What I do differently at Ian McClurg Learn Perform Coaching  

During the last few months I have transitioned away from operating  academy teams programs to focusing exclusively on individual player development.

I am asked often what I do differently in my coaching. It is a question that I often reflect on as I continue to evolve my coaching practice. It is important to me that I retain the same core values as when I launched 1v1 Soccer, back in 2000.

The Beginning…Everything Starts Somewhere

1v1 Soccer was started back in 2000, because I felt that there were not enough young players in Ontario receiving quality coaching. A small pool of players were chosen to train in the provincial programs and in reality, the program could only caterer to a small number of players within a convenient drive time of the training centre at Vaughan. I aimed to help change that and I do think that 1v1 Soccer and subsequently SAAC did successfully contribute to some of the eventual changes that have taken place in Ontario with respect to youth development. There are many more training opportunities now available to young Canadian players.

The Top 5 Things that define what I do  :

  • The player is placed at the central point of learning! My focus always remains on the technical, tactical, physical and mental development of the individual player. Every child that enters our program is expected to leave our 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.
  • Ian McClurg Learn Perform is an individual skills development company that places emphasis on development of the individual. We emphasize individual creativity and game intelligence of our individual players over regimented team structures and team results
  • We aim to provide young Canadian players with similar soccer training experiences to other young players in Europe. Our training model is European academy based
  • have a long-term vision with respect to developing young players. It does take 10,000 hours to develop an elite athlete and I try to attract young players and families who recognize and are committed to this long-term approach. Not all our players will strive to play the game at the elite level but we do want to provide them with the skills to enjoy the game more at the level they wish to play at.
  • We provide multiple pathways! Our role is to develop and move along our players to higher levels of play and to assist them in their “soccer journey”. This can include helping to place players overseas at professional academies, develop players for MLS academy programs or provincial and national team play. We also prepare players for develop the skills required to excel at US college and Canadian university programs. 

My Coaching Philosophy

Success for me as a coach is to develop young players who can play the game with skill, creativity, vision and passion and help them to transition to higher levels of play. It is also important that the players that I work with develop good life skills and become good people who are humble, take responsibility for themselves and demonstrate respect for themselves, their colleagues and their family. 

My coaching philosophy towards development is based in inspiring young players to be the best that they can be. This can best be achieved when we remember that football (soccer) is a game. It is not about wins and losses. It is about teaching young players to be open to learning, having the courage to try new things and challenging themselves to becoming better and to find new solutions.  

I accomplish this by maximizing contact on the ball and teaching the players how to make their own decisions through small-sided games. 

I have strong beliefs on the type of training and the environment required to accomplish these goals. It is important for me to have autonomy over the type of coaching work I do and to continually challenge myself to improve both as a coach and person in the work that I do.

Join our Masters Program and get Placed in Europe

Like most young boys growing up in Northern Ireland I always wanted to be a professional footballer. By age 14, I was playing in our clubs youth team on Saturday mornings and playing for the mens team in the afternoon. If I wasn’t training or playing I was out playing on the street with my mates or practicing alone. My mother still jokes to this day that there are no family photographs of me without a ball!

THERE ARE OVER 400 CANADIAN PLAYERS PLAYING OVERSEAS – BE ONE OF THEM!  

Our family moved to Canada when I was 17 but still I kept my dream alive of playing professionally one day. The practicing paid off and in 1985 I travelled back to England to train with Swindon Town. At the time they were managed by former Scottish international player Lou McCari. He was tremendous with me and I went right into training with the first team on day one. Unfortunately, life does not always turn out the way you intend it and after 10 days my dream to play professionally was over. I tore ligaments in my ankle but worse news was to follow . My injuries during the previous 3 years were as a result of a back injury that I had sustained as a teenager. My body would be unable to withstand the physical demands of professional football.

Since then I have been passionate during my coaching career to help ensure that young players in Canada can pursue the same dream that I had. I am very proud to have contributed along the way to helping some players play internationally for their country, being identified by professional clubs in Europe, playing for their province and pursuing US Scholarship opportunities

In 2019, I will be placing 30 players in training and playing opportunities at professional clubs in UK, Italy, Portugal, Germany and Spain. I have the capacity to train another 30 players for these types of opportunities by following a proven model of development:

STEP 1: Identification: Assessment and benchmarking of players based on European Academy Standards

STEP 2: Intensive 3 month training program

STEP 3: Training/ Assessment in Europe and placement for players at professional academies (based on levels of ability)

Contact me today and move your soccer dream one step closer to reality!

Yours in Soccer,

Ian McClurg
UEFA A Licensed Coach & Wolves North American Scout
289-239-9602

The benefits of creativity and letting young players solve problems

When I started my own coaching business in 2000, my main aim — one I haven’t changed, by the way — was to provide young players in North America with training and learning experiences similar to leading soccer nations.

