Lexington Sporting Club building foundation with youth teams

Lexington Sporting Club building foundation with youth teams
Lexington Sporting Club building foundation with youth teams

Lexington Sporting Club — the city’s new professional soccer franchise set to begin senior men’s team play in spring 2023 — has placed an emphasis on its foundation and youth setup since the franchise was announced in October.

One of most significant moments in this process came in March, when two existing competitive youth soccer programs in the city — Lexington F.C. and Commonwealth Soccer Club — merged to become Lexington Sporting Club Youth Soccer Club, which will launch in the fall.

The next step for LSC — the identification and placement of players within the club’s youth structure — is underway now.

In late May and early June, LSC has held Talent ID sessions to identify promising young players in the Central Kentucky region.

According to the club website, Talent ID “is a player identification process that allows our coaches and phase directors to analyze the talent of the player within their respective age groups.”

The Talent ID process includes Under-7 through Under-19 age groups.

LSC Sporting Director Sam Stockley explained to the Herald-Leader that the Talent ID process involves more than just an initial two-day training period.

“The plan is once we’ve identified the talent and we’ve placed them in their phase group, then we’re going to take another five sessions where we can look at these players over a period of time and give them a fair chance to be able to be seen and highlight their skills,” Stockley said. “We felt over a period of time that sets them up for success and gives them a chance to be able to showcase and highlight their talent.”

The depth of the Talent ID process at LSC offers a window into how extensive the franchise’s youth team structure already is.

Stockley said that the turnout for the Talent ID sessions for the Under-7 through Under-12 player groups numbered more than 800 players.

The Talent ID sessions have been held at Masterson Station Park.

Stockley said youth teams will be officially selected by July 31.

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Lexington Sporting Club held Talent ID sessions for a variety of age groups in late May and early June at Masterson Station Park in Lexington. The sessions will help determine placement for youth teams at LSC. Lexington Sporting Club

Making those youth team selections will be LSC’s robust performance staff, which currently includes more than 70 coaches, with more to be added.

This includes phase directors who oversee specific age groups within the boys’ and girls’ youth setups.

For example, different phase directors exist for the Under-7 through Under-10 (skill acquisition phase), Under-11 through Under-12 (technical refinement phase), Under-13 through Under-15 (preparation phase) and Under-16 through Under-19 (pathway to pro phase) age groups.

Stockley also said a boys’ and girls’ technical director, as well as a head of coaching, will be added to the Lexington Sporting Club staff.

This community was very much coach-based and coach-driven. So whatever the coach said, the players did. Wherever that coach went, the players followed. We’ve completely tipped that on its head,” Stockley said of the change in coaching model LSC is establishing.

“Whether you’ve got this coach or that coach, it doesn’t matter anymore now because the model, the curriculum, the values, the philosophy, how you’re taught, the way you’re taught, that’s all driven by the club. The coach plugs into what we’re doing.”

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Sam Stockley, the sporting director for Lexington Sporting Club, stressed the importance of consistency within the club’s training structure at every age level. Lexington Sporting Club

The Talent ID process was also used by Lexington Sporting Club to help identify players for its boys’ USL Academy team.

Those sessions for Under-16 through Under-19 players took place in May in Scott County, with more than 200 players participating across two weekends, Stockley said.

LSC will begin play in the USL Academy league this fall, with those players still eligible to play for their high school teams.

While an obvious focus exists for LSC when it comes to identifying young players with the potential to play for the club in future years — potentially at the senior team level — Stockley also stressed that the club’s youth teams seek to focus on all players, regardless of future soccer aspirations.

This has been something stressed by majority owner William J. Shively, the founder of Tower Hill Sports and who also owns the historic Dixiana Thoroughbred horse farm.

“We’re not just focusing on the kids that are going to go into the Academy. We’re not just focusing on the kids that are looking to go into our first team. We’re not just focusing on the kids that go into our collegiate pathway. We’re not just focusing on the kids that are doing it because they love it and it’s a social dynamic for them,” Stockley explained. “We’re really, really zoned and detailed in on all of those pathways for our players.”

A strong foundation based in youth teams is one of the first steps toward establishing a winning culture, at all levels, for LSC.

Stockley said a goal for LSC is to win championships with men’s and women’s professional teams with at least 70% homegrown players.

“If you look at any successful professional club in the world, the heartbeat of that is their foundation of player pools, their youth club, their academy, and so for us it was the reason why we built the model,” Stockley said.

So with this in mind, what does Lexington Sporting Club and its network of coaches look for from older players — the ones closest to potentially playing professionally — during these Talent ID sessions?

“I think you’re looking at attitude. I think you’re looking at technical and tactical ability. I think you’re looking at individual brilliance and creativity and craft. I think you’re looking at players that want to work really hard and be a good teammate,” Stockley explained. “I think that’s all going to set you up for success within our club.”

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Michelle Rayner, the senior director of operations for Lexington Sporting Club, speaks to a staff member at an LSC Talent ID session at Masterson Station Park in Lexington. Lexington Sporting Club

This story was originally published June 10, 2022 6:00 AM.

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Cameron Drummond works as a sports reporter for the Lexington Herald-Leader with a focus on the University of Kentucky women’s basketball program, in addition to other college, high school and professional sports in the area. Drummond is a first-generation American who was born and raised in Texas, before graduating from Indiana University in 2020. He is a fluent Spanish speaker who previously worked as a community news reporter for the Austin American-Statesman newspaper in Austin, Texas.