An Opportunity of a Lifetime
Not many U-16 soccer teams in Canada get a chance to show their skills in Germany, but Toronto Skillz isn't like many other teams.
August 2019 will mark the fourth consecutive year Jake Doodnath, president and CEO of Toronto Skillz, brings his players across the Atlantic for an unforgettable trip to play against some of the top soccer academies in Europe.
North American teams who don't have the opportunity to travel to different continents often get caught in a bubble. But Doodnath, heading into his 11th year as a coach with Skillz, marvelled about the quality of European youth players he has seen.
"The level is unbelievable," Doodnath told parents at an information meeting of the trip. “We were blown away by the level of technical ability that they had."
The standards that players are held to in places like Germany are indicative of the resources heavily invested into youth soccer. It might be a foreign concept to other countries, but the structure is built to maximize growth of players in both quality and quantity.
Over 900 German youths from the Under 19 Bundesliga (A-Junioren Bundesliga) battle for a spot on a roster with a professional team in the country. Competition is fierce, especially with international players vying for places in these clubs as well.
But the purpose of the trip to Germany isn't to bring down the morale of the Toronto Skillz players. Rather, it's to help establish a measurable after a rare experience that many other teams cannot offer.
Toronto Skillz, along with Schächter Sports, meticulously plan the trip to ensure the kids can focus solely on absorbing the experience with a positive outlook. Careful consideration is taken into the dietary restrictions of the players for their meals. The levels of opponents selected for their friendly matches will push them to their limits, but they'll also have a chance to win and have a good time. No stone is left unturned.
"The whole thing is designed to not be worried about anything on or off the pitch that could eventually impact the stay of the players in a negative way," said David Müller, Director of Global Soccer at Schächter.
The kids, inching closer to their adult years, get the experience of a lifetime, and they also learn about how it's achievable for them. Leaving the North American bubble for a week should help them explore the opportunities on the pitch, but also off it with post-secondary education.
The club wants to help kids and their families to pursue dreams of professional soccer, but they also want to help them prepare for life off the pitch.
"For me it's important when they call, they have a Plan B ready for me, and they have the self-awareness of where they stand," Müller said.
Doodnath shared similar sentiments when talking to the parents.
"We want these guys to understand the point of making decisions moving forward," Doodnath said. "They have to understand that David works with professional players in Bundesliga right now, but his job is with those players is also to prepared for life after football, even at that level."
But much like communication between players, Müller gives constant feedback, making sure everyone is on the same page throughout their potential careers. Holding information meetings with parents is one way of relieving minds that their kids are in safe hands across the world.
"For me, the most important thing is always to have a relationship, not just with the players but with the parents," Müller said. "I think it's a much more valuable approach about being honest to people and bringing real value to the table."
By Jonathan Cheng
Schächter Sports brings taste of Germany to Toronto's March Break Camp
David Müller doesn't make a promise he can't keep.
The Director of Global Soccer at Schächter Sports GmbH is realistic with those who work with him. He believes that dose of honesty is what sets his team apart from the competition.
He believes others are selling a fantasy that's unattainable. The goal of playing soccer in Europe is rare for Canadians.
But his belief in Schächter's player-development model opens true pathways for youth players to play in Germany, something other clubs cannot promise.
"We don't sell dreams," says Müller. "We want to be real, and we want to beat those clubs in quality, presence, and opportunity."
And these three tenets fuel the partnership between Schächter Sports and Toronto Skillz, creating the ideal environment for player development in North America since 2014.
The coaches travel across the globe to work with clubs in nine different countries, bringing their wealth of experience to identify the strengths and weaknesses of the camp participants. Their quality stands out after working with high-profile players like Weston McKennie, FC Schalke and U.S. Men's National Team midfielder.
The years Schächter Sports put into the beautiful game have helped shape their mindset in teaching soccer. Each country with personalized education garnered to the athlete's need.
For example, Müller suggests that even though youth players in Japan are adept at making decisions during matches, they lack in the physical aspect of the game. However, it's a different story in North America.
"North American players are good with their feet," Müller says. "They struggle as soon as they have to perform under pressure, as soon as decisions come into play."
"Wherever we go—Dallas, Toronto, New York City, Miami—it's always the same problem."
Schächter are able to increase their level of quality in coaching through their constant presence within clubs like Toronto Skillz. By visiting Canada every six months to organize identification camps, young athletes are constantly monitored for progress in their skills.
That personal level of coaching from visiting partners is greatly appreciated by the GTA soccer community. Steve Race, Toronto Skillz U-8/9 coach, helped run the 2019 March Break Camp at MLS Arena. Even he learned a few things about developing the players in his squad.
"They're teaching the coaches as well as teaching the kids," says Race. "We're getting the best, and adding things that we didn't think about, or we didn't feel comfortable bringing to our kids. And they said: 'No, no. You can push them to do this. Watch.'"
After combining the quality and presence, Toronto Skillz and Schächter's German ID Camps creates true chances to play professional soccer in Europe. The meaningful scouting and skill development over time allows for many different players to chase their potential across the Atlantic Ocean.
"By the time you're 18-years old, we open a door to 45 clubs in Germany," Müller says. "Regardless of where you stand, I can offer you a real opportunity to go to Europe."
It may not always be the dream of playing for one of the biggest clubs in the world, but Schächter's player-development model provides real opportunity for youth players to reach that level.
Müller believes the GTA is a hotbed of soccer talent after working with Toronto Skillz for a number of years. He beams with pride when he watches players from these camps continue to succeed, and he hopes to continue to oversee their growth as they enter the important stages of their development.
"We want to be here presently for the players, helping the players to make the next developmental step individually in their career," Müller says. "I want to be the best adviser I can be in making that step. We want to be the best people we can be in helping you make that step."
By Jonathan Cheng