Years in the making, the 2018 YNT Men's Summit Camp in Lakewood Ranch, Florida gave U.S. Youth Technical Director Tab Ramos and the rest of the YNT coaches and staff the opportunity to bring all their players together in a single camp for the first time in program history. Ramos sat down with ussoccer.com to give an overview of the camp and an outlook for the near future of the Men's YNTs.
ussoccer.com: The YNT Men’s Summit Camp finally has come to fruition. What has this event been like for you?
Tab Ramos: “It's been really exciting to finally be at a point at U.S. Soccer where we have already been integrated enough over the last couple of years, in particular the last two cycles, that we can actually do this. The camp itself, it's a great experience for the players, it's a great way for us to send one message to all of our best players at one time and it's incredibly valuable to be able to team-build as a whole organization rather than just one team at a time.”
ussoccer.com: What was the thought process behind the YNT Summit Camp?
TR: “The summit has been something that we've been discussing for the last couple of years. It was just a matter of finding the right time to get started and we really felt like the beginning of the new cycle is the right time to do it. So, it's something that we hopefully can improve upon, but at the same time, something that we're likely to do every two years.”
ussoccer.com: How has this opportunity been unique among other YNT camps and events?
TR: “The summit has been different than anything I've been a part of with seeing the magnitude of the type of work that had to be done just to put it together. Our administrative staff, our support staff, they had to come here earlier to set everything up. I know that they've been under a lot of stress and it's been a lot of work for them. At the end of the day for us, for the coaches, for the players, we have the easy part. We come and we play the games and we teach the players and we do everything that's required to make the players better and to help the players get better, but the setup of an operation like this is really difficult and our organization has done an amazing job.”
ussoccer.com: The Summit began with a team integration meeting. Who were the speakers? What was the message?
TR: “Our integration meeting, in front of all the players and all our staff, served as a presentation where they would be able to walk out and know really what we're about. Not just our Youth National Teams department, but our whole Federation. I think most people were not aware of how big we are and all the departments that we have.
“I think we gave a good feel for what our Sporting Development division is about and not just the Youth National Teams, but in particular the two other departments that we work very closely with, one being the High-Performance department and the other being the Talent Identification department. We had the opportunity to integrate some of those speakers. James Bunce, our Director of High-Performance, was here speaking to everyone, as was Tony Lepore from the Talent Identification department. We also had Michael Kammarman from the senior National Team come out and talk about social media because obviously we have all young players here and the social media aspect is very, very important and something they have to be very aware of that they can use to their advantage. It's been a complete look at who we are, what we do and how we do it.”
ussoccer.com: What was accomplished with the meeting?
TR: “This was about: here's the coaches and here are all the players and this is like a big locker room. We wanted it to feel that way because what we had at the integration meeting, it really was almost like preparation before a game. It was just a big locker room. I think the discussion on style of play put us all on the same page.
“It was easy to show all of our coaches, support staff and our players how we have gotten to the point now where our U-15s, our U-17s, our U-20s, they're all playing in the same way, what that looks like and also what we're looking for. What do we want the qualities of the players to be like? What are we expecting from the players game in and game out? What are some of the qualities that are really important for us and for you to be selected as a National Team player? I think all the players that walked out of there should, at this point, be at a moment where they realize and they know what it's like to be on the National Team and what's important about being on the National Team.”
ussoccer.com: As the Technical Director and U-20 MNT head coach, what is your message to players about being a National Team player?
TR: “One of the things that I always mention to the players is the fact that we recognize, as National Team coaches, the effort that they make by being here. At the end of the day, these are teenagers that we have here and this is a big sacrifice for them. We all know that it's an honor to play for the National Team and that's really important, but in the end, they're giving up a lot and they're making a big sacrifice. They don't see their friends, they don't see their family. I'm sure their friends are having a lot of fun back at home while they're here working hard every single day. And we want to make sure that they get recognized for that sacrifice. At the same time, we want to make sure that we show them that wearing the crest carries a lot of responsibility. Part of that responsibility stays with you when you leave here. The fact that our camp is only eight or nine days long, it doesn't end there for a National Team player. A National Team player is a National Team player 24/7, all year-round and we have to make sure that we get that message across. It's an honor to wear the crest and that carries a tradition of players who have worn their shoes before and who have put our National Team at this level and now it's all of our jobs together to carry this to the next level.”
ussoccer.com: One of the focal points of U.S. Soccer’s Sporting Development initiatives is the Youth National Teams program. What is happening behind the scenes with the YNTs that people don't see?
TR: “Behind the scenes there's so much going on. Our teams are preparing in so many different ways because each team has a different type of preparation. You have our U-17 National Team beginning a cycle of preparation for the next World Cup in 2019, you have the U-20 National Team that's basically preparing for the U-20 World Cup in 2019 and you have other teams that serve in a number of different ways. Some of them serve to help our 17s and 20s to make the pool bigger and some of them are developing the next team that's going to move up two years from now to become that particular age group. In the background, we have coaches working on not only our style of play, they're working on video, they're working on position-specific training, they're working on speaking with the players about what it's like to be a National Team player. There's a number of things, from nutrition to High Performance to the way Talent Identification works. All those things are happening every single day behind the scenes.”
ussoccer.com: Reflecting on the build-up to this current 2019 World Cup cycle, what groundwork has been set for future success?
TR: “One of the important things about this cycle that we're starting is that this cycle has to be willing to push the envelope. It's really difficult because we have an Under-20 National Team that's defending, CONCACAF champion for the first time ever and we need to figure out how we carry that responsibility into World Cup qualifying since it's never been done before. We have both the Under-20 National Team and Under-17 National Team having been quarterfinalists at their last World Cups and if we're looking to improve, you're looking at going into Semifinals of the World Cup or going to the final. There's a lot of expectation here.
“There's a lot of high expectation here and at the same time we realize that what's important is that we continue to produce players for our senior National Team. That's our number one priority. I think that's been done over the last couple of cycles. From DeAndre Yedlin to Christian Pulisic to Tyler Adams to Matt Miazga to Cameron Carter-Vickers to Paul Arriola, we have a lot of guys who have participated in youth World Cups who are now helping our senior National Team. That will continue to be our main goal.”
ussoccer.com: What do you hope the YNT program achieves in this cycle?
TR: “The goal continues to be to get better, to go a step further than the last time and to do things that have never been done before. We've been able to do that over the last couple of cycles and we hope that we can continue to do that into the future.”
ussoccer.com: During the integration meeting, U-17 Men's National Team head coach John Hackworth talked about a belief that our Youth National Teams can win at the highest levels, specifically U-17 and U-20 World Cups. You've been helping lead that charge as well, how have you seen the program’s level change over the years?
TR: “The level of our players is constantly improving. Look at the last couple of cycles we've had. In the U-20 group for example, we went to the World Cup and we were quarterfinalists without having guys like Christian Pulisic play their own age group, without having Weston McKennie playing his own age group, without having access to a player like Nick Taitague to come help the team, with the injury of Gideon Zelalem ten minutes into the first game of the World Cup. You're missing big pieces and you can still perform on the world stage. I think that's huge and something that I don't think we could have done before.”