How to Succeed Playing in Europe – A Profile of Theo Corbeanu

I first worked with Theo in 2011. He attended our very first International Player ID Camp with Wolves FC in 2012 and later went on  to play for 1v1 Soccer in the SAAC league.  He played with Toronto FC academy before moving to England and signing with Wolves in 2018. He is part of their U18 academy squad and was called up to their 1st team squad for their  pre-season trip to China.

Learn more about Theo’s journey from a youth player in Hamilton, Ontario to playing for an EPL club that is currently 5th in the EPL  here 

1) What were some of the challenges you faced trying to realize your goal of playing football in Europe?

The hardest challenge for me was leaving everything I had behind in Canada. Leaving my family was the toughest thing I’ve ever had to do in my life, but you can’t achieve success without sacrificing. I found the first few months very tough, as I made my move to Wolves at 16 years old. Nonetheless, my host family accommodated me very well and welcomed me as if I was one of their own. It got a lot easier as time went on. I never thought that I would be able to settle in so quickly, but this is what a footballing environment can do. Since I have so many teammates coming from different countries abroad, I was able to relate to them in many ways as they were in the same position as me. After just one year, I have made some life-long friends at the club.

 

2) If you had to advise young players from North America how to succeed in Europe what would your advice be?

If I could advise young players from North America how to succeed in Europe, it would be to believe in their ability and to never doubt themselves. Everyone has this perception that the standard of European football is miles ahead because there are better individuals. I have seen many players that were better than me when I grew up but they fell off when they were 15/16 years old simply because they weren’t dedicated enough to the game. Therefore, a good attitude is the key to everything in life, not just in football. Maintaining a positive attitude saying “I will never give up and will get up as many times as I have to in order to succeed” is the attitude of the top players. Everyone has an equal chance in making it out there, no matter where they are from. As a result, I think a player’s attitude and willingness to improve at all times is what will give him the edge. Coming from a foreign country like Canada to a place like England or anywhere in Europe is special in itself as it gives you the pride in dreaming that you could one day be the first to do it in Europe.

3) How many hours do you currently train/week and what is the breakdown ie % of hours spent on technical development, tactical development, physical and mental training?

I usually train for 5 hours everyday. My typical day in a week consists of a 2 hour team training session followed by a 1 hour gym session (working on upper/lower body and core), 1 hour individual analysis session and a 1 hour individual technical session after I finish my education. In my individual training session, I will normally work on my 1v1 attacking and finishing.

4) Did you spent any hours practicing on your own growing up? If so, how many?

When I was younger, I spent a lot of time training on my own. I remember I would spend 1-2 hours practicing on my technical skills outside of my team trainings. As soon as I finished school at 3:00, I would go home straight to my basement where I developed my ability to control the ball in tight areas. I didn’t do this extra training because I felt that I needed to get better, but it was solely for my love of the game. I did this because I enjoyed football so much as a kid. It was my life, still is and forever will be.

5) What support do you think young players from North America require in order to succeed in Europe?

I would say the main support for young North American kids would be that those who are involved with their football make it as enjoyable as possible for them. Before getting into the discussion about proper facilities, coaching and competitive opposition… the most important thing for a young up and coming footballer is his love for the game. Some of the best players to ever play the game made it out from nothing, with no conditions whatsoever. All they had was a ball, but their love for the game drove them to become who they became. This is why it is essential to get kids in North America playing at as young of an age as possible.

6) Any other thoughts you would like to share with young players?

I’d like to add that anyone can make it. It doesn’t matter whether you are from. Whether you are from Canada or Brazil, everybody has an equal chance… it all comes down to how bad you want it. Attitude is everything!!!

 

How to Help your Child pursue a Pathway to Play Professional Football in Europe

How Big Data is changing Talent Identification and Talent Development in Soccer

The use of data is playing an increasing role in talent identification and development. Data collection and analysis can be as simplistic as the technical, tactical, physical and mental assessments used by Dutch club AZ Alkmaar  within their academy (Learn More)  or the sophisticated data model utilized by S.L. Benfica Learn More. 

