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Brian Crookham Interview, Part 3

In this final portion of my interview with Rapids Director of Soccer Development we talk about how to grow great soccer players; creating a residential soccer academy in Colorado; and more.

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The third and final installment of my interview with Director of Soccer Development Brian Crookham about Rapids Academy soccer. For parts one and two, go here and here. For the Burgundy Wave overview of the Rapids Development Academy, go here.

We'll pick up with a question I asked that concluded part II, so if the first paragraph seems like deja vu all over again, that's because, well, it is. Bolded quotes are my emphasis of interesting things.

Rapids Rabbi: Do feel like there's a tension between promoting success between kids at the younger levels, and hyping kids up and putting pressure on kids?

Brian Crookham: There's definitely got to be a balance of that, because we can identify: we've have six players in the national team programs this year, six that have gone into national team camps this year. So if we start having their picture on the website every day, the expectation of that kid, that puts a lot of pressure on that player to ‘get there'.

Which is not a bad thing! Look, they're going to need to be able to deal with pressure.

RR: (Laugh) Look, do think Christian Pulisic had an easy night last night? Prom... to Argentina.

BC: (Laughs) No! And that's the reality for these players, is balancing all that stuff. They need to have pressures put on them. Quite frankly, and one place that we haven't been good at this year in the academy side is they need to have pressure, not only to perform well, but in a way that it'll help their team get results. We haven't gotten enough good results in the academy this year with some pretty talented players. And that's the next step.

It's not just about teaching the kids to pass and receive. They need to contribute to having a successful group, and someday their going to need those skills in addition to being able to pass and receive to play for Pablo. So it's an overall education about what they need in all aspects of the game that we've got to get across to them. Back to your point, we never mind publicity; I don't think we'll ever go over the top, especially on picking out individuals, or even about spending a ton of time where we are in the league table or in results, because hopefully we're moving players up when they need to be moved up and challenging them, and if we're winning seventy or eighty percent of our games, where do we go to get challenged again with that?

We've got a couple of international trips coming up for the Academy, we're going to do pre-season in Germany for our 1999s (AKA next year's U17/18 team). They're going to get real life experiences against teams comprised of professional soccer players. We're going to go with our 2003s, our new U13 team that came online this year, they're going to do pre-season in Ireland. Logistically that is a pretty easy trip; (they'll face) decent competition, and it's good to get them exposed to that, so that we don't come across the Argentinas without preparation.

The more you see that environment, the more you are exposed to it, the more you are able to concentrate on executing in that environment, instead of looking around that environment going ‘Wow, this is big. This is cool.' This is part of what we want players to be in on all the time. So we're not going to give them math tests that have the same questions on them each week, we're going to give them new test with new questions to solve, and hopefully we can go back and take those experiences and build your portfolio as a player to be more complete.

RR: A couple of other MLS teams and a lot of teams all over the world, starting with Barcelona and La Masia, have a residential school-slash-academy. Have the Rapids thought about it? Is it something on the radar? Is it something that you've said ‘It's not quite right for us'

BC: I think having a resident component is important. Now whether that is a resident component that consists of brick and mortar, or if it becomes a building program where we have young players that are still able to get a family-type experience, I think that's important. How we go about that is something we have to full vet and make sure that we are there. We clearly have looked at every model. We've done significant planning to get there. There are a lot of things that have to happen for us to be prepared to deal with that, no matter which direction we decide to go, so there are still a lot of building blocks that need to be put in place. The educational component is number 1 on that list. We are currently exploring some education options that will give us the ability to have our players train with us in the morning, every day, and still complete a regular high school schedule.

Currently, if we have a player that needs to train with our first team at 10 in the morning every morning, we have to work with each individual school district trying to get them a released in time to be here. I think that over the horizon we're going to have some good solutions to having large numbers of players with us for training sessions at times that will be more conducive from a pure player development perspective, without jeopardizing what they're doing in the classroom and some of those educational pieces. We have to get the education part right with youth players before we're comfortable moving into that environment.

RR: What's something you think the fans should know about the development academy? What's something we haven't talked about that you'd like to promote or mention? Or did I just really do an amazing job?

BC: (Laughs) I think it was unbelievable, the depth of the questioning...

No I think the fact is, it's an exciting time for us. We're adding a U12 and U13 DA. Both of those programs are fully funded as well. So now we'll have five teams - 96 youth players, plus the first team, so we're 124 players into a roster, if you think of it that way.

And there is a complete pathway for those players to get to the first team. We're trying to create an environment that will get them there (the first team) and prepare them for some of the challenges that will come their way, and there's a lot of things we now have connected across our alliance, we've got some players coming from out-of-state that will participate in our development academy and have relocated here...

RR: Is that Carolina? Is that New Mexico?

BC: New Mexico is the immediate one. We've got Carolina players and from our other alliances that are under consideration for our international trips, we take those guys with us when we go on international trips. But as far as the real homegrown-type stuff, New Mexico is now part of our territory, so those players qualify immediately as homegrowns when they come in. So our pool has expanded a little bit, so the competition for those 96 spots gets greater and greater. And I think that will create an environment that I think will press those diamonds; a little faster, a little more complete.

We've got a long way to go. We feel pretty good about the structure and where we've started, the support that we're getting from the Rapids side, from Kroenke Sports side is incredible, and it's come a long, long way from two teams that paid to play when we started this to where we are today. There's a big responsibility with that, so we're excited for where we're headed there.

Again, thanks to Brian Crookham and the Colorado Rapids organization for giving Burgundy Wave the opportunity to chat with them.