and play.

LD: The ECNL and the consistent level of high quality matches has made the process easier for college recruitment.  Our teams know the coaches will be there, will respond to their invitation and all they need to do now is perform.  It has also increased the depth of our club as our second and third team players are pushing harder than before to be a part of the ECNL.  This internal competition is driving our players to higher levels of competition and competency throughout the club

CC: We have moved to 3-4 nights a week of training and have adhered to a specific playing style as well as a specific training style.

Have you made changes in operation, structure, staffing, or curriculum at your club due to the demands or level of ECNL competition?

MO: Yes!  We always consider adjustments to raise the bar in all areas, and we are constantly searching for ways to improve and provide a great environment for our players, coaches and families both on and off the field … Being part of the ECNL forces the club to strive for one more level in all we do.

DL: We feel our club was always a little ahead of the curve as we were doing a good job with our players.  With that being said, the league was so very competitive that we have had to improve in every aspect of our club. Each year, we have looked to improve our staff, our training techniques, we have found ways to add practices and to increase opportunities to train.  Weekly meetings are held to evaluate progress and to formulate plans for the future.

LD: Real Colorado has responded to the demands in the ECNL by increasing the quality and size of our staff with some specifically assigned to the ECNL.  The demand of excellence across the age groups has also brought us to a club wide philosophy of training and player development.  This encourages consistency from one team to the next and one coach to the next.

CC:  Yes! We have developed curriculum specific to the ECNL teams, we have brought in and hired an Assistant Directors of Coaching and we now have an ECNL Director. We have administrative staff that support just the ECNL teams and operationally we budget to support the ECNL teams as much as possible.

Where do you see youth female soccer changing in the next 5 years?

MO: Over the next five years I expect to see growth in the players’ technique, decision-making and passion for the game.  With the encouragement of their coaches, young females and their families are watching more soccer than ever before. This will help female players to see the game through their own eyes and not just the eyes of their coaches.

DL: The hope is that the female soccer player will be a much smarter, skillful and healthier player in the next 5 years.  I think that the league is in a place where pro-active, brave initiatives can improve the female game at an exponential rate.  The key will be making almost every decision around what is best for the very top players.  All the players in this league will benefit if we continually try to improve the very best.

LD: We believe that the ECNL has furthered the development of the female players through meaningful competition and training.  We are hopeful the influence of the ECNL will not only continue on the younger sides, but increase in the U18 programs and provide meaning competition through the U18 until pro years through intelligent change in college and other avenues.

CC: I see a lot of changes on the horizon. Switching to birth years, smaller sided games in younger ages and more advanced coaching curriculum from US Soccer should all lead to a better “big picture plan” for the girls and the health of the game in general.


About Elite Clubs National League:  The Elite Clubs National League (ECNL) was founded in 2009 to enhance the developmental experience of female youth soccer players in the United States through: (i) Improving the competitive environment through creation of a true national competitive league; (ii) Improving the process for identifying elite female soccer players for the U.S. Soccer youth national teams through a systematic scouting and identification program based on national competitions; and (iii) improving the daily training environment at top female youth soccer clubs through developing best practices and training and organizational guidelines for its member clubs.  The ECNL is sanctioned by US Club Soccer and is sponsored by Nike Soccer.
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