There are no short cuts to developing a soccer player. As much as the media will report on young "phenoms" that might appear one day, and then disappear the next, tried and true methods to properly develop a soccer player require time.
SIGMA FC recently celebrated the ninth year of their International ID Camps, and these camps are a case in point.
Most of the players that attended the first camp in 2005 recently graduated from high school in the spring of 2013 and entered university. SIGMA FC graduated 18 players who moved on to play at university soccer programs in the United States and Canada, including a few who were invited to a training camp recently with the Canadian U20 national team.
And as SIGMA FC Technical Director Bobby Smyrniotis bid "farewell" to the Class of 2013, he had already turned his sights to the next generation of players that participated in their first SIGMA Camp. For those that will move from the camp to the academy's Elite Training Centre and beyond that to full membership of a Sigma FC Academy team, the camp is the entry point to an established path that all players follow.
"The whole idea is that we work with these young boys the same way that we did nine years ago," said Smyrniotis. "This is where it starts. Where kids get introduced to SIGMA, and together we climb up the ladder, always aspiring towards a personal goal of the player in the end."
The task of replicating the success of the previous generation is a tough one. SIGMA graduates Kyle Bekker and Emery Welshman highlight the first group that went through the SIGMA system. Their success of the collegiate level helped pave the way for current SIGMA grads who are starring for their respective college teams.
Players such as Mark Anthony Gonzalez of Evansville University, who was named to the Missouri Valley Athletic Conference All-Conference Team, is one such example. Cyle Larin and Kwame Awuah have come of strong seasons for the University of Connecticut Huskies. Larin led the team in scoring and earned the America Athletic Conference Rookie of the Year Award. Meanwhile Awuah started all year on defence for UConn and was named to the conference all-rookie team.
While the university soccer season has been a resounding success, Smyrniotis had to sometimes watch it from afar with one eye. He had his hands full tending to the next generation.
"It's literally revolving, one big circle," he said. "You finish the work with the group for this year, and literally it started six months ago for those graduating next year."
The hallmarks of this process are seen in the way the training is organized, and in the attitude of the players. The rest comes down to hard work and patience.
"When we are talking about youth development and players moving up the ladder of soccer in North America, whether it's the university system or moving from the reserve level and going on to the pros, it takes a lot of work," Smyrniotis explains.
"It has to start from proper training, and has to start from structure on the field. It's something that we've seen nine years ago. We are providing something of a higher grade for players, who are very committed to training. That's the most important thing. And, we've seen players have really gone up levels consistently."
One of SIGMA's good friends in the European soccer coaching community is Henk Mariman, of Belgium. Mariman has seen the SIGMA Camps grow over the years, and he is not surprised that the academy is starting to see its players reaching new levels.
"It's the same typical process when you start an academy. Most of the time, you start it and think, 'maybe it will take 5-6 years.' I've seen the same process here. I think it is actually 5-8 years to bring players [to the higher level]. And you see here with Kyle and Emery going to an MLS team, they are going to the next step.
"And with the 95 group, you see players developed a little bit more the European way, and I think these guys are ready to take the next step and make the first team somewhere."
Mariman explains that SIGMA's training system is structured in a certain way that will breed more success. "I think in the future SIGMA will have more and more success."
He believes this to be true because he is seeing the younger age groups displaying quality decision making and showing good understanding of the game.
"As a coach you have to be open, you need to be patient, give them time to open up," he said. "When you start at an early age, you see the quality when they are 17-18 years old."
This past year, SIGMA welcomed a new club to its roster of professional partners at the camp. Peter Reynders, a youth coach at Belgian powerhouse KRC Genk, worked with younger players.
"I was very curious of the level of the kids, and I must say it surprised me. I think SIGMA the way they train the kids is the same as Belgium at our team. The thing I like the most is the attitude, the will and they don't complain, they will learn, it is very important.
"They have the talent here, they have the attitude to become better. I think there are a few players here at SIGMA, that can reach our club. I am sure about that," he said.
The SIGMA FC Camps return this summer for the 10th edition of the yearly event. For more information and to express interest to attend kindly complete the Expression of Interest Form.