BRADENTON, Fla. – While most elite youth soccer leagues are focused on competition, the NextGen Series was born from a different mindset. The focus of NextGen is on getting to the players at a young age and teaching them all the facets needed to become an elite-level player, while also educating coaches and parents to produce a support team pulling in one direction.
One of the most important – and unique – aspects of the NextGen Series is the off-the-field classroom instruction that players, coaches and parents from 11 teams took part in at NextGen’s kickoff event at IMG Academy. Classroom sessions run by IMG Academy’s world-renowned experts included Athletic Body Management, Nutrition & Mental Conditioning, and Parent Education.
It’s the opportunity of a lifetime for the young NextGen participants.
“It’s a normal, everyday thing that we do here at IMG Academy, but so many athletes outside of our walls unfortunately are not exposed to it, or the exposure comes late, whether it’s in college or even after that,” said Dr. Taryn Morgan, IMG Academy Assistant Director of Athletic & Personal Development. “The earlier we can educate and the earlier we can expose them to some of these things, it makes them aware of it so that they can grow and get better and learn about it. It also gives them a clearer path of things that can help enhance their soccer, rather than just the on-field.
“They learn about athletic body management, which is how to manage before practice and games, during, and after. Also taking care of their body, regeneration, pre-generation - all the different things that can help them sustain and hopefully avoid or prevent injuries as well.”
Nutrition was a large part of the weekend’s focus, with players, coaches and parents all learning the secrets to improved performance.
“Nutrition is such an essential thing - the fuel that you’re putting in your body,” Morgan said. “Are you putting the basic unleaded gasoline, or are you putting premium fuel in the body? They learn what are the right choices? What’s the timing? How do you get yourself hydrated the best you can?”
Coaches are a key element in the NextGen philosophy. The youth initiative was developed after more and more coaches bemoaned the increasing focus on game results in youth soccer, and the lack of focus on player development at the younger ages. Helping coaches to change that mindset among players and parents is a key.
“I think parent education is an important part of the whole puzzle in player development because not only does the player need to know what he needs to do to get better, but if the parent knows too it helps the parent to reinforce on a daily basis those things that have been taught to the player, and then it becomes habit,” said Eddie Loewen, U13 and U14 boys coach at the VSI Pinellas Flames.
“It’s also important for the parents to learn the basics about nutrition for athletics and how to physically prepare before a game and before training, regarding rest and time management. They also learn how to communicate to their kids and how to help them in different situations. With the parents knowing this they will be able to positively support the players.”
Many of the parents in attendance were impressed by what they heard during the weekend, and took some valuable lessons home with them.
“Based on the knowledge side, and what they’re trying to teach the children, it helped us as parents to know how to ask questions of our child,” parent Todd Seitzer said. “It’s important not to say, ‘how was the game, did you win?’ It’s more of asking them ‘how did you play? How did you think you played?’ Try to get them up and try to get their experience of what they got out of the game.
“Now I’m not going to try to say, ‘you need to always go out there and win,’ it’s more, ‘you need to go out there and give 100 percent, try your best. You win or you lose, it doesn’t matter what the score is as long as you do your best.’”
Seitzer said the entire weekend was an eye-opener.
“I know with my child, he’s loved everything out here,” Seitzer said. “It’s an experience to see what it would be like to be in this type of environment 24-7.”
Morgan said it was important to reach the players at a young age, so the lessons learned could become habitual and afford the athlete every opportunity for achievement.
“The more additional things you can do, and the more tips and tools you have in your toolbox, the better you can be out there when it’s a pressure situation, or it’s that last minute of the game, or going in strong to win a header or win a tackle,” she said. “The more tools you have, and the earlier you get them, the better off we think you will be.”