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In the modern game the high cost of acquiring talent can exceed over 100 million Euros. This has forced clubs like Benfica to shift their focus to developing their own talent. At Benfica, sensors are deployed on the training pitches to close track an individual players player movement, speed, agility and heart rates. Sleep patterns and nutrition is also closely monitored to identify trends, patterns and the relationships between players habits and their performances on the field.  This data is then used to develop individualized training plans for players to further develop their strengths and also improve weaknesses. Predictive analysis is also used to help determine any potential injuries. At Benfica and many other top clubs, data is becoming the cornerstone of the clubs talent identification and development strategies.

 

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The increased use of data for talent identification and development is not only confined to Europe. In March 2018, US Soccer announced that it was purchasing 6,500 GPS units for their men’s and women’s national programs and the youth players in US Soccer Development academies. Coaches from MLS team Atlanta United are also using this type of technology to accelerate the development of their “prospect players” who have been deemed as the most likely to progress to their senior MLS squad. The data is used to track the development of the players and gauge how much they can be pushed in terms of training loads (volume) and intensity of training.

So, how can players outside professional academies in Europe or North America benefit from this type of technology? Players can purchase their own individual GPS vest and heart monitors and take ownership of their own development process. GPS vests can be purchased individually for as low as $200.00 which will allow players to visualize their pitch movements and  track how far they run, how fast, where they go on the pitch, how many sprints they made and how long they are sprinting for during each game or training session.  It will also allow players to benchmark their metrics against players that play in their positions at the professional level.

For example, professional attackers run 21% quicker than amateur players – the average max speeds of professional attackers equal 9.2 metres per second, compared to 7.58 metres per second for a player at the amateur level. Some attackers, such as Southampton’s Shane Long, Leicester City’s Jamie Vardy and Manchester United’s Marcus Rashford achieve higher than this and achieve speeds of between 9.75 – 9.8 metres per second. (*Playertek) 

Heart monitors can also be purchased individually by players. The youth players at US Soccer wear both GPS vests and heart monitors as two separate units).

The key metrics that can be used for talent identification and development using GPS data and heart monitors are:

Maximum Speed

Heart Rate

Distance Covered

Heart Rate Thresholds

Average Speed

Average Heart Rates

A successful training session provides players with stimuli for development – while not overloading it too much. Players themselves can now measure their own reaction to training and together with their coaches, can adapt training loads to match their capabilities and what they require to improve.

Training Impulse (TRIMP)

Training Impulse on graph

The player’s internal training load based on the resting heart rate, maximum heart rate, average heart rate achieved during training, and the training length. This data will help assess a player’s level of internal stress.

A workload which is inappropriately matched to the athlete’s current form can negatively affect his performance during the match or increase the risk of serious injury.

Distance covered

Distance Covered in football, displayed on graph

If within the same training group, the results of a given player significantly deviate from the distance covered by the rest of the team, it may mean that they did not put enough effort into the training. It may also mean that they are displaying the first symptoms of an illness or injury.

* (Source: Sonda Sports)

The increased use of data in talent identification and development has also contributed to players becoming increasingly used to data when evaluating and analyzing their own performance levels. Dutch club AZ Alkmaar  for example strive to identify young players who drive their own development. What clubs are finding is with the increased performance data now available young players are asking coaches for advice on how to improve their strengths and what training activities they can participate in to elevate their current performance levels.

Although soccer is a team game these new technologies can allow players to measure and track their own individual development. This allows them to take more ownership and like golfers and runners compete against themselves to drive their own development forward. Players can not always control the success of their team and after losing matches may not feel as if they are moving forward or that their game is progressing. However, tracking their own individual data can provide them with greater ownership and desire to achieve their soccer goals.

AZ ALKMAAR: CREATING SUCCESS THROUGH DATA ANALYTICS

 

How to Succeed Playing in Europe – A Profile of Stefan Mitrovic

I first met Stefan in 2012 when he was 12 years of age. He attended our 1st International Player ID with Wolves that year. Since then, he has progressed through the ranks of Canadian soccer and last weekend, at age 17, made his professional debut for Seberian team Radnički Niš as an attacking midfielder. He has signed a 4 year professional contract with Radnicki Nis which is a reflection how highly he is rated. 

Stefan has been kind enough to share his experiences with me and help inspire our next generation of Canadian players on how to fulfil their dream of playing professional football in Europe.

1) What were some of the challenges you faced trying to realize your goal of playing football in Europe?

My goal since I was a young boy was to play professionally in Europe. I’ve been on many trials in Europe but a challenge for me was not having a European passport. It was difficult to get a visa. So I had to stay patient and wait for my chance.

