Guam – For decades, the top-ranked FIFA-member countries have known and employed one of the secrets behind soccer success: building support of the sport through youth academies that prepare young, elite athletes for the highest levels of the game through constant, age-appropriate training.
Guam, a fairly new member of FIFA having only joined in 1996, can now be counted among those elite countries with a largely community-supported soccer academy for youth in the island’s National Academy program.
“The National Academy is a unique program in any sports organization right now,” said Gary J. White, Guam Football Association technical director. “It’s an extremely important program in terms of player development and something the entire island can get behind.”
The National Academy officially opened its doors August 13 with about 100 elite youth soccer athletes – both boys and girls – who had been handpicked by licensed coaches to participate in the program. The athletes range from the Under-8 division to the Under-14 division.
[National Academy boys coach Francis Chargualaf (center, in black) monitors a soccer drill during a recent training session at the Guam Football Association facility in Harmon.]
The program is largely supported by the GFA and its local business sponsors. The only fees incurred by the player’s parents is a non-refundable fee to first try out for the program, and if accepted, a fee to cover the cost of uniforms. There is no monthly tuition or any other fees for services. The program is year-round and organized in eight-week modules with breaks in between.
For five days a week, the athletes engage in two-and-a-half hour sessions at GFA run by GFA licensed coaches. The first hour consists of a short session on sports nutrition and allotted time to do some homework from school. After, the program’s coaches escort their athletes to the pitch to first recite the program’s Inifresi, or pledge, and to sing the Guam national anthem. From then, the athletes break into groups, based on age, to engage in age-appropriate training monitored by program coaches. The overall boys program is overseen by director Dominic Gadia, while the overall girls program is overseen by director Kristin Thompson, both AFC “B” License coaches.
“The program is really great for the kids,” said James Pangindian, who has one daughter and one niece – Rhia and Aubrienne – respectively, in the program. “What they can’t get at the club level, they get here, then they bring back their experience to their club teammates. They help bring up their club teammates to a higher level.
“Right now, everything is about soccer and school – everything in between has to be worked in. It’s great what she’s doing, though. She never wants to miss practice,” added the elder Pangindian.
The young athletes are allowed one day out of the week to attend their respective soccer club practices. For the Pangindian girls, who both attend Santa Barbara Catholic School, they take one day off from the National Academy to train with the ASC Islanders for the upcoming Chevrolet Robbie Webber Youth Soccer League, set to begin Sept. 15.
“Our major objective is to develop better and more homegrown players and put them on a scale where they’re able to compete for scholarships in U.S. colleges and use soccer as a mechanism to get a free education or a reduced-cost education,” White said. “I’m extremely proud that we’ve got the program going. It’s not an easy or inexpensive program, so the support from the GFA executives and everyone in the GFA has been perfect.
“So to see it actually in action, and to see a hundred or more kids out here all looking exactly the same being taught age-appropriate training and aspects of the game have really taken the island in terms of soccer to a completely new level. To also see the young coaches out there working with the athletes and to see the athletes’ parents out there supporting them has been a really proud moment for me and everyone in our technical department,” added White.
The next open tryouts for the National Academy will be held next year. The National Academy also will act as a feeder program for the island’s national teams, starting from the U13 level up to the Matao and the Masakåda, the island’s senior men’s and women’s national team, respectively.