Editor's Note: US Club Soccer continues to showcase the growing community of Players First-licensed clubs. Match Fit Academy FC was one of the first clubs to get licensed, and club directors and staff continue to take advantage of Players First offerings to the fullest.
Question: Why does your club feel the need to focus on the long-term interests of each individual player?
Chris Leahey, Director: At Match Fit Academy FC, while we realize this is a team sport, the focus is consistently devoted to developing the individual within team concepts. The main goal for the majority of our players is to develop through our player pathway to achieve placement at the collegiate levels and beyond.
With that goal in mind, we have created a methodology to allow players to develop within all four pillars of the game, and with the complete appreciation that there is much variation in the rate at which each individual progresses.
Our highly dedicated directors of coaching, coaching staff and partners allow us to roll out these long-term individual player first concepts in all that we do within Match Fit Academy FC.
Question: How does the Players First philosophy relate to your club’s mission?
Leahey: The Players First philosophy is integral within our mission as we firmly believe the approach of Match Fit Academy FC, and the sport of soccer itself, aids in the development of vital life skills for players. The vast majority of our players will utilize their athletic abilities to access opportunities within higher education.
Utilizing the Players First philosophies which lend to all within the organization (Directors, Staff, Parents and Players) dedicating their efforts to continued learning and self-development, which ultimately leads to producing exceptional young men and women who evolve as overall members of our society.
Question: If you could “shout out” one member of your club (could be a player, coach, or parent) for representing Players First in the best way possible, who would it be and why?
Leahey: We are experiencing unprecedented times and feel the "shout out" needs to go to all within Match Fit Academy FC, and the youth soccer community as a whole. We all faced an abrupt suspension to our current spring season, and were tasked with altering our player development programming almost overnight. Kudos to all who have taken on this new task.
We at Match Fit Academy FC have committed to a training at home concept, utilizing all of our resources and relationships within the community. Our players have quickly adapted and bought in, parents have become key components in the process, and we as a club can continue to push forward as we eagerly await getting back onto the pitch this season!
Question: What does Players First mean to you? Why is it important for your child to play soccer with a club that has met the standards of a Players First club?
Ryan Donnelly: Youth soccer at all levels should be about developing people and players. The quality of a player is somewhat subjective and can vary materially based on the team, the coach and other factors. It’s extremely important that clubs adopt consistent standards across all areas and apply them equally to every player, team, parent and coach in the club.
To me, this is the essence of what a Players First club should be. Adopting these standards of excellence in how players and teams are developed is difficult, and the fact that Match Fit has met the standard of a Players First club gives me the confidence I am choosing the best option for my kids.
Question: Players First clubs are committed to placing the long-term interests of each player at the heart of every decision in structuring, operating and managing the club. How do you see this in your child’s experience?
Donnelly: In a macro sense, I love that all players are treated equally in the opportunities afforded them to develop as players. Philosophically, Match Fit Academy FC provides a commitment to helping setup players for whatever comes next, whether that be playing at the next level, or achieving academic and other successes.
Question: What aspects of your child’s soccer experience are most important to you, and why?
Donnelly: First and foremost, you want this this to be a positive, enjoyable situation. That is an entry level, but absolute, requirement. Additionally, you want your kids to develop as people and players. If they are good enough and interested, you want the club to assist them in finding a college where they can play and succeed academically.
Every player is unique. I have one child who is driven, fiercely competitive and gives everything she does 110%. For her, I want to know every coach is giving the same. My second child is not as driven, and I want coaches who can coach that type of player as well.
I think it comes down to every player is an individual, and they need to be with coaches who understand that and have the passion and commitment to get the best out of every player they touch.
Question: How do you feel your club best exemplifies a Players First club?
Rich Bentley: The environment that is created from the top down. There is a real care for the person first, and player second. The culture that is created here is special, everyone from the senior directors to team coaches make an effort to know all the players, and that makes them feel welcome and comfortable in the club and really buy into the pathway.
It's noticeable how much time is spent off the field by directors and staff to make the club successful for the players, and shape the culture to make sure all players are taken care of, on and off the field.
Question: Why do you believe teaching your players lessons that will help them both on and off the field is important?
Bentley: This is one of the most important roles as coaches and educators. Improvement in each player's soccer ability through the coaching of technical, tactical, physiological and psychological frameworks are obvious indicators of how successful a coach may be.
However, to me it is how they transfer these tools to off the field, everyday life that shows real success for the individual. Coach guided values like work ethic, commitment, time management, care for teammates, integrity in performance, empathy in failure and humility in success define the success of each coach.
Question: How do you best teach these types of lessons at practice? Feel free to share a story or give an example.
Bentley: For me, it's centered around creating individual and collective relationships with the players so they trust my words and actions. The message I try to share with my players is that the game is centered around perspective and balance. I want them to care enough to want to win and compete every second they are on the field, but not as to impact their behavior in a negative way.
With youth players, I really buy into the 'win or learn' mantra. The perspective element is knowing when success occurs that there is still more to learn, and when loss occurs there are mistakes to be learned from.
A National Association member of the U.S. Soccer Federation, US Club Soccer fosters the growth and development of soccer clubs in order to create the best possible environment for players of all ages.
Anchored by Players First and its five pillars of Club Development, Coaching Development, Player Development, Parent Engagement & Education and Player Health & Safety, US Club Soccer offers registration, league- and cup-based competition platforms, player identification and a variety of other programming, resources and services.
US Club Soccer is sponsored by Nike and supported by LaLiga through a technical partnership.