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Quote Sheet: U.S. Soccer + SPARQ Player Development Summit

U.S. Soccer Technical Director CLAUDIO REYNA 
On why the curriculum was created:
“Emphasizing proper coaching and training for players age 5-12 is critical for our ability to produce elite players and raise the level of play in this country overall. We have created this curriculum to serve as a blueprint for the thousands of coaches across the country working with young players at such an important time in their development.”

On the process of building the curriculum:
“The curriculum was a long process because there were a lot of different pieces to it that needed to be put on paper. The most important part was that it was simple and clear, and that coaches could understand. It was built around making sure that it wasn’t confusing. First and foremost, as we develop players and coaches we want to really identify what we want the end picture to look like, a clear vision.”

On the contents of the curriculum:
“This isn’t anything new. It’s very consistent with leading nations around the world and what they’re doing. Javier Perez was also a major contributor to it. He spent six years at Real Madrid working with young players. It was a combination of understanding the American landscape, the American coaches, and getting together our ideas and applying it to soccer in the U.S. All the ideas that I’ve seen in my career, it’s been my goal to share what I’ve seen and put it on paper, really make it a reference for coaches.”

On the idea behind the curriculum:
“Towards the end of my career I started getting into coaching and figuring out what the next steps are. I realized there is so much information out there but it’s about getting all of that information and putting it into one document and also making sure that it is age appropriate. That’s very important and also one of the main elements of the curriculum.”

On incorporating his previous experiences playing in Europe into the curriculum:
“The first thing I did, to be honest, was to look at myself. I looked at my path, what I learned, my influences, what I was missing as a player that I tried to make up for when I was older. There are really a lot of different influences. I played at Glasgow Rangers with a Dutch coach, Dick Advocaat, and there were six players on the team from Holland as well. I was able to spend three years working with a coach and his staff of high quality and players from different countries with different ideas of how the game is played. What really struck me more than anything about the Dutch philosophy was that it was simple. It was very clear. He wasn’t a coach who spoke a lot and he was one of, if not the best coach I ever had.”

On different influences in the curriculum:
“The curriculum is from a lot of different leading nations. The core of it is really the philosophy, which is all of the components around the game: tactical, technical, physical and psychosocial. Those four components are the demands of a soccer game, no matter what age. The curriculum was about translating that into practice. It is making sure that coaches are training those components day in and day out, week in and week out. What really struck me not only from my own career as a player, but from speaking to other players and going around the world is that there are things that are clearly logical that they’re doing. There’s a lot of routine and repetition. There were very clear messages when I saw the coaches working with youth players. The best coaches I had were the ones with the clearest information. It was with those experiences that the curriculum was formed. It’s simple and easy for everyone and I think that’s one thing we really wanted to focus on.”

On the process of combining information and forming the curriculum:
“The process for the curriculum was long. There are chapters in it that had to be moved around to make sense. The first part of the curriculum is four sections and it’s the core of the curriculum. We had to constantly look at what’s important for certain ages. We had to make some decisions and say 'OK, at the U-12 level for example, is 11-v.-11 better of 9-v.-9?' For the kids to play on a full size field is very difficult. What I did then was go around and watch U-12 games and I noticed at the beginning of the second half, because of the physical demands of a full size field, the quality of the game decreased and the kids running around were done. This is very consistent with some of the countries around the world. For example, Spain U-12 teams still play 7-v.- 7 and 9-v.-9. The overall process was just making sure it all made sense. The most important part of it all was that it was something coaches could use.”

“We didn’t want a lot of words. We wanted to be very clear. There are a lot of graphics and pictures and it’s really a reference for coaches to use. The next part of the curriculum is going to be the practices that coaches can use. For the four stages in the curriculum we have the initial, basic, intermediate and advanced stage and we created practices. Up to 450 or 500 practices for all of the ages that a Mom or Dad or a high level coach can have at their disposal to use that is consistent and faithful with the curriculum and the philosophy within it.”

On the specific details of the curriculum:
“It took a lot of time. In terms of the detail, we wanted to make sure that there was nothing left unturned for a coach. In terms of the cones and how you lay them out, the space you use, the time of each exercise. This isn’t all prescriptive of course, there’s got to be some flexibility with everything but you still need as much of a guide as possible. Especially for coaches in the younger age groups where there is less experience and there are volunteer parent coaches. It was really important to give them that information and that was one of the main parts of the curriculum.”

