When Tracey Kevins was appointed technical director of the Seattle Reign Academy, she immediately understood the unique environment presented by closely associating an academy with a professional team.
“I think it was very clear that we wanted to do something completely different in youth soccer,” said Kevins. “The fact that we’re linked to a professional women’s club obviously provides an excellent pathway for our kids. But more importantly, we really wanted to look at how we develop the future player. At the moment, the quality of players produced in the US needs to be better.”
Seattle Reign FC head coach and general manager, Laura Harvey, and assistant coach Sam Laity came up with the idea to launch a Reign academy two years ago. They made it become a reality in 2016. Harvey was named the executive director of the academy.
“We felt our club was in a good position structurally from a first team perspective and that it was time to look at the youth level,” said Harvey. “Giving them an environment to develop is the most important thing. We believe we have a product that’s worth investing in. We want to play a style of soccer that suits Reign FC and we want the kids to develop in that as overall athletes and overall people too.”
Through a partnership with Seattle United, the Seattle Reign Academy was launched as an initiative to develop female youth soccer players in the Pacific Northwest and to provide support for the next generation of NWSL and U.S. National Team players.
“Seattle United have provided us with the capabilities to be able to do the things we wanted to do with the academy that I think if we had just done it on our own it would have taken us a few years to get there,” said Harvey. “They have the infrastructure. They have the youth soccer knowledge that we maybe don’t have.”
The Reign Academy is able to provide opportunities for players with a range of playing abilities. This is done by utilizing the different levels of play available for female youth soccer players though Seattle United.
“Part of my role is to oversee the Seattle United structure to make sure that the late developer is catered to,” said Kevins. “So there are opportunities for her to move through to the Reign Academy at the date which best suites her maturation age and her physical age and her technical age.”
This type of player development is possible because the focus of the Seattle Reign Academy is less on a “win now” mentality and instead on fully developing a player to reach her full potential.
“From a development aspect, trying to get away from just winning and developing the player is important,” said Harvey. “Within that there becomes a ‘develop to win’ mentality. Yes, we’d love success from a team level, but we take more pride in making sure players give themselves an opportunity to get to college and/or become a pro.”
Seattle Reign Academy was accepted into the Elite Clubs National League (ECNL) earlier this year and will begin competing as part of the league’s 2016/2017 season. In addition, Seattle Reign Academy was selected as one of the founding members of the U.S. Soccer Girls’ Development Academy for its inaugural 2017–2018 season.
“I think linking in with US Soccer is a huge thing for the female game,” said Harvey “When your federation is on board with developing the youth, then it just shows that their commitment to the game is real.”
One of the key components of the Reign Academy is the involvement of the entire Reign FC organization. First team players and coaches are involved, which has helped shape the direction of the academy and the type of players they want to develop.
“The Seattle Reign Academy allows us to show what the club is about from the top all the way down,” says Harvey. “The DNA of a Reign player has to be technically and tactically sound and have the physical attributes to go out on the field and perform given the demands put on them.”
Ultimately, the academy reflects the philosophies of Reign FC. It begins with the first team and goes all the way to the players trying out for the academy.
“We’re looking for players that optimize what the Reign is: the player that is willing to work so hard, beyond hard, to make herself the best player that she can be,” said Kevins. “Every day, I see the Reign FC first team come to practice and they want to make themselves better, and they’re senior players. So we want players that have an attitude to want to improve themselves on a daily basis.”
This development doesn’t just apply to a player’s talent on the field, but extends to who they are off the pitch as well. It’s about buying into the Reign FC way, and embodying what it truly means to be a team player.
“We want to play a style of soccer that suits Reign FC and we want the kids to develop in that as overall athletes and overall people too,” said Harvey. “We have a respect level that runs throughout the club. It doesn’t matter if you’re the starting center forward and have been for four years, you’re treated no differently than somebody who’s just come on board.”
“We don’t necessarily put what we want first, we put the team first, and that, I think, is probably the most important key element to what makes a Reign player,” explained Seattle Reign FC midfielder Jess Fishlock. “The team comes first, and then yourself and your individual talent will come out in that, but the team will always come first.”
“We want to produce the future Reign player,” said Kevins. “The next Hope Solo, the next Megan Rapinoe, and we don’t shy away from that.”