2) If you had to advise young players from North America how to succeed in Europe what would your advice be?

For young players trying to succeed in Europe, it takes hours and hours of training. I would say be on the ball as much as you can. Just keep training and training. For my case, before I went on trial for the first team here, I needed to prepare my self extremely well. Physicality wise and mentally. Hill sprints, runs, technical work on the ball, diet, early bedtime, and rest were components to my success. Preparation is very key.

3) How many hours do you currently train/week and what is the breakdown ie % of hours spent on technical development, tactical development, physical and mental training?

I train 4-5 hours a day. 2 hours with the team and another 2-3 hours on my own. At training we spend 2 hours on the ball, technical work, small sided games, and tactical stuff. Also we do a lot of fitness at training. Sprints, longer runs ,etc. 3 days a week after training we have gym session which lasts around an hour. After trainings I take a nap to rest my muscles because at professional level rest is crucial. So after my rest, I either go for a run or go to a near by field to train. I usually go with a goalkeeper so I can practice my finishing, dribbling, etc. Lastly, every night I do ab workouts and pushups. Everyday I push myself to get better and better.

4) Did you spent any hours practicing on your own growing up? If so, how many?

Growing up, I spent many hours practicing on my own. Either on my own or with my friends. Whenever I didn’t have training, I would go practice. It was naturally for me.

5) What support do you think young players from North America require in order to succeed in Europe?

To succeed in Europe you will need some kind of support. Having support from your family, coaches, and friends will definitely help achieve you goal. My parents were very supportive of my dream which really helped me. Especially my dad. Also, you may have to sacrifice some things. Such as living alone, and being away from your family. Here in Radnicki Nis, I’m living alone.

6) Any other thoughts you would like to share with young players?

My advice for young players is to work hard and never give up on their dream. Hard work really does pay off. Also patience is a key part to success. I was very patient before getting my chance to show myself in Serbia. 

How to Help your Child pursue a Pathway to Play Professional Football in Europe

Individual Player Performance Tip: Continuously Self-Assess your Performance

An important part of youth development is developing the entire person — not just the soccer player. We expect young people to go onto the field of play and make smart, correct decisions by themselves — so it is vital that we begin to develop these qualities early in their development.

When I talk to academy coaches across Europe or professional scouts they place a large emphasis on the psychological attributes of young players when evaluating potential. Is the player self-motivated, taking responsibility for their own development, has a strong mentality to overcome set-backs and do they have a strong capacity to learn?

The best players in the world have dedicated their life to a constant process of self-improvement. As they have amassed training hours and game -time they have had to navigate through challenges such as injuries, growth spurts, loss of form, criticism, self-doubt and external pressures from family and friends.

As Professor Damian Hughes pointed out in his excellent book “ The Barcelona Way – How to create a High Performance Culture” star athletes and elite performers continuously monitor their own progress and routinely exercise a process of self evaluation.

   

One method that young players can use to take greater ownership of their own development pathway is to self-asses their own performances, both in training and games.

When I have travelled for study-visits at top youth academies in the UK, Spain, Portugal and Italy I have noticed that they strive to have their young players take greater responsibility for their development. Several academies have each player rate themselves after every game on a score from 1-3 (Poor/average/good) on the following criteria:

  • Preparation for Match/Enthusiasm
  • Team Attitude (We not Me)
  • Individual Goal One (assigned by coach for each game)
  • Individual Goal Two (also assigned by coach for each game)

They also have their young players give themselves a performance score (out of 10) for their overall display, as well as describing their best and worst moment of the match. The players completed this information after every game and handed this (in their player book) into the coaching staff. The coaching staff then provided their own feedback, in terms of scores and comments before handed this back to the players.

 

If the teams that young players play on do not have a similar feedback system in place, then there is no reason why young players cannot implement their own version of a player book to track performance progress. This kind of performance feedback is critical for elite athletes. They must understand their current performance levels, and must be seeking improvements on a daily basis (during training and games). This will help them understand their own strengths and areas of improvements.

 

Sample Individual Player Feedback Form

It’s about the player! They must be the centre of the development process.

