Q&A: USSF Youth Technical Director Claudio Reyna

US legend breaks down his vision for the future of youth soccer

BEAVERTON, Ore. – Claudio Reyna presented a youth soccer curriculum this week that has been designed to give purpose and structure to the way young players are developed in the United States.

Reyna, the U.S. Soccer Federation’s Youth Soccer Technical Director, unveiled the country’s first detailed curriculum for players U-6 to U-18 on Wednesday at the Tiger Woods Center at Nike’s World Headquarters.

The curriculum is an age-appropriate development plan. It is a resource for coaches and has been developed with an over-arching goal of bringing the US into line with the top soccer-playing nations in the world.

Reyna spoke with MLSsoccer.com about the curriculum and his plans for US youth development.

MLSsoccer: What is the significance of the new curriculum?

Reyna: It’s an age-appropriate, year-by-year plan that will provide coaches across the country, depending on what age they’re working with, some focus on what they should be doing for kids, regardless of where they are.

There are four parts to it, and the first chapter is about identifying what we want the game to look like. It’s sort of the collective vision of players and coaches to identify how you’re going to play. In the youth game we’ve talked about an attacking style, trying to play forward and win by scoring goals, because that is the type of atmosphere that will develop players.

If you’ve got people worried about scoring a goal and then defending 80 percent of the game, then players are not developing and playing.

I compare it to, say, our educational system. It goes from kindergarten to senior year in high school, and then you go off to college. Why do we do it? To prepare kids for the world. This (curriculum) follows the same idea.

MLSsoccer.com: During your presentation you spoke of the need to take into account how the game is being taught around the world. How is the new curriculum influenced by what is happening in other countries?

Reyna: We are not the best team in the world. There’s a group of leading nations that number 8 to 10, and not only in results with world cups at the senior level and the youth level, but also in developing players. Results are one thing. Developing players is another. Certain countries do both really well. Some are doing really well in results and also struggling at developing players at the rate of Spain, Argentina and Brazil, and France as well.

It’s going around in my travels, for years, going to the best places and seeing what they’re doing, the commonality of the leading nations, and really applying that into our landscape. It’s essentially, yes, stealing ideas from what’s going on over there in the leading nations. But it’s very, very important it’s not one style we’re taking from. It’s important we develop our style.

We have to be humble and modest about it. We are not the leaders of the soccer world. We have to look outside and bring it into our country. That’s what a lot of the thinking is, the philosophy behind it. It’s very consistent. What’s going on in countries like Germany, Holland, Spain, France? A lot more of it was looking at the systems in Europe because in Brazil and Argentina, in some cases, kids don’t go to school any more when they’re 13.

It is a little bit of a shift of thinking. If we’re being honest, we’ve hit a little bit of a ceiling. Do we just carry on and hope we get better results doing what we’re doing? I don’t believe it’s enough.

You learn from the best. You copy from the best. We have to be open enough as a company to accept that we don’t have all the answers. There are a lot of global influences. And we have to mix in what we do well. We’re a very competitive nation. We’re not technically horrible. Tactics might be one area we’re a little bit behind.

MLSsoccer.com: What do you think youth soccer in America has lacked in the last 25 years?

Reyna: This growth of soccer has been so big and happened so quickly that it’s sort of gotten out of control. We have a mishmash of things going on. We have people coming in from all around the world, as well, to coach, from Mexico, Brazil, or Argentina, England, Germany. We have all these different ideas poured into our country. Everyone’s onto their own thing.

There’s been, obviously, too much emphasis on winning. And the curriculum is bringing all that in and giving it one sort of powerhouse. This is what we’re doing, bringing more people in line, keeping them within certain guidelines. Let’s jump on board. Let’s be together.

Our competition isn’t internal. The competition is the world. We have to think bigger picture. As local clubs and youth clubs, we need to not worry about beating our neighboring team but how are we, as a coaching force, doing against the other countries. That’s the challenge that everyone needs to understand.