A Blog by Doug Logan
The Young Money Ship
Thursday, June 24, 2010
". . . making sure the Young Money ship is never sinking. . ."
Every time I hear the hip-hop phenom Drake sing those words in "Over [Thank Me Now]", I suspect he is reading from the job descriptions of several of my most recent employment agreements. Central to the development of a nucleus of world-class performers in any sport is getting enough money to a group of young ones to sustain them through their formative years. Call it "the Young Money ship".
Thirteen years ago, Major League Soccer, together with Nike, created a program called Project 40, in which the league identified and financially supported top young soccer players. We were shooting to get 40 athletes in the program, and we included athletes as young as 16, which made me a bit of a pariah in the corridors of the NCAA offices. Those players, it was hoped, could potentially bring a World Cup championship to the United States in 2010.
Those seeds that we planted all those years ago have seemed to germinate and take root. Of the 23 athletes on the 2010 World Cup squad, I believe some 14 or 15 at one time participated in and received development stipends out of the Project 40 fund.
The results on the playing fields of South Africa have begun to galvanize the American public and make them something the pundits said they would never be: soccer fans. Wednesday against Algeria, the U.S. squad rushed down the field in the 91st minute and, in a precision attack, Landon Donovan scored in storybook fashion. I was reminded of the negotiations with Donovan and his mom to try to get him into Project 40 as a schoolboy. He ultimately signed with a German club but wound up returning home within a year.
A bit over 18 months ago, USATF convened a task force to evaluate our high performance programs and chart a course to better support our athletes and improve Team USA's medal count in Olympic and World Championship competition. At the 2008 USATF Annual Meeting, that group took on the name Project 30. Our stated goal was 30 Clean Medals in London.
Given that I was the commissioner of MLS when we created Project 40, I thought I wouldn't offend myself to plagiarize it in creating a Project 30 athlete-development program for USATF.
A system that leaves these athletes to their own devices as they attempt to cobble together coaching, access to medical and physio service, biomechanical evaluation and other sport science is not a system. It's a free-for all that leaves most athletes with significantly less than a total package. Most consider themselves fortunate just to be able to pay bills and have access to a coach.
So, on Wednesday afternoon in Des Moines, we unveiled our Project 30 Class of 2010 , as well as a new USATF High Performance Web site and expanded athlete-support programs. With financial backing from Nike, Project 30 funds are supporting 31 athletes this year alone, and we will spend more than $4 million over four years to help fill the gaps that keep athletes from maximizing their potential. Although some of these funds are going to veterans, it is largely "the Young Money ship".
You can't do much without money, but throwing money at a problem is not enough. In the last several months, USATF's High Performance Department, under the leadership of Chief of Sport Performance Benita Fitzgerald Mosley, has put into place many new or expanded programs that directly benefit athletes. They are detailed in Wednesday's press release, but the one I am particularly keen on is our Sport Science Workshops.
The first of these workshops was held earlier this month in Dallas and brought together sprinters, hurdlers, coaches, physiologists, psychologists, nutritionists and other folks with lots of educational degrees. For the first time, in a systemized way, USATF brought not just science, but applied science, to our athletes. If you think it is overkill, just ask Ron Artest about what a solid application of psychology can do for an athlete.
When I was first hired at USATF, as I was making an inventory of our assets, I asked a great many people the question "What's the American edge?" I heard a lot of things including our nutrition, our coaching, our facilities, the collegiate network and our sports science. I came to find out that in many cases this science was not working itself down to the coach/athlete level. We had a lot of scholars with advanced degrees publishing a lot of fancy papers, but the rubber was not hitting the road.
Applied science means instead of just telling coaches about it during a weekend-long gabfest, or locking athletes in a room and showing them film, we are digging in and doing comprehensive analysis, correction and teaching, right there on the track. It is a "learn by doing" experience.
Veteran coach Al Hobson was part of the Workshop in Dallas, and he spoke with the press in Des Moines on Wednesday how he and his athletes benefitted from the experience. To hear him tell it, the Workshop literally saved the legs of one of his athletes and taught another that he was "doing everything wrong." Coach Hobson is a walking billboard for why these programs will work. He added publicly to the press," I learned more in one day than I had in 4 or 5 other coaching clinics combined". For the first time in his decades of coaching, he could take what was being talked about and apply it to his athletes in real time, with no stone unturned. It was integrated and individualized.
The only global sporting event bigger than the World Cup is the Olympic Games. In two years, in London, we will discover not if we have any Landon Donovans among our first crop of Project 30 athletes, but how many. A few of them, I suspect, may call Al Hobson "coach."
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