OK. Let’s get something clear right from the kickoff: If we are going to produce successful players, we as coaches and parents must put them at the central point of learning! Our focus, as coaches, must always remain on the technical, tactical, physical and mental development of the individual. Every child that enters any sport’s training program must one day leave the program, not only a better player, but more importantly, a better person. The player’s academic education must work hand-in-hand with their learning as a player.The top soccer clubs in the world such as Barcelona have long held that manners, values and education are very important components of a young player’s development. Now, that approach has to filter down to the grassroots levels of the game.

That may seem obvious. But many coaches and parents seem to think all players are the same, meaning that every young person’s development will follow the same path. In my experience and in the experience of many top professional players, that is simply not true. Players learn at different paces, and respond differently to training. Often, human development factors like physical and emotional maturity, rather than pure soccer skills development, influence their status and progress amongst their peers.

It seems that at earlier and earlier ages we are trying to identify talent and make decisions on the level a younger player will reach.. But for the most part, this is not useful. I remember Arsène Wenger, the manager of the great English club Arsenal and one of the best developers of young soccer talent, once stating that if someone looks at a player younger than 14 and tells them you that he or she will become a professional earlier than 14, they are lying. I often relate that quote when talking to parents or other coaches about a player’s “future success”, because, for many years in the development cycle, you simply can’t tell.You see little indications along the way, but never a definite indication of how far young players can go until the age of 16-18

How to Help your Child pursue a Pathway to Play Professional Football in Europe

Over the years, we’ve all seen many parents who have given up on their children “making it” as young as ages 7-8, and who, after that, no longer support their child’s interest in the sport. As well, “playing up” in older age groups becomes the barometer for parents to gauge their child’s progress, or as “proof ” that their child is succeeding. Coaches are lobbied, competition amongst parents begins, and the end result is that young players are placed under pressure to perform from a very early age.

Many parents have brought their children to our program and instructed us to “make them more aggressive.” On such occasions I’ve taken the “educational” approach and explained that the most important component for all young players is to master the ball, feel comfortable with it and spend time improving basic skills like dribbling, 1v1 moves, turning, passing and shooting.Young players must be placed in situations where they are allowed to try things, use their imagination, and more importantly, enjoy the game and have fun! If they are not enjoying it, guess what? That’s right: they are not going to spend any time next week with a ball at their feet!

There have been many of our more skilled players who have participated in skills classes for several years before they’ve become comfortable in games. One of our young players, aged 6, had a very placid personality and used to run away from the ball and turn his back whenever it came to him. He spent well over a year being very methodical in learning skills such as the step-over but was never confident enough to try the moves playing with others in games.Then all of a sudden, in his own time, he started to do drag-backs, step-overs and go on mazy dribbling runs! What happened? The boy did not change his basic temperament, but because of the confidence that he had developed with the ball, he was now playing at a much higher level. His father, in the early days, had focused on his son’s lack of aggression and had asked that we make him more aggressive in 1v1 challenges. But to the father’s credit, he had listened to my advice, kept encouraging his son and was able to enjoy watching the boy’s progress! It was a classic win-win-win situation — for the player, the parent, and the coach!

The development of a young child cannot be fast-tracked without consequences. It makes little sense, except in rare cases, to have a child jump several grades at school, and it’s the same thing for sports development. Nature provides its own built-in development path, and we as soccer coaches have no right to mess with it!

Here’s a great example: When the young North Ireland star George Best signed at age 15 for Manchester United in 1961, United’s legendary Manger Matt Busby instructed his coaching staff to “let the boy develop naturally.” Within two years he was playing in the first team, and within seven years was the best player in European, if not world football! A young Lionel Messi, who emigrated from Argentina to Spain with his family when he was 12, was not “rushed” at Barcelona. Even though he had fantastic talent, he could have likely played for Barca’s first team much sooner. But the coaches at the famous La Masia Academy allowed him to progress gradually like the other young boys, and he was provided with the opportunity to develop as a young person, in tandem with his development as a player.And did he develop!

So, let’s go back to our first premise — that we need to make sure we keep individual player development at the heart of our coaching efforts. Let’s make sure we help our young players grow in all areas, both physical and emotional, and at their own pace. Our job is simply to give them opportunities for that development to happen.

How to Help your Child pursue a Pathway to Play Professional Football in Europe

I have helped to prepare players for training and playing opportunities overseas since 2000. During that period I have spent time studying training methodologies at professional club academies in the UK (Wolves, Crewe Alexandra), Portugal (FC Porto), Spain (Sevilla, RCD Espanyol, Malaga) and Italy (Chievo Verona).

