July Home Training Program – Individual Player Development

This has been a very challenging time for both players and coaches. Since mid-March players have been unable to train in group sessions or play in games. However, as I have told our players on multiple occasions we have to all look at this situation as an opportunity.

There has never been another occasion when players have had unlimited time to focus on their own individual development – without the disruption of school or normal life. The players who maximize their training time during this period will be the ones who will have advanced their performance levels in relation to their peers and will be the most successful once team training and playing resumes.

Enclosed below is a detailed home training program that players can follow during the month of July.

Week of  June 29 : Train Now 
 
Week of July 6 Train Now 
 
Week of July 13: Train Now 
 
Week of July 20: Train Now 

 

 

 

 

Performance Tip # 4: Understand the performance levels required

 

Professional football (soccer) is very demanding. Top midfield players in the English Premiership are covering over 13 kms/game and the top forwards are sprinting as fast as 35 kilometres per hour.  Midfield players will complete up to 50 passes/game and the top forwards in the EPL are now sprinting (on average) over 960 metres. 

I get approached most days by young players on how to secure professional playing opportunities in Europe. That is the easy part!

The most important part is focusing on how to attain the performance levels required to play professionally. How many players from North America are currently attending talent identification opportunities and fully understanding what the performance requirements are?

If you as a young player aspire to play at the professional levels it is very important that you understand the following:

  1. The performance requirements to play professional football
  2. What your current performance levels are – technically, tactically, mentally and physically
  3. What are your performance gaps versus young academy players at professional clubs in Europe
  4. What is you action plan to close these gaps?

I personally believe that there are a lot more players from North American capable of playing professionally in Europe if they can understand these four things :

The demands (Technically/Tactically/Physically/Psychologically) to play at the professional level.

Obviously, young players are not expected to currently match the performance levels of the EPL’s top players today. The modern game is very quick and players that play at the professional level must be excellent technically, capable of reading a game tactically, be mentally strong and have strong physical attributes. Player data such as distant covered, number of sprints, spent speed, number of passes complete is now widely available so young players should start to study the performance demands of their positions. 

2) Your current performance standards

Through the performance partnerships that we have developed we can enable players to measure their physical performance levels in games, test themselves technically and physically and compare their results to the current data that we have on academy players at professional clubs in Europe. Due to the high demand for these services we are now offering this service online – so any player worldwide can have access to it. 

3) Analysis of the gap in performance between you and the academy players in Europe that you are competing against for professional playing opportunities.

It is critical that young players in North America understand these metrics and have a firm understanding on the areas that they must focus on for improvement. We provide very clear graphic illustrations on what these gaps are. Some players can become disillusioned with this data and are reluctant to embrace the challenge of closing this gap. However, we have placed players at professional clubs (in Europe and at MLS academies) and opportunities are there for those who choose to put the work in on a daily and consistent basis.

4) What is the action plan (Individual Learning Plan) to close any performance gaps?

Once the performance gap has been established then an Individual learning plan must be established – which is an action plan on how to improve performance levels. This process should be backed up with additional testing and analysis to track development and ensure that players are on track to attain the high levels of performance that are required.

It has been my experience as a coach that only a very small percentage of players who desire to play at the professional level will follow this process and design an environment that will fully support their goal. The one’s that do will fight through the inevitable struggles and set-backs, they will put in the required work that no one else is willing to do and they will back themselves to overcome the odds.

As a species we are naturally competitive. Our most competitive players will be the one’s who are capable of overcoming the odds and playing at the professional level. These are the players who are constantly challenging themselves competitively to exceed their previous performance levels.

