As philadelphiaunion.com closes out our three-part series on the coaches chosen to take Philadelphia Union Academy to the next level, we sit down with U-14 head coach Chris Brewer. Brewer is the only one of the four coaches -- a list that includes academy director Tommy Wilson -- that doesn't have a UEFA coaching license, but his resume is filled with different stints with the U.S youth national team including spending four years as the youth national team's technical advisor. Like his counterparts in U-18 head coach Peter Fuller and U-16 coach Jeff Cook, Brewer was blown away by the idea of being a part of an academy model that along with the upcoming unveiling of YSC Academy will be the first of its kind in the United States.
Hard to disagree with that.
In this interview with philadelphiaunion.com, Brewer talks about the academy structure, molding the skills and minds of 13-year-old hopefuls and teaching those same young athletes what they need to know to be a success if there truly is that dream to one day play in front of hometown fans at PPL Park.
PhiladelphiaUnion.com: The academy structure is continually growing throughout the United States. Why is it such an important model as opposed to the traditional high school, college, and pro?
Chris Brewer: I think when you look at it from Major League Soccer and beyond we really have the U.S. Soccer Federation initiating the development of the academy. Then you have MLS starting to fund their academies to varying degrees more and more to the point where we have some great projects going on in this country. The reason to choose the calendar and the frequency [of matches and dedicated training time] we did is because it is such a highly technical sport and just the amount of contact hours that the top countries in the world, their young players are going through in the professional environments. There are just no secrets and no shortcuts; this is just the best way to get there.
PU.com: What was the allure of coming to this academy in terms of being here and being a part of this vision?
CB: My previous job was working for the [U.S. Soccer] Federation and I loved my job, I was very happy in what I was doing, I wasn’t looking to leave. I had an opportunity to meet [YSC owner] Richie Graham and I already knew [Union manager John Hackworth] and [Union CEO Nick Sakiewicz] so when you started to hear the scope and the ambition of the project, it just became one that was very interesting as a member of the technical staff of U.S. Soccer. The more I got to investigate it, it became clear to me that this is a unique opportunity, and for someone like me who views himself primarily as a teacher of the game through being a coach, I just saw the opportunities that we have here available to us are truly world class. So it is an opportunity for me to grow as a coach.
PU.com: Talk about having these kids come in at such an early age. A lot of times kids can get burned out, how do you avoid that?
CB: Obviously we are cognoscente of that and there is…the science seems to fluctuate between specialize very early or don’t specialize until later and so for us we have gone about it with the philosophy to attract the players that love the game more than anything else. They are here because they want to be here. So that is the first part of the equation. The second part is that we are responsible as coaches and as staff to create an environment that is demanding, but nurturing so that they are feeling positive about the hard work they are putting in every day. You put those two things together and I think over time we will do everything we can to avoid those issues of pushing kids out of the sport.
PU.com: What is important for the kids in your age group to know at this point in their soccer career to make sure they do want to stay here?
CB: I think it is important that they know it is their personal journey. They have to get themselves to the mountain top. We can only help create an environment that allows them to grow at their pace, but it is up to them. So they have to know they have the ability and commitment and hopefully we have chose wisely by picking those boys. Also, I think they have to know that there are millions of boys just like them all across the world who share their same goals and ambitions and that there is no shortcut to that end. So their ability to work hard, be dedicated, be disciplined and stay humble is important. Those are the lessons we are trying to instill at this age. It is like building a house, this is the foundation and those are the core values of the foundation of great players. So our responsibility with this age group is to help instill those values through the vehicle of soccer so they can grow and make it to our first team and beyond.
PU.com: How do you select the boys specifically for the academy as a whole?
CB: There are many debates through the science of scouting and player identification and talent identification and talent development. So for us you can never say with certainty, this is the reason why, you say we were lucky that YSC already existed and the Union existed as a part time academy and that US Soccer had helped identify players in this marketplace and that this is a traditionally strong marketplace. All of those factors were in our favor to start so we felt like we would use the resources that were already available to us through the Union Academy, the Union Juniors, and programs like that and build our core of players from within without necessarily scouting hard on the outside. We feel part of the appeal of this particular project is the city of Philadelphia and the area around Philadelphia is unique in its identity with its own self and its culture. It's such a strong identity that we want to make sure that we are honoring that and that the core of our player base represents that. So from here that is our really is our starting point.
For archived Q&A from all three Academy coaches and our two-part Q&A with Tommy Wilson visit the Union Academy page at philadelphiaunion.com/academy
Contact Union writer Kerith Gabriel at firstname.lastname@example.org