WALNUT CREEK, CALIF. (Jan. 31, 2017) - When the Development Academy expanded its programming into Zone 1 (U-12) during the 2016-17 season, clubs around the country had the chance to impact the everyday environments of young soccer players at an earlier age, through Development Academy standards and player development initiatives. One of the most impactful initiatives of the U-12 age group is the Development Academy Futsal Period. As a top-class event to help young players across the country, the event strives to improve game understanding, comfort with the ball and confidence. The Academy Futsal Showcases continue to be a staple opportunity for players to enjoy the challenge of playing a fast paced, skill-oriented game that tests their abilities while allowing them to experiment and express themselves freely.

While the Academy Futsal Showcases solely spotlight the U-12 age group, all clubs across the Academy are encouraged to train and play futsal during the futsal period (December through mid-February). Silicon Valley Soccer Academy, led by Academy Director Gerson Perez, are one such club that embraces the technical development opportunity futsal provides to better serve its players.

For Silicon Valley, futsal training begins one month before the showcase each winter, focusing on in-house training sessions that increase the number of touches and emphasize movement patterns. The club also schedules a futsal friendly with neighboring Academy clubs before the team travels to the showcase. Perez says his teams enjoy the fast-paced, attacking nature of the game and always ask for more opportunities to play futsal after the Academy futsal period ends.

"I think futsal gets them extra touches and gets them active in the winter," Perez said. "For us, it is an important game because it teaches them the movements and rotations of players and how to fill spaces, which they can implement even at 11v11 play. In this 5v5 format, they see it a lot more and there are a lot more repetitions, so they enjoy it."

The Academy's commitment to development, however, extends far beyond the futsal period. Silicon Valley has crafted a philosophy dedicated to player development and improvement. Perez is keen to hire coaches who strive to better themselves and constantly look for areas in which the club can improve the everyday environment, including a sports performance coach and data analysis though wearable GPS units. Amongst Perez's staff is former U.S. Men's National Team World Cup Legend and U.S. Soccer Hall of Famer Hugo Perez. Perez, who also served as a U.S. Soccer Technical Advisor and U-15 BNT coach, has a primary role with the club in serving as the Director of Coaching and Youth Development, while also coaching the U-12 Academy team.

"I really believe in working with the coaches beforehand," Hugo Perez said. "Then they come in and run the training sessions. I'm there observing them and I'm able to help them out or let them know what I see. I also learn a lot from them."

Academy Director Gerson Perez also feels the Academy's expansion into Zone 1 has helped his younger age groups feel more comfortable once they move to full-field play. The players grow into the Academy environment and know what to expect in terms of level of play, showcase environment and travel.

"It just gives them more experience in the program," Perez said when reflecting on his club's Futsal Showcase weekend. "I think it really does prepare them for the 11v11 format and they aren't caught in the headlights. They just play."

With the U.S. Soccer Development Academy now in its second year of U-12 programming, the benefits are already being seen this season within the Silicon Valley Soccer Academy U-14 team, who experienced the U-12 Futsal Showcase last season.

"I thought our 2004s (current U-14s) improved tremendously from last year's Futsal Showcase," Perez said. "We were quite surprised, once they moved to the 11v11 format, of how well they developed and how much they progressed throughout the year. The Futsal period helped them get more touches as they were in more tight spaces, and they benefited from it for sure."

True to the philosophy he has worked to build, Gerson Perez and Silicon Valley will continue to ask questions that aim to better the club's environment and improve their players.