Developing strong soccer players is always going to be one of the goals for the Austin FC Academy. But developing good citizens of the community along the way is just as important.
Since last fall, 4ATX Foundation has been leading an initiative to help develop the social-emotional skills of Academy U-13 players. The U-13 Academy team has been developing their social-emotional skills every week using the power of Restorative Practices.
The weekly sessions include players, 4ATX Foundation coaches, and Academy coaches sitting in Restorative Circles together on the pitch to discuss various social-emotional topics, including team dynamics and managing a competitive environment. This is done by splitting the team into small groups of five with one facilitator who is trained in these circle-keepings.
“We are creating a Club-wide approach to youth development so that every player, from Verde Leaders to Academy players, has the chance to develop both their soccer skills and their social-emotional skills,” said Austin FC Vice President, Community Impact Kaitlin Swarts. “At the core of this approach is utilizing Restorative Circles that teach critical skills like communication, self-management and conflict resolution.”
This kind of training will help the players develop skills that will benefit them throughout their lives including going to college, having healthy relationships and establishing a career.
What has been happening so far is just Phase 1 of the initiative. The next two phases will include educating Academy coaches on social-emotional learning and restorative practices along with giving those coaches an opportunity to run the circles themselves.
All the skills that are learned through social-emotional practices can be applied in multiple contexts, including on the field. With such a competitive environment on a day-to-day basis, these skills could be applied towards having players performing at their peak when they step on the field.
“Coaches from 4ATX Foundation have been working with our U-13 Academy team and have had a massive impact on their social and emotional development,” said Austin FC Academy GM Tyson Wahl. “They help create a healthy environment for young athletes to be vulnerable, express themselves, get to know their teammates at a deeper level, and to feel more confident and positive about their connection to soccer. The players look forward to circle each week and we are grateful for the work they are doing with our Academy.”
Social-emotional learning is not widely implemented across MLS academies. As Austin expands the innovative initiative throughout the Academy, the Club will not only produce quality soccer players, but quality people.