ECNL Impact | The Youth Environment
Richmond, Va. (April 10, 2015) – In March of 2009, forty youth soccer clubs from across the country came together to do something totally unprecedented in youth soccer – to collaboratively form a new national competition and development platform to improve the daily experience of the elite female soccer player. Putting aside rivalries, fears and disagreements, clubs and competitors committed to work together to positively change the landscape in which they interacted.
This decision was a step outside the norms of youth soccer, a threat to existing structures, and a wholly unproven concept. But more importantly, it was a statement from those in the grassroots of the American women’s game that change was needed.
The genesis of this decision arose from concerns of coaches and directors across the country that the daily environment for top female players was no longer sufficient to challenge them and to maximize their potential. Top players were stagnating, and the game itself was not progressing sufficiently in technical and tactical quality.
The facts and reasons behind these concerns now seem obvious, but at the time raising these issues was confrontational and provocative. The basic problems raised in these 2009 discussions are below:
- Top players were playing too many games.
- Most of the games played by top players were not competitive and did not significantly stretch or challenge them.
- Most of the games played by top players were not meaningful – there was nothing “on the line” to raise the level and intensity of the game.
- Because of the high number of games, teams were not training frequently enough and too many trainings were “recovery” trainings.
- Lack of clarity about levels of play resulted in top players spread across too many clubs – further diluting the quality of games and competition.
- Without incentive or consequence, clubs and coaches were not sufficiently challenged to “raise their own bar” in the existing environment.
After months of discussion, debate, and argument, it became clear that there was only one way to correct these problems. It was time to change the environment and improve the standard of play in youth female soccer – to create a new platform. And so, in 2009 the Elite Clubs National League was born.
The ECNL was created to correct structural problems in youth female soccer with a very basic mission: to RAISE THE GAME. This mission encompassed improving the standard of play, the level of coaching, the professionalism of clubs, the level of refereeing, the standards of fields and facilities, the format of competition, the process for player identification, the expectations for continuing education, and more. The concept was both simple and powerful – by transforming the experience of players age 13 to 18, every level of play in the country would ultimately be positively impacted. In other words:
- Better and more challenging competition would create better youth players
- Better and more frequent training would create better youth players
- Better youth soccer players would become better college soccer players
- Better youth soccer stars would become better youth national team members
- Better college soccer players would become better professional soccer players
And this, fundamentally, is the impact of the ECNL:
A better grassroots standard of play creates a better American level of play.
While the basic structure of the league was being fleshed out and adjusted from 2009 to 2012, the ECNL impact grew even more broadly after 2012:
The rising standard of play in the ECNL at U14, and the rising expectations for player performance and competencies at this age, required even better training and teaching at U11, U12, and U13. And so, clubs began changing and improving the training and player experience at U11, U12, and U13 as well.
The rising level of play made it clear that the level of refereeing in ECNL games needed to similarly rise. And so, the ECNL began programs to facilitate referee development and education at ECNL events, to bring in top referees from across the country to ECNL games, and to invest in this area of the game.
A better style of play with more players keeping the ball on the ground in extended possession demanded fields and facilities that matched the quality of player intentions. And so, new standards were set for field maintenance, rest periods prior to events, and expectations for club facilities.
More collegiality between coaches, and more sharing of information and resources across ECNL clubs, created an opportunity for more coaching education and development. And so, the ECNL Coaching Development Initiative with US Soccer was created, and partnerships with experts from across the world in the World Football Academy were established to share cutting edge information with the coaches working with America’s best youth players.
As players across the country more and more identified as “ECNLers” the opportunity to extend the ECNL impact off the field of play increased. And so, the ECNL Health & Education Resources (HER) Platform was created – to teach players how to manage their bodies for peak performance, to educate players on nutrition, leadership, and more.
The changes brought through the ECNL into the daily experience of elite female players in the United States have been monumental. Quite simply, the youth female soccer environment of 2015 does not resemble that of 2009. The result of these changes has been an ever-rising standard of play, expectation, and performance – for players, coaches, and clubs.
The ECNL Impact has already taken over in college – as statistics now clearly show. The first generation of “ECNLers” are just beginning to enter the NWSL – and their impact will rise exponentially over the next 3 years. It will not be long before the ECNL Impact, already seen in players in the US Youth National Teams, begins to be seen in the full US Women’s National Team.
In 2009, forty forward-thinking clubs began to change American female youth soccer. That change continues, and will continue for years to come – as those that have their feet and hands in the grassroots every day continue to look forward, and continue to hold themselves, each other, their players, their staff, and their clubs to higher and higher standards.
It is an exciting time. The problems of 2009, while not entirely eradicated across the country, have largely been eliminated. The promise of the future, at youth, college, national, and international levels is large.
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.