In Defense of ODP

A letter from April Heinrichs

The following is a  position statement, written by April Heinrichs, in response to an editorial published online in the e-mail newsletter of the organization called World Class Coaching, regarding the ODP program.
The following is a position statement, written by April Heinrichs, in response to an editorial published online in the e-mail newsletter of the organization called World Class Coaching, regarding the ODP program.


ATTN: Mike Saif
9205 W. 131 Terrace
Overland Park, Kansas   66213
Dear Mr. Saif;
Enclosed you will find a position statement written in response to your editorial published online in the e-mail newsletter issue of the organization called World Class Coaching.  I hope in the interest of fairness and representation this entire response is distributed to the same audience.
Although the US Soccer Federation is not the controlling body of the ODP program in this country, the womens national teams program has depended greatly on ODP to assist the overwhelming task of identifying and developing youth players across the country.  After reading your editorial regarding ODP, I felt compelled to respond on ODPs behalf and in the spirit of clarifying misinformation.
It is apparent from references within your article that your opinion has been heavily influenced by individuals and experiences from the mens game.  The womens game in America differs greatly from the mens game.  The Olympic Development Programs share the same titles and infrastructure but, thats where the comparisons end.  The challenge to identify and develop talent in this country is a UNIQUE challenge that can not be compared to other countries that are the size of a single US state.  Again, this is where your experience or opinions from the mens game (particularly abroad) do not translate in America.  The challenge can not be compared to a country that has a professional program that provides multiple team scouts to identify talent, youth training programs to develop and weed through that talent, and extremely large budgets from the commercial success of the leagues.   The challenges on the mens side are as different from the challenges on the womens side as the challenges abroad are different from our challenges domestically, and therefore, the solutions will be different.
ODP is not perfect.  There are flaws and there are instances where players are missed for some of the reasons you indicate: cost, travel, scheduling conflicts.  In addition, ODP misses quality players because Club coaches do not support the program.  ODP may miss someone who, had they been at a state team trials, would be the 14th to 18th player on a regional roster.  However, it does not take an elaborate system to find the very best.   The cream always rises to the top, at every age and every level, inside ODP and Club soccer.  The ODP program has state and region sponsored scholarship programs.  Additionally, there are players who have been invited straight into a National Team.  ODP on your resume is not a prerequisite to be a national team player.  However, ODP is the most expansive and comprehensive youth scouting system in the world!  Representatives from other countries come to the US to find out how were identifying and developing our youth players.  They hope to duplicate ODP in their homeland.  Scouting is important and the more it can be done to insure we start with the best players at the local level of the selection process the better.  However, scouting players is not and should not be the only method of identifying talent.  I watch the WUSA games, select the players that are dominating their teams and the league, and then bring them into a National Team training camp to train and play them against one another.  The result of that process is a roster of 18 players that will compete against the world.  Bringing them together without a training environment would reduce it to an all-star team, not a National Team.
The particular situation with your players is not unique nor is it completely unavoidable. However, there are other solutions.  Another team in Region II from Michigan who had similar conflicts with the National Championships chose differently.  Those players chose to attend regional camp.  As a result several will play with the regional team this Fall.  As well, the team won a National Championship and they were without their best player who missed the national championship to attend a national team camp.  It can be done.  Scouting would not eliminate scheduling conflicts.  It may eliminate them at one level but there are only a finite number of days and weekends and at some point conflicts are going to arise.  Had your players been invited through a scouting system to attend a national training camp for that same week would they have chosen to stay and train for their club team, or, would they have taken a chance to make a regional or national team?  ODP and the National Teams Program is for elite players at the state, regional and national levels.  Its not for everyone, there are sacrifices and difficult choices players face, but the rewards are unparalleled (advanced player development opportunities, college scholarships and admission, and Regional and National Team experiences to name a few).
The ODP program is an opportunity for us to find and develop talent and help players reach higher heights.  To be sure, ODP needs to find ways to make the program more accessible and more affordable to all young girls with the ability to play at a higher level.  That is a goal we are always working toward.  That is a goal that will never be achieved until it is supported by the entire soccer community, including coaches like yourself.  It may not be perfect but it has been in existence for 22 years and has helped identify and develop some of the best players in the world (on the womens side of the game).  ODP has help produce the best Division II league in the world (NCAA Womens College Soccer), the best womens professional league in the world (WUSA), the best womens Youth National Teams in the world, and, the best team in the world (the US Womens National Team).  22 years of ODP feeding players to the US Womens National Teams Program has brought home two World Cups and Olympic Gold and Silver Medals.
In all fairness, to say the ODP system doesnt work is taking gross editorial liberties on your part.
April Heinrichs
Technical Director & Head Coach, US Womens National Teams Program