Q&A: Tab Ramos Details New Player Development Initiatives

U.S. Youth Technical Director and U-20 Men’s National Team head coach Tab Ramos talked with ussoccer.com about the new Player Development Initiatives and how they will help players grow in the years to come.

ussoccer.com: When you talk about implementing small sided standards and having players play on smaller fields with teams of fewer players, what is the goal?
Tab Ramos: “We are helping players develop by putting them in an environment where they are constantly involved in the play. That could be with the ball or without the ball. In small-sided games, all players are involved in the play. If they are defending, they are trying to win the ball back, cutting angles, communicating with teammates or just getting goal-side of the ball quickly. If they have the ball, they are immediately being challenged so they have to adjust to thinking quickly either to play the ball to a teammate, protect the ball to keep possession or more importantly take a player on and make a play to goal. When the game is on a big field, there are many different ways to not be involved or to hide. With these initiatives we believe we will be developing players that are much more comfortable on the ball who will have an easier time making better decisions under pressure by the opponent.”

ussoccer.com: How will these small sided standards directly impact the players?
TR: “By being involved constantly, the players will learn from a young age how to make important plays and make plays individually that can break down teams. That’s something we lack. We do have good players and every day we produce better players, but in general, I think we need to develop a higher number of players who have the ability to make important plays that can make a difference in the game. They will be able to see plays develop in high pressure situations from a younger age, and will learn to find solutions faster. They’ll be able to break down teams on their own with the right timing of a pass.”

“In general we would like for players to be able to process information faster, and when they are in this environment they are going to learn to do that over a number of years. When you have young players in an 11v11 game there are only so many involved in any one play at a time. By taking numbers away and playing 4v4, 7v7, and 9v9, you are multiplying their chances on the ball, increasing their touches and making it overall more for them by making them an active participant at all times. Fast forward 10 years and there are thousands of game situations added to a player’s development.”

ussoccer.com: What does changing birth year registration from an August-May format to January-December accomplish?
TR: “It makes the process easier. Over the years you go through coaching youth soccer and you are constantly finding parents and players confused about what age group players belong in. The current August 1 cutoff meant that two players born in the same year could be in different age groups. To make it more confusing, different school systems have different cutoff months for going into the new grades. It was just very difficult for parents to take it all in. This new calendar year system makes soccer easier. If you’re born in a certain year you belong in that certain age group. Simple. It also puts our players on the same age-playing calendar as the rest of the world so they will be used to competing in the right age group.  That makes it much easier for us to scout for the National Teams and find players ready to compete internationally.”

ussoccer.com: Are these Birth Registration changes happening right away?
TR: “We are easing into it and working towards it. Best practices will come into effect next year as we work towards getting everyone ready for 2017 when all these development standards will be fully implemented.  Some teams have been together for a couple of years already so the goal is to make the change without disrupting too much. At this point clubs have to decide on their own how they manage the transition over the next year and a half or so. Some clubs have already made the change starting this year and are already ahead of the curve, which is great. That helps so much. In general, we have to give everyone the opportunity to get comfortable with it, but it will come, so the sooner the clubs react the better.”