How Does U.S. Soccer’s Youth Soccer Scouting Work?
The U.S. Under-14 Girls’ National Team head coach April Kater came together for a training session in Florida last November — Kater has called up 24 players for the event. The U.S. team, which is made up of 16 players born in 2002, seven players born in 2003 and one in 2004, participated in the U.S. Youth Soccer ODP Girls’ Thanksgiving Interregional tournament and played against teams consisting of players born in 2000.
Kater is the Head Development Coach with U.S. Soccer with primary responsibilities focusing on the Girls’ National Training Centers, organizing and managing the Scouting Network and coaching the U14 Girls National Team. Her team has players who are on a path that — for some — may lead to the 2022 FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup.
Named the Head Development Coach for the U.S. Youth Women’s National Teams on Jan. 25, 2013 Kater is a Hermann Award winner and former college coach. Kater now works closely with Jill Ellis and is responsible for developing and maintaining a national database of elite youth players to serve all of U.S. Soccer’s girls’ Youth National Teams.
America’s young girls are competing effectively on the world stage and U.S. Soccer Federation’s development program for young women is working well — now with the launch of the USSF Girls’ Development Academy, the program is stronger than ever.
The continued success and growth of the USA Women’s National Team and those young female players who are being developed brightens the future for our country.
Diane Scavuzzo interviewed April Kater and asked what it really takes to “make it.” Here is what we learned ….
The U.S. Soccer Girl’s Training Center Program conducts training sessions in conjunction with local clubs and state associations to identify players with Youth National Team potential. Training Centers (TC) are a new platform designed to improve player identification, player development and coach development. Just so you know – Players are recommended by their club, as well as ODP or scouted by the U.S. Youth National Team staff and then invited to participate.
Diane Scavuzzo: The big question on everyone’s mind – When evaluating players for U.S Youth National teams, what do you look for?
April Kater: Regardless of what birth year our scouts are watching – we all are noting the special player who is dynamic on the ball and can change the game with an elite skill set.
A dynamic player uses all surfaces of the feet; outside, sole, instep comfortably.
A dynamic player can solve pressure with their 1st touch and are effective running with the ball. Special players often complement their skill set with great balance and coordination, allowing them to solve pressure while moving with the ball. Good spacial awareness on and off the ball and a recognition of choices before the ball arrives are key.
Physically if a player described above can complement their game with quickness, pace and a relentless work ethic, odds are they will be special for a long time. With the younger birth years we aren’t going to be as position specific when creating a YNT “pool” because many naturally gravitate to the #10 or #9 positions early in their careers.
Lefties and two-footed players are a plus.
Diane Scavuzzo: What specific special qualities are most important when identifying a youth soccer player?
April Kater: Competitive mentality, being comfortable on the ball with BOTH feet and a physical quality that complements both of these. Being two-footed and having a passion for the game is something that needs to be established at an early age.
Having a player that is tactically strong is important, but this is an area that continues to develop up until the day a player retires.
Diane Scavuzzo: What age do you start identifying youth soccer players?
April Kater: Right now we have 26 Training Centers. In each, the 2004 birth year is currently the youngest age group involved. The sooner we can note and track “special” players and predict when they are ready to play up within a TC or even a YNT camp the better.
Diane Scavuzzo: What is the best way to try to get identified for the national youth teams?
April Kater: If you are special, we will find you.
Our scouting network has evolved a lot in the last few years. We have multiple scouts at all the major events throughout the calendar year. We have scouts that are birth year experts, so they constantly focus on just that birth year which allows them to compare any player they watch with the elite ones already identified in that YNT pool.
We have full-time coaches at every youth national team age group who are constantly networking and communicating about players. The right players are being identified more consistently and players that are located in more isolated markets have a better chance of being found sooner because of the reach our scouting network provides.
Diane Scavuzzo: How important is being on a ECNL Team or ODP team? (This was asked before the announcement of the USSF Girls’ Development Academy.)
April Kater: I think this is completely dependent on the player.
Each player is unique in that their personal situation based on level, finances and location to name a few factors, might dictate whether they should participate in ECNL or ODP. A player needs to decide what a healthy soccer calendar looks like and if participating in both or one or the other complements this calendar and also allows them to get the best competition possible. For some players, it provides an ideal opportunity, while for others it might not.
