At the highest levels of United States soccer, participants find a common thread down in their roots.
The women's national team, for example, won gold at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. But look deeper: of the 18 players on the roster, 17 spent at least part of their youth playing in the U.S. Youth Soccer's Olympic Development Program.
The program (commonly known as ODP) is a vital part of the development of almost every accomplished soccer player, and it's set up so everyone has a chance to try out. Founded in 1977, the ODP is designed to improve the overall level of soccer from the ground up, and is accomplished through open tryouts and the organization of state teams that play against each other.
Close to 100,000 players between the ages of 13 and 18 participate in ODP every year. Actual seasons vary by state, but can start as early as November and finish as late as May.
Every state has an ODP program, and the hierarchy expands up to four regions and--for the elite--a national camp. Anyone within the age parameters (teams are separated strictly by birth year) has a chance to try out. The experience could lead to increased exposure to both national coaches and college coaches. In addition, your skills will improve under the direction of select coaches.
Most of all, it is the most-traveled path to the top of the soccer world, a place every young player dreams of. U.S. women's forward Abby Wambach was a part of New York's ODP program and praises its impact. Defender Heather Mitts was on the Ohio state team for three years. On the men's side, Brian McBride is one of Illinois' most decorated ODP alums.
Intrigued? Here is more insight into the Olympic Development Program, courtesy of USYouthSoccer.org:
What is ODP?
The U.S. Youth Soccer Olympic Development Program, or ODP as it is more commonly called, is a national identification and development program for high-level players. The program identifies and develops youth players throughout the country to represent their state association, region and the United States in soccer competition.
ODP teams are formed at the state association and regional levels, made up of the best players in various age groups. At the state association level, pools of players are identified in each eligible age group, brought together as a team to develop their skill through training and competition. From the state pools and subsequent teams, players are identified for regional and national pools and teams.
What are the Goals of ODP?
- To identify a pool of players in each age group from which a United States National Team will be selected for international competition.
- To provide high-level training to benefit and enhance the development of players at all levels.
- Through the use of carefully selected licensed coaches, develop a mechanism for the enhancement of ideas and curriculum to improve all level of coaching.
Who is Eligible?
Any soccer player is eligible for consideration in the ODP provided that he or she meets the age requirements for the established age group. A player may try out in a state association in which he or she is eligible to be registered. A player may not try out for the ODP in more than one state association. Tryouts are conducted at various times of the year. Interested players should contact their state association for dates and details. If you do not know your state association's telephone number, visit U.S. Youth Soccer's online directory or call 1-800-4SOCCER and the U.S. Youth Soccer National Office will be happy to provide you with that number.
How are Players Selected?
Players are selected, in most states, on the basis of open tryouts. These tryouts are conducted by the state association coaches who are recognized for their ability to identify and train players with superior skills. Some state associations combine scouting techniques and invitations to certain players with the open tryout.
Selection of these players is not an easy task. The state association head coach or State Coach will, in most cases, be assisted in the selection process by several other qualified coaches from the club or league level. Players are evaluated on four components that make up a soccer player:
- Fitness and Athletic Ability
- Psychological component (attitude)
What do ODP Players Do?
Upon selection, a state association ODP player is expected to participate in all activities of their team. These activities may include exhibition matches, invitational tournaments and sub-regional and regional camps. If players are not available for a specific event, another player from their pool may replace them. Players are expected to take their participation in the program seriously, and should be committed to improving their individual skills as well as improving as a team player. Players are subject to the ODP Code of Conduct upon entry into the program at the state association level.
What are Regional Camps?
U.S. Youth Soccer is divided into four regions, each of which offers a regional camp for state association ODP teams in each eligible age group. The camps are designed to provide high level competition and training for participating players. During this training and competition, players who are capable of performing at a higher level of play are identified for possible national camp, or pool or team participation.
Each region varies somewhat as to the specifics and the cost of their camps. Your state association or regional administrator should be contacted for more information. Again, if you do not have those numbers, contact the National Office.
What is a National Camp?
National Camps and Interregional events are held throughout the year at various locations in the United States. The National Team Coach or a National Staff Coach is present at these events to observe, train and identify players for placement in the national pool or on a national team.
What are the Benefits of Participating in ODP?
- Development as a player. The opportunity to play with the best players in one's age group.
- Quality instruction from nationally licensed coaches.
- Quality competition. Games against other state association ODP teams.
- Exposure to regional and national team coaches.
- The opportunity to represent one's state, region or country in competition.
- Exposure to college coaches.
For more information on the Olympic Development Program, visit USYouthSoccer.org.