On the main points of the curriculum:
“There are probably four or five key points. One of the things is finding a style of play. The other thing we try to emphasize is development over winning. Winning is important, it’s a soccer game and you play to win, but the most important part in youth especially at the younger ages is to have coaches understand and focus on development and on teaching and not the weekend game. The Monday through Friday is much more important than the Saturday or Sunday. It’s very easy for me to say that, knowing part of our culture is very competitive. We love winning but development over winning is a very important message."

"The next thing is making sure it’s age appropriate. You don’t teach a seven-year-old algebra and it’s the same thing for soccer. We needed to put something together that has coaches working on what’s appropriate for a kid based on their human development. Kids don’t see the world the same way as adults so therefore they’re not going to learn certain things at a certain time. One of the most important key points as well is quality training. You get that by being prepared and trying to make coaches understand that just because you’re not a professional coach doesn’t mean you don’t coach professionally. One of the last messages of the curriculum is it’s a way to bring everyone together as coaches. We shouldn’t be competing against each other within our own country. Our competition is the world. We’re all being judged as coaches in this country on how we develop players. I think we’ve earned respect around the world in getting results but we’ve yet to earn respect on a big scale in developing players. The best teams around the world are not buying our players. It isn’t one person’s fault; it’s our whole coaching workforce. That’s something that is important for coaches to understand: it is up to everyone. The curriculum becomes the tool to give the coaches that direction.”

On connecting the curriculum to the development of current U.S. players:
“One of the things we’re talking about in 5-12 age group is the building block. Everybody can make that environment better but it’s going to be up to the influential people in the soccer communities around the country to really help those communities produce better coaches. I think a key part of the curriculum is that this has to become what our future coaches, which are current players, start learning as well. In my travels in the world, players aren’t out in the dark; they know what they need to do and the style of play and philosophy. It’s very important that it’s not only coaching and player development, it’s performance. It’s really important that we start teaching our players and give them the opportunity to look at the curriculum and see that this is the content that will be theirs as they get older.”

“For me, when I was a professional player, I felt much more comfort when I knew what needed to be done. When the coach really gives you clear instruction and direction, you feel better. I feel this is another aspect that is very important for the young kids to start learning the content in there. They’re moving further along in their soccer education and it’s only going to benefit them in the future. When you really look through it, this is something we can start giving to our players. It would have helped me if I would have known at a young age what possession really meant or playing out of the back. If we’re teaching our younger players what these things mean and how it relates to being on the field, we’re just educating our future coaches.”

On the short vs. the long term goals for the curriculum:
“The short term goal is really to let everyone know that there is a plan for them. They ultimately are going to be the ones in their soccer communities that can take it and pass it on to other coaches. We want to connect different coaches and influential people in the country so we start working together. We sometimes have a small vision of what we’re trying to do, and this is about getting a bigger picture. We’re letting them know that this is the direction that U.S. Soccer wants to go and having them come on board and be an important part of this. If we’re all doing it together, in the same direction and with the same guidelines, you’d think there’d be a better chance for us to succeed in developing players.” 

U.S. Women’s National Teams Technical Director APRIL HEINRICHS
On why the curriculum is being presented:
“I think we’ve realized that we have to lead from the top down in terms of technical development. The curriculum is very specific. It’s age appropriate and gender neutral. When you look around the world, it’s the federations leading the game on the technical level. In our evolution as a country, this is a perfect time for us to give some tools to the coaches to use with their players that are time-tested, pretty simple to follow and that they can use on a daily, weekly, and even annual basis.”

On the goal of the coaching curriculum:
“I believe the goal of the curriculum is to share with the larger community all of the training sessions, wisdom and experience from great coaches around the country and then particularly from Claudio’s experiences in Europe. It is some basic principles of developing players and having tools that coaches who coach these age groups can refer to in terms of their planning process, the bigger picture and age appropriate exercises. Keeping in mind that the curriculum is only as good as the person coaching and so the coach then needs to take the curriculum and put his or her personality on it in every opportunity they have to interact with players.”

