The Wilmington Hammerheads use video and data to develop talent and compete on a national stage.

Small clubs are always underdogs. Larger, more established clubs often have the edge, even within the same league. 

Like the Elite Club National League (ECNL), one of the top youth soccer leagues in the country. Founded in 2009, the ECNL offers player-centric programming with unparalleled recruiting opportunities. Their tournaments and showcases are a must-see for college recruiters. Member clubs, that can vary greatly in size and are located all over the country—they fight for supremacy and, of course, coveted trophies. 

Wilmington Hammerheads Youth Football Club (WHYFC) joined the ECNL in 2018. By then the league had more than doubled in size. Despite brimming with potential, the Hammerheads struggled with the competitive jump, and could certainly have been called underdogs. 

The club scraped and clawed to match the quality of their opposition. Wilmington focused on recruiting in-state talent, attempting to draw players within an hour and a half drive. But the competition off the pitch was just as stiff as the matches on it.

Out-ranked and out-matched, Wilmington turned inward to find their competitive edge. To hang with the best on a national stage, the Hammerheads had to develop their players—fast.

And in the modern game, technology is the great equalizer. No matter the size of a club, video and data are proven to power elite performance. Through consistent and clear instructions on Hudl, Wilmington develops technically sound players.

Jyler Noviello is the assistant girls’ ECNL director, as well as the Hammerheads’ U15 and U16 national teams coach. This past season, Noviello’s teams rocketed up the national rankings.

“We opened our season in the fall with the two hardest teams in the league, and we found a way to grind out results in those matches,” Noviello said. “We finished fourth in the league in what I would consider the most competitive ECNL in our country."

When asked how he guided his team to such surprising results, Noviello said Hudl Assist was key to maximizing growth and making winning adjustments on the fly.

With full match video and comprehensive team and player stats linked directly to the video, Noviello saved hours every week. He uses the automated reports to review video, share insights and get back to coaching his team.

“We heavily rely on that to go back and analyze performance and try to improve,” he said. “It just makes my job so much easier.”

Fellow ECNL national team coach Brian Ackley was a standout player at Indiana University and played professionally across Europe before joining the Wilmington staff. 

Maybe all that playing experience is why Ackley is so direct. He challenges players to play without fear, saying he wants to see “ten number 10s on the field.” 

In order to cultivate this mindset with his team, Ackley uses clips to pinpoint areas for improvement or highlight good decisions in possession. This feedback instills confidence—every player sees how they can be a dynamic playmaker.

“For the player to see it with their own eyes, see the mistake they make or the good thing they did on the field, you see the knowledge transfer,” Ackley said. “Not just from being on the field but really understanding what the systems are, what we’re asking as coaches to these players.”

Ackley gave a perfect example: by reviewing video, his left back got past a mental block. Now the player consistently applies pressure in the final third. Altogether, the team creates more scoring opportunities while the player has more fun.

Heaney said the entire club has bought into Hudl to shed the dreaded underdog title.

“It’s easier for development because we’re painting a picture for them to move forward with.”

After a hard-fought run that culminated in a fourth-place finish in the 2021-2022 campaign, left the Hammerheads off its list of the Top 100 Girls’ Clubs.

But Wilmington doesn't put much stock into the projections. They make their own luck. With grit and determination, the Hammerheads intend to build their empire from within—and with the help of Hudl.

Club-wide Hudl packages make it easy to equip every coach and athlete with the top performance analysis platform in soccer.

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