WNY Flash ECNL Boys program finding player development success
Originally Published on ECNLBoys.com
There’s a movement in Western New York.
A few years ago, WNY Flash Academy Vice President Aaran Lines, with the help of Executive Director Eric Dade, ECNL Director Jonny Black and Boys Director Regan Steele, together created a vision for the club: to be the premier youth soccer club in Western New York, to give its athletes the best opportunities possible, to challenge them on and off the field, and to develop the next generation of soccer talent.
To accomplish this vision, WNY Flash needed a dual approach; to bring in high-level, experienced directors and coaches to develop and implement a club methodology that brought out the best in its players, and to provide its athletes with the best possible environment for player development.
The Flash put its plan in motion, starting by methodically recruiting the best talent in the area. The organization slowly and deliberately brought in coaches and enacted a philosophy that created the Flash Family, an ethos that breeds and reinforces discipline, honesty, hard work, commitment, respect and humility.
“The first thing we did was set out to find like-minded coaches to align ourselves with, because that’s where it all starts,” Dade said. “We’re only as good as the people that work with us, and we wanted coaches with those qualities to pass along to our players.”
WNY Flash hasn’t stopped at just hiring coaches and staff though. Lines wanted to make sure that just as the club develops its players, so too does it develop and improve its coaches and staff.
“We’re providing through the youth club full-time employment opportunities,” Lines said. “So people that want to be in soccer can be all the way in on soccer. There are avenues for players, and now there are avenues for staff to progress within soccer. I think that’s one of the biggest things we’re the proudest of, the opportunities that people have from within our organization.”
Having the best coaching staff possible allows players to be at their very best. But another key ingredient in having a positive player development pathway and environment is making sure the athletes have the best possible facilities.
For WNY Flash, that means having an indoor training facility. Being just off the coast of Lake Erie, having shelter from the region’s cold, harsh winter months through an indoor field to use for practice and games was invaluable for the continued growth and development of its athletes.
“We’re very lucky that we have the resources that we do,” Dade said. “When those winter months hit, we can take our organization and move them inside and we don’t have to change our schedules. We’re very fortunate to have this resource as it helps attract players and coaches who want to be at the field every day.”
Ownership has continued to reinvest in the WNY Flash athletes by providing them with a top-tier outdoor complex to pair with the indoor facility. In 2019, WNY Flash broke ground on a brand new two-field turf complex, furthering its dedication to giving its players the absolute best. It was completed in 2020, being dubbed the “Flash Fields.” The introduction of the all-weather turf fields, where younger players can watch older age groups play following their own games, only adds to the culture of the club and extends interest into the next generation of players.
“We’ve been given an opportunity through our facilities,” Lines said. “Our indoor facility and these brand new fields, they’re all community facilities. We share with our community, and it allows the WNY Flash Academy to thrive and flourish. We’ve done a good job of giving our athletes the right place and the right space to develop. That’s been absolutely critical.”
With a coaching staff executing a clear development philosophy, and ownership with the dedication to invest and reinvest in its athletes, WNY Flash was primed to expand, and expand they did. The club has grown to house more than 50 teams and hundreds of elite-level athletes in 2021.
With the increased teams and athletes comes competition, and competition is the prime ingredient for success.
“We’re not only building good first teams, we’re also building good second teams as well,” Dade said. “When you expand player pools, you have that ability to now be more competitive on the field because your players are consistently pushing each other to be better.”
All of these factors met at the perfect time, and the results have been immediate.
Playing in the highly competitive Midwest Conference, WNY Flash’s U16 and U17 boys teams are currently in a qualification position for the ECNL Postseason, while its U13 and U14 squads sit in third place or higher in their division and are within striking distance of a postseason berth.
“Success breeds success,” Dade said. “Our teams have all started on something really special here. We’ve started to create a winning culture, where we can hold our players accountable and our coaches accountable for their successes. We make sure to play the right way. And it’s paid off this year so far.”
Lines also points to the ECNL as an avenue that has been critical for the club’s development. From national showcases, to National Playoffs and more, the ECNL has been everything WNY Flash wants in a league.
“As coaches and as directors, showcases are so valuable for the season,” Dade said. “It’s important that you get away, you bond as a group, and you see yourselves against other teams. You take pride in who you are, so the badge becomes even a little bit more important when you see all the other badges around. And then when you have some success, that tops it all off.”
“We are an all-in ECNL club and we wouldn’t want it to be any other way,” Lines added. “The league has positioned itself as the top youth soccer league in the country and it has been that and more.”
Building the winning culture at WNY Flash has not been easy, but that’s precisely why the group has been so dedicated to seeing it come to life. WNY Flash has truly become a community club, but not just for Buffalo – for the entire Western New York region and even for places like Northern Pennsylvania or Southern Ontario.
“With big numbers, the quality of players and coaches, it just breeds excellence in that regard,” Dade said. “We’re able to retain and bring people back, not only the Buffalo market but the whole Western New York market. Tapping into southern Ontario and even up into Pennsylvania, we’re attainable to those people. We have people searching for that next level of competition, the highest level of competition, and they’re seeking us out and checking us out. And that’s because of what we’ve been able to accomplish the past few years.”
WNY Flash made a concerted effort to invest in its players by creating and implementing a coaching philosophy and development program while pairing it with an ownership dedicated to giving its athletes the best training environment possible. For a small market club like WNY Flash, that has been invaluable. And now, after seeing its investments pay off, Lines and the rest of the club’s leadership is excited and dedicated to prove that success isn’t just a flash in the pan.
“When you have a soccer community that was fractured and bring them together, and you’re seeing everyone working towards a common goal, that was always our objective,” Lines said. “At the end of the day, we’re building well-rounded, young leaders for the future through soccer. If you always have that in mind, along with players who are enjoying soccer and you have a developmental pathway and the necessary facilities, then you’re gonna have a great program. That’s what we have here, and we’re very excited about it all.”