Lake Norman & Mooresville

Soccer Academy to stress player development, not wins

In a society obsessed with winning, Englishman and professional soccer player John Curtis believes youth soccer should be about player development and integrity, not wins and losses.

"There's no such thing as an important game in youth soccer," said Curtis, who recently retired from professional soccer. He arrived in Mooresville three weeks ago to coach at the new United Soccer Academy with fellow UK soccer player and trainer Andy Thompson.

The academy is scheduled to open April 1; a grand opening is scheduled for March 30 (Iredell-Statesville Schools have no classes that day).

In early 2011, David Denham saw a gap that needed to be filled for Mooresville youth. Denham appeared before the Mooresville Board of Commissioners and pleaded for approval to build a soccer academy.

He compared it to "bringing in his child at age 8 to learn to play a guitar. At the end of four years, he should know how to play. The same goes for soccer: Let's do it right. It's very hard to unlearn. This will get them the right pathway with the right coaching."

The result of Denham's plea is the United Soccer Academy, "with English-style soccer training by premier UK coaching." The academy is aimed at 3- to 12-year-olds. The program helps players ages 11 and 12 to get into Classic soccer, the second level of competitive club soccer.

Classes, schedules and pricing are posted on the website at www.UnitedSoccerAcademy.net.

Merriam Webster defines the word "premier" as "first in position, rank or importance," as the coaching staff is being assembled at the soccer academy, it doesn't get much better than Andy Thompson and John Curtis. Their backgrounds in the world of soccer are outstanding.

Professional trainer Thompson is licensed as a coach by the UEFA, the governing body of European football (soccer). He trains an Olympic Development Program youth team and has semi-pro experience playing for the West Auckland Football Club in England.

Curtis also has an outstanding soccer résumé, including professional experience as a player who was a teammate of David Beckham on the prestigious Manchester United team.

Christopher Nugent and Nathan Bird, both UEFA-licensed, will also coach.

How did the two coaches from London choose Mooresville?

Thompson already had established himself as a professional trainer in the state with a successful soccer program in the Raleigh area and as director of the Iredell County Recreation Division. He knew Bobby Gordon, who was president of the division. Together, with David Denham and their vision to "focus on the kids" with the "highest possible training," they began the academy.

Gordon, sports director of United Soccer Academy, saud, "We will focus on player development. Mooresville had the vision to approve this unique opportunity for Mooresville. It will be a center of excellence."

Thompson met Curtis in London this past Christmas and told Curtis about the opportunity here. Curtis had just finished playing soccer and was at the point where "you realize your career will end" when the opportunity in Mooresville presented itself.

The academy will "create a pathway for the younger set," Thompson said. With an emphasis on teaching the basics, Thompson said, the program will "make the player technically sound. It's about integrity and the development, not winning and losing. Touch is in the ball. That's what it's all about."

For players who haven't been coached by a professional, Thompson has had to "unteach bad habits and reteach." Studies show that 10,000 hours of proper training are required for most athletes to reach the elite level. "It's repetition," Thompson said.

During training, Thompson often hears the kids say training is "too hard," and some are a little shocked at the intensity of the training. Then they are surprised at how that feeling goes away as their skills and fitness develop with the training. Their confidence and skills improve, Thompson said: "It's taking it to another level."

Curtis added, "It's all about fun."

Besides the outdoor field and training areas, the United Soccer Academy will have a small indoor field, a gift shop and a fitness class called Soccer Sculpt, lower body and core exercises using a ball for agility and stretching. The class will coincide with children's classes so parents can work out. Also, for the parent who chooses to be indoors, wi-fi is available and plasma TV monitors with cameras on the field so parents can watch their children train, while relaxing in a café.

The café made me wonder where the Englishmen, Thompson and Curtis, found a good cup of tea in Mooresville?

"There's no such thing as a good cup of tea outside of London." John Curtis replied with a grin.

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