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Whitecaps developing soccer culture in the Kootenays

Brett Adams, regional head coach of the Whitecaps’ Kootenay Academy Centre, coaches young players at a Whitecaps clinic in Nelson. - Nelson Star
Brett Adams, regional head coach of the Whitecaps’ Kootenay Academy Centre, coaches young players at a Whitecaps clinic in Nelson.
— image credit: Nelson Star

Will Johnson/Nelson Star

Brett Adams has the comedic timing of Jonah Hill, a Nottingham accent that sounds vaguely like Hugh Grant's to the untrained Canadian ear, and a passion for coaching soccer in the Kootenays.

The 31-year-old former semi-professional soccer player, who was hired as the regional head coach of the Whitecaps' Kootenay Academy Centre this past October after working for clubs in England for many years, has big plans for what he hopes to accomplish with soccer in the Kootenays. And he seems thrilled by the coming prospects.

"You can't wake up and not want to work in a community like this," Adams told the Nelson Star on Monday, after leading a coaching clinic in Lakeside Park. "It's not just the scenery, it's the people. They're friendly, welcoming, and most importantly, they're responsive to the vision."

What vision is that?

"We want to grow the game here in the Kootenays," said Adams.

Adams, along with his second-in-command Sam Heap, 28, is working to introduce the rigorous Whitecaps program to communities that may not have experienced the same level of competitive soccer in the past. Though he is already responsible for approximately 900 youth players in the region, that's not enough for him. He wants to continue to spread the culture and permeate communities that haven't traditionally embraced soccer in the past.

He said as each community improves, it will raise the level of the game being played and give talented players the opportunity to rise to the BCSPL league and ultimately, he hopes, to the Vancouver Whitecaps.

"We've yet to make a MLS superstar. But that's the long term aim," said Heap. "The more areas in the Kootenays we develop, the stronger the overall Kootenays become."

Adams' emphasized that though their ambitions are to prepare their players for opportunities to move up, they are also focused on improving the day-to-day lives of the players in their care.

"There's nothing that makes me prouder than seeing a kid walking downtown with a Whitecaps tracksuit and you can see there's a bounce in her step. You can look at that logo and know you're a part of that club. That club, that's you."

Adams' zeal for the sport is pseudo-religious and he discusses the game with the fervour of an obsessed acolyte.

"We expect our players to honour the code," he said. "We want to develop honest, trustworthy people with correct principles." The principles he's talking about come from the Whitecaps' motto: "Our All, Our Honour". When asked what these words mean to him personally, Adams didn't have to hesitate for a moment.

"It means treat people the way you want to be treated. It means live your values," he said. "The beautiful thing about soccer is there's an attack and a defence, and both sides have a strategy and both sides have a plan. You know what you're supposed to be doing."

When asked about the war metaphors he often uses while talking to the kids, Adams said he often thinks about the soccer pitch as a "battlefield", which it was it is often called in Britain.

His chess-like approach to the game has a big picture strategy that utilizes as many players as possible, rather than relying on one or two particularly advanced members of the team to run isolated at the waiting goalie. He encourages his charges to be creative and one of his goals is to try to get away from long ball tactics and encourage a more well-rounded approach to scoring goals.

"I want extra bodies in the box," he said. "The crux of attacking is attacking in numbers."

As his young female players zigzagged and raced across the grass on Monday night, Adams shouted commands and encouragements, jumping in to demonstrate the more complicated footwork and every now and then taking a break to crack jokes. He offered five points to the first player to successfully nail a moving car with a soccer ball.

Adams said the Whitecaps want to expand their program to places that have been less touched by soccer culture, including Cranbrook, Creston and Fernie. To that end, the Whitecaps Kootenay Academy Centre is offering four summer camps in Castlegar, Grand Forks, Cranbook and Nelson in July and August. All the camps are three days long and open to anyone interested in joining. The Nelson camp is geared to more elite players.

Heap is mainly based out of Cranbrook, and he believes the community there has the capability of becoming a prospect area on the same level as Nelson.

"There's many regions we want to get into," said Heap. He said parts of the Kootenays are like an "untapped market".

Heap believes soccer's inexpensive cost attracts children and families from a variety of social backgrounds, and doesn't create the same financial strain as hockey. And in many cases, the necessary facilities are waiting there to get used.

"You look around, every city in the Kootenays has got these fabulous facilities. So they have the potential to really expand," he said. "We want to see them achieve that potential."

But the real resource is the players. "These kids? They're here, spot on, very clued up, geared up to play and they've got a real passion for soccer in this area," he said. "Now we just have to get them out there playing."

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