Club believes high-level training is most important resource
Since the dawn of the club soccer system, directors and coaches have long searched for the perfect formula to develop the best soccer players. Expensive facilities, innovative equipment, technological advances, detailed workout programs and many other tools are all employed to maximize the efficacy of turning an athlete into a soccer player. It is, after all, a race. Almost every club wants to win at the highest level and send as many players to college and professional soccer as they can. However, reaching such pinnacles is an incredibly difficult endeavor, specifically on a national level, and especially because everyone else is trying to do the same thing. The competition is fierce.
Since 2010, FC Alliance has sent over 300 players to college soccer, an unprecedented achievement for this area. The key to all this success, however, has not come from a complex combination of resources. Instead, the club has steadfastly believed that one thing truly makes the difference: elite coaching. If a player receives elite coaching in a structured environment with a proven plan, the player will reach his or her true potential. If coaching isn’t excellent and consistently excellent, the player will fall short. Since its inception, FC Alliance has continuously rebuffed investing in extras and has instead focused on attracting the best coaches, training those coaches, and advancing them to higher levels.
This thinking is rooted in the philosophy that elite players need years of very specific training- led by a very specific blueprint- to truly reach their peak. It takes talented individuals to best apply this blueprint. Many specific technical and tactical details have to be taught for years and they have to be taught correctly. And it cannot just be one coach, it has to be a series of coaches, building off each other. Coaches of the younger players have to be spot on when it comes to teaching certain skills sets; coaches of the middle age groups have to seamlessly tie those skill sets into new skill sets; finally, coaches of the older age groups have to tie all the skill sets together in order to field nationally competitive players.
Competing in the top national leagues, such as Elite Clubs National League and Elite National Premier League, is critical for top players; the process of getting them there cannot involve a lot of coaching error. So in the mind of FC Alliance, nothing comes close to the importance of having the best coaches following the best curriculum.
“That is one reason we have accomplished so many of our goals,” said Josh Gray, the club’s director of coaching. “We have a proven plan. And most importantly, we put the right people behind that plan; we have the right coaches implementing it.”
The club looks for a combination of factors when hiring a new coach: the ability to teach, the ability to communicate, the ability to demonstrate, and the ability to evaluate and assess what players are mastering and not mastering. Coaching candidates have to have solid coaching or playing backgrounds. Furthermore, coaches have to show great character, be good role models, be coachable themselves, be willing to follow a curriculum, and be able to operate as part of a coaching team committed to the common good of the players.
“We have put together the best staff in East Tennessee to enhance our player development model,” added Gray. “We firmly believe that having the best coaches is far more important than anything else.”
Executive Director Jon Schneider echoed Gray’s sentiments.
"We have had a plan from day one, since 2008, of having the best coaching staff in the state,” Schneider said. "Our staff has evolved into an elite team of coaches. It's not by luck that FC Alliance has a reputation throughout the region of being a top club. Focusing on our staff and putting the best people in the best spots has gotten us there.”
The result of this longtime philosophy is the unprecedented success FC Alliance has achieved in the last decade in the East Tennessee area. So much success, in fact, that the club has deemphasized the value of state success and has instead focused on achieving regional and national success, which includes a heavy emphasis of getting players to the next level of soccer. Not that FC Alliance teams do not pursue state achievements and honors, but the club sees a bigger picture for all of its players: creating pathways to continue their careers in college and beyond. In a typical year, over 30 players- and sometimes as many as 40- capitalize on these pathways as they sign with colleges and universities.
"Our accomplishments speak for themselves," Schneider commented. "We have overachieved for a city our size for a long time and we keep gaining momentum. We push every player no matter their level to be the best they can be and it's exciting to see so many players and families buying in to our philosophies."
Club director and longtime coach Steven Townley added, “FC Alliance is renowned within the college coaching circles for developing college-ready talent within the club. You have to credit the club, but you also have to credit the coaches for that. It is a great tandem.”
When scrolling through the bios on the club website, these coaches show a wide range of diverse backgrounds. Many coaches have played the game at high levels. Some were stars in college and even All-Americans. Some have played professionally and internationally. Other coaches have led teams to national success and players to the next level for many years and even several decades.
And most recently, a new wave of coaches has come in: club alums. Coaches who have been through the FC Alliance system as players, know the system, and believe in it. Coaches who have personally experienced the success the system brings to its players.
In the end, the old adage “if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it” actually applies. Although the club is always looking to improve and evolve, the base philosophy will always stay the same. It has just been too good for too many players.
“Ultimately, we end up having the best teams in Knoxville, and East Tennessee," said Townley. "It is because we have the best coaches and play in the best leagues. FC Alliance is the best place to be to pursue and fulfill your ambition of playing at a college level or possibly beyond.”