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CHAPTER THIRTEEN
THE OLYMPIC DEVELOPMENT PROGRAM ("ODP")

The Olympic Development Program is the national scouting system that is supposed to locate talented players who can feed and eventually play with US Youth National Teams. The following Chapter will describe it not just as it is in Kansas or Missouri, but how it differs across the country. Too often people speak of ODP as if it were the same everywhere. It is not. This means when discussing ODP with friends or relatives in other parts of the country you must take what they say with a grain of salt.

ODP has many warts. It also has many, many positives. For example, some colleges use selection to the State ODP or even better the Regional ODP Team as the standard for who they recruit. Fail to make the ODP Team or decide not to try out and you have effectively cut yourself off from these schools.

Perhaps the greatest benefit of ODP lies in being able to attend Regional Camp. Unlike other soccer camps, Regional Camp offers a week with the best players in the Region. Other Soccer Camps offer a disparate mix of talent that may not be challenging. The college with the camp may have other camps going on simultaneously that are distractions. The ODP Regional Camps cost about the same as top summer camps, but are better and often have a number of college coaches attending whose sole purpose is to scout the talent.

Registration for Kansas ODP occurs in late May and early June. You can learn about registration and complete forms at this site. In Missouri you can register on line for boys at this site, and for girls at this site. The cost for Missouri registration is about $115, while Kansas varies by age, but is approximately $100.

The ODP program began in the mid seventies as the "Olympic Festival" and had players at the U23 level report for a few weeks of trials leading to selection of an Olympic team. Players were invited based on connections their college coaches had established with the U23 and U20 National Teams.

This very loose system was radically changed because of the passage of the Amateur Sports Act. This federal legislation was designed to stop competing sports governing bodies from blocking athletes from developing and participating in Olympic competitions. The Act gave the US Olympic Committee the power to designate to various sports governing bodies the power to develop Olympic Development Programs and have these programs over ride any conflicting eligibility or competition rules of other organizations in the sport.

Administration of ODP.

The US Olympic Committee delegated control of soccer to the United States Soccer Federation. The USSF in turn initially directed the USYSA to develop ODP. Other governing bodies have also been given ODP authority, but their numbers are very small compared to the role of USYSA. All told these non-USYSA programs involve less than five percent of those in ODP programs. As consequence, many people assume that ODP is solely within the purview of the USYSA, which is not the case.

The USYSA in turn delegated to each of its Regions and the State Associations within each Region the job of creating an ODP program. As a result we have 54 different States running talent-scouting programs that differ on how they accomplish the objective, how they fund the approach chosen, and how many players participate.

The only similarities are:
  • In each State the authority for ODP administration is invested in an ODP Chairman and the State Director of Coaching. USSF Policy 102(3)-1 Section 3, requires that all State DOC's have a USSF A license or obtain the A license within one year of appointment.
  • The teams are chosen using the international calendar date of January 1, whereas Club uses an August 1, date. The result is that the oldest players in club are among the youngest in ODP and this in turn can result in the better club players not being on the ODP team for they are playing a "year down" from other players born in their same year, who they are competing against for a spot on the team.
  • Each state will chose 18 players to represent the State at the Regional trials after players are U14 (most States have programs for players beginning at U12, including Kansas and Missouri, that allow up to 50 players to attend a Regional "Developmental" Camp.)
  • And the Mission statement, which can be found on virtually every State web site, and while more propaganda than reality it bears quoting here. This is from the Kansas web site:

ABOUT THE PDP/ODP PROGRAM: The US Youth Soccer PDP/ODP Program was formed to identify a pool of players in each age group from which a national team may be selected for international competition. Selection to the Kansas State Team is a first step in this process. Kansas State Select teams attend Region II ODP camps. At Regional Camps (there are 4 Regions in the U.S.), a Regional pool of players is named in each age group. From these Regional pools, the National pools and teams are formed. Selection at each level (state, regional, national) is generally based on the 4 components that make up a soccer player: (1) Technique; (2) Tactics; (3) Fitness and athletic ability and (4) Psychological component (attitude).

Attendance is all-important in the PDP/ODP Program. The more that a coach sees a player, the better the coach's ability to make player selections. Players who miss more than 50% of scheduled practices may be placing their potential for selection to the state pool in jeopardy. Attendance will be taken at every scheduled state training session and event, and will be part of the criteria for state team selection.

WHO IS ELIGIBLE: Kansas residents, competitive and recreational, are eligible to participate in this program/camp as long as they are within the age limits and adhere to the rules and guidelines of the program.

