Cal South’s Player Development Programs
Cal South teams earned three more ODP Championship at the 2015 US Youth Soccer Olympic Development Program Championships at the Reach 11 Sports Complex in Phoenix, Arizona. Steve Hoffman, Director of Coaching and Player Development for Cal South speaks out on youth player development, the PRO+ and Olympic Development Program and how the U.S. Soccer’s Development Academy program creates new opportunities for players in US Youth Soccer.
Diane Scavuzzo: Can you help everyone understand the Cal South PRO+ program? Teams compete in US Youth Soccer ODP Championships?
Steve Hoffman: Let’s try to clear up any confusion so people understand a little more about the Olympic Development Program. I think April Hendricks said it best when she described the program as ‘Opportunities for Players to Develop’.
In the ‘70s and ‘80s the word “Olympic” was definitely needed, because during that time we did not think we had enough soccer skill development going on at the club level. But now, 99.9% of development is done at the club level, particularly in Southern California, where we have some of the best coaches in the country.
This is quite the compliment to some of the soccer clubs in LA, San Diego and the whole area.
Diane Scavuzzo: Is there a guide or manual for coaches to follow?
Steve Hoffman: U.S. Soccer has put out the best practices manual, which we hope everybody is following. It is one of the best kept secrets in the country. The challenge for Cal South, with its 21,000 coaches, is to make sure that document is in everybody’s hands.
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Diane Scavuzzo: Can you tell us the difference between ODP and the Academy program?
Steve Hoffman: First let me explain the Academy program a little. I believe about six (6) years ago U.S. Soccer felt they were not reaching the Zone 2 player, which is the ages of 14 through 17 and they wanted to change a few things. The average soccer player was playing on average 60 games per year in Southern California, too many soccer games.
The average soccer player was training twice a week. The win at all costs mentality.
When U.S. Soccer decided they wanted to implement this program, they went with a structure with 35 competitive soccer games a year, similar to most countries in the world and they also went with a best practices manual which provided training for players 3 times a week. So they were taking the training to playing ratio higher. If you were to think about your son or daughter playing soccer in a tournament with 5 games per weekend and only two training sessions, it doesn’t match up.
Training (practice) sessions are for teaching, so we wanted to increase the training opportunities and have fewer games.
In Southern California we are very unique. We have so many great players. We have 10 academy programs, which is more than any other state in the county. For example, Oregon has 1 academy team and one pro team. In Los Angeles, our demographics are obviously a lot different. We have two professional teams; LA Galaxy and Chivas USA. Their academy programs are fully funded. Then you have several other clubs like Real SoCal, Arsenal, Surf, Nomads that are not funded, so there is a little bit of as difference on how they can generate revenue and how they can play. But even within the Academy, the number of games people and the number of minutes players play are all monitored. Is it as competitive as the ODP program? I don’t believe so; we certainly don’t believe so in Cal South.
In the ODP program, we still look into identifying kids for our national teams. There are probably 3,000 kids in the age group. If you count the number of players in the academy program, it is probably only 300. What happens to the rest of the players? ODP seeks to identify the best players who are not participating in the Academy program.
Every Academy team has tryouts. Once the team is formed, that team is trained strictly within the guidelines of the best practices manual. Now the difference between that academy team and one at a non academy club, Albion in San Diego and Inter-America in LA for instance, is that they may be training 3 times a week but doing things a bit differently. This is not to devalue non-academy clubs. There are some excellent non-academy clubs out there that do a really fantastic job.
Let’s look at last year for example. U.S. Soccer chose 12 boys in Southern California that were not part of the Academy program for the ’94 age bracket. They chose 2-3 from the Academy program. Those boys all went to the residency program in Florida, and just like any residency program, if it doesn’t work out, they go back to their clubs.
Diane Scavuzzo: Does the Academy program compete with the ODP program?
Steve Hoffman: The Academy program was not designed to compete with any other program.
Diane Scavuzzo: How did the ODP get started?
Steve Hoffman: In 1974, the program was started as the State Select Program. In 1983, it turned into the Olympic Development Program. We are governed by the U.S. Olympic Committee & the U.S. Soccer Federation. The program is open to any player living in the United States regardless of Country of Origin.
A lot of people don’t know this; in 1985 there was a major turning point for soccer in the U.S.: a company called Nike gave U.S. soccer $60 Million and said to build the soccer programs. Nike insisted that dollars be spent on both women’s and men’s soccer. That was a massive turning point for us. That is when the women’s soccer game and men’s soccer game really rose.
Diane Scavuzzo: How many soccer players are there in Southern California?
Steve Hoffman: “here are 6,600 competitive soccer players, 60,000 recreational soccer, 80,000 AYSO players and another 60,000 unaffiliated league players. The number of youth players in Southern California is astronomical.
Diane Scavuzzo: If you want to get the attention of the US National coaches, what is the best route?
Steve Hoffman: Great question. There are a number of ‘best routes’. There is not one main way to make a national team in this country.
There are the ODP and the Academy programs. However, if you are playing in a park in Los Angeles somewhere and a national staff coach sees you and likes you, you are going into residency. That’s really the way it works. U.S. Soccer really wants the best kids with in each age group in their programs, whether it’s ODP, Academy, unaffiliated, wherever they can find them. The ODP program is there to identify players for U.S. soccer and U.S. soccer wants the best players.
In this country if you are a good player you will be identified and every kid should have the dream and the opportunity to play on the U.S. National team.
Diane Scavuzzo: How does the ODP training program differ from Academy?
Steve Hoffman: ODP is an Opportunity for soccer players to develop. Where ODP fits in this puzzle is we take the best players and put them together to create an all-star type team. Are you going to be a better player playing with better players? The answer is absolutely.
ODP does not train a lot. There isn’t the time for extensive training. The clubs are our big priority, whether it’s a U.S. Academy or Cal South club, we believe the players need to be with their clubs as much as possible. We try to limit what we do, in the summer the ODP teams train three to four days and participate in an event and during the winter, ODP trains four Sundays before the winter soccer event.
If you look at this over the period of a year, we probably train eight to ten times, whereas club coaches train players two to three times a week for ten months.
Diane Scavuzzo: If U.S. Soccer recommends training 3 times a week, why wouldn’t all clubs follow that example?
Steve Hoffman: Well that is a good question. The U.S. Soccer’s coaching manual is a guide line to what coaches should do per age group, how many times a week coaches should train, and explores what type of training is recommended. However, I think resources are limited, especially size and field space availability.
Diane Scavuzzo: How does U.S. Soccer staff scout ODP players?
Steve Hoffman: When we have our event in the summer, it is a weeklong camp where the kids go through intense training and games. U.S. Soccer representatives are there looking at the players and they are also there at the regional championships.
Diane Scavuzzo: What can parents do to help?
Steve Hoffman: Well, devaluate winning a little bit for starters.