The ODP Journey

PART 1: By Lisa Means, BODP Parent

My son, Mateo Means – ‘98 boy, loves soccer! When I heard about North Texas Soccer’s Olympic Development Program (ODP), I thought it would be a terrific opportunity for him to compete against better players, and hear from other coaches about his game without having to leave the coach and team he loved. Unfortunately, I was not aware that ODP went by birth year, and not the classic league age. Therefore, Mateo was only a part of ODP for five years. However, the year he tried out, he attended on the last tryout day, and was selected into the ’98 BODP Player Pool!

After making the ’98 BODP player pool, Gary Williamson, NTX Soccer DOC, talked to all the parents about ODP and the journey this group of boys were going to take together. He described ODP as being about individual player development, not the team wins. ODP exposes participants to different coaches and players. This exposure causes the children to grow as both a player and as a person.

Coach Gary talked about the process in which teams are selected from the ODP player pools for ODP events and Regional Summer Trials in Alabama. He explained to us how important it is, if your child is not selected for an ODP event or Regional Summer Trials, to continue to encourage your child to work hard, because player development takes time. In the beginning, he said, there would be three of four teams selected for events and Regional Summer Trials, but as the players matured, it would reduce to two or three teams, and then eventually to only one team. Coach Gary also explained how being selected for ODP events or Regional Summer Trials one year did not mean the same would automatically occur the following year. He also informed us that many ODP players selected for ODP events and Regional Summer Trials would have to decline their invitations due to various reasons (i.e. injury, date conflicts, etc.). As a result, alternate players within the ODP player pool would receive an invitation depending on their position and rank until the team rosters were all full. As a result, the original ODP team selections from the coaches would most likely not be the same ones who ended up going to the ODP events or Regional Summer Trials.

The first year in ODP, Mateo ranked as a second-team player; sometimes he would start, and sometimes he would not. He enjoyed playing in tournaments against other states. The bond he had with his teammates was amazing. That year, he was named an alternate for Regional Summer Trials. He was disappointed and angry that he was not selected to attend, but he worked through the disappointment. I told him there were many other kids who would have liked to be chosen as an alternate. We talked about the goals he had achieved. Then, the invitation as an alternate came, because one of the selected ODP players at my son’s position was unable to attend the Regional Summer Trials. Mateo told me that since the coaches did not select him originally, he must not be ready yet, and he wanted to be sure he was ready when he went to the Regional Summer Trials – so, he declined his opportunity to go that summer.

The second year, he was a starter on the second team. He continued to work hard, and by the end of the year he was subbing occasionally on the first team when players could not go to an ODP event, and also still playing on the second team. He would always be willing to play on whichever team that needed him. Again, he was chosen as an alternate for the Regional Summer Trials; and again, he stated, “When I am ready, the coaches will choose me." As his parent, I was taken aback by the maturity of my young son. He stated, “When I go, I want them to see me play at a level they are expecting from an ODP player."

The following year, Mateo was assigned a new ODP coach in his age group. The coach looked at Mateo’s size and placed him on the middle team, but by mid-year he was moved to the first team. He was not usually starting, but he was receiving plenty of playing time, and sometimes getting the opportunity to start. Mateo felt good about his accomplishments. The growth in his skills and his confidence level was noticeable as he continued to play for ODP, his club and school soccer teams. This year, he was selected to attend the Regional Summer Trials and went to Alabama. He loved it! When he returned home from the camp, he said, “I probably should have gone earlier."

While in Alabama, he was not chosen for any of the nightly pool games. However, he took it upon himself to approach and talk to the regional coach assigned to his team about the players who were not starting in the games. He told the regional coach they were not being looked at by the other regional coaches that were choosing the nightly pool game players, as they would leave at, or before, halftime. As a result, the coaches came to the next game and re-evaluated him; they gave him state-plus status. Mateo was now learning to communicate, and stand up for himself. His confidence was growing both on and off the field.