On the importance of the curriculum to coaches:
“One of the things I think that is not going well in America is our training to game ratio. Players are training on a fairly consistent basis about two times for every one game they’re playing and it should be closer to three or four times. I think the curriculum will give us the sense of building upon one session upon the next session, upon the next, which leads to the game. At the moment were so win driven, as a country we’re so results oriented that we’re getting away from the importance of training. Particularly with the younger age groups. Those are critical skill acquisition years. The curriculum will help coaches get to some of the biomechanics and technical aspects of moving the ball appropriately whether it’s striking, heading, dribbling, receiving, this will help them acquire the skills so that when they go into later parts of development we can start talking about team concepts and small group tactics.”

On how coaches should handle the new curriculum:
“I think as coaches get their hands on the curriculum what they need to do is read the entire document, put it in the context of the age group they’re working with, put it in the context of what they were doing the year or two before and where they want to take their team. A great adage I like to hear is leaders begin with the end in mind. Coaches should look at the curriculum and say, ‘how can this curriculum help me build my team to be where I want the team to be at the end of the year?’ ‘Where should the players be at the end of the year?’ Then you use the curriculum as the building blocks to get the players there.”

On how the curriculum will help coaches:
“I think the release of the curriculum will help every coach. There’s a movement in America that is so focused on winning and developing teams. Coaches get their players together and talk about team tactics at much too young of an age. Once you get your hands on the curriculum and you start to implement it, it may not be natural or comfortable at first because suddenly you’re reading something and you’re trying to implement somebody else’s concept, but I think if you use it as a template for planning your session on a weekly and monthly basis then you will have this road map that you never had before. I think it will free coaches up to have personality within their session, to spend time making the coaching points rather than worrying about, ‘I’ve got 10-year-olds running all over the place.’ The structure is already in place for them. Coaches can use the curriculum to guide their sessions to be more economical, quicker transition from one exercise to the next exercise and it will free them up to be a better coach over the course of the training sessions.”

U.S. Soccer Development Academy Director of Scouting TONY LEPORE
On the importance of working with young players:
“We felt it was important to start with the youngest players so that they have a very healthy introduction to the game. We also wanted to share the information with all the coaches in the United States to help guide their focus and provide them with a resource. We have a range of coaches with different levels of experience in the game and this can provide some consistency as players move up the ladder.”

On the goal of the curriculum:
“The goal of the coaching curriculum is to give coaches a resource to help guide their practices and their approach to games, and to plan out their season. We felt it was important to start with the youngest players so that they have a very healthy introduction to the game.”

On the importance of sharing it with coaches now:
“We felt it was important to release the curriculum and share it with all the coaches to help guide their focus, and so that they can have a resource. We have many coaches at this level that are new to the game and we have others that have a playing background. We wanted to provide a consistency as a player moves up the ladder. “

On why training is important:
“Training is important because that’s where players learn. Games are places where they can test their skills and awareness, but it’s at training that players should be have the freedom to experiment with  the ball, with the game and get lots of repetition in order to get better technically.”

On the design of the curriculum itself:
“We designed this curriculum so that it would be very easy for coaches to implement into their training, into their season planning and that they could read it very easily. All the information is right there as they approach the start of their season and as they work and prepare all the practices throughout the season. We’ll give them the resources so they can properly plan out practices, and so that players are getting all the things they need to develop technically, tactically, psychosocially and physically as they move throughout the program.“

On what he hopes the response will be:
“We think coaches are going to really like the curriculum, so the important next step is to make sure we spread the word and get it out to the coaches. We want to make it readily available. Part of the next steps will be to use it. It’s important that coaches not pick and pull what works for them, but that we follow it so there is a process for player development so as players go through each of the steps, they’re prepared for the next level and develops appropriately.”

U.S. Soccer Director of Coaching Education DAVE CHESLER 
On the goal of the curriculum:
“The goal of any curriculum is to give coaches throughout the country a blueprint for developing our youngest players. You’re looking for consistent methodology and consistent delivery of concepts so as a country we can begin to develop an identity with our style of play.”

On why it’s important:
“We are very aware that the leading countries in the world in terms of soccer do have a national identity and there’s a value in that. We are at a stage in our soccer culture in the United States where we are ready to develop that identity and really be focused as a group with where we head with our youth players.”

