Sunday afternoon represented a historic day for the Whitecaps Kootenay Prospects soccer program, as the Kootenay East and Kootenay West Academies met in competition for the first time.
The Kootenay East Academy, based out of Cranbrook, is in its first year after evolving from the Whitecaps Cranbrook Skills Centre this September. The Kootenay West Academy, based out of Nelson, is entering its second year under the tutelage of Vancouver Whitecaps regional head coach Brett Adams.
“It was such a humbling experience to see over 200 players from the Kootenays playing soccer in beautiful surroundings on a beautiful day,” Adams said Monday afternoon. “As a community, as an area, the parents and the players understand what we’re trying to do.
“We’re trying to promote the correct way to play soccer and the correct ethics…we want players to be competitive athletes but we want them to do it with a bit of class.”
The Whitecaps Kootenay West Prospects Academy travelled from Nelson to Cranbrook’s Moir Centennial Park Sunday for a day of mini-tournaments and skill sessions with its younger, easterly counterpart. It was a long day for the academies, with sessions and matches getting underway at 10 a.m. and lasting through the early evening.
Boys and girls teams from U10 to U18 participated in the monumental affair. Combined, the East and West Academies house approximately 240 participants.
Though results were not the primary focus of the weekend, the more experienced Kootenay West Academy dictated much of the play. Still, the dignity, work ethic and competitive drive of all the players was second to none, according to Adams.
“There’s a lot of work to be done, but it’s the start of something big,” Adams said. “It’s definitely going in the right direction. It’s going to be an exciting 12 months to see the expansion we’ve already had [and] what it is going to look like in another 12 months.”
The aim is to create technically gifted soccer players that are comfortable getting on the ball and not afraid to make mistakes. In Adams’ eyes, the developmental period of a young athlete’s life is critical because they are free to go out, have fun, make mistakes and enjoy learning.
“Nothing would make us prouder as a region [than] to have a professional soccer player that has come through our program,” Adams said. “That would be unbelievable.
“We want to create as many players that have the experience to study and play soccer at good colleges and universities…Some may not take that route, but [at the very least] we want to create players that have been through a system where they go out and have a kick-around with the guys or the girls and just really enjoy it.”
It is that final piece Adams knows is critical, because its the casual kick-around that helps grow the game of soccer in communities such as Cranbrook and Nelson. At the end of the day, it is that recognition of the game that helped lead to the growth already seen in the Kootenays.
The fall session for the Kootenay East Prospects Academy began Sept. 17 and runs through Nov. 19. The fall session for the Kootenay West Prospects Academy began Sept. 13 and runs through Dec. 7. The programs will then recommence once the snow melts in the spring.
Adams said the plan is to host an event similar to Sunday’s proceedings in early- to mid-November at Nelson’s indoor soccer facility.
Once the calendar turns over to 2015, Adams plans to send the U10 and U12 teams to the Whitecaps FC adidas Cup, March 28 to 29 at Newton Athletic Park in Surrey, B.C.
The U15 to U18 teams are slated to attend the Whitecaps FC Showcase April 3 to 5, also at Newton Athletic Park in Surrey.
Adams wished to extend his gratitude to the parents, players and volunteers involved with the program, from both Cranbrook and Nelson, for wholly supporting the vision of the Whitecaps Prospects Academies in The Kootenays.