During that time we have studied training models in the UK, Brazil, Spain, Holland, Germany and Italy. My main metric has always been how many players we have successfully prepared to move to higher levels of play and the goal remains to have some of our players signed by our partner club, Wolves FC in England or other professional clubs in Europe or North America.

A few years ago, I came across an article online by Gary Allen, of the Virginia Youth Soccer Association, outlining what he believes is the “stifling” of development for players in North America. Allen talked about many of the challenges that we have identified as impediments to young players in North America developing to world class levels:

1) Fast-tracking players to “play up” age-groups

2) Asking players to limit development to playing in specific roles using skills they are already strong at

3) Placing players too early in competitive environments where they cannot take risks

4) ID decisions being made at young ages to exclude the majority of players

Allen argued that by placing young players in competitive environments too early we are identifying players as young as 8 based on a perceived set of skills based on the “now.” The problem with this approach is two-fold. A lot of other players are then excluded from that early age from the best development and coaching opportunities. This is similar to what Malcolm Gladwell outlined in his number-one best seller Outliers-The Story of Success.

Gladwell argued that in youth sports players born in the early part of the year are typically selected ahead of other players born later in the year due to their earlier maturation of development (for example, the difference between two children, both technically “age 9” but one born in January and one in September, can be huge) and that this separation at an early age means that only a small number (the ones born in January, February or March) received access to the best training programs, with longer hours and the best instructors.

Allen outlines that the second problem with this approach is that if players are selected at age 8 because they are faster and stronger than the other players, then they will be expected to keep developing and using these attributes only, at the expense of developing other parts of their game. When promotion and relegation issues are at stage in youth sports or ensuring that teams are accepted into the top leagues, the individual player’s joy and passion for the game soon takes a back (and in many cases a permanent ) seat to the overall goals of the team.

I have mentioned elsewhere the opposition many players and parents put up when coaches ask players in North America to play different positions or consider playing within an age-group which may be a year younger. This can be a problem even when the players are enjoying greater success by improving learning or their overall confidence. It is not “conventional” and therefore not easily embraced.

As Allen points out our culture in North America does not allow the “failure” required to learn at any age or stage — immediate success must always be achieved. Remember, the traditional competitive team system in North America has not, as Allen argued, helped produce even one truly world class player in 30 plus years, amongst a population of about 300 million, if you combine the US and Canada.

So what are the solutions?

First of all players must be taught the joy and passion of the game. A coach in BC named Rick Gruneau sent me an email 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.” (Note: I will be travelling to the RCD Espanyol academy with some players in a few weeks and look forward to observing their academy program first-hand)

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 soccer 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.

Success is the prize for those who stand true to their ideas

We all have our own take on what defines success. The title quote by motivational expert Josh S. Hinds is a favourite one of mine as reminds me of the importance of being true to yourself. When you coach any sport, you will be challenged. You will be challenged by your players, by their parents, by your fellow coaches and if you work for an organization, your employers.

What many don’t realize though, is that the best coaches around challenge themselves the most. They will relive situations in their minds, replay them over and over in their heads and question themselves on a daily basis. Coaching is about leading and facilitating performance improvements. So, it is only natural that the best coaches constantly expect improvements from themselves. The trick is to do your analysis, decide if there was a better decision to be made, learn from that…. and then move on.

When I entered coaching, I made myself a promise: I was going to make my own decisions, stand or fall based on what I felt was right and stay true to my principles and what I believed in. I had a vision on how I felt football should be played and have stayed true to several core values. I’m proud to say that I’ve kept that promise. Of course, I have made many mistakes in my coaching career but I have never made a decision that I didn’t want to make at the time.

It is important for me to keep that level of integrity in my work. It can be a lonely existence because even your closest coaching colleagues do not always agree. However, I have always wanted strong coaches around me as my type of personality requires me to talk things through before I reach important decisions. I listen to those I trust, gather opinion then make my own decisions. If the going gets tough and criticism arrives I stay the course. I make the best decision to the best of my ability at the time.

Standing true to your ideas can be a liability, however, if as a coach you do not continue to learn, evolve your thinking and refine your ideas. If you do not continue to test your ideas with the changing demands of the profession, then the game will pass you by and you will be making misinformed and incorrect decisions. An example would be my own ideas on teaching defending. As a coach I love the idea and the organization required to teach players how to work as a defensive unit. I’m one of those coaches who loves watching attacking football but can marvel at Jose Mourinho and his Inter Milan team going to the Nou Camp a few years ago and preventing Barcelona from scoring. I have run many defending sessions at coaching courses and enjoyed the challenge.

