When Chavé Moreno registed her sons, Mario (13) and Carlos (11) with Washington Premier FC this fall, she wasn't sure what to expect. She just knew that they needed something different.
"At our old club, the coaches had basically just focused on a few players," says Moreno. "There wasn't much passing or team play. Half of the team had left the year before to join Washington Premier, and after staying for one more year, we decided to try it, too."
As a member of Washington Youth Soccer's Regional Club League (RCL) presented by Chipotle, Washington Premier FC must follow a strict set of guidelines governing the licensure of club coaches, training and development philosophies, and more, with the goal of ensuring that each club maintains its commitment to training its players as individuals, at the highest level possible. Moreno hoped that the club's player-centric environment and highly trained coaches would be just what her two young children needed to succeed and grow.
She couldn't have been more right.
"It's like night and day," she says. "The level of play, even in practice, is so much higher. The parents have been shocked at what the kids are learning. To see them play as a team; when one goes forward, the other drops back, and so on. To be doing that kind of stuff at this age? Wow."
The RCL was created in an effort to bring together the state's top clubs for year-long like-versus-like training and competition. The goal was to form a statewide league, with representation in every district, where players who sought a higher level of training and competition could find it.
So far, the formula has been highly successful for players and teams alike. Over its decade of existence, the RCL has seen several of its clubs and teams compete well at the US Youth Soccer National Championships and US Youth Soccer National League, while dozens of RCL players, including current stars like Seattle Sounders FC's DeAndre Yedlin, Stanford's Jordan Morris and Washington's Darwin Jones, have gone on to professional and collegiate success.
"The core basis for the original formation of the RCL had to do with rewriting the model away from team-centric models, to one focused on developing individual players," says Todd Lincoln, Washington Youth Soccer's Competitive Programs and Business Practices Advisor, who has helped manage the RCL in various capacities since 2005. "The idea was to bring the top players together through the top clubs, and standardize the coaching and development models to guarantee a consistent level of training. Certainly, at the top division, winning is very much a focus. But program-wide, the RCL focuses much more on development of character and soccer skills at an individual level."
Moreno echoes those thoughts, noting that her two boys come home excited from every practice to share the new skills they've learned. Their development, even over the course of just the last three months, is plainly evident.
"They love it," she says. "There's a complete camaraderie between the players and coaches. Every day, I feel so blessed that the kids are on great teams, with great parents, great coaches. And as a parent, I get so much support from the club. I love them!"
Perhaps the most overlooked aspect of RCL programming is its focus on character development. Lincoln acknowledges that not every player in the RCL will go on to careers as soccer players, however, by fostering a lifelong love for the game and instilling on-field lessons about discipline, hard work and personal responsibility, RCL clubs and coaches help set young players on a path to success in whatever career they may choose.
"What we're really looking for is development of character, so that no matter what situation they are put into as they grow, they'll be flexible enough to sort things out, to solve problems under pressure, to appreciate a professional-level response to challenges, et cetera," Lincoln says. "There's no limit to what you can achieve in your growth. The energy you put in is more than rewarded by what you get back."
Moreno says that for her, any concerns about having to make an "extra commitment" to participate on an RCL club were washed away the moment she saw how much her kids developed in their first season with Washington Premier.
"To me, there is no extra commitment, it's all worth it," she says. "I can't say enough about how wonderful the coaches are and how much the kids have learned. I've been unbelievably impressed."