Athens to open up Soccer Academy
Longtime Athens Area High School boys soccer coach Jake Lezak has his eyes on the future.
Lezak is hoping the formation of the Athens Soccer Academy, which is exclusively for athletes within the Athens Area School District, will be the foundation 'a feeder system' for the Wildcat varsity program for decades to come.
The goal is to get all the players in the Athens program regardless of age on the same page.
"When you have kids playing in Binghamton or with the Soaring Capitals, they're learning higher-level skills, which is great, but at same time it's not your whole team," said Lezak.
"When those kids come back to Athens, they are not in-synch wit the rest of the team, it takes time for that to happen. We have to take time out of our preseason to get everyone on the same page.
"I'd like to have that happen in the offseason, so when we get to preseason we can work on other things we need to work on," noted Lezak.
"We're looking to teach and help develop higher-level skills and have our kids play together throughout their development," he added.
Lezak stressed the new Athens Soccer Academy is not competing with the Valley Youth Soccer Association.
"The Valley Youth Soccer program is a great program and it has served thousands of young soccer players, but we're looking to focus on soccer players in the Athens Area School District.
"Athens kids can certainly play with the Valley program if they choose," said Lezak. "They just have an alternative now."
Lezak said the idea came as the result of a trip to the NCAA convention, as well as taking stock of what other sports are doing within the school district.
"Athens already has the Little 'Cats wrestling, Little League baseball and a youth basketball program. In all the other sports programs, these kids play together.
"When I first started coaching, I had a lot of players who had grown up playing together," said Lezak. "The more kids you have who have played together, the better chance you have to be successful, it's that way in any sport.
"I think we're going to see a lot more success getting these guys together at a much younger age and allowing them to play together all the way up through," he noted.
"This format has been very successful for other program in other states and countries. Hopefully, we'll see the same type of success," Lezak added.
The Athens Soccer Academy will open play this fall.
"We're looking to start with U8 up through U14 in the fall. In the spring, we're looking to expand and add U16 and U 18 teams.
"Not every team may be at the level to play travel ball, it depends on what we can find for them," said Lezak.
Another key in the development of an academy that will field travel teams is the potential savings it will offer the parents of the players.
"A lot of parents I've spoken with have said they would love to have their kids play on a travel team based in the Valley, playing with their classmates and not having to travel for practices.
"You know you're going to have to travel for games, but traveling during the week for practice is a lot on parents," said Lezak.
Lezak notes the early stages of getting the Academy off the ground will be getting coaches at each age level trained and in place.
"We will run clinic-style training sessions for practice," said Lezak. "It takes a lot of pressure off the parent-coaches.
"Even if the parent isn't a soccer person, it's OK. We've adopted a U.S. Youth Soccer curriculum this year. We're hoping to advance to a different one down the road ? the one Manchester United's Academy teams use.
"We're going to educate the coaches and train the players," said Lezak. "The coach will just have to manage the team on the weekend."
"Our ultimate goal is to have staff coaches from U12 on up. It might take a while to build our coaching base," noted Lezak. "It will take time to educate our coaches."