At first glance, Dalecrest Field in Spring Branch is nothing more than a small, hardscrabble plot of grass tucked away a block behind the main road, maybe big enough for one full-size soccer game.
The reality of Dalecrest is much different, however. The field represents a new frontier for the Houston Dynamo Academy. A year ago, it was overgrown with bamboo shoots and completely unused. Today, it serves as the home of Dynamo Academy West, the first satellite campus of the growing Houston Dynamo Academy.
Dynamo Academy West Foundation Phase campus serves young players up to the age of U12, and the goal of it, according to Academy Director Paul Holocher, is to provide a strong foundation of technical skills before kids enter full-fledged Developmental Academy training, whether that be with the Dynamo Academy or even other clubs.
“The Dynamo Academy West is a vitally important part of our Academy. As a true extension of our Academy, our staff of coaches work on a daily basis to enhance and improve opportunities for these terrific young players,” Holocher said. “This includes utilizing our Academy Game Model, our methodology, and our Game Principles which allow for strong integration throughout the levels of the Academy. This is what can help prepare players to make the jump to their next levels."
The growth and change of Dalecrest Field is, in many ways, a physical representation of the growth of the Dynamo Academy West program over the last two years. The foundation for the Dynamo Academy West was laid through a partnership with a youth club on the west side named Total Football Club.
“When we started working together, their coaches might come out here and check out our kids (or) our coaches might go out there,” Dynamo Academy West director of operations Nelson Ballesteros said. “Where it really took off is when the Dynamo approached us and said, ‘Hey, we’re looking to start the Dynamo culture and methodology at younger ages, but currently we’re not able to. Would you all be interested in taking on that part of the Academy?’ because they noticed that we were very, very good at the Grassroots and Foundation phases."
About two years ago the relationship became formalized and the Dynamo Academy-West began. According to Holocher, the primary focus of the Dynamo Academy West Foundation Campus is individual player development and on preparing the young player for the transition into a developmental academy.
In Ballesteros and TFC, the Dynamo Academy saw a person and a club whose emphasis was on player development and promotion for players to receive new opportunities. The Total Football Club had excelled at developing players at very young ages and had helped pave the path for nearly 30 youngsters into the full Dynamo Academy. The TFC continues to provide similar development objectives for the younger ages in part to help move into the Dynamo Academy while also give other coaches the opportunity to continue to develop.
“Nelson has done a fantastic job with the Dynamo Academy West. He was the right person for this important project because his focus was on player development,” Holocher said. “Each day we ask ourselves, ‘How can we improve and how can help these young players take the next step?’ I am impressed with his genuine love for the younger grassroots and Foundation ages.”
The developmental objectives of the Foundation Phase is to produce highly-skilled and confident players who begin to learn the game well. Players are encouraged and challenged to develop new skills, while also refining decision-making on the field. Having a growth mindset, good character and habits are also emphasized.
In a city like Houston, it can be prohibitive to drive across town for training three to four times per week, and the Academy West program allows young kids – and their parents – access to high-level training without the stress of traveling cross-town. For a parent like Jennifer Jeray and her eight-year-old son Matthew, removing that obstacle makes it infinitely easier for the entire family.
“It’s great,” Jeray said. “Since it’s three nights a week, and obviously he has school as well and he’s in a competitive school program, I don’t honestly think we could do it if we had to drive that far. It takes us about 20 minutes to get here, which is not bad at all, so the convenience and the ability to get here quickly is important.”
Angelique Tarazona, whose son Daniel plays on the same team as Matthew, is equally excited about the convenience of location for her son to develop as a soccer player.
“This is 20 minutes from my house, and I love it. My daughter goes to (another club), so I just dropped her off and came to get him,” she said. “It’s a wonderful program and we love the location – it’s been easy for us. He just loves it. He’s a very passionate player. He says he wants to grow up to be a professional soccer player.”
A man who puts youth development ahead of everything else, Holocher also knows that the benefits extend far beyond the confines of his own academy.
For Holocher, this is merely the first step in developing a small handful of key geographic Foundation Phase campuses that will look to bring connectivity to the mission of the Houston Dynamo Academy. The concept is already being practiced by several major clubs around the world, particularly in the Netherlands, a country long known for its exceptional development of young players, at clubs like PSV Eindhoven, Feyenoord and AZ Alkmaar.
“These kids (at Dynamo Academy West) train here locally three times a week and also train at Houston Sports Park a few times per month where our Dynamo First Team professionals are headquartered. It is a really good balance of fun, effort and learning and it allows the young player some really unique opportunities.” Holocher said. “We have a unique calling as the professional club and it is to be a positive asset and resource for soccer in our community.”
For parents with talented and ambitious young soccer players throughout Houston, the next Dalecrest Field might just be the popping around the corner in their neighborhood to help grow the next generation of soccer stars from the Bayou City.
“Ultimately we will provide this opportunity for the families in the North and East regions of Greater Houston,” Holocher said. “We believe that ‘a rising tide lifts all boats.'”
For more information on the Houston Dynamo Academy, visit www.houstondynamoacademy.com.