The year-long U.S. Soccer Academy Director Course prepares club leaders to create an elite youth development environment at their club. This month, the course travels to Europe to take an inside look at some of the world's top youth academies. Girls Development Academy Director Miriam Hickey talks about the group's trip to the Royal Dutch Football Federation, where she spent eight years as a National Development Officer.

The KNVB (Royal Dutch Football Federation) recently opened a new training facility in the woods in the heart of the Netherlands. Through innovation and a new vision on player development, the goals are to qualify for the next World Cup (the men's team failed to reach Russia 2018) and continue the rise of the women's national team program (the team won the European Championship just three months ago, its first-ever continental title).

KNVB Interim Technical Manager Teun Jacobs showed us the rich history of the game in the Netherlands, explained the federation's organization, the competition structure for different age groups and new plans to improve player development.

The pyramid of over 3,000 soccer clubs in this small country's three regions is very clear: a solid foundation of local and regional grassroots clubs rises to national youth academy clubs, and at the top, international academy clubs. A child may start playing at a local or regional grassroots club, perform well, get noticed by scouts and be invited to join a national or international level academy club.

The category of the club depends on its ambition and a 12-factor federation audit, from player development vision, to staffing, to facilities, to the club's player production. It's a similar process to becoming a Development Academy club in the U.S., where some of the same criteria are evaluated. The KNVB supports clubs in their efforts to improve environments and reach a higher level of accreditation by consulting and holding annual assessment meetings with each club, comparable to the role of Technical Advisors and the Double Pass Program with Academy clubs.

Similar to U.S. Soccer's Player Development Initiatives, the KNVB is tweaking competition formats for youth players. Both the Belgian and Dutch Federations are implementing a 2v2 in-house game format for five and six-year-olds, with the player pathway progressing to 11v11 at age 12. Standings are kept from the U-14 level on. For over 10 years, individual girls have been able to play together with boys on youth teams, and girls' teams can play against boys' teams in all age groups.

To ensure better results for National Teams and top Dutch pro teams, the KNVB has partnered with clubs to formulate a new plan of attack. Players need to be able to make quicker decisions, defend more compactly as a team, play at a higher intensity for 90-plus minutes and be ready to play with and against different formations and styles.

For the youth national team players, this translates to more training sessions at the KNVB Campus and more competitive international games with the YNT. Players in the U-17 through U-19 age groups at national and international level youth academies must now train at least eight times a week at their club and play in more international club games. Youth academy clubs are also giving more attention to recovery, nutrition and lifestyle in order to create a winning mindset.

We are thankful that the KNVB (Royal Dutch Football Federation) opened its doors to share its vision on youth development for the benefit of the Academy Directors and their players.