Starboard: Everton & Genk Youth Coaches Discuss Youth Development at Navy Soccer Camp

Peter Reynders from Genk, and John Doolan from Everton, were both at this weekend's Navy Soccer Camp

I’m going to show you a few pictures, and I want you to tell me if you recognize any of these guys.

Seriously, this is the test of your true soccer fandom right here. We’re going to show you pictures of a few players most of you have never heard of, but let’s see if you get maybe one or two.

Here we go.

baines

carrasco

Rooney

Benteke

davies

hi-res-41911fb56078d2e7faca585d41487586_crop_north

Rcourtois

osman

and last one…you had it right earlier…

How many did you get? Okay, so maybe these guys weren’t relative nobodies. They are, from top to bottom, WORLD-CLASS superstars:

  • Leighton Baines, England
  • Yannick Carrasco, Belgium
  • Wayne Rooney, England
  • Christian Benteke, Belgium
  • Tom Davies, England (maybe not world class quite yet, but Everton sound excited about him)
  • Divock Origi, Belgium
  • Ross Barkley, England
  • Thibaut Courtois, Belgium
  • Leon Osman, England
  • Kevin De Bruyne, Belgium

Okay….Cool. Why Do We Care?

You care because we’re about to blow your mind, that’s why.

All of these players have something in common…. they have all played for one of the two best youth academies in the world:

  • Everton F.C., in England
  • K.R.C. Genk, in Belgium

The Everton players are pretty obvious, because once Everton find a player they like, those players tend to stick around. We’ll tell you why a bit later.

But if you’ve never heard of Genk, or if you don’t believe us that all of those players played for them, well we can prove it if you’d like:

benteke genk

courtois genkl

de bruyne genk

Okay I lied, I could only find three photos, but that last De Bruyne pic is worth extra credit.

I was lucky enough to meet youth academy coaches from both teams: Peter Reynders, from Genk, and John Doolan, from Everton, this past weekend. Both coaches spent a few days in Annapolis, helping out with second-year Navy Men’s Soccer head coach Tim O’Donohue’s first of two summer camps.

It became pretty clear to me as soon as I stepped onto Navy’s practice fields that Coach O’Donohue, former associate head coach of a UConn program that reached the NCAA Men’s Tournament four times (three straight appearances in the NCAA Quarterfinals), had something special going on there this past weekend.

Coach O'Donohue prepares to introduce John Doolan from Everton

Coach O’Donohue, in Navy Blue, prepares to introduce John Doolan from Everton

I got there on Friday just before 2:30 and when I looked over, all of the campers (and there were a LOT of them) were just making their way back to the pitch.

Everton Youth Acadademy coach John Doolan, who is in charge of Everton’s U16 team and has a pretty decent playing resume himself, was about to conduct a combination play session, which had the players’ AND coaches’ section at full attention.

The players who were performing the demos weren’t too bad either. Recent Navy recruits Jacob Williams (Baltimore Armour u18’s) and Tyler Collins (Baltimore Celtic/Mount Saint Joe’s) put in some work, along with first-year volunteer assistant coach Zach Bowman. Tomas Potts from UMBC was among the GK’s, but coach made sure the camp GK’s (who made some pretty good saves, to be honest) were in goal for the drill.

DMV soccer legend (for those of us growing up playing soccer in the area around the same time) and Navy assistant Alex Yi walks by and looks ready to go 90 minutes without a problem. DeMatha head coach Andrew Quinn is attendance, along with Northeastern head coach Chris Gbandi, Binghampton Head Coach Paul Marco, Sean Topping from Muhlenberg, former NSCAA Director of Coaching Jeff Tipping, Brent Boone from Pelota Training, and finally, Peter Reynders from Genk in Belgium.

Coach Doolan (grey shorts) conducting his session at Naval Academy

Coach Doolan (Everton top, grey shorts) conducting his session at Naval Academy

Not a bad group, and it’s obvious that the campers are getting a quality soccer education during this week’s camp.

After camp let out for a break, Peter Reynders, from Genk, and Coach Doolan, from Everton, let me sit down with them and ask them some questions about youth development. Obviously, if we have two coaches in town from two of the most successful youth development academies in the world, it would be a pretty cool experience to talk to them, right? Below are some things we talked about.

Developing The Ginger Prince

april

september

october

december

It’s all about mentality.

Kevin De Bruyne is the type of player that would start on any club team in the world. At Manchester City this season, Pep Guardiola has used him at the 10 (CAM), as well as on the wing in big games later in the season, and the fact that he can play either position without a drop in quality or production is nothing short of spectacular. Pep tends to make some pretty radical changes, like Jesus Navas re-inventing himself at outside back, playing Kholorav at center back, Yaya Toure going from his agent having to apologize to get back into the team to starting at the 6 over Fernandinho midway through the season.

The mental toll that it can take on a player when they feel like they’re being played out of position can be underestimated, especially for a world-class talent with, at times, a matching ego. But after learning more about the club environment that Kevin De Bruyne was brought up in during his youth days, it’s obvious why these types of transitions are easier for him to deal with, from a mental aspect, than some other players.

Before I drove to Annapolis on Friday to interview the two youth coaches, I tried to do some research on both coaches and academy programs. Not necessarily an easy task to research a Belgium club, let’s just say Google Translate was used fairly often.

I used this article as a starting point when interviewing Peter Reynders from Genk, which I’ll translate in bits and pieces below, along with his answers and responses. Note: the article was from June 2014, around the time when KDB was recalled from Wolfsburg loan (10 goals in 33 appearances, at the age of 21) to re-join Chelsea, who he had transferred to from Genk’s professional team the season prior.

Peter Reynders: “The scouting knew that Kevin had some problems there (past club Ghent), and his parents were open to a new road for Kevin, who was already someone with exceptional play and football intelligence, but in mental terms, there was still a lot of work. Enthusiasm and the will to achieve his goals were very high. At Genk, the plan for every talent in youth education is identical: making the player better at all levels, and developing his particular qualities well, both technically, tactically, physically, and at a mental level.

Belgium soccer, particularly the Belgium National Team, went through a very tough patch between 2002 and 2012. They missed out on the 2006 and 2010 World Cups, as well as the EURO’s in 2004, 2008, and 2012.

However, their youth teams had a lot of promise, with their U-21 side making it to the semifinals in the 2007 UEFA U-21 Championship, a team that featured young players such as Fellaini, Mirallas, Vermaelen, and Axel Witsel.

belgium

Why do we bring this up? To explain their meteoric rise in past years, similar to that of the Golden State Warriors in the NBA, which is almost a direct result of developing youth talent.

  • In 2014, they made it to the Quarterfinals of the World Cup, knocking out the United States, and finishing higher than ever as a country.
  • In 2016, they made it to the Quarterfinals of the Euro Championships, losing to an under-rated Wales side which saw Gareth Bale at his best.
  • For 2018 World Cup qualifying, they’ve had practically no problem thus far, finishing on top of their group and seeded in first place.
  • Currently ranked #7 in FIFA World Rankings

So what do Belgium youth academies, and Genk in particular, focus on to make their players so successful?

The mental aspect of the game.

Me: “You mentioned in this article that Kevin De Bruyne, when you worked with him….he had the passion to succeed, but maybe something was missing from a mental aspect?”

Peter: “Yes, we knew he was a great player from his time at Drongen and Gent, but he ran into some problems at his prior youth clubs. He was good from a tactical standpoint, his technical ability was superb, but from a mental standpoint, he needed a lot of work.”

Peter goes on to explain.

“He did not trust his teammates at all, and wanted to do too much. We knew he was a good player, he went on to play for our professional team and then made a move to Chelsea, but as a youth player, we really worked hard with Kevin to improve his mental approach to the game”.

In the article that I referenced earlier, this is reiterated.

“The big challenge for him was to use his technical skills in competitions. We talked to him very often and, having seen his exceptional talent, also had a lot of patience with Kevin. We tried to give him a good feeling by making him sometimes important. But that should not be constant either. We are careful in the education to place young people on stage.

We have many talents in our youth education, and it does not help them in their development as we continue to pamper them. In our training, each player must receive 70% of the playing time and therefore will not start the competition even if the larger talents do not even fall out of the competition. It is good to see how youth players deal with it mentally. Disappointments once belong to football, also in youth education. This allows you to recognize the real talent and winners.

Me: “So in this past article about De Bruyne, you mentioned that you worked harder with him on some mental aspects of the game. Do you remember any specifics in terms of what you did to help him realize his potential?”

Peter: “For Kevin, at such a young age, he needed to realize how good he actually was. Yes, we make sure not to pamper our players, or to put them on a pedestal, this is very important. But at the same time, Kevin (and other youth players who we’ve worked with) benefited from positive encouragement.

When he started not only trusting his teammates more, but also working on some mental aspects of the game- maintaining focus, not constantly putting his head down when things went wrong- and to pick and choose the times when he was able to take over a match, that’s when he started to reach his true potential, going on to play for our professional team (at only 17 years of age).”

More from the article, which I read to Peter throughout the interview:

We went on to work with Kevin specifically on his step technique, speed of execution, and timing and choosing his action and fit. In his first years, he played in a central position, in view of his exceptional trapping technique and game insight. Not yet pinned on a fixed pitch, but especially attacking and at times also at 6 and 8 to develop his game and to think about ball loss. His bias has always been a great advantage to play both left and right. Only after the promises, Kevin moved on to positions 7, 10 and 11.

Me: “So, you played De Bruyne out of position at times, to develop certain aspects of his game? Interesting.”

Peter: “Yes, but we did not play him much at the 6. When Kevin bumped back to the 8, ball retention and decision-making improved, but more importantly, the game slowed down for him tremendously. He was a lot more patient when he moved back to the 7/11 or 10, in attack.

Before, both mentally and physically, everything was moving so fast that maybe the end product was lacking. Once he moved back and saw more of the game, he made great strides in terms of his mental decision making and, like I said, the game just seemed to slow down for him”.

Landon Donovan at the 8? Pulisic at the 6? 

landy

Imagine a top youth club in the United States moving their best player, say an attacking mid or wing player, out of position for a few matches, all while risking a few results and/or the other players/parents thinking he (or she) was crazy? Very interesting to hear from a top European youth coach that he helped to develop one of the best players in the world by playing him out of position, and making sure he realizes how important it is for him to trust his teammates more in order for him to succeed.

In terms of mental preparation tools, and some other less traditional methods and exercises that Genk introduce to their younger academy players, Peter explained that it isn’t just about training 8 times a week and the actual game of soccer that they try to focus on.

Me: “In 2003, Genk built a brand new youth training facility next to Cristal Arena. Do you believe that the facilities themselves have helped when it comes to youth development”?

Peter: “Without a doubt. The brand new youth training facilities that we have at Genk have been great for the younger players to develop. In terms of football, between the ages of U7 and U12, the players only play small-sided games. First 5v5, then 8v8. Only at the age of U13 do they start actually playing 11v11.

Between U7 and U12, they typically get 3 training sessions per week. In terms of non-football activities at our facilities, we have a set training regimen for even the youngest players that we implement. At U7, we introduce them to boxing, judo, and gymnastics”.

Peter Reynders, Genk Academy Coach, during Navy Soccer Camp

Peter Reynders, Genk Academy Coach, during Navy Soccer Camp

Me: “That’s interesting, so you’re telling me that some of the best players in the world (De Bruyne, Carrasco, Courtois, etc.) were doing gymnastics and judo when they were younger”?

Peter: “Yes, absolutely. We believe that these activities help with movements and exercises that are not always used when training for, or playing football. These activities help with overall mobility, athleticism, footwork. It also adds variety, new and different ways for younger players to get fitness and exercise other than training on the pitch”.

Me: “Wow, very interesting. And from the mental aspect, which we’ve talked a lot about, are there any specific mental tools or activities that you implement?”

Peter: “Absolutely. We have started introducing virtual reality, and we also have computer-based programs at our facility that all youth players ages 13 and up must complete. These help them to understand certain game situations, and overall perpetration from a mental aspect.”

Me: “Interesting, did you develop these programs in-house or can you share the names of the programs you use?”

This is a topic which Peter wasn’t so willing to discuss, and it becomes obvious to me that Genk has developed some important non-traditional tools and methods that are used to train their younger players from a mental aspect. These tools are essential properties that they are not willing to share with competing clubs like Anderlecht, Brugge, Standard Liege, and other Belgian clubs which hope to gain an edge when it comes to mentally preparing their younger players.

One other thing worth noting: Genk opened their brand new youth training facility in 2003. It was mentioned earlier that Belgium’s National Team drought was between 2002 and 2012. While we’re not saying that that Genk’s new facility was a main reason behind the Belgium team’s meteoric rise (currently #7 in World FIFA rankings), it would be hard not to believe that it played a part in the development of the country’s best players. We bring this up because facilities are a hot topic when it comes to youth development in United States.

One last excerpt from the article, which I read to Peter:

Kevin had an exceptional step-by-step technique and game insight. Because he thought a phase further than the rest, he was always playable.

We have tightened these specific qualities by training with high intensity, and in small spaces, which means that you need to respond quickly and act.

Me: “One last question about De Bruyne. You mentioned in the article that Kevin possessed one particular quality that made him stand out from the rest: He was able to think a play ahead, and predict what would happen in certain situations in a match before they ever happened. Was this a result of Genk’s training or mental exercises, or just something you cannot teach”?

Peter: “It is a skill and characteristic which cannot be taught. As coaches, it is our job for any youth player we work with to train them for certain situations, and to help them realize what they are capable of. But for Kevin, he had one thing that cannot be taught, and not many players possess: the ability to think one play ahead, which can at times be more important than any technical, tactical, or mental exercise we work on.”

Age: More Than Just a Number

benteke

When we found out that so many top Belgium youth players have come through Genk’s Youth Academy (yes, it was a surprise to us as well), we were curious as to what their ages were when at the club.

In the United States, as the US Soccer Development Academy program continues to evolve, certain studies and surveys are published which show what ages are most important when it comes to youth development, and players taking the next steps towards College Scholarships and Regional Training Center invitations.

The ages of 14-16, from almost everywhere I read, are when youth players begin to understand and implement more of what they’re trained on, develop more from a tactical and technical standpoint, and actually implement the skills and tactical thought processes that are coached throughout their youth.

The following players were at Genk’s youth academy, during the following ages:

Kevin De Bruyne:
Genk Youth Academy: Ages 14-17
Genk Pro Team: Ages 17-21

Divock Origi:
Genk Youth Academy: Ages 6-15

Christian Benteke:
Genk Youth Academy, Ages 16-17
Genk Pro Team: Ages 17-19
Sold to Standard Liege, Went out on loan ages 19-21
Came back to Genk Pro Team: Ages 21-22
Went on to Aston Villa for 3 seasons, scoring 42 goals in 89 appearances

Yannick Carrasco:
Genk Youth Academy: Ages 12-17

Thibaut Courtois:
Genk Youth Academy, Ages 7-17
Genk Pro Team: Ages 17-19

Coach Reynders mentioned that Kevin De Bruyne came into the Genk Academy needing a lot of work from the mental aspect, but it seems like once he was at Genk he was able to come into his own.

I asked Peter about another player on this list, Christian Benteke. Currently at Crystal Palace, he came to Genk at the age of 16, which is a little later than players like Courtois, Origi, De Bruyne.

Benteke was sold to another Belgium club, loaned out for a few seasons, and then came back to Genk, which I found interesting. Following another year with Genk, after bouncing around a bit, he made a move to Aston Villa where he scored an astonishing 42 goals in 89 appearances for the English Club.

Me: “It’s obvious that Genk’s training facility and methods, along with youth coaches, are able to mold and develop younger players over time. But for a player like Benteke, who was in the club, left, came back, and then seemed to find himself again, what do you remember about him”?

Peter: “For Benteke, it is true that it was always mental. He was a big, strong, physically overpowering type of player. Unfortunately, for Benteke, he needed to find himself mentally, find his confidence. Maybe not the smartest player in the world, but when we worked with him, we spent more time trying to build him up than the other players. We worked on his mental confidence and belief in himself, his self-confidence, which he always needed help with”.

While Peter wouldn’t say specifically that, if Benteke was in Genk’s youth training program at an earlier age and for a longer period of time, he might have had more of a chance to succeed at a big club like Liverpool, it’s fairly obvious that the work, time, and effort that Genk coaches spend on mental training and preparation are playing a big part in the development of their youth players, for both club and country.

Big John

As English, and Quality, as they come

everton

We mentioned earlier that Coach O’Donohue’s summer campers at the Naval Academy were able to watch and listen to another coach from a top youth academy in the world, John Doolan from Everton, who is in charge of their U16 team.

John was just wrapping up a combination play session which was very impressive. During the session (which progressed into different advanced phases), he was able to demonstrate his technical ability and fitness level at the age of 43, showing the campers what he was looking for at full speed, while explaining from a coaching perspective, all without being short of breath once. He was a very commanding presence, and it’s obvious that this is an ex-professional player who demands commitment and dedication from his players.

We mentioned his playing career earlier. From everything that we found, there weren’t many bad things said about him, all the way up to his later days where there was obvious coaching potential:

doolan coach

John’s Everton youth academy has produced some of England’s finest players, such as Wayne Rooney, Leighton Baines, Leon Osman, Ross Barkley, Tom Davies (a prospect who Coach Doolan is obviously excited about), Jack Rodwell, Richard Dunne. Victor Anichebe….the list goes on.

Coach Doolan was sitting nearby while I was speaking to Coach Reynders, and was more than happy to chime in and discuss the Everton Youth Academy setup, along with what makes them so successful in England, a country where 5-10 different clubs could be competing for a local talent.

Me: “Everton’s Youth Academy was awarded Category One Status in 2012, which brought additional funding (a minimum of £775,000 per year) and resources. Was this a big moment for the club?”

John: “Yeah, absolutely. While it’s true that the bigger EPL clubs like Chelsea, Man United, Man City are all Category One, the additional resources that come with Category One status were a big part of what we’re currently doing with our youth system. Recently, in the U20 World Cup, which England won (John smiles ear-to-ear, proudly), we had more players represented than any other club. Five players: Jonjoe Kenny (20 years old, Everton Youth Academy), Callum Connolly (19 years old, has been at Everton since he was 9), Ademola Lookman (19, recent Evertonian), Dominic Calvert-Lewin (19, recent Evertonian), and Kieran Dowell (19, has been at Everton since he was 8).”

Young Lions Roar

england u20

Four of the five (Kenny, Lookman, Dowell, Calvert-Lewin) started in the U20 World Cup Final, a 1-0 victory over Venezuela. Calvert-Lewin scored the game’s only goal, his second of the tournament after being the first to score in England’s first match in a 3-1 victory vs Argentina.

Kieran Dowell scored the only goal in England’s third match, a 1-0 victory vs South Korea.

And Ademola Lookman, who Everton swooped up from Charlton earlier this month, scored 2 goals in their Round of 16 Matchup, a 2-1 win versus Costa Rica, and added another in England’s 3-1 semifinal win versus Italy.

Finch Farm

Finch Farm, Everton’s Training Facility

Me: “When it comes to identifying youth talent in England, you’re competing with a number of top EPL clubs- Man United, Liverpool (John cringes), and other English youth academies. Talk to us about your facilities, and what about your club or day-to-day activities that you think help younger players succeed”.

John: “We believe our facilities are top notch. 10 full-size pitches, one that’s lighted for night games and later sessions. A few small-sided pitches as well for the younger players. But one of the best parts of our facilities is that the young players have regular interaction with the professional players, since both teams train there. So a U16 player running into a player on the first team like Barkley or Lukaku on a daily basis is very special, and the first team players make an effort to interact with the youngsters”.

Me: “Speaking of small-sided, Peter mentioned earlier that their younger teams play almost exclusively small-sided games”.

John: “Ay. We are also big fans of futsal, we introduce it to the younger players almost immediately. They get more touches on the ball in futsal, and it helps a lot more from a technical standpoint when the ball isn’t flying every which way. It also brings the players back to the streets, there’s something about futsal that makes it seem authentic at times, brings out that fight and toughness”.

Me: In terms of additional training methods or exercises, similar to what Peter mentioned at Genk, does Everton implement any of those for youth training”?

John: “No, not really. Their parents send the kids there to learn how to play football, so the atmosphere at the club is almost 100% football. We obviously focus on the things which we believe are vital for young footballers to develop- proper nutrition and diet, training, we do also implement yoga so that might be one of the less traditional training methods. But the parents are sending us there kids to learn how to play football, not how to be gymnasts. They can do that stuff on their own time”.

Me: “In terms of typical training schedule, what’s that like for your U16 team?”

John: “The players train every day, and twice on Mondays. Sessions usually go from 6-8pm, but there will be times where they’re shortened to an hour and a half if we have a match coming up, or if a session the day before was more intense. So if we train twice on Monday, Tuesday would be a yoga day. Regular training sessions Wednesday to Friday, a game on Saturday, Re-gen on Sunday”.

Me: “How many hours would you say your u16 players spend, per week, playing soccer? There have been some studies here in the States that a typical u15/16 player is best if he spends 20 hours per week playing”.

John: “(counts it up) Typically, we spend only 15-16 hours per week playing. We don’t want to over-train the players, but it also depends on the players in the group. 3 years ago I had the best team I ever worked with, and they had to ask me to make the sessions harder because the players were so advanced (laughs).”

Me: “So in terms of scouting a player, there’s a page on the Everton Youth Academy website that says specifically not to send in Youtube video clips, and that you still receive thousands per week. Tell me more about how you scout and identify local talent”.

John: “We only scout players in the Liverpool area, within say a 50-mile radius. We want local players who are going to feel comfortable at the club- their families are nearby, they aren’t coming in from different parts of the country or from outside of England. That being said, we still compete with the big EPL clubs- Liverpool, United, City, the list goes on. So our scouting network is very important when it comes to identifying talent. In addition to our training facility, we also have Everton Soccer Schools setup, where young players can come play and be coached by our youth academy coaches. All of these are practically free. While we do have some talented players coming through the Soccer Schools, most of our talent is identified early on by our scouting network throughout the country”.

USA?

When interviewing both coaches, I asked them about what they knew about US soccer. Neither have spent much time here in the States, in fact I believe it was both of the coaches’ first trip to USA. Their responses are similar:

Coach Peter Reynders from Genk: “I have heard that soccer is developing in the United States. I have been very impressed with Navy and Coach O’Donohue’s camp setup, it’s a beautiful facility and the players are all eager to learn.

But it becomes very confusing to me when you start talking about things like ‘Universities and Colleges and Drafts'”.

Coach John Doolan from Everton: “I’ve been really impressed with everything I’ve seen here at the Naval Academy. The young camp coaches are eager to learn as well. One thing I would say to anyone reading this is- get your coaching badges as soon as possible. For our younger players, starting at U18, the players are actually required by the FA Category One clubs to start working on their coaching licenses and badges. It’s something you cannot start doing too early, to learn more about the game.

Aside from that, you have to realize that, from a soccer standpoint, USA is catching up. We have youth academy programs that have been in place for years, so I would say trust the process, but also realize that you’re catching up to other countries who have had Development Academy processes and facilities in place for a long time”.

Takeaways

One thing that will always come up when it comes to Youth Development in the United States is: money, which is responsible for a number of things, including facilities.

Back in 2012, when Everton was awarded Category One Status, they were awarded a MINIMUM of “£775,000 per year in funding from the Premier League’s youth development pot”.

As of 2015, the list of Category One youth academies in England:

Category One

So if there are smaller clubs on this list (at least when compared to Everton)- Reading, Derby, Norwich, Brighton & Hove Albion F.C., etc.

If the minimum allotment from the EPL development lot was £775,000 per year in funding, it’s more than likely that Everton’s youth academy is receiving over $1 million/ year JUST for being Category One.

Genk and Everton can afford to build and maintain top training facilities for their youth players.

Meanwhile, here in the States, US Soccer Development Academy clubs are responsible for providing and maintaining training fields (expensive) and game fields (expensive). The clubs who already have multiple fields at their disposal, like SAC (where Baltimore Armour trains), also have to schedule field times for all of their other youth teams to train on. So then they have to utilize additional local training options, such as Loyola University and Poly High.

For DC United’s Youth Academy teams, training on the RFK Auxiliary Fields and having different home fields (throughout VA and MD) every other game would probably be unheard of in England or Belgium.

The clubs have to pay the coaches and trainers as well.

In addition to the money and resources that USSDA Clubs are required to provide (with each USSDA club being graded among accordingly), the parents of youth players who are good enough to play at the Academy level are also required to come up with what can be looked at as EXTREMELY large amounts of money each season, depending on the club.

This can be upwards to $2,000-$3,000 per season depending on the club (or at least this was the number in the season before last when coaching in USSDA, we welcome feedback from others involved is USSDA), which doesn’t even include travel arrangements (flights, hotel rooms, meals, etc.) for the players or parents for Showcase events, and away games (DMV teams travel to Connecticut, New York, Pennsylvania for regular season games, Florida and Indiana for Showcases and playoffs).

While most USSDA clubs will offer scholarship opportunities to the better players, a lot of the time the fees are covered by the players who are on the roster because they can afford to play.

Without getting into more specifics, the reality is this- USSDA is expensive. The Baltimore Bays lost USSDA status after Celtic was formed and they couldn’t keep the best players around. There were also financial reasons, and it took 4 clubs merging (Bays, Thunder, Pipeline, and SAC) in order to keep Development Academy soccer in Baltimore. The US Soccer Development Academy grades local clubs based on their facilities, coaching, and other factors such as player start percentages, but at one time one of the grading criteria were how self-sufficient the USSDA clubs were from a financial aspect.

That being said- like Coach Doolan said, we are catching up, but we are still WAY BEHIND. Yes, the Development Academy is producing top players.

Yes, the Development Academy is great for US Soccer.

But don’t even start to compare our youth development to those of Belgium or England, because we still have a long way to go. For youth development to continue to flourish and be compared to development efforts in other parts of the world, US Soccer or MLS need to figure out ways to assist Youth Development clubs in improving training facilities. The question is, how do we change this? We’d love to hear from you, leave a comment below.

Special Thanks

Special thanks to both coaches Peter Reynders of Genk, and John Doolan of Everton, for their time.

Also, a special thanks to Navy Head Coach Tim O’Donohue. The Navy camp staff and setup were all VERY impressive. For anyone interested in checking out their second camp session (June 30th-July 4th) you can find out more on this page, we have heard that one of the higher-up Rangers FC (Scottland) coaches will be there, among others.

navy coach