What we have learnt is that young players in North America can B.E.A.T. the odds and play at the professional level, providing they adhere to the following formula:

B.E.A.T = Best+Energy+Accelerate+Tenacity

  • You must fully commitment to being the Best.  Bo Eason in his book “There’s No Plan B for your A-Game” outlined how he as a young athlete wrote up a declaration to play in the NFL at a very young age.  He fully committed his life to this goal, even when every college in the country turned him down. He defied the odds by becoming the 1st player within his local area to play professional sports.  He achieved his goal by making a firm declaration to achieve this and by designing an environment to fully support this.
  • You must ignite what they do with high Energy. What do you see when you watch the game’s top players like Lionel Messi, Christiano Ronaldo, George Best, Diego Maradona, Johan Cruyff and Pele play? You see a deep passion for the game and a relentless energy to keep pushing themselves beyond normal boundaries. 
  • You must Accelerate the learning process with significant hours of deep practice learning. Andres Ericsson outlined the benefits of “deep practice learning” to achieve expert performance in the following research paper. Learn more . The quality of the training process plays a greater influence on skill acquisition than simply the quantity of hours. Young players with 10,000 hours of deep learning practice will be so much further ahead than other young players competing for professional playing opportunities. The young players we profiled who have graduated to playing for professional clubs all trained by themselves at home or with their friends and pushed themselves beyond their comfort zones to accelerate their development.
  • You must be Tenacious to go the distance. Becoming a professional athlete is a marathon, not a sprint. Many young soccer players still believe that they will attend one Player ID camp or train in front of professional coaches for one week and will be selected. They focus more on the Talent Identification process than the Talent Development process! Young players get selected by professional clubs for the 10 years of work that the have put in and on the future player that they might become. Theo Corbeanu was first identified by Wolves in 2012 in Canada and ended up signing for their academy in 2018. Young players must be mentally strong to overcome the inevitable set-backs and positively cope with the struggles (over many years) and be tenacious in never giving up on their dream.

Player Tips: 

Most importantly keep fostering your love of the game! Then, start studying player data from top professional players playing your position to fully understand the performance levels required to play at the professional levels. Next step will to look at the technical and physical performance levels of academy players at professional clubs within your age-group. We can assist with that.

Parent Tips:

Provide support to your child by helping foster a love of the game. The more a young player enjoys the sport – the better they will be at it. Keep your child focused on loving the game and reinforce that practice will make them them better players – there are no short cuts.

Coach Tips:

Encourage your players to take ownership of their development process. Assist them by suggesting a home training program see they can spend attritional time at home learning soccer’s fundamental technical skills.

Performance Tip # 3:The Importance of Self–Motivation in Becoming a Top Player

 

During an interview former Arsenal manager Arsène Wenger outlined the importance of young players learning to be “consistently motivated” in order to play at the highest levels of the game.

In his typically thoughtful style, Wenger defined a motivated person as “someone who has the capacity to recruit the resources to complete a goal.” 

In summary, Wenger believes that when you look at people who are successful they are the ones who are consistently motivated and always willing to made sacrifices to achieve their goals. This mirrors what I have seen during my time in youth soccer.  We have had players join our program at various ages and abilities. The ones that I believe can go on to play at higher levels are the ones who are determined to truly make themselves exceptional players. During training, they simply get on with it. They train like it will be their last session and are constantly on the edge during our technical warm-ups, trying new things and not being content with their current level of skill.

When we play small-sided games and constantly change conditions, they are the players quickly working out how to succeed within the changing environment. They are the players who are capable of playing at a high level themselves but also inspiring and helping other players around them. In football (soccer) your teammates are the best judge of your performance. Despite what parents and even coaches see on the sidelines, teammates are the ones who truly know if you’re making yourself available for passes, making runs off the ball into open space, changing the point of attack based on what the opposition is doing, making tracking runs back to assist the defence and able to produce something a little different when the pressure is on.

Players do not often realize how much coaches learn about players when they observe them off the field. Do you mix well socially, do you carry your own boots and training bag, do you tie your own laces? These behaviours can all be indicators of how self-motivated players are and can give a very good idea of whether or not you are taking full responsibility for your own preparation.  Do you ask questions during training to the coaching staff and can you work things out for yourself, solve problems, and how determined are you to overcome obstacles?