On the need to concentrate on the youngest players:
“Learning a skill or a craft, or learning to be a soccer athlete, there are progressive stages and if you don’t get the early stages right in sequence you’re really fighting an uphill battle for developing an elite athlete. It’s really a learning stages issue. You need to do the right things at this young age group in order to get the right end product and move towards becoming an elite player.”

On the U.S. developing a soccer identity:
“We develop an identity because it allows us to be consistently focused on the direction that we’re training our players, so if you’re going to train players to play in a back four system, that generally is different than if they’re playing in only a three player system. Having a consistent identity allows you to be more efficient about that. I think we’re also very aware that the leading countries in the world in terms of soccer do have a national identity and there’s a value in that, so I think we’re at a stage in our soccer culture in the United States that we’re ready to develop that identity and really be focused as a group on where we head with our youth players.”

On the focus of the curriculum:
“I think there’s a natural focus to concentrate on the younger players because learning to be a soccer athlete, there are progressive stages. If you don’t get the early stages right in sequence, then you’re really fighting an uphill battle for developing an elite athlete. It’s basically a learning stages issue that you need to do the right things in the initial stages in order to get the right end product or move towards becoming an elite player.”

On the importance of training for players:
“Training is critical no matter what craft or skill or profession you’re trying to develop. True learning takes place in practice or training, so deliberately practicing certain skills if you’re an outside defender, or a midfielder or a striker, it’s really the training that focuses your effort towards an end target. Training is the most important element of becoming a skilled craftsperson whether you’re a teacher, athlete, or coach, they all involve that deliberate practice.

On how coaches can implement the curriculum:
“The way coaches need to implement the curriculum is to be familiar with it obviously and two to seek mentors, people in the soccer community that are experienced coaches. There’s a skill to it, there’s a methodology, having a book in front of you with content is simply not enough. You have to develop your skills as an instructor, as an effective teacher of the curriculum, whether it’s with youth or instructing coaches, it’s a very similar skill and you have to be able to teach it. They have to look for models, mentors and continually practice their delivery of the curriculum.”

On what is included in the curriculum:
“The impact of the curriculum for the coach is that it is a blueprint. It serves as a clear example provided by experienced people that these are the right things to teach, these are the proper things to teach at each age level. The particular curriculum that Claudio Reyna and Javier have produced also has a great deal of detail on how frequently you train, what mix of technique and tactics and physical development are appropriate for each age group. It goes much beyond drills and exercises. It also goes into the delivery and frequency and other aspects that affect the developmental cycle that the kids are going through.”

On the next step for coaches after reading the curriculum:
“The next step for a coach after they read the curriculum is really to begin thinking about how they implement it with their team. By that I mean the planning, trying to come up with a flow, a coherency of how they implement the curriculum in their own environment. Some teams might train twice a week, some might train three times a week, they may have one or multiple games in a week, so that coach really needs to sit down with the content and devise a way to implement it over the course of the season.”

U.S. Women’s National Teams Development Director JILL ELLIS 
On what the curriculum provides coaches:
“This provides people with a map, a guide as to some of the things that are important in the development of youth players. It’s a way of reaching everybody, from the youngest coach to one of our more senior coaches and it gives people ideas on what’s important in our development.”

On why the curriculum was produced:
“If we want to affect change at the highest level, we need to make sure our foundation is strong. It makes sense to reach out to our youngest players, and the coaches of our youngest players, to help the higher level. If you can increase the base, it’s obviously going to help us at the top.” 

On the purpose of the curriculum:
“I think it’s to give people a map or a guide for some of the things that are important in the development of youth players. I think it’s a way of reaching everyone from the youngest to a more senior coach and just giving people ideas and sharing thoughts. It’s trying to galvanize us as a country in our thought process as to what’s important in our development.

On the focus of the curriculum:
“I think the focus is on the youngest players because it’s our base. If we want to affect change at the highest level we’ve got to make sure our foundation is strong. It makes sense to reach out to our youngest players and their coaches to help the higher level.  If you can increase the base it’s going to obviously help the top.”

On the importance of training for players:
“Training is important because it’s where you get repetition.  If you want to be successful at something, repetition is very important, doing something well and continuing to improve upon it. We should be training more than we play matches because that’s the environment where we try and get better. We can simulate the game but we can also coach and reinforce and be repetitive in the instruction of what they’re doing.”

