Q&A: U.S. U-15 BNT Head Coach John Hackworth

Newly appointed U.S. Under-15 Boys’ National Team head coach John Hackworth took some time to chat with ussoccer.com about his full-time role, the progression he has seen in player development and the integration of the youth system mirroring the philosophy at all age levels.

ussoccer.com: What interested you the most in taking on this position as the U.S. U-15 BNT head coach?
John Hackworth: “When I heard about this position becoming full-time, I was excited not just for myself but for U.S. Soccer. I think it’s a position that will truly advance our player development in this country. The U-15 coach’s job is to prepare a large pool of players early in the developmental cycle of youth national teams, and expanding our focus in this area is significant. One key component is taking the messages from the Senior National Team and keeping them consistent throughout all the programs, so that players know what is expected at the highest level and we are properly preparing them to advance through our national teams.”

ussoccer.com: How do you see your role in the big picture of development among the youth national teams?
JH: “I feel this is a small part of a much bigger project but an important one. We’re trying to raise the level of all our national teams. This age group is a critical step in the process, one I’ve spent a great number of years in my career doing. I’m excited to work with this age group on a full-time basis.”

ussoccer.com: Why is this age group critical in your mind?
JH: “At this age, there is definitely a lot of maturity that happens, both from a soccer-specific standpoint and a personal growth standpoint. Players are introduced and brought through the developmental learning process, and there needs to be continuity to establish fundamentals that are so important for their growth much later in their career.”

ussoccer.com: How do you think your previous experience in MLS, college and the youth national team system will help you with the U-15 BNT?
JH: “I feel fortunate to have had those experiences and know I am better prepared than ever before. I’ve seen it from the full spectrum. I’ve obviously experienced it at a senior professional level, first with the Men’s National Team when I was an assistant with Bob Bradley, all the way to MLS, knowing the developmental ladder all the way from the youth entry level to the senior professional level. Those experiences will continue to serve me well as I continue to help improve the player development environment in this country.”

ussoccer.com: In addition to being the full-time U-15 coach, what are some of the other responsibilities that you’ll have?
JH: “I’ll be assisting the other youth national teams, working closely with Tab Ramos, and part of that will be scouting and trying to bring along and further the Development Academy. I’m going to try to be helpful in all ways to both the youth national teams and the Development Academy. But most importantly, it will be my responsibility to develop a large pool of players who fit philosophically with what Richie Williams is doing with our U-17s. The idea is that when he gets this group of players, he won’t have to teach them a lot of new things. It will be a continuum from one group of players to the next. Having this group for two years and then handing them off to the U-17 program is going to be the key in establishing the right fundamentals and principles so that these players can continue to develop.”

ussoccer.com: How much of a mission is it for you to see the completion in the pyramid, where the U-15s work their way through the other youth national teams and eventually the senior team?
JH: “I’ve always put the priority on player development, and I think if you look at my record as a coach with the U.S. youth teams, we’ve been able to push guys from that level as a youth player all the way through to the senior team. We need to do more of that, and we need to make sure that we have a larger pool at some of these younger age groups. I think that’s going to be one of my most important jobs. At the end of the day, it’s a long process, and you’re not going to see the results of that for many years. For instance, this last World Cup, I was watching some of the guys that came through our youth national teams and I personally had the opportunity to work with them. I’m very thankful that I had that opportunity to see them make that rise and compete at the biggest stage.”

ussoccer.com: Having been the first Development Academy Technical Director, in what ways has the development landscape changed and grown from U.S. Soccer’s perspective?
JH: “As a starting point, with Tab being the youth technical director, having an integration from the senior team under Jurgen Klinsmann all the way down to our U-14 program and integrating the Development Academy technical advisors and scouts, we have a huge network of professional coaches where their main responsibility is player development. Tony Lepore and his staff have done a tremendous job, in terms of evaluating, teaching and coaching within the Development Academy over the past five years. It’s exciting because that investment, both in personnel and in financial resources stretching all the way to the club level, is part of a formula for player development used around the world. I just think we are at a point now where we are allocating a lot of those resources in the right direction. That’s a long process, but that’s going to turn out to be really important to us overall.”

ussoccer.com: What is the rundown of the groups you are focusing on starting with the 2000s, and how the process works for future classes?
JH: “In the big picture as a Federation, we are addressing each age group from U-14 through the U-23 cycles so that we’re not skipping years. I’ll be responsible for working with the even-year birth years. This first group will be 2000s. I’ll have them through 2015, at which time I will go back and start working with the 2002s. The cycle will occur where I’ll have this age group and get them when they’re 14, take them through when they’re 15 and pass them off to the U-17 program. That even-year age group will form the team that competes in CONCACAF qualifying and hopefully the FIFA U-17 World Cup.”

ussoccer.com: This is the second season with the Academy’s U-14 age division. What have been your impressions of this setup, and how significant is that pool’s readiness as it translates to the youth national teams?
JH: “I think it’s fantastic that we now have a U-14 Development Academy program and we get to see the young players in their local and home club environments. They’re scouted, evaluated, and obviously brought into national team camps based on what they’re doing with their clubs. That alone is different from how we’ve previously done it, and I think it’s going to make a big difference in how we find the talented players in the country and how we develop them.”