WHITE HALL — Participating in the Olympic Development Program may not lead Ben Malone to competing for his country in future Olympic games, but it could help him and others net a scholarship to play at the collegiate level.
Malone, a senior-to-be at White Hall in the fall, recently returned to Jefferson County after participating in an ODP combine in Monroe, La. Along with junior teammates Kinzie Kight and Jordan Lawson, Malone said the experience and exposure from ODP was beneficial to anyone with aspirations of taking their game to the next level.
“It’s pretty much a big showcase,” Malone said. “It has given me the ability to meet pretty much every coach in the state. Coaches have seen me play and have told me things I need to work on. If they don’t think you have potential, they won’t mess with you.”
The ODP is unlike other showcases in the fact that it trumps the NCAA’s regulations on contact between coaches and players.
“College coaches can talk to players and players can talk to coaches,” said Don Malone, Ben’s father and high school coach. “It’s different because it’s affiliated with the Olympic program. This is the one place the players can have that type of contact and get that attention.”
The trio began training with ODP in November, making weekly trips to Little Rock for the Central Southern Region. A group of players were selected in each age group to participate in the Louisiana combine. From there, players can be selected for the next step, this year in Tuscaloosa, Ala. and then on to Colorado Springs, though no Arkansas players have journeyed that far up the ladder.
Malone, Kight and Lawson all play midfield for White Hall. Lawson led the team with 23 goals and six assists in 19 games, Malone finished with nine goals and 10 assists while Kight netted 13 goals and had four assists.
Malone said the experience wasn’t so much about being selected for the combine as it was having the opportunity to be in front of potential recruiting prospects.
“It has made me an all-around better player,” Malone said. “It has allowed me to meet a lot of college coaches and travel around and play with some really good players. I have seen pretty much every coach in the state and they have seen me. I had heard this was a pretty big deal and wanted to be part of it.”
Malone made his third appearance with ODP this year while Kight is making his second showing. It was Lawson’s first year.
Coach Malone said the program was also good for training purposes for any coach wanting his players to receive top-quality instruction during the off-season.
“Normally what you sign up for is the extra training,” Malone said. “Someone that has just started playing wouldn’t sign up. This is for advanced players who want to get better. It has helped these three guys and they bring that knowledge back to their team.”
Ben Malone said the key to learning was having different coaches instruct different aspects of the game.
“You get the best of instruction on different levels,” Malone said. “You have different coaches that teach the way they do things and it gives you a different perspective on how the game is played. It lets you know how important things are on the field.”
In addition to playing for White Hall, Lawson, Kight and Malone also play for the White Hall Inferno, a U-19 team with the White Hall Soccer Association.