Players that we have worked with have gone on to successfully sign for Wolves and Swansea City (UK),  Hercules CF (Spain), Achilles 29 (Holland) and FC Ferrerias (Portugal). Many others have gained valuable academy training experiences at Glasgow Rangers, Fleetwood Town, Wolves, Stoke City, West Ham (UK), FC Porto (Portugal), Sevilla, RCD Espanyol and Malaga (Spain).

 

It is not an easy or clearly defined pathway for young North American players to gain valuable player development experiences training and playing at top professional clubs in Europe. Some of the challenges include the North American youth system being fragmented with no clear pathway to clubs overseas, the Canadian and US soccer associations not promoting or permitting their youth players to follow European pathways and FIFA, regulations placing restrictions on non-EEC players.

Many North American parents do not have any experience with European football and are unaware of how to assist their talented children achieve their soccer goals. Youth development in North America on the men’s side lags significantly when compared to the player development systems in top European countries such as UK, Spain, and  Portugal.  North America has so far failed to develop one world class outfield player with a combined (Canada and US ) population of over 350 million. Contrast that with countries like Portugal (10 million) and Spain ( 46 million) who have won one World cup (Spain 2010) and three European Championships between them (Spain 2008/2012 and Portugal 2016) within the last 11 years. In recent years, Portugal has developed Cristiano Ronaldo and other world-class players like Pepe (FC Porto) Bernardo Silva (Manchester City), Joao Felix (Atletico Madrid) and Bruno Fernandes (Sporting CP). During the same timeframe Spain has developed top players like Andres Iniestia, Xavi, Sergio Busquets and Gerard Pique (Barcelona), Sergio Ramos (Real Madrid) and  Rodri and David Silva (Manchester City).          

For young players to follow their dream of playing professional football they should ensure that they are doing well at school and that they are continually developing their technical skills. To fully develop their technical skills they have to train at a high level within a team environment and complete supplementary training with small-groups and individually at home. A recent study confirmed that technical skill is the best determinant of soccer success! Learn More 

Former Arsenal Manager and newly appointed Head of Global Football Development for FIFA, Arsene Wenger, has identified four stages of focus for youth development:

Ages 5-12: Technical Focus

Ages 12-16: Physical Focus

Ages 18-20: Tactical Focus

Ages 20+: Mental Focus

There are a progressive set of stages that you as parents can follow to assist your children to maximize their soccer potential and pursue playing opportunities in Europe:

  1. Ensure that your child is focused and keeping up high marks at school. Most professional clubs in Europe do not let their players train or play if school is not a priority and marks are not as high as they should be.
  2. Ensure that your child is learning within a positive learning environment where the focus is on individual player development versus team performances or results
  3. Ensure that your child has a way to complete supplementary training to continuously improve technical skills. This training can take the form of supplementary training programs and/or individual training at home. As a comparison, young EPL academy players the UK typically train 10 hours/week plus play 1 game.
  4. Seek opportunities for your child to be trained by European academy coaches so that they can understand the training standards demanded from professional clubs in Europe. These can be local Player ID camps featured coaches from academy teams in Europe.
  5. Have your child travel overseas to train with academy players in Europe. This will expose them to the European soccer culture which can ignite their passion for the game. It will also  provide them with valuable experience of competing against players who ultimately they will have to successfully compete against if they wish to play professional soccer in Europe.
  6. Find opportunities for your child to spend extended periods in Europe training with academy teams and gain playing experience within successful youth development models such as the UK, Spain, Italy and Portugal.

Note: If players with access to EEC passports have not been scouted by teams at age 16 then the next target should be attend formal trials at age 18+.       

 

Summary of Recommended  Pathway for Elite Players to Play in Europe

Ages: 5-11: Foundation Phase

  • Join a local team with a positive learning environment
  • Engage in supplementary technical training (individual and/or small-group)
  • Attend a local Player ID Camp with academy coaches from professional clubs in Europe
  • Follow a European academy recommended talent development pathway:
      • When in possession develop ball mastery technical skills,  develop the confidence to try new things, seek creative solutions and combine effectively with team-mates to create and score goals
      • When out of possession, enjoy winning the ball back, be successful in 1v1’s and look to see how you can start attacks when you gain possession
      • Enjoy defending in multiple roles and develop a range of techniques to win back possession
      • In transition develop quick reactions when you have won or lost the ball. Have a positive attitude when you win the ball back to launch a successful attack. Be proactive when the ball is lost and develop your confidence to defend quickly.   

