We caught up with our friends at Team Evanston, in Illinois, who have recently introduced TopTekkers to their players. We sat down with Team Evanston Executive Director, Ryan French, to chat about TopTekkers, how their club is using it, their club values and more. Team Evanston are a partner of the Chicago Fire and a member of their affiliate program known as 'Fire Juniors'.
Club Name: Team Evanston
Located in: Evanston, IL
Formed in: 1991
Number of teams: 20 (U8-U12)
Kit colors: Navy, Orange, White
TT: How long has your club been using TopTekkers?
RF: We are just starting this week.
TT: Which age groups/players in your club are using TopTekkers?
RF: From U8-U12, our club carries a local brand called Team Evanston. We are using TopTekkers for these ages. Our older ages, U13-U19, are branded Chicago Fire Juniors North Shore. We are using TopTekkers at these ages as well.
TT: How have you implemented TopTekkers at your club?
RF: We will be assigning TopTekkers tasks each week to players.
TT: Why did you get TopTekkers for your players?
RF: We trialed TopTekkers last fall and were pleased with how easy it was to use. It gave players, parents, and coaches the opportunity to track the player's progress. We also liked the leaderboard concept so players, who are naturally competitive, are able to see how they are performing relative to their peers. We feel this could add to the chemistry of our groups and begin to create self-starters. Ultimately though, we want to see players work with the ball at home and do so with the intent of creating great technical habits while also enjoying the process. TopTekkers give the players the guidance for working with the ball at home while also being fun for the players to use.
TT: How will TopTekkers become a part of the coaching cycle or curriculum within your club?
RF: In the immediate, we are using the app to demonstrate, instruct, and assign technical work at home. Going forward, we are discussing using the app as part of our regular programming.
TT: What do you personally like about the app?
RF: Its simplicity to use and focus on key, foundational technical qualities are why we felt it was an excellent selection for our club. We also felt its presentation was positive and friendly, important characteristics to our club. It supports our desire to have determined, self-starting players who take initiative to play at home. We know how much fun it can be to play with the ball, and we are using TopTekkers to encourage technical development away from regular team training. The ability for the parents to sign-in as well was important to us. We see them as partners in the player’s development and for them to be able to have their portal, in addition to the player and coach’s portal, we felt acknowledged their important role in supporting their player’s development. Lastly, we did not have a coordinated technical “homework plan” yet. We knew this was important so finding a professional solution on an app, a relevant medium for the moment, is very helpful for the club’s evolution.
TT: What’s your club’s development philosophy?
RF: We are concentrated on encouraging and improving the players' habits. Of course, this includes quality instruction on the technical, tactical, physical, and socio-emotional sides of the game at the correct developmentally appropriate level, but also, we are very intentional about the club’s community. We have defined our core values and use these to create an inclusive environment that values competitive play when appropriate but also key personal qualities such as discipline, perseverance, grit, teamwork, and passion. There is a strong sense of community within the club and the more we can make sure we are creating a great environment with these core values, then the more confidence we have that we’re improving children’s technical habits with our process. Decision making for our club filters through these core values to create clear identity. Of course, we do have a technical curriculum that is defined by our affiliation to the Chicago Fire. Via this curriculum, we are able to concentrate on developing the right technical habits and decisions at the appropriate times. The curriculum uses conditioned small-sided games and progresses from simple to complex over the player’s duration with the club from U8 to U19.
TT: Why is practice important? (Away from the training field)
RF: For developing the essential habits of discipline and acknowledging your important role on a team. Preparing yourself to be a part of the team and to represent yourself and your team well requires additional work beyond training. Players will be ready for the “big moments” when they have worked hard, by doing extra training. The amount of time we have as a club with players is limited each week. Players need to prepare on their own, to help themselves and their team to reach their goals. It actively demonstrates a commitment to the development process. TopTekkers is an important tool for us to inspire players to own their technical development at home.
TT: Describe the perfect Team Evanston player?
RF: First, the player has excellent character. We want to see our players reflect the coaching staff’s attitude and leadership. As our players advance to the older ages, we would like to see them be capable of being coaches on the field, knowledgeable of the club’s values and the team’s specific instructions. Having great character, we know comes from having approachable, knowledgeable coaches who understand the club’s role in the community. It also means we need to have a great environment where players feel welcome, free to express themselves, and able to lookup to role models inside the club. At our younger ages in Team Evanston, we would like to see our players striving to improve their habits and enjoying the process. Soccer is and should be fun! Developing attacking 1v1 abilities, basic spatial concepts in small groups, and learning to be proactive, rather than reactive, in our decisions is important to us. Ideally, the player is capable on both sides of the ball in 1v1 situations, a great teammate, engaged in their own learning process on the field and at home, is confident enough to make their own decisions, and loves the ball.
For more information on Team Evanston, please visit teamevanston.org.