PROGRAM AGE GROUPS: The program age groups have a January 1 cutoff date instead of the August 1 cutoff date used for club teams. Therefore, we refer to teams by year of birth year rather than as Under 13, for example. All of the age groups included in our Olympic Development Program (ODP) (with the exception of players born in 1989 or later) will be included in the Region II Olympic Development Program.

WHAT ARE THE GOALS OF ODP?

  1. To identify a pool of players in each program age group from which a U.S. National Team will be selected for national and international competition.
  2. To provide high-level training to benefit and enhance the development of players at all levels.
  3. Through the use of carefully selected licensed coaches, develop a mechanism for the enhancement of ideas and curriculum to improve all levels of coaching.

The dissimilarities are legion. Here are a few of the areas where the States differ and the consequences of the differences:

1. Method of conducting the evaluation process.
  • Some states use an open camp that any player can attend;
  • Other states send evaluators to watch club games and based on the evaluations invite players to higher level trials;
  • Other states hold monthly training sessions lasting 2 to 3 hours where; players are evaluated;
  • Other states use a combination such as a camp followed by monthly trials.
A few years back, under Steve Sampson, former US National Team Coach, Southern California set up a system where evaluators went to top tournaments and league games, scouted players playing for their clubs and then invited the best players to attend district trials. Such a system had many advantages. It cut the cost to those who were trying out. Being pre screened meant that you were not paying to attend a trial only to be rejected. It also allowed coaches to see a player in his natural setting, his thinking and his style of play. This system is in use now in Washington, Arizona, Northern California, recently adopted in Georgia and under consideration in other States.

It relies on the clubs for actually do the initial scouting and assumes that the best players have been pulled on to the teams being scouted. This creates problems. At young ages the players may not have moved to the better teams, a process that usually happens between U11 and U15. It also has the effect of institutionalizing the clubs that already have the reputation for being the best in an age group. It is very hard to attract talent to your club when your competitor is on top and getting their players looks that you are not.

For small States, like Kansas, with one-tenth the registered number of soccer players such a scouting program is economically unfeasible. The costs of hiring five full time scouts would effectively double the cost of the program and make it beyond the reach of many players.

The most common method used by States is an open, multi day camp and the player pays about $300 or more to attend. Many states use such camps to fund their entire ODP program. The problem with such a camp trial system is there is no way to sort players ahead of time and players may be placed in a pool with wide differences in talent. The players in the pool may all play different systems, have different preferred positions and wildly different skill sets. Good players (though not the great) can be missed in the initial screening of such pools because their practice partners are too inept to work effectively with. Such a system also encourages a player to never pass the ball - they may never get it back. The consequence is a system that rewards individual technique, but does not disclose a player's vision and decision-making abilities.

Such camps, held over two or three days also can also distort a player's talent. Have a bad day and you are passed over. Have a great few days, or be the archetype tryout performer and you shine, though later you are revealed to be mediocre.

Many States also hold monthly trials lasting two to three hours. Held over many months these multiple training sessions often charge players $10 to $25 to participate to cover coaching and field use. These have the advantage of reducing the deviations in performance from a player's norm that can be seen in a one-day or camp setting, but otherwise they are prone to all of the problems of the camps. Worse yet, the coaches at theses two or three sessions always seem bent on coaching rather than observing.

Kansas uses a mix of these systems. Depending on the age it charges approximately $100 for a one day camp and three monthly training sessions. The day camp is usually held on three different days in different location in Kansas with the Kansas City location usually the first weekend in August. The three monthly training sessions are then held in Emporia in September, October and November. Thereafter teams are selected from interested players for participation in the Tom Shannon Tournament held in November in Tulsa, Oklahoma. After the tournament pools of players are selected that continue to train during the winter. About March 1, the Teams are announced for Regional Camp. The cost for attending Regional Camp varies with age and sex (largely due to transportation costs) but is approximately $650.00.

The purpose of ODP is player selection not development. The optimal way to test a player is to see him play. Instead, coaches at these sessions often try to teach a skill and run drills rather than games, even small-sided games. The result is after five or six months of such sessions, the coaches are clueless over who are the best players.

2. Method of organizing the evaluation process.
  • Districts
  • Regions
  • State Level Only
The larger states in terms of population and geographic area tend to split themselves into Districts. The largest States add an intermediate level of Regions. In other cases a team is chosen of approximately 18 players in each age group that then compete in trials against teams from the other Districts/Regions. The problems with such systems stem from the unspoken assumption that the pool of players is equal in quality and quantity in each District/Region. This is rarely the case.

