09 Aug Hudson Valley youth soccer players learn Alex Morgan’s training regimen
It doesn’t take long before the groans can be heard between deep breaths, along with the complaints of sore calves.
The workout is “very intense,” Casey Stowell said and, despite their year-round training, most of them aren’t accustomed to grueling three-hour practice sessions.
“But I love it,” said Stowell, a rising senior on the Arlington High School girls soccer team. She and her sister, Kaylee, participated in the workouts. “It’s never easy, but you know you’re working toward something.”
It helps, of course, knowing that this training is what some of their idols have adopted. And from the same instructor.
David Copeland-Smith, a soccer trainer renowned for his work with members of the US Women’s National Team, spent the last week in the Hudson Valley, coaching the young hopefuls of Nirvana FC, a club soccer program based in Washingtonville.
His drills are physically demanding and center on the development of technical skills not typically taught at the youth level. It can be a lot for anyone, let alone an 8-year-old, to adjust to.
But, the children were buoyed by the fact soccer superstars like Alex Morgan, Abbey Wambach, Kelley O’Hara and Ali Riley all had similar experiences early on with the training. Their results, including World Cup victories and Olympic medals, essentially are advertisements.
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Jessie Fleming and Janine Beckie are among Copeland-Smith’s pupils, and those two helped Team Canada top Sweden in penalty kicks Friday to capture that nation’s first Olympic gold in soccer.
“With the excitement of the Olympics and David sharing stories about players on the national team, it’s inspiring to the kids,” Nirvana FC director Jennifer Czumak said. “The training is tough, but they’re locked in.”
Copeland-Smith said this week he was asked “at least 15 times a day” about the US Women’s National Team — Morgan in particular. He welcomes the questions, he said, because the stories come with a lesson.
“Alex is a phenomenal role model for young athletes because of her work ethic,” he said. “Great athletes are put on a pedestal and people assume they’re born with incredible skills. They don’t see behind the scenes, when Alex is missing 70% of her shots in a session, which is something they can relate to. They don’t see how much effort she needs to put in to being that good. I want kids to know that.”
He said he texted Morgan congratulations after the United States beat Australia in the bronze medal match Thursday and her response was, “It wasn’t gold. It’s back to work.”
Nirvana FC is a club of 75 players, ages ranging from 4 to 18, and their 8 and up group participated in these practices. It was the sixth time Copeland-Smith has visited the club as a guest trainer, but after an absence last year due to COVID-19, “about 40%” of the group was being introduced to him and his Beast Mode Soccer method this week.
Copeland-Smith is based in California but offers training to club teams across the country, traveling with two assistant coaches. They work primarily on individual skills, each player practicing with their own ball and learning sophisticated dribbling maneuvers and touch techniques.
For example, some drills will require a series of moves, including inside-outside rolls and L turns performed in quick succession repeatedly, Stowell said. Her younger sister, Megan Stowell, is recovering from knee surgery and couldn’t participate, but she watched diligently and jotted down notes.
“It’s been excellent,” Copeland-Smith said. “You see the hesitancy and some intimidation in the players who haven’t done it before, when they’re working next to someone who has a few years of experience with it. But it’s about getting better and more comfortable, and gaining knowledge you can apply to your own training.”
Casey Stowell, who also worked with Copeland-Smith in 2019, said she incorporated his practices into the footwork portion of her daily training. The midfielder, whom Czumak called “a Division I prospect,” has starred for Arlington, helping them win a Section 1 Class AA championship and the Dutchess County regional title last fall.
“I’ve definitely gotten stronger and faster,” she said. “The sessions don’t get easier, per se, but you get faster on the ball and it feels more natural.”
Stowell also was the youngest member of the Nirvana ‘Illusion’ team, their most senior group, that was regarded among the best club teams nationally during its travel tournament season.
Czumak, who also coaches the girls soccer team at Washingtonville High School, runs the Nirvana program with her husband, Bobby Czumak. She met Copeland-Smith years ago at a coaching convention in which his staff put on a field demonstration.
“I was drawn to what they were teaching and thought it could translate well to the club level,” she said. “I asked if he would be willing to do a camp with us.”
He joined them in 2014 and it’s become a summer tradition of sorts.
“Once they get their feet wet, the girls know what to expect and they’re very focused,” Czumak said. “It’s not what they’re used to; it’s not like scrimmaging. It’s learning intricate touches on the ball, and they soak it up.”
Origins of Beast Mode Soccer
After a short-lived playing career in his native England, Copeland-Smith turned his attention to coaching. The 43-year-old migrated to the United States in 2002 and worked as a club coach in Florida, which he said “wasn’t for me.”
He eventually moved to California and became a private skills coach and took on a gig as the junior varsity coach at the Harvard-Westlake School in Los Angeles. There, a serendipitous meeting helped launch his career.
The varsity head coach was unable to make it to practice one day and Copeland-Smith filled in. At the end of the session, he said, older players instructed freshmen to gather the equipment.
“I told them, ‘The seniors should lead by example and do it themselves,’” he said. “One of them comes to me and says, ‘You don’t understand, it’s a tradition.’ I told her it looks to me like a form of bullying, and that turned into an argument.”
It turned out the senior was Ali Riley. That was their introduction.
But, months later, she learned the junior varsity coach was also a skills coach and she asked him to help her train in preparation for the fall, when she was to begin her freshman year at Stanford. Copeland-Smith agreed and the two, in time, fostered a friendship.
One of Riley’s college teammates was Kelley O’Hara, whom she referred to her private coach. With the endorsement of two collegiate standouts, bound for national teams, word of mouth helped Copeland-Smith become a name in California soccer circles. Alex Morgan, a Los Angeles native, became his most famous client.
Riley now plays professionally for the Orlando Pride and for the New Zealand national team, and has competed in four Olympics and four World Cups.
“It was the players who told me I needed to start a company,” Copeland-Smith said. “Ali sat me down and said frankly, I need to grow up and start thinking like a businessman.”
And so was birthed Beast Mode Soccer in 2011.
Copeland-Smith still is based in California, training professionals, but he also travels the country doing clinics and camps with children as young as grade school. He is stern and demanding of his charges, Casey Stowell said, “but he’s not unreasonable.”
“The training is different, based on age and skill level, but not my attitude,” he said. “I only have one version of myself and I don’t flip a switch. I’m intense, but I want them to enjoy the sessions. If I’m a drill sergeant, it’s not fun for them or me.”
Stephen Haynes: email@example.com, 845-437-4826, Twitter: @StephenHaynes4
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