Academy Sports Club has a reputation for cutting edge coaching methods, which is reflected in its burgeoning reputation in the United States and even in England where players are being picked up by top professional clubs.
Cameron Gray recently joined Premier League side Reading’s Academy on a two year contract. Gray, 14, is an exceptional right winger and Reading’s faith in him is reflected in the fact that he has settled quickly and even scored a beautiful goal for them recently.
Nathan Borde, 13, is another Academy player picked up by a top English club – Sheffield Wednesday – on a two-year development contract.
Virgil Seymour is head of Academy’s development who in the past five years has seen club membership grow from modest beginnings to four successful teams that travel internationally every year and are gaining kudos with each tour and tournament.
Dutch coach Roy Wilhelm recently joined Academy for three months to impart an extra dimension. It is working. On Saturday Wilhelm had youngsters taking free kicks by floating them over one goal and into another closely behind it. Best exponent was Nicky Pollini, 11, who scored an impressive eight out of the 10 he shot.
Academy’s Saturday morning programme at the Outpost field in George Town is for its youngest members, aged five to eight, with a few four-year-olds added to the mix. Older Academy players, from the Under-15 and U-17 teams coach the little ‘uns.
Seven of the junior coaches recently gained their level 1 Cayman Islands Football Association badges and are now qualified to officiate in youth matches. They were Jimone Lawson, Jamal Lawson, Sean Whewell, Thompson Hew, Ryan Burke, Carlos Mellaneo and Barry Solomon.
“Our grassroots programme started two years ago because a lot of younger siblings were coming with their parents and wanting to get involved,” said Seymour. “The response was crazy and we saw 30 in the first year.
“Since then it has been getting bigger. In the summer programme in July we had 45 and in the second one we had over 60.
“The junior coaches interact really well with the smaller kids who can relate to them more because of the small age difference. We don’t put an emphasis on structure at that young age, it loses the fun.
“But we do put the better ones in a group because if you’re a child and not as good, you can get discouraged about not receiving the ball.
“Once you come to Academy we enhance your ability. For example, Nicky Pollini doesn’t have acceleration but instead of worrying about a weakness we get more from his strengths.
“We will watch DVDs and work on the mechanics. We got my son Elijah up to speed. It takes about a year to change the speed. Being diligent, working hard off field as well as on-field is the key.”
Seymour feels Academy’s magnetism is due to the club’s overall organisation, emphasis on discipline on and off the field and importance of parental input.
“They like the fact that the coaches do not scream at nor criticise the players and parents are encouraged not to try to coach from the sidelines. They respect that.
“We get good, positive feedback and we have a committee that sits down and makes collaborative decisions for the good of the club.
“We’re not perfect and nothing’s written in stone but we’re making progress.”