Think of the last time you truly had to work out something by yourself. Maybe your parent could not drive you to training, maybe your internet was down, maybe your bike had a flat tire and you could not reach a parent to help you solve the issue. We’ve likely all been in those situations where we have had to work things out for ourselves and have had no other options. Chances are you probably exceeded your own expectations of yourself and successfully resolved the issue. You probably also felt a surge of pride and confidence in accomplishing that.

That is exactly the type of feeling that young players must be achieving during practice – both with their teams and training individually. If you can’t master a skill, practice it over and over again, making adjustments along the way until you master it. Get in the habit of critiquing your own performances and determining how to do better.

As you get older, this approach becomes more and more important. One of our players  attended a camp at a US university a few years ago, where she learned from the coaching staff that if a parent sends an email to a coach inquiring about the team’s program and showing interest in their daughter being recruited, that player’s name goes to the “bottom of the list” . Many coaches at that level are only interested in dealing with players who take the initiative on their own, and not with potentially intrusive parents.

We have many good technical young players in North America. If you can merge  good technique with consistent motivation as outlined by Wenger, then you will achieve greta things as a player.  Don’y shy away from obstacles, challenges or difficult situations. You will gain confidence by embracing these situations and if you first do not succeed….try and try again! If you shelter yourself from decision-making and responsibility on and off the field, there is a danger that you will be a skillful young players who will struggle later on with the skill-sets that you will need to overcome the inevitable set-backs that elite sport will throw their way.

Learn  to be determined, demanding of yourself  to improve and to be consistent with it. If can achieve that – then you can achieve success at higher levels of play.  

Player Tips:

Seek out opportunities to challenge yourself so you are out of your comfort zone. If a task is easy, add more complexity to it so you have to at your very best (and then some) to achieve success.

Coach Tips:

Coaches can help by giving players the responsibility for warm-up, taking care of equipment and even providing them the responsibility to think up and organize the small-sided game at the end of practice. Involve players more in the decision-making processes so that they can learn to think about solutions independently.

Parent Tips:

Parents can give young players the responsibility of checking on their training times and game schedules and emailing the coach if they cannot make a practice or game. The players can also be given the responsibility  of packing their own equipment and water and carrying their own training bag. Seek ways to develop independent thinking by your child.

Performance Tip # 2: Constantly Strive for Perfection

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dennis Bergkamp is widely regarded as one of the finest and most creative players to play in the English Premiership League.  He joined Arsenal in 1995 and helped the club to win three Premier League titles, four FA Cup trophies, and reach the 2006 UEFA Champions League Final.

With the Netherlands national team, Bergkamp scored 37 goals in 79 appearances and helped his team to two semi-finals of major competitions – the 1998 World Cup and 2000 European Championship. At the individual level, Bergkamp finished third twice in the FIFA World Player of the Year award and was selected by Pelé as one of the FIFA 100 greatest living players.

In 2007, he was inducted into the English Football Hall of Fame, the first and so far, only Dutch player ever to receive such honour. Bergkamp is currently assistant-manager at Ajax (Holland) and has previously worked in the clubs famed youth academy.

So what were some of the attributes that made Bergkamp such a great player and the key attributes in young players that he has identified as a coach?

Constant strive for Perfection

His teammate at Arsenal Robin Van Persie recalled working with Bergkamp as they both worked their way back from injury. He recalled that in a 45 minute technical passing and shooting session Bergkamp did not make one mistake – he did everything one hundred percent, to the maximum of his ability. He shot as hard as possible and his passing and control was decisive and direct.

Enjoy the process of practicing and getting better. As a young child, Bergkamp used to kick a ball against a wall and try new things – the inside of the foot, outside of the foot and laces. He changed the rhythm from fast and slow and made the ball spin. He recalls being fascinated how the ball bounced off the wall and enjoying the mechanics of doing it and the pleasure he got from practicing.

