By Tommy Wheeldon Jr
"Big thinking precedes great achievement."
— Wilferd Peterson
I want to take you all on a little mental journey with me if you would allow it? I want to give you a glimpse into our future, as I share with you our 5-year vision of where this current road we are on is leading. I hope by the end of this article, you will have gained a better understanding on where we are heading and become as excited as I am to enjoy this educational journey with the Foothills Family. Before we start looking into the metaphoric crystal ball, I want to remind you all of where we have come from in our not to distant past and almost replicate the ‘Christmas Carol Story’ with the ghosts of our Foothills past, present and future.
The ghost of Foothills PAST
In 2005-06 Calgary Foothills almost embarked upon a merger with Calgary Celtic out of necessity more than anything as we were losing players rapidly and a merger seemed the only solution. For whatever reason, the proposed merger fell through and the club stabilized and the reigns were passed on from Troye Flannery as the Technical Director, to Graham Kennedy. Troye was head hunted by his former school, Trinity Western University to take up a full time coaching position with their Men’s Program. Strangely enough, Graham was actually Troye’s predecessor before taking on a teaching/coaching role with the Edge School (2005-07). As it happened, Graham brought me in as the Assistant Technical Director and we set about building upon the now stabilized foundations with a program the size of 350 kids total from U10-U18. Our home back then was a small office out of The Family Leisure Centre, (now know as The Trico Centre) and we had 2 full time staff, with 1 part time Office Manager, the always warm and endearing Betty-Ann Price. Our training locations were based out of any school gym we could get our hands on from Third Academy on 22X to McKenzie School where we had to use the bright yellow fuzzy balls. In what seemed to a pattern emerging, Graham Kennedy was recruited by his former University (St. Francis Xavier) to take over as their men’s Head Coach in 2008. I was then handed the keys to the club and brought in Leon Hapgood as my Assistant Technical Director.
The ghost of Foothills PRESENT
Now let’s step on the gas a bit and skip the building process of how we got to where we are through every step of that 7 ½ year journey to the program that is now 2500 players deep from U3-U23 and what seems an army of Foothills Coaches in our new home, The Factory. We now have 8 full time staff and 2 part time administrators catering to every department from Grassroots to Sport Science. Troye Flannery is back in green passing on his years of coaching experience as our Director of Coaching these days… well as they say ‘once you go green, there is no other team’. In that time frame we have challenged status quo and continued to raise the bar for what can be achieved from a club out of Calgary, Canada, who in the World’s eyes are still relative minnows, but in every Champion there was once a beginner. We have built this club on outstanding individuals creating a culture of excellence that produces great players. In Leon Hapgood we have one of the most influential Academy Directors in the Country and I’d put his infectious and imaginative sessions up against anyone in Canada. Leon has this gift with players in that he finds a way to push them in the most enjoyable manner possible. He leads an innovative Academy staff that has rapidly expanded to include the Province’s first Tier 2/3 specialist Development Academy Manager in Lee Tucker. Within 18 months with our club, Lee has made the Development Academy his life’s work and is shaping the culture of our Tier 2/3 players and coaches to do more and push their own boundaries for better. The Academy team also boasts another ‘Wheeldon’ in my younger brother Jonathan who is our Skills Coach for the valuable ages of 7-12 years old, which studies show is the optimal time for skill acquisition in youth players. You can only begin to imagine the environment ‘Jay’ grew up in, as a kid he had current Blizzard Technical Director Tommy Wheeldon Sr as his Father/Coach and me as his big brother dragging him along to as many football events as I had. I think he kicked a ball long before he said his first word! As a result of his environment this lad is light years ahead in his footballing IQ, which is now translating into his advanced skills program. Just so you know, he also surpassed both my Father and I in gaining his UEFA B coaching license before we got ours at the ripe age of 25! At the base of our pyramid is Wayne ‘Clevs’ Cleverly, who may not be known to everyone in the club, but he is entrusted with organically growing our production line of players from Grassroots to U10. Clevs was yet another example of our forward thinking in that he was the first ever full time grassroots manager in the province. He may even be the first in the Country, but I’d have to delve a little deeper to find that stat out. This summer Clevs will be responsible for overseeing the playing and learning environment of approximately 1500 players and 200-300 coaches. Now that’s a production line.
Lastly we have our Sport Science Department, which was recently departed by the fantastic Nathan Bullock who left us with a heavy heart and a phenomenal structure for developing athletes and reducing injuries. At the time of writing, Taylor Evernden a former Foothills player himself and a recent Kinesiology graduate out of the University of Saskatchewan is our interim lead of this area as we look to expand on what Nathan had started.
The ghost of Foothills FUTURE
I am now writing to you as Technical Director of the Calgary Foothills Soccer Club of 2020. Our club has expanded to a player base of 4000 from Grassroots to adult and within that we have 500 coaches, all with a minimum certification of the NCCP licenses. We are now universally recognized as having the most qualified coaches in the Country as a minimum standard. The Provincial B course is something all our Tier 1-3 coaches have achieved and 10% of our coaches have gained their National B licence.
The Factory has since been vacated, as our Foothills Family has grown too big for our previous home and we now operate out of the “Foothills Field of Dreams”. This was the first full sized (11v11) field to be built indoors in Alberta. Our new home also boasts the best outdoor grass pitch, with it’s own 2,000 seats in where we host marquee games on. Within the Field of Dreams, our Sport Science Department has evolved into a ‘High Performance Centre’ maintaining its athlete development ethos, but expanding to incorporate video analysis, mental training, sports nutrition and a sprint coach. Our Performance Centre will house some of the best innovative minds in their fields and the highest quality of technology to accompany their vision.
Our club has once again stepped up the plate to support Canadian soccer by becoming a talent hotbed that creates National team players. Sam Adekugbe and Sarah Kinzer are now regulars with the senior national team; whilst in every age group under (U20 – U17 – U15) we have a Foothills Academy player. Our pyramid has expanded to cater for every player possible from our recreational Tier 6 players who just want to play for fun to those wanting to wear the maple leaf of Canada. To get here we had to add another layer of our pyramid and we expanded our program to include a W-League women’s professional team, whilst we promoted our men’s PDL team to the USL Pro division. Underneath our senior teams, we now have a U16 and U18 residency program that allows our players to attend the same High School program together and train daily.
Our Grassroots program is now the official soccer provider for all the major SE communities totaling 2500 kids aged between 3-8 years old as we ensure that we help put the FUN in fundamentals and promote the introduction to an active lifestyle through the vehicle of soccer and the Foothills Blueprint.
We pride ourselves on having the most players graduate from our program onto post secondary opportunities as not only skilled players, but outstanding individuals through the life lessons they have learned at our club. As a club we are not only having an impact on Canadian soccer, but a positive effect on Canadian society too with the people we have helped shape.
Now whilst all this may seem like wishful thinking, let’s remember where we came from. We were a small club built in 1972 that avoided a merger in 2005 and have since become a leading club in this great Country for the way we operate. If Canada is ever to qualify for a men’s World Cup again, or the Women win one then it takes people with the belief that we can help and a vision that say’s this is how we are going to do it.
Fortunately we have both.