“…Reyna understands that in addition to the advanced training, there remains an importance in the sandlot-style game in which kids can experiment, much like Clint Dempsey did as a youth playing against Latino kids on the dusty streets of Nacogdoches, Texas.
Another example is futsal, otherwise known as indoor soccer. Played extensively in soccer-rich countries across South America or Europe, futsal provides an organic outlet for young players to learn some of the basic skills on their own without the overbearing reach of parents.
“I think kids should be doing pickup or futsal all the time,” Reyna said. “I think it’s very important for technique. In Argentina, futsal is what kids play growing up. They get very comfortable in small spaces with the ball. It’s usually less pressure, so they can try things.”
“…With senior national team head coach Jurgen Klinsmann’s full backing, Reyna is spearheading a new mandate in the coaching curriculum for youth clubs that emphasizes development over winning. The Development Academies are required to adhere to this standard. Should they fail to do so, they risk losing their affiliation with U.S. Soccer.”
“I think the winning aspect is what has caused some really ugly youth soccer,” Reyna said. “Now we’re trying to play more out of the back and through the midfield. When I grew up, you played a lot of games but there was less training. The training has to be better and there has to be more of it.”
There are plenty of cautionary tales that speak to Reyna’s point. For example, Jamie Watson did plenty of winning as a young player. Growing up in the Dallas area, he was usually the best player on the field and earned himself a spot on the U.S. team that reached the quarterfinals of the 2003 U-17 World Cup. Interest in Watson soon cropped up from PSV Eindhoven, but ultimately his lack of technique crippled his chances of joining the Dutch side.
“It wasn’t until I was playing with the U-17s that I learned how to keep possession,” said Watson, who currently plays for Orlando City SC in USL Pro. “I didn’t know anything about working the ball. Kids should be learning that at age 10, not at 16. Claudio is fixing a problem that’s been overlooked for the longest time. It will be great for these kids because it will become the new normal.”
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Arch Bell is a freelance writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached on Twitter at @ArchBell.