ODP stands for Olympic Development Program. It is a money-making soccer program whereby for a fee young soccer players can tryout for the state team, and then compete in the Region Camp in hopes of for an additional fee making the Region Team and if all goes extraordinarily well, and for yet another fee, your child might make the Youth National Team. Like all human endeavors, the process is unpalatably inefficient and subject to varying degrees of corruption. That said, it has been a terrific experience for my son, Bryson.
Last year, Bryson made the Florida ODP team, and played well enough in Alabama to make the Region 3 Pool. The experience allowed him to compete against the best players in Florida, and the ten other states that comprise Region 3. In doing so, he gained confidence, exposure and a tangible accomplishment to his playing resume that contributed to his transfer to FC America this season. His time in the dorm in Tuscaloosa, and his friendships an invaluable life experience not readily available by other means.
This year I looked forward to ODP tryouts, but not without concern that after an occasionally tumultuous season, Bryson might not make it back to Alabama.
The tryout was divided into three scrimmage sessions: 6 v 6, 8 v 8 and 11 v 11. The 6 v 6 session saw Bryson playing several player for whom possession of the ball was not a priority, which poses a number of critical problems for a possession player. On every occasion I looked over, I saw Bryson half-heartedly chasing the ball. I was stressed and very hungry by the end of the session.
8 v 8 was a positive turn. Bryson was paired with FC America’s Mikey Lynch, a stout central defender, and a speedy striker. The team was balanced and found a rhythm that flattered the sum and the parts in equal measure. Mikey and Bryson left the field together in good spirits.
There is a school of thought in these tryouts that the decisions are largely made at this point in the process, and readily apparent by the selection of the 11 v 11 teams the next morning.
Earlier today, I grew in confidence when Bryson was put on a “loaded” team. The first scrimmage was scintillating, and Bryson was up for the task with a solid showing. In the second segment, Bryson and Mikey went head to head. Bryson had the better of the opening exchanges, but seemed to lose his legs, and Mikey finished better.
The session ended and the five evaluator/coaches huddled for twenty minutes as 82 players and a similar number of parents waited. The coaches approached the players, who sat motionless for another ten minutes before dispersing. I studied the body language of the players as they crossed the field, it didn’t reveal much. As they got close enough, I heard some tell their parents they made it, and others confirmed they didn’t. Bryson was lingering on the far side of the field with Mikey. I tried desperately to read into this, but nothing was clear till they were about forty yards away when a smile crossed Bryson’s face. True to character, it was gone by the time he reached me, and I got a curt, half-mumbled “made it.”
Back to Alabama we go, but I hope with a greater sense of purpose. By any normal standard, Bryson is incredibly fit, reducing dreams to attainable goals is abnormal however, and the most profound lesson of the weekend is Bryson’s ability to perform at his most influential best is fueled by an absurd amount of physical labor that demands a greater level of fitness.
I have spoken, will he listen.