Girls Elite - training - Simmrin Dhaliwal - 2014
Bob Frid/Vancouver Whitecaps FC

How Whitecaps FC's Girls Elite REX program is "going to leave a huge legacy" after the Women's World Cup

VANCOUVER, BC – The Women’s World Cup is over and it wasn’t quite the storybook ending Canada had in mind. But their story is far from over.

In many ways, it’s just beginning.

There’s a lot going on behind the scenes to create sustained success for the Canadian women’s national team on the world stage. 

And, as it turns out, Vancouver Whitecaps FC are a big part of it.

In 2013, the Canadian Soccer Association launched what they call the Women’s Regional EXCEL Program – a six-year developmental program for high-potential U-14 to U-20-aged players.

In a nutshell, it’s designed to develop “more Sinclairs, more often – by design, not by chance.”

There are three full-time, fully-funded Women’s Regional EXCEL Centres (REX) in Canada, including the recently-launched Whitecaps FC Girls Elite REX Program in partnership with BC Soccer.

“It’s going to leave a huge legacy after this World Cup,” said Emma Humphries, the interim Whitecaps FC Girls Elite REX head coach. “We’re working with 13 and 14 year olds on habits that [John Herdman] wants to see in his team in 10 years time.”

“We’ve already got them in our program,” she continued. “I don’t know too many other systems out there in the world that are strategically targeting 13 and 14 year olds with this level of investment and detail from the senior team coach.”

That’s one of the main benefits with this program: it’s directly linked with the Canadian Soccer Association. More than you could even imagine.

Whitecaps FC are aligned with Canada’s U-17, U-20, and senior women’s national teams when it comes to curriculum and terminology, but that’s only part of it.

Almost every week, the ‘Caps Girls Elite REX squad plays against boys teams in a high performance league, or university level women’s teams. And in those games, the Canadian coaches are very easily able to track players’ individual stats though an advanced video analysis system.

We’re not talking about goals and assists either.

They’re looking at specific habits like how many times a midfielder turns in front of the back four, how many times a forward can receive in behind the back line, how many times a defender plays the ball through the middle to a forward, and so on.

“We’re measuring the standards of what we call a gold medal standard player … the Christine Sinclair of the future,” Humphries said. “They can log on at any moment and see how our players are tracking in relation to the statistical measures that [Herdman] classifies for a world-class player.” 

And if they’re tracking well, they’ll get a call-up to one of the national team camps.

There’s more, too.

The Girls Elite REX staff recently set up a drone camera at their training sessions, which allows Canada Soccer REX director and U-17 head coach Bev Priestman to watch live from home.

“She keeps a heavy hand in what we’re doing to make sure they’re developing as she’d want them to,” Humphries said.

There are currently 27 players in Whitecaps FC’s Girls Elite REX system – many of whom have already broken into the Canadian youth national teams. They train Monday to Friday and spend many more hours watching video, studying tactics, and so on.

The program is based on four pillars of development: physical, tactical/technical, mental, and social/emotional.

There really is no stone unturned.

“Everything is very methodical,” Humphries said. “Literally from 13, we’re looking at what these kids need to know to get to the end product.”

The end product, of course, is to get the Canadian women’s national team back on the podium.

By design – not by chance.  

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