The Vancouver Whitecaps Prospects Academy provincial director and head coach Bart Choufour teamed up with West Kootenay regional head coach Brett Adams and staff coach Drissa Bouare for a series of soccer camps across the Kootenays last week.
“I oversee all the Academies, I travel to very many different places,” said Choufour. “Every visit has a little bit different flavour depending on how long we’ve been in a certain place and what the focus needs to be for that particular time.”
The camp attracted about 30 Greater Trail players to the Kootenay-Columbia Learning Centre gym on Thursday giving talented footballers a chance to meet and learn from the long-time youth soccer coach.
For Adams, having Choufour on hand to witness the expansion and overall improvement of soccer in the area can only be a positive for young players.
“The Kootenays, when I first came here in 2013, September, we had one academy centre (Nelson), since then we have one in Cranbrook, one in Trail and one in Castlegar, so since then we’ve gone from 100 to 350 players,” said Adams. “So it’s great for these players to be exposed to someone of Bart’s experience.”
In addition to the Trail camp, Choufour also ran sessions in Castlegar, Cranbrook and Nelson, and put on a coaches clinic in Nelson Sunday. He also often meets with parents and players to discuss the program and what it can offer.
The Academy first set down roots in Nelson almost three years ago, and started a new program in Castlegar and Trail in September. Its success, says Choufour, is reflected not only in its increase in numbers but by the talented players emerging in the program.
“It’s quite stunning actually. Certainly the level of player has risen but also the attitude, the way they train, the way they play, and the philosophy behind it.”
The 58 year old spent several years playing with the FC Haarlem youth program in his native Holland, before becoming a coach. His involvement with the Whitecaps program renewed in 2007, following several years coaching in B.C. and overseas.
Based out of Vancouver, Choufour travels throughout the province overseeing the Whitecaps 13 academies, and keeping an eye out for high performance players. In Trail Thursday, Choufour supported Bouare who ran the session with the girls U14 soccer players and then took over the boys U13 session.
The focus of the Prospects Academy is to identify high calibre players, and their potential for pre-residency and residency programs, and playing at an elite level provincially and nationally. Full-time coaches like Adams and Bouare have been instrumental in the growth and success of the elite program.
“Coaching is definitely a key element for everything we do,” said Choufour. “Also, with Brett working with local community coaches and doing work with them, and coaches clinics and things like that, all those things help to improve the overall picture here.”
The Castlegar-Trail Whitecaps Prospects club is geared towards motivated young players looking to take that next step towards playing elite soccer. The more that participate in the program, the more impact it will have on local soccer organizations like Kootenay South Youth Soccer Association (KSYSA).
“In order to develop players you have to raise the overall level,” said Choufour. “There are special players in every community, but those players need to be surrounded by other players who are striving for excellence and so you can create the right training environment.”
So far, says Adams, it has been a win-win for the Academy and community soccer groups like KSYSA.
“The growth has been unbelievable,” Adams added. “But none of this would have been achievable without the support and help of the local organizations. I want to thank the Kootenay South organization, and all the smaller ones . . . they’ve embraced what we’re trying to do.”
Last March, Nolan DeRosa of Rossland and Paige Gattafoni of Trail were invited to join 26 other players from across the province to participate in the High Potential Player (HPP) program in Vancouver. The five-day camp attracted university soccer scouts from across North America, and was highlighted by the 2015 Whitecaps FC Showcase where all the players hit the pitch for a friendly to cap off the camp.
The HPP program paid off for DeRosa who was recruited to play soccer for Thompson Rivers University, while Gattafoni, 16, will look for her opportunity this year.
“They really triggered some interest from colleges and universities, so that’s another goal,” said Choufour. “Even within our full time (residency) program (in Vancouver) there are very few that become professional players.”
Seven graduates of the Academy residency program currently hold Major League Soccer (MLS) contracts with the Whitecaps. The ‘Caps MLS franchise owns the rights to players from B.C., Yukon, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and the Northwest Territories. Like most professional sports, the odds of making it to the highest level are very slim, but thanks to Choufour and the Whitecaps program, they just got better for Greater Trail soccer players.
“Last night on the TV when the Whitecaps were playing, two of the players on there Bart brought through the system: Russell Teibert and Marco Bustos, they’ve all been through his program,” said Adams. “When you know a guy is coming from Vancouver that’s going to come and work with you and has also brought through professional players, it must be inspiring for these (Trail) players.”