RLSA returns for 36th summer

RLSA returns for 36th summer
Ralph Lundy instructs a College of Charleston player during halftime of a spring match.

Ralph Lundy instructs a College of Charleston player during halftime of a spring match. (Dan Conover photo)

In the college coaching world, says Ralph Lundy Jr., there are two types of coaches: The ones from big programs who have the luxury of recruiting “made” players, and everybody else.

As the men’s soccer coach at a mid-major like the College of Charleston, Lundy figured out early on that the success of his program would depend on his ability to teach and mentor young people.

“I’ve always been known as a coach who can develop players,” Lundy said. “What I’ve focused on my whole career is really just growing players.”

Back in 1978, Lundy decided to extend that focus to a summer youth soccer academy. Thirty-five years later, his Ralph Lundy Soccer Academy sprawls across four campuses and eleven different summer sessions, with generations of players coming and going over the decades. ‘We’re almost to the point of having (grandkids) in the program,” he said.

I met Ralph in the stands at a Battery preseason match in March, and ever since that first conversation he’s been one of this site’s most gracious supporters, encouraging me to keep working and expanding. Which is why I’m so pleased that Ralph’s soccer academy signed on as the first soccer-related sponsor of CHSSoccer.net. Ralph Lundy Soccer Academy will be covering the cost of reporting and presenting the Battery articles we’ll publish here this spring, and since that’s going to make Ralph’s summer academy a visible presence here, I figured introducing readers to RLSA would be a good idea.

‘Everything is through the ball…’

Sessions are co-educational, but separated into 9-13 groups or 13-18 groups.

Sessions are co-educational, but separated into 9-13 groups or 13-18 groups.

The numbers alone are a little mind-boggling. This June, RLSA will offer regular and elite youth instruction at three locations — Christ School in Arden, N.C. (15 miles from downtown Asheville), the University of West Georgia in Carrollton, and Wofford College in Spartanburg, S.C. — plus a residential college identification camp at the College of Charleston’s Patriot’s Point facility in July.

Between all those sessions, more than 1,900 youth soccer players attend RLSA most years.

Other than the Patriots Point camp, the sessions are co-educational, and focus either on regular training for players 9-13, or regular or elite training for players 13-18. Each session runs four days, and each full training day extends from wake-up at 6:30 to lights-out at 10:30 p.m.

There's not much down time in a training schedule that runs from 7:30 a.m. until sunset. The training day is broken into four sessions.

There’s not much free time in a training schedule that runs from 7:30 a.m. until sunset. The day is broken into four sessions.

It’s a demanding schedule that comprises four highly structured daily training sessions, with each team under the supervision of a senior coach and an assistant who is a college soccer player. Each coach receives a lesson plan that the RLSA staff has developed over the years, and there’s almost zero down-time.

“The kids can do it,” Lundy said. “They can do it for four days. And the reason people keep coming back to me is that with that soccer ball, I train those kids like crazy. We don’t waste a minute. We don’t watch videos. We don’t go swimming. We play soccer.

“Everything is through the ball. We don’t run laps. If we run, we run with the ball. And people recognize this over 35 years. They know they’re going to get their money’s worth.”

Facilities and supervision

Parents attend an orientation at the start of each session.

Parents attend an orientation at the start of each session.

Lundy has been scheduling camps at the University of West Georgia in Carrollton for the past 25 years. He added Wofford College to the academy when his former assistant at the College of Charleston, Ralph Polson, took over the head coaching duties there six years ago, and described the facilities there as “quality all the way.” But the 500-acre campus at Christ School — a 200-student boarding school in the mountains of North Carolina — is a favorite of many campers. This will be the academy’s 23rd year at the school outside Asheville.

The college identification camp for teenage boys at Patriots Point from July 11-14 is the only session that doesn’t take place on a school campus. Players and staff stay at nearby hotel, and walk together to the training site.

Lundy runs a tight outfit and has zero tolerance for inappropriate behavior by his staff, a topic he discusses directly at parent orientation meetings. He spends June traveling from one camp to the other, teaches at least one mass training session a day, and spends every night in the same dorm where the campers stay. All staff members live on campus full-time during sessions.

The college identification program

The College of Charleston's soccer facility at Patriots Point in Mount Pleasant, SC.

The College of Charleston’s soccer facility at Patriots Point in Mount Pleasant, SC. (Dan Conover photo)

For the academy’s final session of the summer, Lundy brings in coaches from colleges and universities at a range of levels of competition to evaluate about 175 boys between age 13 and 18. Although many of the teens who attend the session come with the goal of playing for the College of Charleston, Lundy’s goal is find the right school for each player (RLSA has no connection to the College of Charleston).

“The unique thing about the college ID camp is we bring 10 other schools in to look at the kids. So when (most colleges have) their college id camp, they do it for (their program). And what I do is try to place every kid that comes. I try to help them go somewhere: Belmont Abbey, Francis Marion, Erksine, Newberry, Lees-McCrae, wherever. Because to me it’s important that I help a kid go play college soccer. Obviously, I’m trying to get the very best of the group, and most of them come because they’re interested in being Cougars. But I feel responsibility.”

The experience

Graduates celebrate completion of an academy session.

Graduates celebrate completion of an academy session.

At 14, Aaron Thornton is a starting goalkeeper for South Carolina United Mount Pleasant’s 1998 Palmetto team. His parents had sent him to soccer camps before his first session at Christ School four years ago, but they’d heard through the East Cooper grapevine that RLSA is the go-to program when a child’s casual interest in soccer clicks over into a serious passion.

“When I went through the parent orientation on Sunday, my first year, I was glad it was him that was about to endure the next four days and not me,” said Patrick Thornton, Aaron’s father. “And for the money, (Lundy) was telling me what I was getting, and I was all in.”

Four years later, Aaron keeps asking his father to register him for each coming summer, and Patrick Thornton’s remains sold on the academy.

Ralph Lundy Jr. addresses parents.

Ralph Lundy Jr. addresses parents.

“(Aaron) is a goalkeeper, but he also likes to play on the field,” he said. “Obviously, his ability to develop (those skills) is limited come game time, but he gets to play center-mid and striker when they have a comfortable-enough lead. And his coach said that Aaron has the cleanest touches, and knows instinctively what to do next before he receives the ball better than anyone else of his team. That was an unsolicited comment, which I thought was pretty impressive for a kid that’s stuck in goal 75 or 80 percent of the time. And that skill was learned at Ralph Lundy Soccer Academy.”

Thornton said he probably wouldn’t recommend RLSA for the casual recreational player, but considers the roughly $600 in camp fees a good investment in his son’s future. He has a 9-year-old daughter who plays now, too, and expects to be registering her for RLSA within the next couple of years.

A summer academy program this big is a business, but Lundy seems to get something out of the experience, too.

“You know what I am? I’m committed to every camper,” he said, leaning across the desk in his office at TD Arena. “And I don’t care if they’re terrible. Their parents are paying me money to help them be a better player and enjoy the game more. And I take that seriously.

“A lot of (other college coaches) call me and they say ‘Ah, man, I hate camp.” I love camp. I love seeing a kid get better. It is so good, after they recuperate from camp, that they come back and say ‘Coach, I am so much better.’”