ODP, the Olympic Development Program is a program run by US Youth Soccer (USYS). For 99.99% of the participants, it has virtually nothing to do with the Olympics. For 99% of the participants, it has virtually nothing to do with development.
USYS is divided in to four regions. Each region runs its own ODP program and competes against the other three regions. ODP camps are touted as the place where the top soccer talent in the nation is identified. Those fortunate enough to catch the eye of an ODP coach may be selected for further training and competition. Each participant typically pays over $700 in fees to attend a regional camp. Each participant pays $75 to over $200 to attend and participate in SA-sponsored camps and try-outs prior to being selected to represent the SA at a regional ODP camp. In the case of North Dakota or South Dakota, one could easily spend $700-$1000 on travel, meals and lodging for all the SA-sponosred events leading up to even being considered for selection to attend the regional camp.
Regional development camps are for the youngest players, those typically at U10 or U11 levels. Those players are not eligible for advancement to a regional team but simply attend regional camp. They do not compete on a SA-team but are pooled with players from all other SAs and then divided by ability at the camp. Fees are typically $500-$600 to attend regional camp.
Regional camps for slightly older players, U12-U16 are held for SA teams. In North Dakota and South Dakota, the teams are combined because not enough players from each state are available to form a single team. More correctly stated, not enough players' parents are willing to shell out the wads of cash in order for their child to participate in ODP. At this age group, teams compete against each other in a psuedo-tournament format and champions are crowned at the end of camp. Along the way, exceptional players are scouted and an "all tournament team" is selectled. This all-tournament team is actually the regional or sub-regional team that will then be 'held over' for another few days at the camp. They will train and eventually most or some of them will compete on the regional team against other regional teams. This happens basec on birth year. For example, there will be a 1998 team for boys, a 1998 team for girls, a 1997 team for boys, and so on.
For those players selected for a regional team, ODP has a benefit. But as you can imagine, based on sheer numbers, selection to a regional team is no ticket to a roster spot on the USA Olympic team in future years. If there are 4 regional teams of 1998 boys with 25 on each roster, how many of those boys will be on the USA Olympic team in 8 years? They will have to compete with the 1997 boys, the 1996 boys, etc.
Since the focus of ODP is identification of players for a regional team, the emphasis on ODP activities is observation. In fact, coaches are required to 'let the kids play' during competitions so that the selecting coaches can observe how the kids organize and compete. Their team coach is required to make substitutions, attend to injuries and assist the selecting coaches. No true coaching is allowed during the competitions. Between competitions, the kids practice with their team coach and regional coaches. Teams with better players get the attention of the regional selecting coaches. The Dakota team gets little attention typically.
I attended ODP camp as a team manager for the 1998 boys from Dakota ODP. These were my observations. The facilities, transportation, hotel were all top-rated. Meals were questionable to average. The players benefit by playing against and with other good players. They learn very little new about soccer. Virtually no development occurs.
For $1500-$2000, there are many more things you can do to help develop your son or daughter as a soccer player. You could send them to a high-level soccer camp that emphasizes development. Great camps exist which cost between $300 and $500. You could augment their playing by seeking out guest playing opportunities with other clubs. You might pay $50 for a guest player fee and $200-$300 for hotel and transportation to a tournament.
Camps expose players to college coaches if you select the right camps. They expose players to other good players and good coaches who will truly develop their talents. Consider a camp run by a member club of the US Soccer Development Academy or one of the MLS clubs.
Most importantly, support your local club (if it is a good one) and make sure your son or daughter attends all practices and competitions. Have them play soccer games at home, juggle a ball for 30 minutes a day, kick the ball to a wall 500 times. Or start a pick-up game with neighborhood kids. How do you think the impoverished kids of Brazil and Argentia aspire to such soccer greatness? Passion ... not ODP.
As your club coach and other coaches to write a reference for your son or daughter to the US Club Soccer id2 program. id2 is much more selective than ODP, is free and has other benefits not found in the ODP program.
If your experience with ODP is diffent than mine, feel free to write a summary and post it on a website.