Friday, January 20, 2012

'Where do we go from here' with US soccer player development?

Player Development is such a hot-button topic right now in the United States, and as US Soccer and Major League Soccer moves forward with youth development models and curriculums, Leander Schaerlaeckens of ESPN caught up with some of the top minds in US soccer to discuss 'where do we go from here?'

Bob Bradley, head coach, Egypt national soccer team

"It still comes down to how many good people get with clubs and are working with young kids to make sure things are done right. Over time, you need people with experience who understand youth development. Bob Jenkins compiled a best-practices document, which was good. [U.S. Youth Soccer technical director] Claudio Reyna's [coaching blueprint] is a good starting point, in that it adds consistency. But giving someone a stack of papers doesn't ensure that the quality of work is what it needs to be. That's where we are right now.

"You can look at different places around the country where things are going in the right direction, money is being spent, and people have a good feel for identifying talent. Other places are behind. There is no getting around the fact that a big money commitment is still key. Germany put a lot of money into their program when they were at a low point. We've made progress, but not enough. Then it's down to identifying the right people with a feel for it, different coaches that are out there, even others who can contribute in other ways. There are examples of good and bad."

Caleb Porter, head coach, U.S. U-23 national team and University of Akron

"The priority has to be development over winning. I think you can win and develop players, but in order to do that you have to have a philosophy. A process, an approach, or some kind of a method is the most important thing at younger ages. In a country like Mexico, you watch their U-17s, you watch the U-20s, you watch the full senior team: They all play the same way. You see that even rub off on the clubs. Overall, you can tell there was at least an idea within the country of the way they want to go about things. It's difficult because there are all these different ways to play, but if it starts with U.S. Soccer and we say, 'Hey, this is how we're going to play as a country,' that will help youth academies follow that lead.

"We're starting to see that take shape in this country. At the end of the day, it's going to take a long-term vision and some sort of philosophy. Vertical integration in the national team is a good start. We're on our way, we're not there yet; it takes time, it takes patience. The top countries have a way of doing things from a country standpoint and a way of doing things system-wise. When you grow up in that country, you learn that's how you do things: That's the system, that's how every position is played. Over time, that gets passed on and leads to uniformity, helping you to identify and isolate players that could be effective in a certain role. There are so many ways to do things that otherwise kids get lost in the shuffle. If what one coach is looking for is different from what another coach is looking for, it creates confusion."

Sigi Schmid, head coach, Seattle Sounders

"Ultimately, development of the player is contingent on being able to be put him/her into a competitive game situation at as high a level as you're able to play. That means players have to play outside their age groups at the youth level or leave college early. A lot of times at the youth level it's more important for coaches to win an under-13 tournament rather than put him on the under-15. At the youth level, players get retained at a certain age group because it's going to help win a championship, because a coach might say they might make more money if they win a championship.

"The other thing is we need to use the resources we already have. Club soccer and MLS discount college soccer because it's different than the way it's done in Europe and South America. But colleges have a budget of a million dollars for their soccer team when you add it all up, and sometimes people try to discount that. We need to make the money that's already available for soccer work better for us. We need to take stock of resources that are there and use them in a more efficient manner; rather than throwing away the facilities and the abilities that those organizations have, we need to use them better."

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