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ECNL Aug 19, 2013

ECNL encourages players to ‘turn heads’ at August ID camp on Nike campus

By Liviu Bird

If the players gathered for the 2013 Elite Clubs National League national camp had any doubts about the level of play, that changed when United States head coach Tom Sermanni walked into camp.

Sermanni made his way to Beaverton, Ore., to speak to the 100 high-school-age players from across the country gathered at Nike World Headquarters. It was a surprise visit in keeping with the theme of the week, established by the league and immortalized with a Twitter hashtag: “#TurnHeads.”

“The entire player experience from the moment they stepped off the plane to the moment they went back home was a true taste of what it’s like to be a professional,” ECNL commissioner Sarah Kate Noftsinger told in a phone interview. “If they didn’t go home inspired to become better and inspired to elevate their goals even more, I don’t know what could inspire them.”

The player pool was hand-selected over the previous 10 months, in conjunction with U.S. Under-17 coach B.J. Snow. The idea was simple: get the best players from around the country in one group to compete with and learn from one another.

Noftsinger said the positivity among the player pool was overwhelming, especially in a high-pressure situation.

“When you’re tossed into an elite environment, it is sink or swim,” she said. “Every kid that was there did an outstanding job. None of them appeared afraid to make mistakes. That’s what these camps are for: to try new things.”

University of Washington assistant coach Brendan Faherty attended the event, three hours south of his home base, and he said he was most impressed with the atmosphere. (Nike sponsors both Washington and the ECNL.)

“The kids get everything you could ask for: they get Nike bags, Nike cleats, Nike running shoes,” he said. “It’s done really professionally. I think the ECNL, as far as from a marketing standpoint, have done an unbelievable job. … They create a great buzz.”

With the strain on the highest levels of elite youth players, selectors decided to hold out some players who would have normally been called in. The ECNL event followed in the wake of the Surf Cup tournament and Olympic Development Program camps, and U.S. U-17 camps have been sprinkled in throughout the summer as well.

“I think these kids are asked to do a lot,” Faherty said. “I think there are some kids that were missing, and I hope they said no because I do think you need to say no to some things.”

At the ECNL camp, U.S. youth national team performance expert Robbie Elliott ensured adequate recovery sessions were sprinkled in with more difficult play. Coaches focused on running short, technical sessions, and all matches were shortened.

“You’re trying to do what’s best for the kids and their development, and their health is our first priority,” Noftsinger said.

The logistics of the event for 2014 still need to be worked out, she said, but she added that the foundation would remain the same.

“Just like the ECNL, our player identification model is constantly evolving,” Noftsinger said. “We’re in a fortunate position where we’ve learned from … different programs that have happened in the past. We can take the good, take the best, and put them all into one.”

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