With assessments now finalized and rosters established for the Fall season for Flathead Soccer Club, Flathead Valley United and Flathead Rapids programs, excitement is mounting for the upcoming games. Many of the clubs’ teams are playing their first games in Sandpoint, ID this upcoming weekend at the Pend Oreille Cup and are looking to make their opening statement of the season. For FSC and FVU Technical Director Damion Blackburn, one of the most exciting aspects of the season are the new faces joining the club.
“There have been a lot of new players from outside of the club environment so that is always intriguing to look at,” said Blackburn. “A lot of players are looking to make the jump from our recreational program to our competitive programming, so they are seeing a pathway and having a level of interest in the competitive game and that is exciting to see.”
Along with noticing an influx of new players, Blackburn also noted that the general talent level has continued to rise within the player pool in the club. Blackburn spoke on the important role that the academy program, particularly at Flathead Soccer Club has had in helping young players transition to the competitive level. Developed in 2011, the FSC academy program serves as a level in between recreational and competitive soccer in which players can expect to have a greater focus on skill acquisition while also introducing higher levels of tactical team play.
“Getting kids at these younger ages to be a part of the academy program has been a big part of introducing new players to the competitive level,” said Blackburn. “We have the highest numbers since I’ve been here, in the academy program for Flathead Soccer Club in particular. The investment we have made in the younger age groups with some of our staffing and tweaking a little bit of the programming has been very beneficial.”
The large numbers and increase in general level of play does not happen by accident. Flathead Soccer Club, Flathead Valley United and Flathead Rapids have all increased their investment and involvement in bringing in high level coaching and encouraging coaching education.
“One of the things we found early on was as a club we needed to invest in our coaches more, not just in making sure that they’re financially taken care of, but also from a coaching licensure perspective,” said Blackburn. “We’ve been working with the state in establishing more opportunities for entry level licenses and also identifying opportunities for national level licensing programs, like the ‘USSF’ C License.”
While many of the young soccer players in the valley, have years to go before they enter into the high school age groups, Blackburn noted that the high level of high school soccer in the Flathead Valley is directly related to the work being done at the younger age groups, particularly in the further development of Fall season programming.
“I think the proof is in the pudding,” said Blackburn. “When you look at a lot of the groups over the past couple of years that have had success, they started in the Rapids program or they started in the Flathead Soccer Club program and were a part of that and had strong coaching from a young age. The vast majority of those coaches are still in the valley and working at the high school and club levels on our staff.”
With another Fall season kicking off for Flathead Soccer Club, Flathead Valley United and Flathead Rapids, the level of play has never been higher in the valley. If you find yourself free on a Saturday, go out and watch some of the best soccer being played in the state, you are likely watching the next group of stars in the landscape of Montana soccer.