In most areas the top players come from the larger metropolitan communities. In the Midwest you would be considering Detroit for Michigan, Chicago for Illinois, St. Louis for Missouri and Kansas City/Johnson County for Kansas. On average over 70% of the ODP players in these states come from these metropolitan areas. When these states are split into districts, however, the district with the dominant metropolitan area is not equal to the other districts - it is overwhelmingly superior. This disadvantages players from the weaker districts for they cannot show as well; they often do not have the supporting players. The result is that such district organization greatly simplifies organization and reduces travel cost for participants; it also institutionalizes the dominance of one area of the State in placing players on teams. This trade off is recognized by the people involved in administering ODP and it is one reason Kansas has opt not to form Districts even though players are often faced with four hour drives to and four drives home the central location for State trials.

Balkanizing States can also result in coaches with different criteria and agendas picking players at the District level. Thus, players who are more skilled may be passed over at the District level in preference to more athletic types because that is what the District coach prefers, while the State coach for an age group may have a very different preference.

3. Quality and number of coaches
  • Coaching Qualifications
  • Coaching biases
  • College Coaches
The quality of the coaches is directly related to how much the coaches are paid relative to the time demanded. Most States grossly under fund ODP. As a consequence the coaching is mediocre at best. The typical State's ODP coaches fit into three broad categories: Club coaches; High School Coaches; and, College Coaches. There are exceptions where a State has selected coaches with great experience, and strong credentials (this is one reason Southern California went to a scouting system - better quality, less cost on coaches), but they are exceptions.

The three types of coaches who come to ODP may do so for motives unrelated to ODP. Club coaches come to scout players they may seek to recruit later. Some club coaches actively promote players in their own club. College coaches come for much the same reason: scout and recruit players and develop relationships so players will know the coach and be inclined to go to their school. High School coaches do it as a resume builder.

Kansas has a policy of changing its coaching assignments at least every two years. This means the coach a player has in year one will change three times over the years if the player remains in the ODP program from U12 through U18. Different coaches are very obviously - different. A player could have a miserable coach one year and the next a coach that they admired and who admired them. Such extreme vacillations are rare, but they can happen and players and parents should be careful not to judge the program, for good or ill, based on a single year's experience.

4. Method of payment and costs
  • Per practice charges
  • Camp fees
  • Inclusion of costs in yearly registration fees
  • Total Costs
  • Scholarships
How States charge varies wildly. Here are some examples: Kansas is described above.

Many states charge tryout fees for the monthly training sessions. In Western New York it is $10, as it is in Indiana. Iowa charge $20.

Illinois charges $60 for five monthly sessions and then charges about $400 additional for a State camp.

In almost every instance, the charges are born by the player and his family. Some states partially subsidize ODP with a portion of their annual registration fees. This is the case in Missouri, Oklahoma and Washington. Many other states have tried to implement such a practice, usually adding a dollar to the annual registration fee that will range between $12 and $20 per player, but more often than not such attempts are blocked at the State level by the recreational component of the State Association, who see ODP as being of no benefit to their children and only for the elite.

Some clubs will offer financial assistance to players involved in ODP. Our Club has done this is the past and we know of one other in Kansas City that has as well.

The State will also offer financial assistance, waiving costs for players at the State level and paying the cost of Regionals for those who make a State team. Decisions on who receives such assistance are based on applications and the coaches' assessments of a player's prospects. The better the player the more likely they are to receive a scholarship. A marginal player with little chance of making the team is unlikely to get financial aid.

5. Addition of other goals and programs.

The purpose of ODP is player selection not development. That being said, most State Associations are run by non-soccer people who do not understand this. They believe the "Development" in ODP should mean the Development of the player not the development of a team to represent the Nation.

The result is the "PDP" or "Player Development Program" tacked on to ODP. Kansas did this at one time, but has stopped in recent years. Generally PDP camps are open, and held at the same time and place. The consequence is we have to spend the first day of a three-day camp trying to separate the players. Some separation is done by simply knowing the club a player plays for, but this creates resentment, as parents perceive the program favoring certain clubs.

Attempts to return the program to a purely selection based format are met with stiff resistance, for the non soccer people on the State Board argue we should develop players. We should, but it should be in the club. There is no way to develop a player over a three-day camp and in two-hour sessions once a month.

Such add on objectives do little other than sow the seeds of distrust and dissent and result in different perceptions about ODP depending on whether a State has such a requirement or not. Because different States have different programs experiences people have with one State are NOT transferable to another State.

6. Quality of players selected/size of pool of players.

The quality of players I have already discussed to a limited extent. Differences within districts and concentrations of talent create the perception of unfairness and favoritism when most players come from a certain locale.

