Interview with Brian Roberts, Academy Director of Performance, Advisory and Support services – Chicago Fire Soccer Academy

Interview with Brian Roberts, Academy Director of Performance, Advisory and Support services – Chicago Fire Soccer Academy

Question:  Can you briefly go over the development model utilized by the Chicago Fire FC Academy?

Answer:  The vision of our academy is for the ‘academy players to be the soul of our club’.  In other words, we strive for our players, who have developed within the academy, to one day have an impact on the first team both as players AND as people.

With this in mind, we created PASS (an acronym for Performance, Advisory and Support Service) to be responsible for looking past the traditional X and O’s to develop more rounded players.  While our academy players are receiving a ‘world class’ football education on the field of play under the stewardship of Academy Technical Director, Cedric Cattenoy, and by extension each Head Coach, PASS is tasked with the broad-based holistic development of players off the field—in areas such as welfare, health, and education—with a goal to improve performance.

Question:  What exactly is included in PASS and how does it make your development model a holistic one?

Answer:  PASS is built upon the foundation that it takes a village to raise a child. There are many people involved in the life of an aspiring youth footballer—parents, teachers, coach, athletic trainer, nutritionist, strength and conditioning coach—to name a few. These individuals will likely have slightly different viewpoints of the player depending on their relationship, their experiences, and in some cases their qualifications.  What is key to this model—and what makes this approach holistic—is that these adults share information and communicate with one another in an open-minded way to get a complete view of the athlete.  The player always comes first.

At our club, we consider a broad-based holistic approach to include a player’s MIND and BODY. Our practical application of a holistic approach is a player’s INDIVIDUAL DEVELOPMENT PLAN or what we commonly refer to as a player passport. The passport can be taken wherever a player travels—national team camp, 1st team, USL loan move, school, etc. Each passport has a total of 10 categories that are specific to a player’s individual needs.

One category in the MIND section is EDUCATION and ACADEMIC PERFORMANCE, and at our club this includes but is not limited to:

-Maintaining an academic standard across the academy, which includes players’ school grades;

-A School Day Release program, where players are able to be released from their school to attend the Academy for one full day per week;

-The introduction of Financial Wellbeing Program, which includes a dynamic financial education and youth empowerment curriculum from our friends at APC;

-A College Recruitment Program, which includes building online profiles for college coaches to review and SAT/ACT preparation.

For more information on the other categories visit www.chicagofireacademy.com/passprogram

Question:  How do you anticipate that the holistic model will benefit the Chicago Fire players?

Answer:  First and foremost, we anticipate that the PASS Program will benefit the players by helping them understand and take ownership of their development.  This is one of the most important areas at the Academy.  Just as important, is that the players turn out to be great citizens by giving back to their community, highly value their education, and are mentally sound on and off the field of play.

Question:  What is the response/approach from other stakeholders on the use of a holistic model by the Chicago Fire Soccer Academy? (ie. parents, sponsors, community)

Answer:  The Academy parents’ positivity and receptiveness towards the PASS Program has grown substantially over the last several years.  We make it clear that they are at the forefront of their child’s development, and therefore, we make a concerted effort to inform or involve them on the PASS Program’s activities and workshops.  Recognizing the important role that the Academy parents play in the development of their young son’s lives, we launched the PEP (Parents Education Program) to be active members of our ‘village’. An example of a parent education workshop is that we introduced ‘Financial Wellbeing’ and are looking at different ways parents can assist players in managing a players financial planning.

Question:  What are some difficulties that you anticipate with the implementation of this new model?

Answer:  We are very conscious of player life-load at our academy club. We don’t have our players full-time as they still attend their local school and travel to our practice facility in the evening 4 to 5 times per week.  With this in mind, we have to carefully plan our contact time with players in and outside of the classroom, and because it is limited, we have to make the time we do have with our players as meaningful and impactful as possible.

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