Be unique

When coaching a young Luis Suarez at Ajax, Bergkamp recalled that Suarez was always looking to create something and was always thinking how to gain an edge over his opponents.  At the Ajax academy, Bergkamp saw many good, tidy, technical players but felt, unlike Suarez, they weren’t special, flexible or creative.  His definition of the best players are the ones who adjust to the situation they’re given in the best way.

Demonstrate hunger and desire

By his own admission, Bergkamp was driven. He does not understand why he was but knows that as a player he set himself goals and targets. And once he achieved those he wanted to raise the bar and go further. Once he climbed one mountain (goal/target) he wanted to see the next one. He said that his drive was more based on passion, than ambition and that he always had to do the difficult thing and once that was achieved, then he has to do the next difficult thing. He felt that to not do things that way, would have been a betrayal of his deepest self.

Focus on individual skills versus Tactics

Bergkamp is a firm advocate of not thinking about teams anymore in terms of youth development. Youth development he feels is all about developing individual players and that must be the focus. He feels that teaching young players tactics before the age of 14 makes no sense – it just goes in one ear and out the other. A better approach he feels is to focus on developing young players with great technique, who have good habits. He also feels that the mental aspect must be developed with young players so that they are intelligent and have good values as people.

Player Tips:

Develop a genuine passion for practicing and making yourself better.

Coach Tips:

Focus your work on developing talented individual players, rather than focusing on building teams who will achieve short-term outcome goals such as winning

Parent Tips:

Support and help foster your child’s passion and love of the game. Ensure that they are in a positive learning environment where this will be developed and supported

 

Performance Improvement Tip #1: Improve contact time with the ball

In the future, the best players will be those who can excel in a fast-paced environment. There will be even greater demands on technique, tactical understanding and physical conditioning.  Players today are faster and cover greater distances than previous generations. Passing combinations are faster and there is an increased importance on controlling possession. More goals are scored through quick counter-attacking play and decision-making is of critical importance.

So what are the main technical skills that you as a young player should focus on?

As a young player you should be continually working on your dribbling ability, passing and receiving and how to successfully execute individual skills under the pressure of time, space, and an opponent.

-Dribbling: Take risks! Develop your moves to beat an opponent

-Improve your ability to keep possession. Work on shielding, spin turns and changes of speed and direction to get away from opponents

-Receiving: Work on the ability to receive and have a quality 1st touch – when receiving on the ground and in the air. Receiving using all surfaces should be developed

-Shooting: Proper striking technique from different angles should be worked on and taking shots on the volley and half-volley with both feet

-Passing: Proper technique – Laces, Inside, Outside, Short and Long; Crossing

-Heading: Jumping to head

-Tackling: Proper technique, in balance, no fear.

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

The researchers found it was their skill — not speed, strength, or fitness — that was the most important factor to determine a player’s success. Learn more 

“Higher skill allows players to have a greater impact on the game. Accurate passing and greater ball control are more important for success than high speed, strength and fitness. “It may be obvious to soccer fans and coaches that players like Lionel Messi and Neymar are the best due to their skill.” 

( Professor Robbie Wilson – University of Queensland, Australia)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yet, one of the greatest challenges that many young players face is the lack of contact time with the ball.

Young Brazilian players are spending 12-15 hours a week working on their ball skills and the most talented young players in Europe are training five or six times each week. Consequently, you must adopt the same philosophy towards technical development if you wish to be truly successful in soccer and reach higher levels of play.

Technique is the basis of everything and if you, as a young player,  can see where you have to pass the ball to, but don’t have the technical skill to pass the ball to the correct spot, then recognizing the correct moment is of no value.  Without technique there is no tactical proficiency. Teams and players can have the best tactical planes in place before games but if you as a player cannot keep possession, feel confident in taking players on and beating them in 1v1 situations or passing a ball accurately at the right pace to teammates then you will not succeed.

To ensure that technical skill development is the most important component of my players training I have partnered with two companies who in my opinion provide the best home training programs on the market. We use Top Tekkers for our players in the foundation phase of development (Ages 5-12) and On the Ball for our players in the youth development (Ages 13-16) phase of their development. This allows our players to train every day at home for at least 30 minutes to ensure that they are accelerating their technical skills learning on par  with young players in Brazil and the other top soccer nations.