Ages 12-16: Youth Development Phase

  • Continue playing in a local team and aim to become the best player in your region
  • Continue supplementary training to match academy players in the UK – 10 hours/week
  • Travel overseas to gain training and playing experiences at professional academies – participate in extended stays at international academies to achieve full immersion in that countries development system (longer than 2 weeks). For North American players there are opportunities to continue their education with this important step in their football development pathway towards professional soccer   
  • Follow a European academy recommended talent development pathway:
      • In possession look to be capable of receiving and transferring the ball to all areas on the field.
      • Be creative in situations where you are outnumbered to in tight spaces
      • Stay connected to team-mates in build up play
      • Develop your abilities to create and score goals
      • Successfully defend in 1v1 situations
      • Be successful in defending situations by being patient, timing your challenges and outsmarting opponents
      • Be the first player to react when winning and losing possession
      • Learn to mange a game in terms of tempo and other tactical situations
      • Force errors from opponents and successful distrust attacks and defend your goal 

Ages 17- 23 : Professional Development Phase

  • Age 16, players with access to EEC passports should be looking to sign contracts with professional clubs. Players should focus on securing contracts with clubs that match their current level of ability.
  • If players do not sign for a professional club then they should look to join an international academy linked to a professional club, where they can combine their education with pursuing a career as a professional football player
  • Non – EEC players can attend formal trials with clubs once they have reached the age of 18
  • Follow a European academy recommended talent development pathway:
      • Develop abilities to successfully retain possession both individually and when combining with teammates under all situations on the field
      • Be capable of creating and taking goalscoring opportunities against compact and well organized defences
      • Fully dominate 1v1 defending situations
      • Work individually and with teammates to nullify any defending threats
      • Recognize opportunities to penetrate the opposition quickly, whilst also understanding when to retain and build possession, control the tempo and change the speed of play.

    • To assist young players to maximize their potential and achieve their soccer goals we can offer the following talent identification and talent development support:

      • Training and Playing Opportunities Overseas
        • Glasgow Rangers and  Fleetwood Town (UK)
        • Valencia (Spain)
        • FC Porto and various clubs in Portugal
        • Cagliari and AC Perugia (Italy)
      • International academies with links to professional clubs
        • Spain
        • Portugal
        • UK
        • Greece

       

A NEW study confirm that technical skill is the most important attribute for soccer success! Enclosed are six measurable home training activities to improve your performance levels

A New Study confirms that Technical Skill is the most important attribute to achieve Soccer Success!

Read the Research Paper Here

Young players can significantly improve their technical ability at home. Today, I am enclosing a set of my own technical challenges that young players can complete at home in a 5 m x 5 m area. I have been using this content in my technical work with young players for over 5 years. 

We can now work with Elite players to benchmark themselves technically and physically against academy players at professional clubs in Europe.

We can  then design an individual learning plan (ILP) that can be 100 % delivered ONLINE  so that young North American players can work towards achieving the performance levels in leading soccer nations.   

Ball Mastery Test # 1

Ball Mastery Test in 5 m x 5 m grid. Five quick touches with inside of feet at cones in illustrated sequence. Players take five quick touches at starting cone, using insides of both feet, then alternate between central cone and 3 other outside cones before stop ball at starting cone. The time to complete is recorded in seconds.

Ball Mastery Test # 2: Toe Taps

Ball Mastery Test in 5 m x 5 m grid. Five quick touches with soles of feet (toe taps) at cones in illustrated sequence. Players take five quick touches at starting cone, using the soles of both feet (toe taps) then alternate between central cone and 3 other outside cones before stop ball at starting cone. The time to complete is recorded in seconds.
 

Ball Mastery Test # 3: Laces/Insides Juggling Combination

Players juggle ball for 30 seconds. Ball starts on ground. Players follow a laces, inside foot sequence and the highest number of consecutive juggles are recorded after 30 seconds.   