Diane Scavuzzo: How does U.S. Soccer Training Center Programs select their players and what, if any, are the conflicts regarding participating in ODP?
April Kater: Youth Soccer Clubs recommend their most elite players to the TC Liaison who runs that particular TC market. Then the TC Liaison will decide who to invite, but 90% of all players involved at a TC are recommended by their club.
The remaining 10% are players who might be recommended by ODP as an elite player or a TC staff member sees an elite player and informs the TC Liaison of this player.
Anytime a player is noticed outside of the club recommendation route, the club is still approached first and notified of this player being invited to an upcoming TC. The only rule the TC enforces is no other physical activity can be done on the day of a TC. We do not want to promote over-training and risking injury due to fatigue on the same day as a TC.
When a player is invited, they have a choice whether to attend or not, and if they choose to attend we expect compliance when it comes to the above mentioned policy.
April Kater: My recommendation is players need to take ownership over their development more. Youth soccer players need to train on their own with the ball at their feet and make an investment in their skill set. It can’t always fall back on organized practices or the coach, all the great players put countless hours in on their own.
Diane Scavuzzo: What is the size of the player pool by age for Youth National Teams?
April Kater: There is never a set pool size.
Technically anyone who is born in that birth year is in consideration for the pool. Each coach is tracking their own pool list and it is always evolving. The only time an age group has a set roster is when it is announced for an upcoming camp/event.
Diane Scavuzzo: What percentage of players are asked to return to train in the next age group?
April Kater: Retention rate is still something we are working to track. There will never be a set number but I think it’s important and healthy for each age group to have a goal.
Again, the sooner we get the really special players identified and apart of the YNT system the better.
If this can happen as early as the U14 level, fantastic. The USA is such a large country, which means players will pop up later on and others just take longer to develop into an elite player so they might not be ready for a U15 camp for example, but might be elite by the time they are U17.
Diane Scavuzzo: How many scouts do you have?
April Kater: In our official scouting network we have 40 scouts. Each scout is matched with a specific birth year and when they are given an assignment, it will usually pair with that birth year.
Outside of the official scouting network, all of our TC Liaisons and their staffs are scouting every time they hold a training center in their market.
And, technically every club coach is scouting for us as we often get recommendations from club coaches about their own player or players they have competed against. ODP will give us information on their elite players as well. There is a lot of cross-referencing going on, which is great!
Diane Scavuzzo: Do you have more male scouts than female scouts?
April Kater: It is almost 50/50.
Diane Scavuzzo: How do you see the women’s game evolving?
April Kater: The game, at the highest level, is much more sophisticated now tactically. I think a lot of fans witnessed this watching the most recent Women’s World Cup.
I think the modern player has to be technical, there isn’t room anymore for just the “athlete” on the field.
The elite players today at the younger age groups are very skillful but the gap between them and the next level player is too big. We need all players to become invested in skill development, it is going to elevate the game in our country if this happens.
Our average female youth player will be much better and our elite players will be world class if there is a development focus instead of a winning focus in youth soccer.
Diane Scavuzzo: How do you know if your youth soccer coach is good?
April Kater: When a player is excited to learn and play for a coach. A good coach challenges players to improve. The coach should create an environment that asks this from every player. At whatever age, a good coach is investing in their players, helping them develop and the players are naturally investing back.
It’s a mutual respect from player/coach.
Diane Scavuzzo: How do you identify an effective coach?
April Kater: If a youth player or parent is wondering if a club coach is quality, I recommend watching the coach run a session/coach a game and ask current players/parents their thoughts.
Diane Scavuzzo: Do you believe girls benefit from a female coach?
April Kater: One benefit is often times girls will watch a male player or coach execute something and although they see the “picture” in the back of their mind it is a male doing it.
If the girls see females showing them what to do and actually do it, the more they might realize how realistic it is for them to do it. This is why it is so important for girls to be watching women’s soccer as often as they can. They can watch college, pro and women’s national teams from the USA and other countries.
It doesn’t mean they shouldn’t watch high level men’s soccer. It simply means they should also watch women playing the sport and see what they are capable doing.
With this being said, I am a firm believer the most effective coach isn’t based on gender, it is based on them truly being a gifted coach.
Click here to learn more about the U.S. Soccer Training Centers.