Claudio Reyna has recently been hired as the U.S. Soccer youth technical director, and has outlined a national curriculum for developing players through all levels of American soccer.
“We can't lose sight of the development of our players,” he said. “Everyone is looking at (their own development system) all around the world. This doesn't capture the attention of a World Cup, but understanding the solutions ... is what all of us in this boat are learning. We do need to get better and we want to get better and the easiest way to do that is through coaching.”
U.S. Soccer will release its curriculum later this summer. It will concentrate on three levels: Zone 1 (under-6 to under-12), Zone 2 (12 to 18) and Zone 3 (elite players, including colleges and professionals).
Each level will have set parameters in tactics, technique, fitness and psychology, providing direction for coaches to develop players to their fullest. Reyna said that approach is critical because it means players in California or Florida or Connecticut are being taught the basics in the same way. He's seen such methods work abroad and has no doubt that is the way to go in the United States.
“It's age-appropriate player development,” he said, noting that tactics and psychology won't apply to the youngest players. “We can provide the vision to coaches through this curriculum.”
The curriculum also covers coaching methodology and nutrition. U.S. Soccer will provide individualized season plans for each age group, with the hope that, for example, an Under-12 national tournament would eventually feature teams schooled the same way in the fundamentals of the game.
An online library of training sessions for coaches to access will be made available, and Reyna plans to have a hands-on role with coaches across the nation.
Reyna emphasized the need to upgrade the knowledge base for youth coaches, noting that often parents coach their kids in recreation leagues. He encourages those parents to learn more about soccer, and believes the curriculum can help in that area, as well.
“I went to an international tournament with an American team playing,” he said, “and you just see the difference of where we are behind, on the field and off the field. There's a big difference between what kids are learning over there compared to here.”
He has set no timetable for measurable progress, but is certain that progress will come.
“To catch other nations, first we really have to look at how we can do that, how we can make up that difference,” Reyna said. “We need to be honest and recognize that as a country, we are behind.”