On how coaches should approach the curriculum:
“First and foremost coaches just need to process it. I think the curriculum is there as a guideline but it’s an opportunity for people to get ideas. How would a coach implement it? Obviously read through it, figure out what’s appropriate to their team, to their level. It is age specific, if you have a six-year-old team or a 10-year-old team, you’ve got to figure out where to start. That’s probably the starting point, to look at it and figure out where they fall in the actual age groups.”

On U.S. Soccer establishing a curriculum:
“I think releasing something we can all wrap our arms around is important. I think as a country we want to make sure we’re all on the same page and if we want to have a style of play we have to make sure we can paint the picture. This curriculum allows us to focus on the things that we deem important at that level and making sure that we’re technically and fundamentally sound and that we have ideas tactically about the game. These are laying levels of foundation onto which we can build on.”

On the importance of the curriculum on the women’s side of U.S. Soccer:
“I’ve looked at the curriculum and I think it’s fantastic. Claudio spent a lot of time working on it and it’s very thorough. I think it’s very relative to what we’re trying to do, especially on the women’s side. We really want to help develop technical players and this gives us a strong starting point. This curriculum is something we can implement on the women’s side and technique is technique regardless of gender.”

On the next step for coaches using the curriculum:
“Getting access is important so I think it’s wonderful we’re putting it on so coaches can access it. Once they’ve accessed and printed it I think it’s about digesting the information and seeing what’s relative to the teams they’re coaching. It doesn’t matter if you’re coaching a high-end academy team, there are things in there, fundamentals of the game that everyone can take something from. It is just layers in a level of standard that we’re looking for in how we train our younger players.”

On ways the curriculum will help U.S. Soccer grow:
“We want to be continually competitive and continuing to be cutting edge. I think at times we’ve lost our way a little bit as far as putting the emphasis on technique. I think a lot of coaches put pressure on to win and sometimes we get away from the fundamentals. I think for us as a country to refocus on the fundamental pieces of the game is important and I think putting a curriculum out there that everybody can absorb and relate to reinforces what’s important to us as a soccer playing country.”

Former U.S. Men’s National Team Forward BRIAN McBRIDE
On the idea behind the curriculum:
“The whole idea is to get everyone on the same page and try to achieve the same goals rather than some groups trying to develop players this way, some trying to develop players that way or some groups trying to just win games. It’s really just trying to get everyone on the same page.”

On the importance of training for players:
“I know it’s an obvious thing but you train to get better. The more you can actually emphasize the things you need to get better at, rather than it being a broad spectrum, you get a chance to develop the player technically, tactically; those things only come through training. The more time you get to spend on it, the more they can understand what they’re trying to learn and then it comes second nature.”

On the importance of the curriculum for players:
“The curriculum needed to be produced and thought of and built around a newer model. I know Claudio spent a lot of time formulating this. He’s been around some great clubs not only in his playing career but he’s also now travelled around these great clubs with the purpose of trying to understand how they brought players up through the system to understand what is required for a youth player to develop into a professional player. It’s exciting, I think a curriculum like this can only enhance what U.S. Soccer has already done and hopefully enable us to be better throughout the country.”

On Claudio Reyna’s involvement in writing the curriculum:
“I think it’s obvious, his career was pretty amazing but also he was always a student of the game. If you ever sat down and talked to him while he was playing he was still trying to understand different viewpoints and grasp what each individual was doing as part of the group. Now he’s doing it specifically for that reason so you know he has the understanding as a player and what the players needs are and now he gets to develop that into curriculum that enables coaches to help develop players.”

On the importance of improving player training:
“It’s something that I’m passionate about, the training side of things. I think there’s a big difference in how we train attacking players in a general way compared to the specific way that I think players can benefit from. Functional training is difficult to schedule in the club level but we need to do it. We need to be able to provide players the repetitions in front of the goal, the right spots, and the right crosses. Having them actually get the chance to enjoy the fruits of their labor and not be crossing the balls in with two defenders standing there heading balls out. You want to reward players for their hard work and doing things correctly but you also have to do it at game speed and that’s what I look forward to doing. I think something they can grasp is just understanding that there’s different ways to take training and I look forward to seeing parts of it, too.”