April 23 – Matches may be off from grassroots through to professional levels, but two youth clubs in California are filling the competitive gap with a skills challenge played out between age group teams via social media. Having whet the appetite with their opening skirmish, they are opening up the challenge to clubs from around the world.
Laguna United FC, based 60 miles south of LA in Orange County, and Santa Monica Surf SC, based in the city by the Beach in LA County, played out a ‘Skills Skool’ challenge that shows the teams competing head-to-head to perform the best juggling skills. The two clubs demonstrate that the oft-derided US soccer culture is healthy and hungering for action during the enforced off-season.
Both Laguna and Santa Monica run more than 40 top level age-group teams from U-6 up to U-18 levels and have full time professional coaching staffs.
The skills challenge
“The key thing during lockdown has been keeping players engaged and giving them something they can work on that is also fun,” said Laguna director of football Sam Nicholson. “We have got some exciting talent throughout the club and are really proud of what our players and coaches are achieving. Look at the videos. These just aren’t athletic kids, they’re footballers with real skills,” he continued.
Laguna would have had two teams in England playing academy teams if their trip hadn’t been cancelled by the coronavirus outbreak. “Having to cancel the trip was a big blow for the players, staff and support team. Especially for our U-18s who I think would have surprised a few of the English academy sides with the level they are at. There is some real talent here.”
The Skills Skool challenge came out of a conversation between Nicholson and Arron Craggs, who is the Director of Coaching for Boys at Santa Monica Surf SC.
“It is a great way to keep the kids practising and trying things out. We often meet Sam’s club teams at tournaments and, like them, we feel that we are a fast developing club with really good players coming through in all of our competitive sides. It would be great to widen Skills Skool challenges to more clubs, perhaps to take on some teams in other US states or from overseas,” said Craggs.
“This isn’t just about who has the best skills. It’s about building community within football, reaching out and keeping people a focused, fit and healthy. It’s also about building relationships. Lockdown is leaving us all desperate to get out on the pitches again. With Skills Skool we can all share our passion for the game, have some fun and connect a little,” he continued.
Lockdown has proved a challenge in keeping youth players and teams focussed in what would have been a key performance building period in the youth season in Califorinia. “You should try doing a Zoom meeting with a team of nine year olds about what they can do to practice at home,” said Nicholson. And Santa Monica better than Laguna? “Seriously? Watch the video, you decide.”
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