En Route: The golden age group of player development

Claudio Reyna unveils U.S. Soccer’s coaching curriculum and focuses on the youngest ages for improving the elite soccer player in America.
Last month, U.S. Soccer Youth Technical Director Claudio Reyna presented the basic ideas of the new U.S. Soccer coaching curriculum to 150 of the top coaches and club directors from all over the country on the Nike campus in Beaverton, Oregon. The idea that Reyna, and the other experts who joined him in giving presentations, tried to convey was reaching the right age group with the correct training.

The concentration for Reyna was the early ages between U-6 and U-12, which he referred to as the “golden time.” Supported by the research of New York Times bestseller Dan Coyle, who contended that period is the cornerstone for any individual who wishes to attain an elite status in any trade, Reyna emphasized the importance of reaching this group with a clear outline on good player development.

“You get the most change for the least effort,” Coyle told the auditorium at the U.S. Soccer coaching curriculum on April 22 on why it is important to reach this age group and establish good habits. “There is a reason that people who play in world-class symphonies all start between the ages 6 to 12.”

Thus, the focus for Reyna and his curriculum was how to help players all across the country start on the right foot with correct training and the proper goals established. This is the period where U.S. Soccer highlighted how to change coaching and help players from America reach a new standard.

“We are teaching the right things to the young players in the country,” U.S. Soccer Director of Coaching Education Dave Chesler told ussoccer.com about the coaching curriculum.

“The goal of the Zone 1 [U-6 to U-12] coaching curriculum is to give coaches’ a resource to help guide their practices and approach to games,” U.S. Soccer Development Academy Director of Scouting Tony LePore told the same site.

The curriculum breaks down this zone into two different stages: initial and basic. For the former, which are ages 6 to 8, the lessons try to touch on passing, dribbling, and shooting and is where the most elementary of technical skills are developed. The other important points of this introduction age is maximizing the time each player spends with the ball and making the experience enjoyable for the player with games.

One of the points that Reyna discussed during his presentation was that the most effective coaches were not the ones who talked the most, rather they said the least, but made the message clear. The former Rangers captain used the example of Dick Advocaat who would only provide four seconds or fewer worth of instructions. The same idea is at play for this age group as the curriculum is emphasizing the need for the players to play and not be lectured.

For the basic stage, which is 9-12 years old, this is where the tactical principles of the game [both attacking and defending] are supposed to be introduced to the players. Also, coordination becomes a factor in the coaching lessons at this point, as running with the ball is one of the focuses for player development during this period.

Nothing the curriculum has suggested so far is revolutionary or going to take a huge shift in effort for clubs across the country. Rather, the curriculum is making the lesson plan more accessible to coaches from coast to coast. There is a clear outline of player development from these age groups and how each season should culminate in progress for the players given the goals the curriculum has suggested.

“It is trying to galvanize us as a country in our thought process as to what is important in our development,” U.S. Soccer Women’s Development Director Jill Ellis told ussoccer.com about the purpose of the curriculum.

It is ambitious in thought, as Reyna is attempting to cultivate clubs from coast to coast to buy into an idea he is presenting them that is relatively unfounded. Granted, he did borrow many of the basic principles from major clubs around the world, but the idea of implementing it across a country the size of the United States is unheard of. Especially at the young ages that he is referencing in his ‘golden time.’

Even more so, he is hoping to use this early development to establish a playing style for the full national team in the coming years. “You are looking for consistent methodology and consistent delivery of concepts,” Chesler said.  “As a country we can begin to develop an identity with our style of play.”

The identity of the playing style over time is the end goal for the curriculum. Reyna mentioned that he envisions this plan having a ‘long lasting effect with future generations’ during his presentation. He also made it clear a few times that he wants to see clubs in different states on ‘the same page.’

Judging the success of Reyna’s plan in the short term is difficult to do, as there has been little time for clubs to begin the process, but the initial achievement to take away is that there is a clear goal in mind for U.S. Soccer’s youth program.

Although Reyna mentioned that the end goal of this curriculum and increased attention to player development was World Cup glory, the more telling sign will be if the consistency of players improves over the next five years or so. Starting with the youngest age group is the right next step, but the Youth Technical Director still has a long road ahead to maintain that the clubs uphold his goals for age-appropriate development.

J.R. Eskilson is the Youth Soccer Editor at Goal.com. If you have a comment or an idea for a story, you can email him at jr.eskilson [@]gmail.com. Or follow him on Twitter @NCAAsoccer

Follow Goal.com on to get the latest soccer news directly. Check out Goal.com's page; be part of the best soccer fan community in the world!