That is what Atlanta United set out to create in Georgia’s grassroots soccer community when it established the Regional Development School (RDS).
Despite the hurdles that the pandemic brought on, the club’s commitment to that mission has remained steady and its youth player development program has continued to serve as a pathway into the Academy.
“This is a watershed moment for the Regional Development School,” Atlanta United Director of Coach Education and Development Dean Atkins said.
Since 2020, the Regional Development School graduated 15 players into Atlanta United’s Academy, bringing the total number of graduates to 21 since the program began in 2018.
“We’re extremely proud of each of our RDS graduates who have worked hard across many seasons to hone their craft and put themselves in a position to excel, and take the next step, into our Academy,” Atkins said.
The growth of the pipeline from RDS to the Academy is best illustrated by the U-12 team, which this season includes seven graduates of the Regional Development School and is coached by Kellington Boddie, who was a RDS Regional Coordinator prior to being promoted to Academy Head Coach.
“It’s so cool to see the excitement of kids coming in for tryouts and seeing them play with RDS week in and week out and then before you know it, they get that invitation to represent the club on the Academy level,” Boddie said.
The first season is always special for an Academy coach. But Boddie said his was made even more memorable by the fact that four of his players joined him in making the jump from RDS to the Academy.
“Not only is it good for them to be able to feel that recognition of the hard work that they and their parents have put in,” Boddie said, “but it’s also good for their peers to be able to say ‘I can be that next guy.’ Being able to work with Dean [Atkins] and the staff, they gave me an opportunity to, not only try new things, but fit into the mold here at Atlanta United. I worked hard, and they worked hard at pushing me, and I believe it’s the same for the players,” Boddie added.
This year, seven RDS products will compete with the U-12s in the Southeastern Clubs Champions League (SCCL) with six others competing with the U-13s in MLS NEXT.
Alongside their previous clubs, RDS has helped prepare these young players for the rigors of Atlanta United’s Academy, but the mandate of the program remains the same: grow the game and help develop the next generation of soccer players in and around Georgia.
“We’re hard at work fine-tuning the curricula, providing detailed player feedback via evaluations and adding additional competitive pathways in the form of our RDS Showcase Teams,” Atkins said. “In our eyes, the RDS program is just getting started.
RDS now hosts programs in seven locations in Georgia—Marietta, Gainesville, Dalton, Doraville, East Atlanta, Peachtree City and Alpharetta—and plans to expand its reach even further to meet Georgia’s youth players wherever they may be.