The same is true for States when they send a team to Regionals. Each State Association is allowed the same size team - 18 players, even if the State is like Kansas with 35,000 registered players, or like Illinois, Southern Ohio or Michigan with two to three times that number. The problem is exacerbated for the least populace States at times cannot even field enough players for a State team.

Balancing the Regions by combining States would make a great deal of sense, but has the same costs and distortions that Districts within States have. It is also politically difficult to achieve.

7. Involvement of clubs and club coaches.

The involvement of coaches as ODP coaches I have discussed, but the role of Clubs with ODP is far more reaching. It is comparable to the interplay between professional clubs reacting to call ups for National Team play during a professional club's league play, but unlike National Teams who have some clout through FIFA (though the club has power because it still pays the player and can take retribution on the player later if he leaves at a critical time), ODP has no power to demand a player from a club.

Many clubs urge their players to participate in ODP. It is an opportunity for the players and something the club can use in touting its success when recruiting future players. Since our beginning we have strongly urged our players to participate in ODP.

Other clubs discourage their players from participating in ODP. ODP, especially the monthly practices, often conflicts with tournaments and league play. For the very elite teams, those most likely to have State and Regional level players, Region Camp held for a week in the first two weeks in July, pulls players during a critical part of the season. (Many states often hold "mini" camps the week or so before to prepare players to develop some cohesion for the team prior to attending ODP Regional camp.) This is when Club teams are finishing Regional Cup play, usually held over the last week of June, and if they won Regional and are going to Nationals, the USYSA National Cup is generally held the third week in July.

8. Involvement of non-soccer people in the process.

The impact of the State Boards and additional programs added to ODP was discussed above. The problems run deeper. In order to save costs most States have non-paid, volunteer team administrators. These volunteers are of varying quality and it is not uncommon to hear in every State of communication problems were players did not get word of a change in the schedule or cancellation of a practice because the team administrator or an assistant coach failed to get the word out. ODP is not the priority for these folks.

Kansas is very lucky. Our current administrators are very good. That is not the case in every State.

Further, these administrators are often the parents of current State team players, and while many states try to select a parent whose child is a lock for the team, it is still a system designed to foster complaints of favoritism and bias when the team administrator's child makes the team every year.

9. Time of year teams are selected.

Regional ODP requires that States submit the names of their Team selections by generally the first of April of each year. Many States wait until the last minute to select a team in order to have maximum time to evaluate the candidates. While allowing more time to assess the players and limit other factors like injuries, this delay reduces the opportunity to have the State team play together and develop team cohesion. Finally, many ODP coaches do not like playing ODP team against Club teams. The club teams will not only have had months of working together, compared to days for the ODP squads, but because Club is based on a calendar that starts August 1, while ODP starts the following January 1, ODP players are always younger and often less experienced. In the ages that involve puberty this can lead to men playing boys and women playing girls, as reflected in the picture below.

The role of team cohesion is easily seen when you consider how Regional Camp works. Regional camp will have the various State teams practice each morning for an hour and half to two hours. During this time certain select players are pulled from the State teams to practice under the Regional coaches. This number varies but ranges around 20. This "pool" will include some, but not all, of the players being considered for Regional Team. Some players who the Regional coaches may already have decided to take will not be called to practice with the Regional pool so the coaches can look at other players more carefully.

In the afternoons the State teams will play games against other State Teams. The Regional Team coaches observe these games and as do other evaluators brought to Regional Camp for this purpose.

Obviously, the better a team plays the better the players will show. Teams that have not played together much will show relatively poorly as well their players.

High school also has an impact. Depending on the time of year of the high school season, ODP may have to wait to make selections or select early. In some states where high school is played from August to November, followed by winter weather that literally snows out much play, it is difficult to pick a team until early spring. In other states where high school is played in the Spring, common more for girls (Michigan, Kansas, and Missouri for example) but also for some states for both boys and girls (Nebraska and Iowa) selections must be made before February and are often made in October with only a few chances by State coaches to view a player.

States with early selection tend to have more players make Regional and National Teams.

Early selection, when there is less competition and a greater chance of being seen by the State Coaches, places a premium on trying out for the State team at the youngest age possible. This age varies from State to State. U13 is the norm in Missouri and New York, which is also the first year of Regionals. Nationals is urging many states to start their programs at least a year earlier and many are (Kansas accepts players who are U11 and very old U10's), with the objective of getting players in the system early so they can see the need for development, and not be content to be the best in a local league.) Additionally, getting in early also has the advantage of getting a player known by the coaches and if the player has a good personality and work ethic the player will be favored over an unknown of equal or even slightly better ability. A later player who is a less well know commodity will only have a few chances to make a good showing and will be at a disadvantage.