I remember being quite surprised that the legendary developmental coach Dario Gradi did not spend any time at Crewe Alexandra in England in teaching defending. At the time I did not quite understand it. Later I began to appreciate this more when I began teaching younger players as I felt that with limited time it was more important to spend time on basic ball skills, as a priority.

In the last few years my thinking has evolved a little more. I think that the art of defending is less important in the modern game. Instead it has been replaced by pressing and forcing opponents into mistakes to win the ball back. Now, I do incorporate this type of work in my training sessions. I feel young players should be taught how to close space quickly and work together to win the ball back. The work I do in this area is not like I was taught 10 years ago in my coaching courses! At that time we broke defending down to the finer details of speed of approach, angle of approach, body stance etc. Now, I keep our instructions quite simple. Get close to the ball quickly, and force the player with the ball towards crowded situations where they will be challenged to keep possession.

To the outsider it may seem that my philosophy has changed, given how I have made this switch in how I work on defending. However, in my own mind, I see my role as preparing our players to the best of my ability to succeed within the modern game. If the requirements on the top players are changing then in my opinion the training of our young players needs to adapt also. If we have a clearer understanding that what separates good players from great players is the ability to receive the ball, and then maintain possession and initiate attack even when marked tightly then we need as coaches to spend a greater amount of time developing these skills at the youth levels.

I read a great story about David Moyes. Apparently, Moyes, the former manager of English clubs Manchester United and Everton had noticed during the 2012-13 season an increasing trend for all the top teams in European to play more through the midfield area. He viewed the midfield as an increasingly important component for teams and realized that managers were using more innovative formations and tactics within this area.

The part of the story that I really liked is that he then met with Jim Fleming, head of coaching development at the Scottish Football Association and suggested some changes to the coaching courses for the next generation of coaches to reflect these changes. This was from a coach who was 10 days away from landing arguably one of the largest coaching jobs in the world (managing Manchester United.) I know Jim Fleming from when I took my UEFA B license course in Scotland. He was such a knowledgeable and passionate educator back then and it delights me to know that he like the rest of us he still strives every day to get better.

We all have to keep studying the game, evolve our thinking — but at the same time, stay true to our core values. I still want my players to focus on their technical skills and play attacking football with flair. However, I do want them to win the ball back quicker now so we can attack again. I’ve placed more requirements and responsibility on them. My ideas are the same and I remain true to playing attacking football. However, how we achieve that, and the methods we use in training on how to achieve get there that continues to evolve.

I tell coaches that I work with that I coach much differently this year than I did last year and I will coach differently next year. You must keep adding to you knowledge and the methods that you use to deliver your messages. What should not change is staying true to your ideas and how you feel the game should be played. For that you will achieve success. The prize may not come in the form of a big trophy, you may not become richer in a monetary sense, and you may not even get a pat on the back. The prize will be much larger than that – you know that you are continuing to do the right thing to the best of your ability.

Train with FC Porto Staff Coaches for FREE in Burlington

A big thank you to you all for the last few months as I have launched Ian McClurg Learn Perform Coaching !
I have really enjoyed working with all the players and elevating their game to higher levels. September represents a milestone in my coaching career as I will be leaving day to day academy operations and focusing 100 % on supporting players who wish to play at higher levels with a new range of technical, tactical, psychological and physical training programs.

 

I will be consulting and assisting UK Based Pro Football Academy www.pro-footballacademy.com launch their new academy in Ontario but my main focus will be to develop more players for National and Provincial team programs, MLS academies, the new CPL league and for academy opportunities overseas.

 

To help launch my new programs I am offering ALL players who attend the FC Porto Player ID Camp on August 31-September 3rd FREE UNLIMITED TRAINING IN SEPTEMBER ! 

 

 

 

The cost of the FC Porto camp ($165 US) is less than my current pricing for unlimited training ($220+HST) so even if you just attend 1 day of the FC Porto camp -who will still be saving on training!

 * Note: ALL players will train in the 1:30-3:30pm time slot each day as we have added a second FC Porto staff coach to the camp.
 

In terms of the fall programs, I will be adding the latest research from my Masters Studies in Performance Coaching (including benchmark performance data) to expand my technical work and add in more specific tactical analysis and greater development of physical & mental attributes so players are more capable of playing at the highest levels. In terms of schedules, my current schedule will remain “as is” in September but move to the following for October – December:

Tuesday: 7-8pm Haber School, Burlington
Wednesday: 6-7pm Lada Tennis School, Ancaster
Thursday 7-9pm (Technical & Speed class at SST, Burlington)
Saturday 1-2 pm Lada Tennis School, Ancaster
Sunday 1-2 pm Lada Tennis School, Ancaster
* Our Masters program will be totally revamped and I will be making announcements on that shortly.
** We are in planning stages of offering a session once/week closer to the Toronto area
Looking forward to working with all and reaching higher levels of performance! To borrow some words from Cristiano Ronaldo….

