For one East Carter soccer senior-to-be, road trips from Berea to Corbin to Edgewood next fall won’t be nearly the most far-flung places he’s taken the pitch.
Garrett Halstead played and practiced in Dortmund, Germany, and the Netherlands over an eight-day stint in late March and early April. He participates in the Kentucky Olympic Development Program (ODP), which also afforded him the opportunity to play in England last year.
“Just being able to go and experience a different culture and see what the game’s like there — it’s obviously soccer — but just seeing the different playing styles and everything (was beneficial),” Halstead said.
Halstead learned of the program a few years ago, he said, when a club teammate was involved.
“It was a great moment,” Halstead said of representing his state and country abroad. “It’s one I’ll always remember.”
The program has forced Halstead to elevate his level of play, which only helps him, he said.
“It makes you play a whole lot faster,” he said. “If you want to compete, you have to be able to play at that level, so you gotta be able to step up your game a little bit.”
The ODP’s purpose is to identify the top players nationally in each age group and then develop them to, ultimately, select a pool of qualified players for international competition, according to the Kentucky Youth Soccer Association’s website.
The 55 U.S. Youth Soccer State Associations (the states of California, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Texas each have two associations) are divided into four regions. Each region selects a pool from the best players in its states, and those groups are culled again into a national pool.
Halstead’s ultimate goal, he said, is to play professional soccer. He views the opportunity to compete at this level as a beginning to ascend the metaphorical ladder.
“It’s just taking it one step at a time,” he said. “Small goals will get you to your big goals.”
Raiders assistant coach Quinn Huddle is familiar with the process. He played ODP soccer and coached a younger-aged girls team at a region meet in Memphis, Tennessee, he said.
Halstead appreciates the connection.
“Quinn’s somebody I can talk to about anything in practice,” Halstead said, “because he knows the system and everything. That makes it easier.”
In addition to the rigorous soccer work that included three international matches and multiple training sessions nearly every day, Halstead gained a cultural experience from his time in Europe.
“It was different with the language barrier,” he said. “We had a translator. The first few days when you get there, you kinda see how people react to who you are and where you’re from, and then you just adapt to the culture, be yourself and get better.”
Halstead transferred to East Carter from Greenup County last year and was ineligible until the 62nd District Tournament final. He more than made up for lost time, scoring three goals in the Raiders’ 9-0 victory over West Carter.
He is, understandably, chomping at the bit to return to high school competition for a full season in the fall.
“I’m gonna be ready,” Halstead said. “I’m always preparing myself for whatever comes, so I’ll be ready and I’m already excited for it. Should be a fun year.”