Youth sports today have come to emulate the win-at-all-costs ethos of professional sports. While youth and professional sports look alike, adults often forget that they are fundamentally different enterprises. Professional sports are an entertainment business. Youth sports are supposed to be about education and development. Jesters Academy Director of Coaching Kenny Farrell has founded a philosophy that brings the correct idea back into focus - creating a strong foundation for all soccer players. A Q&A with Kenny Farrell will share some background information on the Jesters academy, how an individual can become a part of it, and what his future goals are for the academy and beyond.
nolajesters.com: What is the coaching philosophy of the Jesters academy?
Kenny Farrell: “My coaching staff and I are focused on the individual development of players. There is a big difference between just being a good athlete and actually becoming a good soccer player. Our developmental program offers academy-style training focused on the building blocks of becoming an accomplished soccer player. The quality of play is our main measure of our program’s success. Don’t get me wrong, we like to win, but not at the expense of developing the players.
Most soccer clubs in the U.S. have good intentions, but are seriously lacking in the development of young players. All-star teams are put together at young ages to go on and try to win trophies at local and national tournaments. However, many players that may not be as physically developed or as mature as others are left behind. They are cut out to early. The trophy becomes the only real measure of success no matter what the quality of the soccer is. When you think about it here in the U.S., with all of the players we have playing the game, we have not produced one world-class field player.
A huge amount of players get to the age of 13-14 and feel a little cheated. A lot of the time in their most vital years of development was not put to good use. In the player’s mind, their contribution and value is in how they can win a game over how well they can play the game. Coaches are very dependent on their “big players” to win while the others are there to just to support those players. The Jesters academy provides individual development within a squad environment. Everyone is of equal value and every time one of our players steps on the field they strive for improved performance and to play at a high level. Our philosophy focuses on educating the players and moving them past being just a powerful athlete. The true development of our players is measured through their technical ability, tactical awareness, and athletic capability. My ultimate goal is to one day have our first team line-up filled with a 100% of local players and to win an NPSL national championship. That is why we start with them so young; we are not rushing them to go win trophies, we are patiently creating outstanding and accomplished soccer players.”
nolajesters.com: How can someone be a part of the Jesters academy?
KF: “Anyone that wants to be a part of the Jesters academy can be. We do not turn anyone away. We will fill up our matrix with players as long as we know we can accommodate them. We want to be able to spend an equal amount of time on every player.Right now, we currently have Purple, Green, and Black distinctions within the age groups, but they are not teams. Every player within an age group trains besides each other. The coaching staff and I do not see it as an individual team; we see a group of players that believe in the curriculum. We offer an all year round training program. The fall and spring sessions last 12-14 weeks and the winter and summer sessions last 8 weeks.”
nolajesters.com: What do you think of the win-at-all-cost mentality?
KF: “In my 25 years of coaching in the United States, I have noticed that the measure of success at different age groups is incorrect. Athletes at young ages are being pushed harder and harder to win by coaches and parents as if that is the ultimate goal. I often tell people invested in the Jesters academy, anyone can gather the best athletes at young age groups and go win not only the soccer championship, but also the baseball and football championships with the same athletes. Does that make you an accomplished soccer player or a great coach? I think not!
Everyone needs to take a step back and look at the bigger picture. Coaches, players and parents need to reconsider what they judge as a success. Players sometimes regress for a period due to simple things like growth spurts or even some psychological pressure we cannot put our finger on. We need to identify it and be patient with it. A good player does not become a bad player overnight. They also have to believe that in order to strive to be something better; you need to have the right tools. Being comfortable with the ball is at the forefront of this.
I know from firsthand experience, when a player believes they are getting better, they want to learn more and the developmental process becomes easier. The Jesters academy program shifts away from the all-star mentality to one focused on the individual development. I am convinced, with our philosophy and program, we will someday produce national level players.”
nolajesters.com: What are some goals you have for the Jesters academy?
KF: “We ultimately want to produce National Team quality players. Through the NPSL first team, the Jesters have provided an avenue for players to strive for and get experience at a high level of quality play. We have already provided opportunity and helped players get into Division 1 NCAA college soccer programs and even reach the highest level of soccer in the United States, Major league Soccer. The Jesters academy is helping to keep people on the right track. I want to fill the first team with locally groomed players who are capable of competing for a national championship on a yearly basis. Right now, we are focused on developing players at every level and because of this focus our supporter’s group, The Royal Court, and our fanbase continue to grow.”
nolajesters.com: Many people do not know that the Jesters have an academy system. When and how did this begin?
KF: “The Jesters academy began when Chicago Fire soccer decided to walk away from a long standing agreement and go into competition with the Carrollton Boosters. The Carrollton Boosters were essentially the organization that had provided Fire with the opportunity to have a presence in the uptown area. The Booster’s asked if we, the Jesters, could fill the vacancy to provide professional training for their program. We quickly developed a strong relationship, which has worked out beneficial for both of us.
The Boosters numbers continue to climb and the Jesters Academy continues to evolve and produce high-level players. With our first team being in the fourth tier of Pro soccer in the United States, we became their professional arm. There is a pathway for the Carrollton Boosters players who wish to move into a higher level of the game with the academy and beyond. The partnership is fantastic! The stronger the Boosters become the better it is for the Jesters and we work together to improve both continually. I see us as the same joined in the soccer pyramid. Boosters do an incredible job providing recreational soccer for the local youth. There is no one better at this side of the game. We will be forever grateful for the support and the opportunity they provided.
The Jesters academy started with just 10 players. We now touch over 500 players a year with clinics, camps, and professional instruction. We are working towards a full academy system and will get there eventually. This process will be patient and gradual. I hope someday that Jesters and Boosters players represent the US national team. It all starts with the little ones.”