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Diapoulis announces Elite Player Development Limited initiative
A new club-centric program for girls and boys

Dear WAGS members,

As you have all hopefully learned by now, our league is celebrating its 40th birthday this year. And no matter how long you and your favorite young player have been involved in WAGS, you've played a vital part in the long road to reach this point – and it's one of the most amazing stories in American soccer history!

Starting in 1974, a group of brave, strong women and girls, led by some amazing individuals like Rael Vodicka, Mavis Derflinger and Adele Dolansky, worked tirelessly to create a new kind of soccer league – built on the revolutionary idea that girls not only deserved to play the game, but do so at a high level, with the same opportunities as their male counterparts. 

Amid many changes on the dynamic landscape of American youth soccer over the ensuing four decades, there's been one constant: the Washington Area Girls Soccer League. And those founding ideals still guide us today. 

But we continue to face challenges and obstacles, and our volunteer-centric management structure now stands in contrast to the increasing number of full-time professional administrators within the game.

In recent years we've had to step back and take stock of our strengths and weaknesses in the midst of that wider landscape. We've made several changes along the way both internally and in what the league has offered our members. We've been proactive in rewarding hard work within the league, including the selection and training of an all-star team that is heading to England later this summer!

We also helped launch the Washington Spirit professional team with a significant financial sponsorship and ongoing cross promotion in order to do all we can to provide opportunities at "the next level" for our players in the future.

Overall, I'd like to think we have done a pretty good job listening to ideas from all quarters.

And yet, our great league continues to lose quality players to the plethora of new "club-centric" leagues, many of which promise a better player development environment, but seem to more typically than not dramatically reduce playing time where it counts for half their rosters.

While it's hard to argue with the quality of competition found in most ECNL games, the jury remains far from decided on whether the extended travel and additional costs are really worth it in the other "second tier" regional leagues seeking to follow ECNL's club-centric model.

Most recently, our process of self-reflection and listening to our members has lead us to meet with officials from U.S. Club Soccer, a sanctioning body founded in 2001 to foster the growth and development of soccer clubs throughout the United States in order to improve the quality of play across all levels of our nation's soccer scene.

We believe that U.S. Club Soccer's approach reduces the rules, regulations and red tape that we've experienced in our dealings with other governing bodies, and empowers coaches and directors of coaching – who are our best-trained teachers of the game, who know our players best – to create the best possible environment for players' growth and development.

So, as we seek to evolve our model for modern times while staying true to our founding principles, we have decided to partner with U.S. Club Soccer and take our highly popular “PODS” program to new heights with the creation of Elite Player Development Limited (EPDL), a club-centric league structure for up to 10 member clubs yet to be named.

This exciting new initiative will give its member clubs the freedom to build the best possible training and match environment for our kids. And it starts with leadership: an advisory panel of technical directors and directors of coaching selected from the clubs who will be its founding members.

They will set policy for this program, not me or the WAGS board. They will make the right decisions for our players' long-term growth. They will be freed and empowered by the flexible infrastructure of U.S. Club Soccer, which recognizes that clubs are the primary vehicle for player development.

And perhaps most notably for some, EPDL will include boys divisions in the U-9 and U-10 age groups. With a club-based model proving to be the most appropriate route from a player development standpoint, and the PODS program having shown us the value of multiple age groups at the same venues on the same days, current WAGS technical directors have told us that it would similarly be easiest to have boys and girls at the same locations at the same time and playing by the same rules they believe best for development overall.

So under EPDL, our kids will have access to the best instruction and the most appropriate competition, our schedules will be more convenient than ever and our member clubs will have the optimal structure for future growth and evolution with coaches making coaching decisions. If everything goes according to plan, we'll debut this new approach this fall.

One of the few exceptions to rules setting by the advisory board is that the EPDL will require each member club to enter their top team, which we know conflicts with similar rules at other leagues; and thus limiting this program's potential members.

Of course, we understand that EPDL may not be the choice or option for everyone, and in those cases, our existing WAGS structure remains. But we strongly believe this model is the way forward, and we hope that eligible WAGS member clubs will join us, and work together to make this opportunity available to as many players as possible.

Thanks for taking the time to read this, and please do not hesitate to contact me or other WAGS board members with questions, comments and suggestions. You can reach out via email at admin@wagsl.com, or call the WAGS office: (443) 789-4569. While we do have several clubs committed, the program is not yet full, so we want to talk to you if you're an eligible and interested club.

We deeply appreciate all you do to make WAGS a special experience for our players, and look forward to working with you in making this exciting new vision a reality.

Regards,

Kathie Diapoulis
President, WAGS 

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