 

“ I am not a perfectionist, but I like to feel that things are done well. More important, than that, I feel an endless need to learn, to improve, to evolve in order to feel satisfied with myself. It is my conviction that there are no limits to learning, and that it can never stop, no mater what our age” 
Ian

Time and patience are essential ingredients in youth development

This article was first published in 2013, after the release of my book ‘Play the 1v1 Way!’ It is still as valid as ever.

Let’s face it: soccer at all levels is obsessed with short-term
results. The history of the game has provided us with several different ways to play. Fans have seen Herbert Chapman’s Arsenal side of the 1930’s (with its classic “W M” Formation), the total football played by Ajax in the 1970s, the Milan pressing game in the late-1980s and now the Barcelona tiki-taka style of play that we have been fortunate to enjoy during the last few years.

But Barca’s success especially has been the result of rejecting short-term gains in favour of long-term development. The reality is that the “seeds” for the current Barcelona philosophy and style of play were planted 25 years ago by Johan Cruyff.

 A recent article by Paul Grech called Exporting the Barca method argued that the real secret of Barcelona’s recent success has been time. I would have to agree with Paul Grech that for lasting player development success, the hard part is not changing or putting in place a new way of doing things but giving those changes and the system time to mature. An entire club must breath and move in the same way.

Enrigue Duran Diaz has spent a decade absorbing the Barcelona philosophy and is currently trying to plant the seed of that distinctive playing style at the South African club Mamelodi Sundown. He argues that for a system like Barcelona’s to be copied then everyone involved must believe in it both in terms of the on-field game, and the core values that surround a club. He also argues that setting up the structure takes time and requires many seasons, which may be contested without success as measured by standings and goals. It is his belief that the Barca model cannot be successful if others are looking to copy it simply to achieve short-term results.

In my coaching work I have aimed to establish a new philosophy and one that challenges the current norm in Canada for elite soccer development. Our players are encouraged to play across multiple age-groups, play different positions and challenge themselves to get outside their comfort zone to master technical, tactical, physical and psychological strategies that are new to North American players. We know this will take time but we are willing to sacrifice the short-term results in our weekend games to develop better players and people who can go on to achieve their soccer goals and be successful in life. We demand respect for our staff, the game officials, the opposition and in the way our players interact with each other. The rules and spirit of the game must be upheld and the parents must be appreciated for giving up so much to support their children.

We encourage our players to do the best they can be at school, and to be good people away from the field. We want to play attractive football, keep possession as a starting point and take the attacking initiative to our opponents. We want to encourage our players to take opponents on, try things and to be comfortable with failing. When we lose the ball we want to win it back quickly so we can attack again. (At Barca, players are challenged to win the ball back within 6 seconds of losing possession!)

We want our players to be comfortable on the ball technically, to be capable of making good decisions on the field, to work together and help each other both on and off the field and to learn at each practice and at each game. We want to allow our players to make mistakes, take responsibility for errors, work on learning from these errors and be open to seeking and taking advice to improve. As our philosophy is different, we come across many problems every day that hinder our progress and what we are trying to do. Change can be difficult and the short-term and immediate results focus within football (soccer) will always add significant pressure. We understand that!

However, through education and patience our players and their families are finding the ability to change their mind-sets for the benefit of the players we train. And we ask that those players and families trust us when we ask them in turn to do things they might find challenging like playing at an unfamiliar position, or playing in an age group not their own.

The bottom line is that, like Enrique Duran Diaz, I am challenged by focusing only on the things that I have direct responsibility for. The short-term set-backs and frustrations have to be set-aside so that we can successfully continue along our pathway of developing better and better players and more and more of them.

Time and patience are the essential ingredients along the way.

FC Porto Academy – Trip Observations

On March 9th eight players from the 1v1 Soccer FC Masters program learn more travelled to Portugal to train at the FC Porto youth academy. The objective of the trip was to provide our young players with the opportunity to train at one of Europe’s top youth academies.

By travelling to Europe, or young players are immersed in the culture of a leading football (soccer) nation. They are able to train with some of Europe’s top coaches, assess their own abilities by training alongside European academy players and receive feedback on performance improvements.

FC Porto’s playing philosophy is highlighted by retaining possession through playing the ball on the ground and using rapid sequences of short passes to create goal scoring opportunities. The club have dedicated staff at the academy to specifically focus on technical development and out players benefited from daily morning sessions that were focused on individual player technical development. In the evenings the players joined in FC Porto academy players in a series of small-sided game activities, designed to improve decision-making and game understanding.

 

 

Our players were praised for their dedication to improving and their physical attributes. The areas to improve upon are consistent with feedback we have received from other European academies. North American players need to improve their technical ability. They also need to understand the game better and not always be impatient to play forward all the time.

FC Porto – