A Family Affair

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Navy Men’s soccer hosted their second of two summer camps over this past Independence Day weekend. The players and coaches were all business on the pitch, but there was also a family atmosphere among the entire camp that made the grueling summer temperatures a little more enjoyable.

Navy Head Coach Tim O’Donohue had his daughter and young son running around on the Naval Academy practice fields, in addition to a camp coaching staff that had more of a “brotherhood” feel than that of a bunch of co-workers counting down the hours until they could get home.

This wasn’t a coincidence. It’s obvious that Coach O’Donohue focuses on creating an enjoyable (while competitive) family-like environment by bringing in positive, quality guys into his camp who he is familiar with. Coach O’Donohue, a 4-year starter in his playing days at Muhlenberg College, played for a coach by the name of Jeff Tipping. Coach Tipping was the Director of Coaching for the NSCAA between 2002-2011, and has been on the fields at the Naval Academy for both Summer Camps.

When “Coach OD” was head coach at Stevens IT (between 2001 and 2010), the team made it to 10 straight NCAA Tournament appearances, along with 10 straight league titles. He worked with a player by the name of Paul Killian, who was rated the best Division 3 goalkeeper in the country in 2012 and voted first-team All-American. Paul, who is a DMV Local (played at Marriott’s Ridge), was an assistant at Stevens under O’Donohue. Paul is now one of Navy’s assistant coaches, and residential soccer junkie….he graduated High School in 2009, and yet could tell me all about Clint Peay’s High School soccer career, or the great DMV soccer players before his time.

Another one of Coach OD’s Former players at UConn, Mamadou Diouf, was selected in the 2014 MLS Draft and was a camp favorite. The list goes on of players and coaches who Coach OD has worked with, and loves having around.

Two of the coaches that highlight this weekend’s Navy Soccer Camp: Greg Statt, Academy Operations and Scouting Coordinator for Rangers in Scotland, and Jeff Cook, u18 Philadelphia Union Development Academy Head Coach and Assistant Coach for Bethlehem Steel FC.

In our prior piece covering the first Navy Camp, we discussed youth player development with Peter Reynders from Genk’s world-renowned youth academy in Belgium, and John Doolan from Everton. We’d like to take a second to offer a sincere congratulations to Coach Doolan, who we found out this weekend has been promoted to assistant coach for Everton’s First Team, as well as U23 coach, and head of recruitment for Northwest of England and Europe. Congrats Coach Doolan!

In this follow-up piece, we talked to Coach Statt and Coach Cook to discuss additional topics related to youth development in the modern game.

Greg Statt

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Rangers FC, Scotland

You can usually tell how passionate a coach is about youth player development just from talking to them for a few minutes, and it’s obvious after sitting down with Coach Statt that he is as passionate as they come. Coach Statt, who is head of Academy Operations and Scouting Coordinator for Scotland’s renowned Rangers FC Youth Academy, probably sounds like a pretty serious guy who walks around in a suit all day and sits behind a computer answering e-mails, right?

Wrong.

Coach Statt is extremely passionate about not only working with youth players, but also about being able to relate and understand the younger generations. His interactions with the campers are engaging and sincere, he even has an awesome Twitter profile where he poses for pictures with players, and lets everyone in on his day-to-day responsibilities. We asked Coach Statt some questions regarding Rangers’ approach to youth development in Scotland.

Me: “Coach, first off welcome to the States and to Maryland. At last Navy Camp, we talked to Genk and Everton youth coaches about additional sports or activities that your Academy implements for the youth players. Do Rangers offer the same at their Youth Academy?”

Coach Statt: “Yeah, absolutely. For the younger lads, dodgeball and volleyball are usual favorites. Then as some of the Academy players get older, we also have touch Rugby and Judo as well. We try to mix up the activities for the kids as much as possible.”

Me: “In terms of small-sided games for the younger players, what is Rangers’ philosophy?”

CS: For the u11 players, everything is 7v7. At u12, it’s 7v7 up until the end of the year or Christmas time, and then January to May they’ll go to full 11v11.

Me: We talked to some of the other coaches last week about the mental aspect of the game for youth players. Is this something that Rangers’ Academy dedicates additional resources to?

CS: “Ay, absolutely! We really focus on the mental aspect a lot when working with our youth academy players. Rangers actually employs a Mental Skills Coach, who works with the players not only in group sessions, but also in a 1-on-1 environment. We really try to focus on a “growth mindset”, versus a “fixed mindset”. A growth mindset is one where players believe that they can achieve their goals through hard work, working together with their teammates, and listening to the advice that their coaches are giving them. Those with a fixed mindset are more likely to believe that their athletic talents alone are enough for them to succeed, and are less likely to work harder on things like grades or individual training, because they think that they are already good enough, and don’t need to do the extra work.

The mindset at Rangers Academy isn’t to ‘win at all costs’. The mindset is to support each other, everyone works together.”

Here are a few different resources on growth mindset versus fixed mindsets:

Me: ”It sounds like Rangers spends a lot of time on the mental aspect for their youth players?”

CS: “It’s absolutely vital for our young players to have the correct mindset from the beginning, but it also applies to our coaching mentality. Everyone wants to win, but we focus 100% on development, versus the ‘winning at all costs’ coaching mindset. For example, if we’re up 1-0 in a big game, and we have a player on the bench who has worked hard in training all week, but hasn’t been in the game yet, we make sure to get that player on the pitch. We don’t focus on ONLY winning, we prefer to do right by the players who put the work in and are serious about becoming footballers.

If we have a majority of players who are doing the right things: working hard, helping their teammates, are coachable and buying in, we spend more time with those players during the week than with the players who think they already know everything. At the risk of being singled out, the players who we don’t spend as much time with usually come around and buy in. Sometimes the players need positive discipline, from a mental aspect, for them to realize what’s expected of them.”

Me: “We also talked to the coaches last week about futsal for the younger players, is futsal something your academy implements for the younger players?”

CS: “Absolutely. World-class players like Messi, Ronaldo, Ronaldinho, they got to be as good as they are for a reason, and they all swear by it (futsal). We’re getting the hang of it (laughs). You might call it ‘medium-contact futsal’, but our lads are getting the hang of it.”

Me: “Thanks coach, one last question. For your Academy players, and their families. Do they pay for anything?”

CS: ‘No, they don’t.”

Me: Nothing? So the thought of parents having to pay for their kids to attend your youth academy, that would be pretty much unheard of then?”

CS: “Yes, it would never happen. The families don’t have to pay for a thing, everything is taken care of.”

I didn’t get a chance to ask Coach Statt more about Rangers’ facilities (as it’s something I discussed with coaches from Genk and Everton), but he definitely acknowledged that Rangers’ state-of-the-art training facilities is an integral part of the development of their youth players. The youth players train at Murray Park, also referred to as Auchenhowie. From their website:

Opened in July, 2001, the centre is divided into three distinct sections – an administration wing, a professional wing and a youth wing

The youth and professional wings have their own reception area, dining room, changing rooms, kit store and lecture room, whilst facilities such as the gym, medical suite and indoor pitch are shared between the professional and youth set ups.

Every piece of equipment in the £150,000 state-of-the-art gym is linked to the medical centre’s computer system to monitor every player. Each one has an individual code which activates a personalised fitness programme designed to meet their unique requirements.

The gym includes an isokinetic machine, which allows players to work within the constraints of an injury by testing muscle strength and reaction during a workout.

Murray Park also includes a 6 x 3 metre hydrotherapy pool with an angled, moveable floor and a series of massage jets and currents that allows a range of rehabilitation exercises to take place.

The 60 x 40 metre indoor synthetic pitch allows players to train whatever the weather and is laid on a bed of sand and tiny rubber crumbs designed to cushion the surface and prevent injuries. This revolutionary new surface closely mimics real grass and is used by other top clubs such as Ajax.

Sounds like a pretty sweet setup. A sincere thanks to Coach Statt for his time and willingness to discuss what makes Rangers FC Youth Academy so successful when it comes to developing youth players.

An American Coach’s Take

At both Navy Summer Soccer camps, we’ve talked to youth academy coaches from Belgium, England, and Scotland about what makes their youth academy programs successful when it comes to developing some of their country’s best players, but what about an American coach’s take on youth development? After all, it is Independence Day, right?

Jeff Cook

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Philadelphia Union

This past season, Jeff Cook was the head coach of the Philadelphia Union u18 US Soccer Development Academy Team. Coach Cook will bump up to the Union’s U19 team next season, in addition to his role as assistant coach for USL side Bethlehem Steel. He has been with Philly Union’s Youth Academy since 2013. Prior to working with the Union, Coach Cook was head coach at Dartmouth for 12 years (2001-2013) where he won four Ivy League Soccer Championships, and made the NCAA Men’s Soccer Tournament seven times, including two Sweet 16 appearances.

Before Dartmouth, Coach Cook was Head Coach at University of Cincinnati for four seasons, where he was named Conference USA Coach of the Year, and took the BearCats to their first even NCAA Men’s Soccer Tournament in 1998.

Last season, as u15/16 Head Coach for Philly Union, his team made it to the playoffs and was the 12th-ranked USSDA team in the country. Despite going undefeated in the group stage of the playoffs, they missed out on the quarterfinals on goal differential This past season, Coach Cook’s u17/18 side finished on top of a very competitive East Atlantic Division, but had a tougher time in the playoffs. But despite any of Coach Cook’s wins or losses over his successful coaching career, one thing that he is obviously passionate about is player development.

Coach Cook ran a session on combo play and build-up out of the back while I was there, and it was refreshing to watch a coach work on things that have made Philly Union teams so successful over the years. He coached the campers on things like breaking lines with their passes (versus shorter, more obvious options). He made sure the wing players were wide and up the field on every rotation, opening up space and passing lanes for his 6/8 to drop in and find the ball. He made sure the CB’s were wide when their GK collected the ball, opening it up for the 6 to drop in and distribute. He coached the players at the 6 position on different angles they can take when making their runs dropping in to find the ball, to open up space and be less predictable.

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These are all things that Union Youth teams in the past have focused on. I was lucky enough to be a volunteer assistant coach in USSDA at one point, and we played Coach Cook’s teams twice a season in 2014-15, 2015-16 seasons. His teams were always organized, always played and knocked the ball, and ALWAYS had players who could stretch you and attack out wide.

So from the outside looking in, it’s one thing to know what the Union teams are going to do when you play them. Watching their U18 coach run a session and work on the things that make their teams so successful, all while being willing to share this knowledge with the younger campers, is another.

Me: “Coach, first off great session. A lot of times, coaches will come to camps and work on some of the obvious things, while maybe playing their cards close to their chest and not wanting to give away too much from a coaching perspective. Do you owe Coach OD a favor, or is this how you always run sessions when others are observing?”

Jeff Cook: “It’s actually a full club coaching philosophy at the Union, from top to bottom. We share our coaching instructional videos publicly on our website, and we make sure we are very open in regards to sharing information that has made our coaches successful. Actually (laughs) sometimes maybe we’re a little too open about it all, but the goal is to improve how the game is played everywhere in our region, not just at our club.”

Me: “One thing we talked about last time with Everton Coach Doolan was- scouting youth players, and how players end up at the club. Could you talk about your scouting network, or how you identify potential Union Academy players?”

JC: “Scouting is important, but at the Union one thing we really focus on is the relationships with other youth clubs in our home market. The ownership is really dedicated to community outreach, so we host coaching nights and other events that benefit coaches at other clubs in the Philadelphia area. We make sure to maintain positive relationships with youth clubs in our home markets. Our philosophy is simple: if we do the right things, and do right by other youth clubs in the area….if we set up the proper environment where we are developing players, and we aren’t looked at as the MLS club constantly coming in and poaching the best players, then naturally players will want to play for us, and coaches from other clubs will want to send us their top players.”

Me: “Coach Doolan also talked about some of the financial aspects for top clubs in England. When Everton’s youth academy was awarded Category One Status, they receive around $1 million per season from the English FA. In terms of how the Development Academy continues to evolve, is this something that MLS needs to step in and start helping with?”

JC: “We are very lucky at the Union. Ownership is 100% committed to youth development, they contribute $3-$4 million per year to youth development alone. Development Academy is a pioneering effort, and the implementation of USSDA is changing the game in our country for the greater good. But yes, MLS will have to step in and contribute more to Development Academy clubs as MLS and USSDA efforts continue to evolve. Each USSDA club is independently-run and, from a financial aspect, are pretty much all on their own.”

Me: “So you believe that US Soccer and MLS can be doing more, moving forward, to improve youth development efforts?”

JC: “Not only from a financial standpoint, but also from a coaching education standpoint. Like I said earlier, we want the youth coaches at clubs in our market to possess the education and knowledge to succeed. But US Soccer can’t do it all. In a market like Philadelphia, there are 5-6 million people here. At one point, we would love it if Philly Union were looked at more as a top ‘federation’ figure on our area from a coaching education aspect. MLS and The Union want to start contributing more for coaching education. We think the next step for US Soccer, from a youth development standpoint, will be for the MLS and US Soccer to do a better job working together, in terms of offering more formalized coaching education.”

Me: “We talked about facilities, residency, and other youth development topics with the other foreign coaches. Can you talk to us about Youth Academy facilities at Philly Union?”

JC: “The YSC Academy, and the facilities at YSC, are a perfect example of Ownership’s commitment to youth development. The facilities are state-of-the-art, from the locker rooms to the strength training equipment and staff. YSC is a four-year school where kids get a quality education, and there is no charge for any of our youth development programs. We won’t offer actual residency for any kids under 16 years old, but for the kids in the YSC Academy program, their development has taken another step thanks to the program. Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, players go through two sessions per day: one from 8:15am-9:30am, and another after school from 3:30-5:00pm. On Friday, we’ll have a mobility session, and days after games they usually have off. Our youth players go through 8-10 sessions per week, including games. We only had 3-5 players this past season who didn’t attend the YSC program, and it became obvious later in the season that they were not developing on the same level as the players who were YSC students.”

The Union Youth Academy players also work with Sports Psychologists, performance coaches, athletic trainers, and other youth academy staff members that Union’s ownership employs as part of their $3-$4 million investment each year in youth development. Union’s youth development model, as published on their website:

20160504.Youth Development Model

Me: “US Soccer audits every USSDA club each year on a number of factors. Can you talk to us more about what USSDA looks at during their yearly assessments?”

JC: “USSDA audits each Development Academy club on things like the clubs’ coaches and their licenses, facilities, player development, and how self-sufficient they are from a financial aspect. This past season, each USSDA club was audited by a company called DoublePass, a German company who goes through every aspect of our club. The goal is for US Soccer to eventually, hopefully, evolve USSDA into a criteria-driven league. The Das Reboot book (written by ESPN FC regular Raph Honigstein) is a great read for those interested in youth development, and how German clubs have managed to benefit from the Bundesliga becoming more criteria-driven.”

Me: “So over the next 3-5 years, what do you believe the future holds for USSDA and youth development efforts?”

JC: “Criteria-driven leagues, I believe, is the future for youth development. Hopefully USSDA can evolve to the point where MLS or US Soccer, or both, are able to reward clubs financially for doing the right things for youth development in the United States. Also, I think a professional pathway for the younger players would help. Reading United, Bethlehem Steel, and Philly Union are three options here in our home market. We would like to start working with players at the u16 age group, and getting those players on more of a professional pathway. Our goal, at the end of the day, is to produce players for the first team of Philly Union within our own academy system.”

We want to extend a sincere thanks to Coach Jeff Cook for his time and willingness to discuss youth development. An American coach at a top USSDA club is obviously a perspective that we value, so thanks to Coach Cook for his contribution.

Navy Soccer

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Coach OD

Throughout interviews with the coaches from Everton, Genk, Rangers, and Union, a similar topic kept coming up: mentality. It’s no secret that Navy’s men’s soccer team struggled a bit in Coach O’Donohue’s first season in charge of the program, but Coach OD is the first to admit that the transition from the last coach to his current tenure is a work in progress… in the right way, with 10 verbal commits for 2017-2018 season, two of them rated top 100 by TDS.

At UConn, as the associate head coach under legendary coach Ray Reid, he was part of a program that made it to the quarterfinals of the NCAA Men’s soccer tournament for three straight seasons. How does Coach OD, who is #1 in the country among active NCAA Men’s soccer coaches for win percentage, plan on turning things around at Navy? By implementing the mentality and work ethic that he attributes to working with Coach Reid.

Me: “Coach, thanks again for having us out for your camps. How did you manage to get all of these coaches out here this summer?”

OD: “Some of the coaches had connections through Coach Reid, but most of it was managed through Coach Tipping who I played for at Muhlenburg. The camps have all gone better than expected: we’ve had great turnouts, and the coaches who came over from Europe have had nothing but great things to say about our facilities and their experience here. At Navy, we are committed to excellence. We wanted to bring the best camp available to the area, with the best coaches, which I believe we have done this summer. But also, from a learning experience, it’s been great for myself and the other coaches to be around guys like Peter Reynders, John Doolan, Greg Statt, Jeff Cooke. Their demo sessions have been very informative, and now that we’ve had these guys stay with us for a few days, we plan on visiting them at their clubs over in Europe in the future to learn more from them. We’re only as good as who we associate with, and who we spend time with. Spending time with all of these great coaches, along with guys like Jeff Tipping, the guys from Pelota training have been here helping kids put some extra work in as well, and everyone else, it’s been a great environment, and we plan on continuing our coaching education as a program moving forward.”

Me: “Your first season at Navy, talk to us about what stood out, and what you hope to build on.”

OD: “Well, going 0-6 in league play is what comes to mind. That’s unacceptable, and will not happen again. The Patriot League is one with a lot of parity, so every team will give us a match this season. Moving forward, in addition to improving league play and finishing top 4 in our conferenc, the goal is to beat Army. We lost to them 2-1 last season, but over the next 2-3 years we hope to outclass those guys. This past Spring, we’ve seen some progress. We beat Villanova 1-0, defeated GW 3-0, and tied George Mason in a match where we had the majority of possession. We just have to keep working at it, the Spring season was important for the guys who were here under the past coaching staff to understand how we plan on playing moving forward.”

Me: “You were part of a very successful UConn program before coming to Navy. What have you learned from Coach Reid, and what is different between Navy and UConn?”

OD: “Recruiting is one thing that is a main focus. Coach Reid taught myself, and the rest of the coaches he has worked with, about how hard you have to work to recruit the types of players were are looking for here at Navy. I’m working on passing this down to the rest of my staff as well, and those guys have been spending 12 days at a time on the road, recruiting. We’ve been hitting every USSDA event, we actually just got back from Development Academy playoffs where we saw some great players play for some great teams. Alex Yi is out right now actually recruiting. One thing I learned from Coach Reid that I plan on implementing here at Navy, is: nobody will work harder than us at recruiting. That being said, we’re looking for American players here at Naval Academy obviously, versus at UConn. When I was at UConn, Coach Reid might call me and say “I need you to take a trip to Senegal tomorrow morning to talk to a kid”, and I’d be on my way. I think I made that trip 7 times while at UConn? We would go to Patrick Viera’s academy, Diembers, where we found some good players. Here at Navy, we’ll just have to work even harder on finding the best guys for our program, and our AD Chet Gladchuk and the rest of the administration has been extremely supportive of what we’re trying to do.”

Me: “In terms of an identity, what do you hope your team will look like next season?”

OD: “We want to play. I learned from Coach Reid that it’s important to do these camps, and make efforts to give back to the community, which we plan on building on. But on the field, we’re not going to park the bus and hope to get lucky moving forward. We’re going to open things up, we’re going to press high up the field, we’re going to knock the ball, and we’re going to recruit guys who know how to play the game.”

Me: “During your time here at Navy, have any of the other coaches or staff helped you out at all?”

OD: “The football team, I’ve been very impressed with how their coaches go about things from a mentality standpoint. They really hammer home the ‘brotherhood’ message, which helps the players stay together and work for a common goal. That’s definitely something, as you can see, that I’m trying to implement here at Navy. We’re working together to be more than a team, we want to create a family atmosphere and brotherhood type of feel throughout the program.”

.. We hope to continue to add guys who can play, but more importantly, guys who fit the image of excellence that we’re looking for here at Navy, in terms of their character and what they’re all about.”

In Closing

Spending time at the Navy Camp these past few weeks, and watching the campers and coaching staff interact with each other, has been a fun experience. At the end of the day, everyone is passionate about the game of soccer and becoming better players and coaches, which is a great environment to be around. Hopefully this continues to help raise everyone’s game, and put their best foot forward next season. Best of luck to Navy, and a sincere thanks to all of the coaches for their time.