The next year was great! Mateo was finally selected for the first team at the beginning of the ODP year. He was playing more and gaining more tactical knowledge, as well as improving his individual skills. He was being selected to play in more showcase tournaments with ODP. He was even playing in a few different positions that he did not normally play with his club team. When the time for the Regional Summer Trials came around again, he was very happy to receive selection for the team again. However, this year, his club team had been chosen to go to Europe. The international trip fell on the same dates as the Regional Summer Trials. In the end, he made the difficult decision to travel with his club team for the opportunity to play in Spain and Sweden.

Thus began Mateo’s final year of ODP, even though he was only a sophomore. He made the first team again. This year, he was named co-captain of his team, as his leadership skills were also growing. It was a year that flew by with a lot of tournaments. He was once again selected for the Regional Summer Trials with ODP, and was now starting all the games. His regional coach told Mateo that he wanted him to play in the nightly pool games, but was outvoted by another coach. This time, he received regional- and state-plus scores on his performances.

Mateo was a member of the ’98 BODP player pool for five years – he missed the first year, as he did not tryout, and aged out of the program this past summer. ODP was a great experience for Mateo in many ways. He met and made many new friends, teammates and competitors at tournaments, and Regional Summer Trials participants from other states, all of whom have the same love for the game. The ODP experience was truly a journey. Yes, it was bumpy at times, but it was also full of surprises and enormous personal growth!

As the parent of a soccer player, I highly recommend the ODP journey. During Mateo’s last year in ODP, I kept thinking back to that meeting five years earlier with Coach Gary, when Mateo first entered into ODP. The ODP coaches taught him how to keep striving for his own personal best, and to not quit. In the five years Mateo participated in ODP, he went from second team to first team, and even co-captain of his team. If your child experiences disappointment that they were not selected for ODP the first time they tried out, or to the first team, or to be a starter, or to travel to an ODP event, that is OK, because it is part of the journey. Just remember to not give up. The rewards of the lessons learned both on and off the field … PRICELESS!

PART 2: By Sarah Heady, ’98 GODP Pool Player

As a high school senior, you look forward to your future and what is going to happen next, but you should also reflect on how you arrived at where you are now. My future holds four years of collegiate soccer and hopefully many more years after that playing the beautiful game. I am thankful for all the people and programs that helped me earn these fantastic opportunities.

When I was 10 years old, I tried out for the North Texas Soccer Olympic Development Program (ODP). I was accepted into the program as a member of the ’98 GODP player pool, and for the next six years, I participated in as many ODP events as I could, including traveling last summer to Montreal, Canada, to see the 2015 Women’s World Cup.

ODP coaches had an immediate impact on my game; improving my skills and knowledge of the game. Many of these coaches gave me terrific advice when it came to soccer, including, “Only play the sport because you love it." In fact, it was through ODP that I have met coaches who have had an even greater impact on my soccer career. GODP Coach Cassidy Acuff provided me the opportunity to play with her Women’s Premier Soccer League (WPSL) team, the Fort Worth Panthers. Playing with the Fort Worth Panthers exposed me to another level of soccer, one that I can continue to play at even after college soccer has ended. My long-term goal is to play professional soccer. This opportunity to compete at a higher level has allowed me to be one step closer to achieving my goal.

ODP fueled my love of soccer. In the fall of 2015, I earned my National "F" and National "E" Coaching Licenses, as I look forward to coaching youth players in the future. In addition to this accomplishment, I play competitive soccer for an FC Dallas Youth team, am a soccer referee, play varsity soccer for my high school, am an active volunteer in my community, and take Advanced Placement and honors courses at my high school. Though it was not always easy to be an active part of ODP with my hectic schedule, it was definitely always worth the effort. My ODP journey afforded numerous opportunities for me and my teammates to play in collegiate showcase tournaments, and to be evaluated by collegiate coaches. ODP was one more tool for me to use when planning to reach my goals, one more piece of the puzzle.

In the summer of 2014, I verbally committed to play soccer for the University of Texas at Dallas (UTD). This past week, on Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2016, I finalized that commitment to play for the Comets. After many years of experiencing different levels of soccer, I know that soccer is what I want to spend most of my time on in my future. My coaches and teammates have inspired me to continue doing what I love. ODP opened doors along the way as a means to pave the path. My plan is to play for UTD this fall, continue on with my WPSL team, and hopefully play professionally one day, but for right now I just want to reflect on who and what got me here.