If you are motivated to improve your performance levels as a young player I would highly recommend that you make technical training a key part of your daily routine. It only takes 30 minutes/day to complete at least 1500+ touches on the ball and this work can be done in small spaces such as your backyard, driveway, basement, living room, garage or basement. 

Tips for Players: Take a ball to the park and work on your skills for 30 minutes each day, rather than spending time on your phone or iPad. If you are not sure what to work on contact us for access to the two training APP’s that we recommend. 

Tips for Coaches: How much of your training activity is spent on ball mastery work? Typically, I spend 30 minutes each session with players working at a high tempo in a chaotic structure which demands close control and recognizing and exploiting space. You can also recommend to your players the home training App’s I have recommended. Any additional technical work being completed at home by your players will allow you as a coach to move your players along the development cycle quicker and lead to improved team performances. 

Tips for Parents: You play the most important role in your child’s development. By being positive and encouraging your child to focus on constantly improving their individual skills and love the game you will be providing them with the key attributes to succeed long term. Get involved and work with your child on helping them master the technical basics of the game. The content provided on the training App’s I recommended will be a great source of content to your children – and you can assist by  being there to support and encourage.

June Home Training Program

 

This has been a very challenging time for both players and coaches. Since mid-March players have been unable to train in group sessions or play in games. However, as I have told our players on multiple occasions we have to all look at this situation as an opportunity.

There has never been another occasion when players have had unlimited time to focus on their own individual development – without the disruption of school or normal life. The players who maximize their training time during this period will be the ones who will have advanced their performance levels in relation to their peers and will be the most successful once team training and playing resumes.

Enclosed below is a detailed home training program that players can follow during the month of June.

Week of  June 1 : Train Now 
 
Week of June 8: Train Now 
 
Week of June 15: Train Now 
 
Week of June 22: Train Now 

Webinar #2: Talent ID & Development of the Individual Player – James Ward, Fleetwood Town

 

On Saturday May 16th we will be hosting the second webinar in our series – Talent ID & Development of the Individual Player. James Ward, Fleetwood Town’s International Partnership will be our guest. You can register for the Webinar here  .

A few weeks ago, James answered some questions below that provides some valuable advice for young players pursuing professional playing opportunities.

1) What is the practical tips and tactics that you would give to young players that are aspiring to play professional football in Europe (within the following areas)?

Technical Development  – I am a huge believer in players developing awareness, touch direction and ball protection. You look at some of the greats in the English game over the past 15 years, Paul Scholes, Joe Cole, Frank Lampard … they where always one step ahead of play, (continues checking shoulders through the game) they knew where and when to take there 1st touch, (away from pressure) and in tight areas they used there body (as slight players) superbly well. Look at how they used there arms and backside to shield and spin away from pressure…. the master’s of all for me where Xavi and Iniesta. They would always asses the scenario before receiving the ball and at times would not even need to touch it to find a path out of pressure. A must for me is to get the 3 key areas above into all sessions for youth / adult players.

Tactical Development – Game understanding and decision making separates the good from the great. The best players are not always those who are technically and physically dominant but those who can solve problems consistently and read the game through all phases. I always use the French Midfielder Claude Makalele as an example. He new his role (break up play and give it to someone who could effect attacking play) superbly and executed it with consistency throughout his career. He was technically limited to those around him however made his skill set the best in the world for that DCM position. Know your strength early and make it a super strength.

Physical Development – The modern day game is becoming quicker, faster, stronger and more explosive… players regardless of stature and body shape must keep up with modern day methods as the game will not slow down. Core strength and explosive power are key for the modern day player

Psychological Development – Player mind set and attitude is crucial to succeed. Again these key traits separate the good from the great. Every player will make a mistake in every session in every game! the great players recover and learn quickly and don’t dwell on the mistake. Empathy and reflection on mistakes is vital for any youth player. Preparing the mind for situations is also crucial… how will you react in the 85th minute and your team is 1-0 down!! Training sessions / SSG need to have these scenarios in them to see how players react to the pressure and to mimic game days. 

