It's all in the name for East End academy Toronto Skillz, one of the latest additions to the 2016 League1 Ontario men's division.
"Our focus has always been the technical development at the younger ages," said academy president and director Jake Doodnath. "We have been really focused on making sure our players have a really good technical base, and we see the benefits of that later."
"It's very important that our players show flair and creativity and are not scared to take on players in the right areas of the field. We feel that is something that is missing right now, there are not enough players that are brave enough to be the player to try and make a difference."
Established in Scarborough in 2008, the academy has been successful in its first decade, growing from the bottom out with new generations of youth each year and drawing on strong community connections to foster a close-knit structure.
"We don't try and have a massive program, but choose to work with the ones we have identified that are willing to put the work in to move on to the next level," explained Doodnath.
"We are based in a high-immigrant community and with that we have unique challenges, such as both parents working long hours. It can be a struggle for families to keep everything balanced," he added.
"A lot of times our players don't have the luxury of their parents being at every practice or game so it is our job to get them to and fro training on time. It can be a big challenge, but it is fantastic when we see the benefits. Our players tend to be very committed to the organization, their parents are very supportive as they know their sons and daughters are in a safe environment, and this is one of the big things that make us who we are. Rather then go and hang out, our players are coming to training when it's snowing and minus 25. They are motivated."
Doodnath explains that motivation is a key element for Toronto Skillz players, as the club institutes a rigorous weekly training schedule that puts players through their paces to improve technical ability to the fullest. He adds that training sessions for groups are strategically scheduled so that players can see what is coming at their next level of development. Doodnath adds that the ability of players to observe other sessions is as key a coaching tool as what the technical staff runs within their own training sessions.
"It is very important for us to create an environment where you can show the player what the next step will be in their developmental progression," he said. "It also creates very close knit bonds between our teams and age groups."
The academy's approach has yielded dividends in recent years, with a number of players achieving significant milestones. Aaliyah Scott is currently representing Canada at the U17 level, while others are being monitored closely by professional clubs.
"We have some players in Europe on trial, some in the US at school, some in provincial programs, and involved in the national programs as well," Doodnath said.
"Aaliyah Scott came to us quite a few years ago, and she was very de-motivated," he added. " A lot of the youth clubs out there were so focused on winning that a lot of the smaller and perhaps more technical players were not getting the opportunity to do things and that was where she was at. We saw the talent and determination in her, and already by 14 she is in the national team and being approached by some big US universities. We are hoping she does really well in the qualifiers this month. Our goal is to have a women's team in League1 in the near future."
Toronto Skillz also draws on a number of partnerships forged with professional clubs abroad to bring in highly-qualified coaching, and fleshes out connections that may exist in the home countries of the academy's members.
"We had some players go and play with Trinidadian team W Connection to get experience at a top level and be seen," he said. "When you have players with ability, they need to be pushed and moved on."
"We just established the senior program two years ago as our players were coming out of the academy section and needed a place to keep developing," Doodnath revealed. "The senior section is really an extension of our academy philosophy. We really believe that senior soccer is needed to help our players with the next steps. When we showcase players to clubs or coaches in Europe, they need a reference point for the videos and level they are looking at. They understand what a standards driven third tier means."
With ambitions to turn the senior team of the academy into a full-fledged professional section eventually, Doodnath says that path will be negotiated carefully with League1 representing the first of many building blocks at the senior end of the organization.
"After all the work we have done with a player up to the age of 16, if you don't have a level for them to go to afterwards then all the work is for nothing," he concluded.
"We think the pathway that League1 offers is extremely important for the development of the game in our country, and for the opportunities that our players can realistically engage with. For now, we are trying to get our players into higher levels that they can play, whether that be a pro-Am environment like League1, where they have the chance to be seen and gauged for the pro levels, a route to post-secondary education, or simply playing at the highest level available in their area."