With the success of George Bello, George Campbell, and other players signing domestic contracts and playing at the top echelons in the country, Atlanta United fans know the club’s commitment to its academy. Less known, however, is that grassroots Atlanta United is doing everything possible to improve the quality of football across metropolitan Atlanta and to help boys and girls achieve more through their athletic performance.
As an occasional fan of Atlanta United and Major League Soccer, it’s easy to believe that the extent of Atlanta United’s involvement in youth soccer lies in its vast academy system under the direction of Tony Annan. Under this structure, however, hides the club’s Regional Development Schools (RDS) program, designed to provide coaching and a connection with Atlanta United to boys and girls who play with their respective clubs across the state. Basically, the goal of the program, led by Dean Atkins, Director of Coach Education and Development at Atlanta United, is to give players more touchpoints in the development process and to provide them with coaching that can improve their game and their chances.
“The RDS is a complementary training program, so we are not a youth club,” Atkins said in an interview with Dirty South Soccer in March. “There are a lot of fantastic clubs on site. For example, suppose your child plays for one of these clubs. The Regional Development School is a complementary education to what you receive in your club environment so you can learn our philosophy and methodology from trained youth coaches from Atlanta United. “
While the Atlanta United’s Academy offers a very straightforward pipeline for male players to potentially get a professional contract at the USL or MLS level, the RDS program is much broader in who it addresses and how it can help.
“The overall benefit of the program for boys and girls is that it supports their development towards the next goals,” said Atkins. “We have hundreds of players in the program, both boys and girls.
“Although we hope that a number of players will move from RDS to our academy, there are only that many seats. We have one team per age group from 12th to 19th school year. For the rest of these boys, we support their development for whatever comes next for them. And that’s no different with the girls. With the idea of rolling these programs out from the start, we wanted to make sure we had a girls and a boys program to support every child who is passionate about football. “
Players will take part in one of the Regional Development School’s two showcases, which will take place in March at the Franklin Gateway Sports Complex across from the Atlanta United training ground. The players were entitled to participate in the showcase through nominations from their club coaches. Atkins said, “You can play against and against an even higher level of play and against children you may never have seen or met, or whom you have networked with or played against. It is no different with the girls than with the boys. It is really important to recognize those who excelled in the program over the past 12 months. “Casey Sykes / Atlanta United
The birth and growth of the RDS program is an exciting new component of grassroots football cultivation in the Atlanta area. Soccer in the Streets, an Atlanta United partner, is a key element of the toolkit that ensures everyone in the community has an opportunity to engage in the sport.
“We saw good things about football in the streets and what they are doing in their communities. And our goal is no different. We want to try to serve and support communities across the state, ”Atkins said. “We want to support not just them but all local youth clubs so that we can work hand in hand to improve the level of the game. It’s not just good [Atlanta United], but the region as a whole so that the football game continues to grow as it has done so far. We just want to be a part of it and see it flourish. “
The program is constantly growing. Atkins says the total number of attendees is already over a thousand and the coverage areas are growing with them. The program has used fields across the metropolitan area of Atlanta, from the Mercedes-Benz Backyard Stadium to fields in Alpharetta and Marietta. The next frontier for the club is to expand the RDS program in Dalton, Georgia, a hotspot for soccer talent in the northwest corner of the state.
As Atkins explained, the program is complementary. Participants in the RDS program receive coaching from qualified professionals who can help the children achieve the desired level. While the program is still in its infancy, it has already helped six players enter the academy. The hope is that it will similarly help countless other boys and girls improve their games in order to be eligible for college scholarships in the future.
“We continue to have good relationships so we can continue to thrive,” said Atkins. “I think it would be an ambitious goal to see more players from the men’s and women’s national teams from Georgia. In collaboration with local clubs, we work hand in hand to develop the game in the region, on the market, so that it is the best we can be. We’re all in the same boat. “