Ball Mastery Test # 4: Laces/Thigh Juggling Combination

Players juggle ball for 30 seconds. Ball starts on ground. Players follow a laces, thigh combination and the highest number of consecutive juggles are recorded after 30 seconds. 

Test # 5: Dribbling & Turning

Four gates are set up in 5m x 5m square with one central gate in middle of square. Players dribble through the 1st gate and then compete turns in subsequent gates. They will alternate between completing turns at central gate and gates on outside. In total they will complete 7 turns. They are timed from when they dribble through 1st gate until they dribble back through the starting gate.  

Test # 6: Passing & Receiving

Four cones are placed to form a 2 metre x 2 metre square 5 metres away from a wall or bench. Players begin by passing the ball from the square, receiving it back in the square and taking a 1st touch to the right of the cone to complete another pass against the bench. Once they receive the ball back they take a 1st touch to the left to complete another pass against the bench. When the ball is returned they take another touch to the left and complete another pass against the bench. When that ball is received back they then take a 1st touch towards the right (into the square) and after completing another pass repeat the same passing and receiving sequence again. The players are rated on the number of successful passes they can complete within 30 seconds. Passes are incomplete if a player hits a cone or passes are completed in front of the cones that are 5 metres from the bench.  

THE IMPORTANCE OF CREATIVITY FOR YOUNG PLAYERS

A FEW YEARS AGO I CAME ACROSS the work of Sir Kenneth Robinson for the first time. Sir Ken Robinson, PhD is an internationally recognized leader in the development of creativity, innovation and human resources in education and in business. He is also one of the world’s leading speakers on these topics, with a profound impact on audiences everywhere. The videos of his famous 2006 and 2010 talks to the prestigious TED Conference have been viewed more than 25 million times and seen by an estimated 250 million people in over 150 countries.

He has devoted a large part of his life to the study of creativity. He believes, like the famous artist Picasso, that we are born with creativity and as time goes on it is educated out of us. Picasso made the famous quote that, “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.”

Sir Kenneth has studied education systems and argues that they are not servicing the requirements of today’s youth. Many children are dropping out early and many others are requiring medication, just so they can pass through today’s education system. He proposes a new way forward for education, which would be designed to inspire the creativity of our youth and keep them actively engaged.

What relevance do these ideas have for developing young football players? Well, we face a similar problem. Here is a frightening statistics for youth sport in North America: over 70 per cent of young athletes are leaving sports in North America by age 14 (Source: US Youth Soccer). They are quitting for the following reasons:

  • Lack of playing time
  • Overemphasis on winning
  • Other activities are more interesting
  • Lack of fun
  • Coaching techniques/adult behaviour
  • Dissatisfaction with performance
  • Lack of social support

Typically, we don’t notice this as they are replaced by a greater number of under-3 players the following year.

Are we duplicating the same mistakes in our current education systems? Are we only offering rigid, linear development systems which young players pass through, based on their age? Are we coaching creativity out of our young players so they don’t wish to play anymore? England’s Wayne Rooney once spoke of how he wanted to stop playing at age 14 because Everton Football Club asked him to play a different way. He was a young boy who loved the game and was very good at it. The good news is that he was talked out of quitting by Colin Harvey, a senior coach at Everton. However, how many other creative players, like him, have been lost to the game?

At the moment, I’m looking at the rapid growth of street soccer and Futsal in Europe. I am seeing very dedicated and creative young players practice the latest freestyle skills and demonstrate outrageous plays when they play Futsal. It makes we wonder if both are better avenues to remove the pressure on young players in todays structured academy environments. Street soccer and Futsal develop creativity by placing less adult restrictions on young players. They can, and will, practice for hours with a ball to learn a new move. The young players also seem more able to transfer these new skills into street soccer and Futsal games, than regular youth games.

A study carried out by Sheffield Hallam University’s Sport Industry Research Centre confirmed that nearly 2,000 teams made up of more than 12,000 people played the sport during a two-month period in 2013. The study authors, Richard Moore and student James Radford, also reported that more than a third (39 out of 90) of Football League clubs operated a futsal education programme in 2012 with major centres established in Leeds, Stoke, Swindon, Sunderland and Birmingham.

Is it because both street soccer and futsal provide young players with an unstructured environment, on their own terms, with less direction from adults where they are left more to experiment and improvise? It is said of today’s generation that they are overwhelmed and inundated with information and with choice. The result is that it can be more challenging to successfully engage today’s generation and over long periods.

