On Tuesday, April 13, The ECNL held its first-ever digital Town Hall, and the response from parents, athletes, coaches and more was overwhelming. We received more than 200 different questions for our panel of ECNL President Christian Lavers, ECNL Vice President Doug Bracken, ECNL Girls Commissioner Jen Winnagle and ECNL Boys Commissioner Jason Kutney. The questions were presented by The ECNL’s Breaking the Line Podcast host Dean Linke, who moderated and hosted the event.
Based on this incredible response, we want to share responses to some of the top questions that were received during the course of the evening.
Q: What separates ECNL from other youth soccer leagues?
CL: There are many things that make the ECNL unique, but perhaps the biggest is the breadth and scope of the league programs. Our league includes a club pathway, a player pathway and a coaching pathway. Each of those three pathways is integral for a league to serve the needs of players, and a league without any one of them can’t be complete. Beyond this, we institute a holistic approach to player development, and allow clubs to make decisions about what is best for their players based on their unique philosophy, style, and vision. Finally, our league is led, managed, and governed by Directors of Coaching who work with players every day, representing every type of club.
Q: As the league continues to grow, how does The ECNL maintain its mission of providing the best for its athletes?
DB: The core of The ECNL is and will always be a competition structure with a clear pathway for clubs and teams. In total, there are more than 120 clubs in each gender of The ECNL, representing nearly 1,500 of the best teams in American youth soccer from U13 to U18/19. Everything regarding the competition (schedules, structures, conference affiliations, travel, etc.) is tailored to meet the needs of the players. These factors are assessed and reviewed every year, and adjustments are made based on feedback from the coaches and directors on the field. With opportunities such as SuperCup, National ID programs, national showcases and a tiered postseason platform, The ECNL gives athletes incredible opportunities to reach their highest potential.
Q: Do you anticipate that there will be changes to recruiting once the NCAA Dead Period ends?
JK: The NCAA Dead Period is ending on June 1, just in time for ECNL Club Competition and ECNL Regional League National Playoffs. During the Dead Period, Division I scouts were not allowed to travel to events. However, once the period ends, collegiate scouts will be able to attend events again, which means they can be on the sidelines of national events. This will give more athletes the opportunity to get in front of scouts in person. We specifically placed major events following the end of the NCAA Dead Period, to maximize player exposure to collegiate scouts, especially for older players that have missed important opportunities.
Q: Does The ECNL have policies on athletes competing in other sports or for high school teams?
DB: Every decision the league makes has the best interests of the athletes at its center. That is one reason why those types of decisions (other sports, high school soccer, etc.) remain up to the clubs and players. Every player should be free to make the decision that they think is best for them, and we support that decision being made at the club level. The ECNL also believes in a holistic approach to player development, reinforcing that developing the whole person creates leaders on and off the field, and that is ultimately the goal of The ECNL.
Q: What role do The ECNL Advisors have in the league and how is it beneficial to athletes?
CL: The ECNL’s Advisors program started with the hiring of Dr. Drew Watson as the league’s Chief Medical Advisor in March of 2020. Dr. Cristina Fink was then brought on as The ECNL’s Mental Performance Advisor in July of 2020 and that was followed by Doug Lemov being named The ECNL’s Coaching Methodology Advisor in April of 2021. These advisors provide insight, advice, and information in areas that supplement what happens on the training field, and in areas of need beyond technical and skill development. Each of them offer invaluable resources and counsel to The ECNL through webinars, presentations and the build-out of resources that are available free to the public on TheECNL.com.
Q: How does The ECNL enable players who are progressing at different times to stand out?
JK: The ECNL has a variety of ways for top players to be recognized for their talent and performance in the league. The league introduced a new program in addition to the Player Identification and Development Program in 2020, the SuperCup, which will create unique “first-team” environments within clubs across the U15-U18/19 age groups. SuperCup will stretch and challenge players in new and different ways, and they will be tested physically, technically, tactically and emotionally. The implementation of this program will vary by club, allowing each club to use it consistent with their vision. Beyond this, the league has operated other Player Identification and Development Programs for many years. There are Conference Selection Programs, which allow athletes from the U13 and U14 age groups to play with and against the best of the best in their conferences in training and in friendly competitions. Other avenues for top players to be recognized and challenged are National Selection Games, meant to bring together top talent within the structure of an ECNL national event, National Training Camps, which take place at the end of every season for top performers identified across that full campaign, competition at the International Champions Cup for the best ECNL U14 and U15 clubs, and public recognition of high performing players through All-Conference, All-American and Player of the Year awards.
Q: What is The ECNL Regional League’s role in the league and how does it improve competition at The ECNL Club Competition level?
JW: The ECNL Regional League was founded during the 2018-19 season in order to meet the needs of the growing talent pool within ECNL clubs and across the country. The platform started as a handful of clubs in one league and has now blossomed into hundreds of clubs and more than a dozen leagues spread in a true national footprint. The ECNL Regional League will be the primary pathway for clubs to move into the ECNL Club Competition moving forward, through performance at a known level of high competition. The ECNL Regional League will be a proving ground for teams across the country to show their talent level, and to spur improvement in both the ECNL Regional League and ECNL Club Competition by challenging players, teams, and clubs at both tiers to perform at their best.
Q: How does The ECNL balance national events with league play when determining qualifying teams for playoffs?
DB: National events present opportunities for teams to face competition from outside of their respective conferences, while also matching clubs performing at similar levels against each other. These events further the mission of ECNL to continually push athletes and clubs toward growth through competition, and to showcase these players for the next stage of their career in college or professional soccer.
Q: What is the future of youth soccer and how does The ECNL plan to be at the forefront of that?
CL: From the start, The ECNL has put players and clubs first, and we will continue to do that moving forward – players are at the heart of every program in the league. The soccer landscape is dynamic, and changes so quickly, that while we can anticipate what may happen, we will never know exactly where it will go. But what we can do is continue to constantly look to improve our programs and their impact, to review what players and clubs need to reach new standards of performance, and be creative in developing solutions that make the experience in the game better. The ECNL will continue to elevate youth sports and develop the whole athlete holistically. We will continue to lead American soccer and do so in alignment with our core values.
Q: How does playing in The ECNL help players find success in college and professional soccer?
JW: Our player pathway is designed to test athletes and prepare them for the next level of competition, and The ECNL has seen great success in that regard. Last season in the women’s NCAA College Cup, nearly 70 percent of all players competing played in The ECNL during their youth careers. Those numbers should grow even more this season during the 2020 Women’s Tournament beginning next week. But it goes beyond college soccer as well. Catarina Macario was an ECNL alum and is now playing overseas with Lyon in the French women’s league and is one of the brightest prospects for the USWNT. Trinity Rodman played in The ECNL, going directly from high school to the NWSL as the second pick in the 2021 draft and scoring five minutes into her professional debut. On the boys side, we are starting to see collegiate and professional numbers grow significantly as players graduate from our programs. As an example, this past month alone, we have seen ECNL players sign amateur contracts in professional leagues, sign full professional contracts, and commit to colleges in new numbers. We’re really proud of how many players are able to move to the next level through the work they and their clubs do in the ECNL.