The FC Dallas Way: ECNL
FRISCO -- Elite Clubs National League was created to help develop female soccer players age 7-18 in a competitive atmosphere for elite level players. ECNL prides itself in creating an envrionment where kids can compete with the hope to one day play on the U.S. Women's National Team.
The league began in 2009, but it wasnt until 2011 that it instituted a full-fledged season. Every under-14 and under-18 team plays between 15 and 18 regular season games in addition to participating in national events. On Saturday, February 23, numerous ECNL teams filled the Complex at FC Dallas Stadium for a winter tournament. The event featured top teams from around the nation and potentially a chance for ECNL players to catch the eye of college coaches.
While exposure to college programs is important, the ECNL's main concern is the development of players.
"I think players' eyes can get opened," said Wisconsin Eclipse coach Christian Lavers. "They can see areas where they really need to do better. So players can go home with some ideas of things that they need to put in extra work on. As a staff we certainly go home with an idea of what we are good at and what we need to work on. The players also find out what their strengths are at the highest level."
The ECNL aims to enhance the experience for female soccer players in the United States with player-centered programming that creates a more successful player, coach and club. Seventy-three of the nation's top clubs from around the country are involved with the ECNL program.
"The national event that we have out here in Frisco is the most competitive event that the kids will compete in throughout the entire year where every game counts," said Sarah Kate, Commissioner of the ECNL. "It's not just a showcase to show your skills off for college coaches, you are really trying to win something so you can have a better seeding in the national championship."
The operating model for the ECNL stresses accessibility and sustainability by focusing on four primary platforms: competition, player identification, club and coach development, and the HER program which focuses on health and wellness.
"[ECNL] is doing a lot of things in a lot of different areas," said Lavers. "The first day we were here we had the coaching education seminar. So from a coaching standpoint, there is a development in education platform that the ECNL puts on that helps us get better as coaches, but the main thing it does is give our kids competition that you just cant get anywhere else. You have the best players in the nation that come together and it's the best against the best. It's a great learning environment because kids are stretched and pushed."
Clubs must train consistently because the regular season offers so many games against high-level teams. The ECNL has administrative and competitive standards, so once a team is in the league they must consistently show improvement to remain a member.
A result of the leagues standard of excellence, college programs from all over the country flock to the national events to either discover a new player or check up on a target or commit.
"There is everything, because there are different age groups. You're always looking to discover players, always looking to talk to contacts, your coaches, your connections to find out if someone is developing within their program," said Texas A&M coach Phil Stephenson, who praised not only the individual players, but also the teams participating. "The game is a really good thing, and that's the fun part."