On Tuesday and Thursday evenings from August to October, another crowd joins the mix: the 84 participants of this season’s SSSC Advantage Program, representing the youngest players the region has to offer, there to learn basic soccer skills, get their first taste of competition, and join the communal atmosphere of excitement and love of the game.
Offered in two annual sessions, one in the spring and one in the fall, the SSSC Advantage Program is an eight-week training camp for youths ages 5-10, looking to jumpstart their soccer experience. Initially started in the spring of 2011 by SSSC president Ryan Long and Director of Coaching Rob Moreland, the program is intended to provide an alternative to AYSO-style soccer for area residents, providing comprehensive, beginner training under a licensed coaching staff.
“We started [the Advantage Program] to be a feeder program to help the kids and train them for higher level soccer,” Long said. “Basically, it’s really focused on skill and technique, to teach the kids and provide them an ‘advantage’ over kids who haven’t trained before.”
As the boys varsity soccer coach at Spanish Springs High School, Moreland was inspired to create the Advantage Program when he noticed the volume of youth without any real training in the fundamentals of the sport, who were trying out for his team. Noticing a lack of professional soccer training for young kids in the community, Moreland and Long decided to solve the problem.
“What we’ve been trying to do is to give the kids an edge and teach them from the ground up … My theory is that you put the greatest coaches with the youngest kids. That way you build skills from the start and you don’t have to break (previously learned) bad habits,” Moreland said. “We’ve been teaching them how to play the game and build those skills at a young age. So far they’ve been doing really well ... They’re like little sponges; they just eat it up.”
The primary advantage of the program, creators believe, is the knowledge and experience that a trained coaching staff lends to the novice players. As a pre-training program of sorts for the Spanish Springs Soccer Club, which hosts 17 club teams for players ages 10 to 18, the children in the Advantage Program have the benefit of being trained by coaches who have coached their older peers, and are trained and certified either through United States Youth Soccer or the National Soccer Coaches Association of America. Coaches who participate in the SSSC, Moreland says, must dedicate time to coach the Advantage kids – in turn, the SSSC pays for their coaching education.
Patty Stoddard, is an example of a SSSC community member who brings years of experience to the group. Her 32 years of experience with soccer in the local community includes coaching soccer at regional high schools, watching her son grow from a local player to a professional indoor soccer player, playing and refereeing the game herself and acting as the NIAA Soccer Commissioner for Northern Nevada.
As the current Coordinator of the Advantage Program, one of the unique benefits that she sees in the program is the opportunity it gives young athletes to interact with a variety of trained coaches from all skill levels and older players, both in the SSSC and from the surrounding community.
“I think it’s really great that they require their coaches and encourage their kids to give back to the community … I think they really enjoy it too,” Stoddard said. “I think there’s a lot of good role modeling happening with the coaches and older kids participating.”
For Rudy Espinosa, a volunteer coaching assistant and Spanish Springs High School soccer player, giving back to the Advantage Program provides an opportunity to help foster interest and experience in the sport for players who are just starting out.
“It’s pretty fun and you get to help the little kids get better,” Espinosa said. “It’s always nice to see anyone improve in a sport, and it’s great to see how they start off and to help them keep improving.”
Three years after first implementing the program, its creators believe their endeavor has been a success. According to Long, the first teams to ascend from the Advantage Program to the U-10 division, both for boys and girls, were very successful in their first seasons, emerging victorious over teams without similar training.
In addition to boosting the performance of kids who will likely cycle into the SSSC competitive teams, Long believes the Advantage Program is beneficial in its ability to foster the Spanish Springs soccer community by reaching out to the youngest interested participants and giving them the chance to learn to love the sport, regardless of their future soccer aspirations.
“It’s special because we’re growing our community in Spanish Springs and we have the opportunity to help develop the youth,” he said. “If we can better these kids by even a little bit, then we’re really doing a lot.”
In past years, the focus of the advantage program has centered around the training and comprehensive abilities of the players in the program, with scrimmages and a few weekend games thrown in just for fun. However, in accordance with a parental desire to see their kids in action, the Advantage Program secured the privilege to enroll its teams in the Great Basin Youth Soccer League’s recreational competition lineup for the first time this spring.
Throughout the two-month season, participants are offered the opportunity to play in eight Saturday games against peers of their age level. Regardless of the new game schedule, organizers say that the main focus remains on teamwork and skill development – not on a tally of wins and losses.
“Our kids win and lose games like everybody else. It’s just not about winning for us — we’re looking to build our skills,” Moreland said. “When they get into competitive soccer, that’s when they can worry about wins and losses.”
Karina Cisneros, whose 7-year-old daughter has participated in both the spring and fall sessions, sees the Advantage Program as the ideal way to introduce her daughter to the mechanics and teamwork of the sport, without a focus on competition.
“(She’s learned) to manage the ball. She enjoys it and really wants to continue with it,” Cisneros said. “Now that they’re little I think practice and skill (is most important), but as she gets older, I’d eventually like to see her try it competitively.”
In Stoddard’s opinion, one of the things that makes the SSSC and its Advantage Program unique is the family and community dynamic that surrounds and supports the players of all age groups.
It’s a feeling that you just can’t miss, she says, on those weeknight evenings at Lazy 5.
“It’s kind of like the soccer community is raising the neighborhood kids ... It’s so family oriented. People come out (to Lazy 5), the parents sit around where the kids are playing ... It’s just a very nice atmosphere,” Stoddard said. “Soccer is just one of those games where meeting another ‘soccer person’ makes them just like family.”