So, what are some potential solutions?

First of all players must be taught the joy and passion of the game. A coach in British Columbia named Rick Gruneau sent me an email a few years ago speaking about some of the differences he had experienced when he spent a week at the Spanish club Espanyol in 2010. He asked the coaching staff what the two most important things were that they taught in training, the answer was immediate, though, for a North American, surprising: “Joy and technique.”

Joy because, as the coaches put it, “We are a small club [compared to Barcelona and Real Madrid] and these players are precious investments for us. Every time a player burns out or leaves the game we not only feel that we have failed the player, we lose our investment in him.” And technique, because football is “primarily a game where the challenge is to exercise the best technique possible under pressure”.

Rick went on to recount his amazement at the “joy” in training sessions when even in the most competitive training there was a lot of laughing and mutual back patting, where players would spontaneously break into applause when another player did something out of the ordinary technically. It was not something he had ever experienced back in Canada.

What I, like many other modern coaches, propose is creating more environments where creativity can be encouraged and nurtured; environments where young players are inspired and want to learn to get better. When I was growing up, I was inspired by watching George Best – he was the Picasso of the football world then. Today’s young players are inspired by Messi and Ronaldo – they are inspired by both and want to be like them. Not every young player will go on to play as well as the world’s best two players but surely we have a duty as coaches and parents to stimulate their senses so they, not us, can find out how good they can be.

I don’t have all the answers but surely we must be looking outside the traditional learning methods in order to achieve this.

Ball Mastery: Development of Fast Footwork

A 1 on 1 training activity to combine dribbling, quick feet combinations & turning

Set Up

  • 15 mins
  • 1 player
  • 1 ball
  • 1 bib
  • 5 cones
  • 5 m x 5 m area

Set – Up:

  • Player leaves starting cone and dribbles towards central cone. Once at central cone, player takes 5 quick touches with inside of feet and dribbles to next outside cone. The player takes 5 quick touches with inside of feet before returning to central cone to repeat. The player continues to alternate between the outside and central cones (executing 5 quick touches with insides at each cone) before returning to starting position
  • As a progression, player can execute different technical moves at cones ie 5 toe taps
  • Player can challenge themselves by recording their timed score (in seconds) for executing 5 quick touches with insides of feet at each of the cones

Key Coaching Points

  • Close control – keep ball distance 1 step away
  • Knees and body relaxed
  • Multiple touches to retain control
  • Quick feet at cone – make contact on top half of ball

Are you a young Canadian Soccer Player Looking for Pathways to the Professional Game

On August 5-8th we will be hosting a Player Identification Camp for Canadian players who are interested in following a direct pathway to professional football in Europe. One of our players will be training at the Fleetwood International Academy in July and we are seeking more talented and motivated players to provide the same opportunities to.

I have always taken a long-term view to player development. 

Based on my observations of working with Elite players in North America since 1998 and the study visits I have made to top academy programs in England (Wolves/West Ham), Spain (RCD Espanyol/Sevilla/Malaga), Portugal (FC Porto ) and Italy (Chievo Verona) the top predictors for young players playing at the highest levels of the game are listed below. Predictors are player attributes that professional clubs look for in young players when assessing their potential.

I have validated this information through my studies in a Masters in Performance Coaching program at the University of Stirling in Scotland and my recent studies in Talent Identification through the Professional Football Scouts Association. I have also enclosed below some articles outlining what professional clubs look for in young players. 

Technical Predictors

  • Gentle contact on the ball 
  • Ability to pass long and short with correct pace/accuracy 
  • Close control of ball when dribbling at pace
  • Capable of shooting with instep drive and finishing using multiple areas of the foot 
  • Ability to change direction quickly and maintain control of ball in tight spaces
  • Uses leading edge of foot (small toe) to dribble
  • Ability to look up when dribbling 
  • Ability to protect the ball 

Psychological and Sociological Predictors 

  • Demonstrate confidence by always wanting the ball and looking for opportunities to take on defenders
  • Ambition and Desire – motivated to do what is required to maximize potential 
  • Mental toughness – capable of overcoming set-set-backs and adversity 
  • Attention – focused and can fully concentrate during every training session/game
  • Communication – help team-mates through game situations by providing information 
  • Education – good interpersonal skills and well-educated