2) What other general advice would you like to include?

 Enjoy, work hard, make friends and ask questions.. It is the most wonderful game in the world and can teach so many life skills. To develop a better player, we must first educate and develop the person. Moral fiber, respect and discipline are vital to future success. Some of my best friends have come from playing football and come from all over the globe. 

3) As FIFA rulings prevent international players from signing with professional clubs in Europe until 16 (if they have an EEC passport) or 18 if they don’t what specific advice would you provide to this group of players.

Find a club, coach, group of players that challenge you every day, every session. Study the game and ask questions… you need to be better than what EU clubs already have in there academy systems. Being as good as them is not enough! Get to oversea camps and tournaments.. sample what it is like playing against different cultures, systems and styles of play. Never think your the finished article.. every day is a school day.. a day to get better and push forwards. You must be utterly committed and dedicated and be prepared to make big sacrifices. 

 

 

Apply to join Fleetwood Town International Academy  

Home Training Program for May

 

This has been a very challenging time for both players and coaches. Since mid-March players have been unable to train in group sessions or play in games. However, as I have told our players on multiple occasions we have to all look at this situation as an opportunity.

There has never been another occasion when players have had unlimited time to focus on their own individual development – without the disruption of school or normal life. The players who maximize their training time during this period will be the ones who will have advanced their performance levels in relation to their peers and will be the most successful once team training and playing resumes.

Enclosed below is a detailed home training program that players can follow during the month of May.

Week of  May 4/2020: Train Now 
 
Week of May 11/2020: Train Now 
 
Week of May 18/2020: Train Now 
 
Week of May 25/2020: Train Now 

 

Maximizing training opportunities during physical distancing

 

This has been a very challenging time for both players and coaches. Since mid-March players have been unable to train in group sessions or play in games. However, as I have told our players on multiple occasions we have to all look at this situation as an opportunity.

There has never been another occasion when players have had unlimited time to focus on their own individual development – without the disruption of school or normal life. The players who maximize their training time during this period will be the ones who will have advanced their performance levels in relation to their peers and will be the most successful once team training and playing resumes.

During this timeframe we have supported our players with a detailed weekly training program (on our blog) that incorporates technical, tactical, physical and mental components. This week’s blog content below. It can be accessed directly here

The detailed blog training content is supported with weekly LIVE zoom sessions and the players also post video of their training activities on an APP called CoachNow. The feedback from players has been very positive and a lot of the players are achieving personal bests in their technical work.

 

 

 

 

 

 

See summary video of last week’s zoom session 

I see a lot of players throughout the world posting random videos of themselves doing technical work but how many are following a regular and consistent plan that will develop all 4 pillars of youth development – technical/tactical/physical/mental.

There is a school of thought that we, as coaches, should be encouraging creativity more by facilitating our young players to be creative and come up with their own training activities – like our generation did many years ago.

I fully support that viewpoint but also believe that players can be more creative when given some ideas first – which they can then run with themselves. I am seeing proof of this in the training videos that the players are posting – they are adapting the activities to match the space that they have available and on many occasions adding their own “twist” to things.

Early feedback from parents and players was that they wanted some “structure” to the training activities. Don’t forget that the players (and their families) have had to quickly transition from a very structured school and team environment to an unprecedented lifestyle. To assist with this we have been utilizing another APP called SoccerPulse. This provides the players with a suggested daily time table and also with an opportunity to enter their RPE (Rate of Perceived Exertion) after every workout.

If any players or coaches would like to learn more about how we have kept our players fully engaged during this period of physical distancing I am happy to answer any questions that you may have or help as best I can.

I can be contacted  via Linkedin, Twitter @ianlearnperform or on Instagram ian_mcclurg_learn_perform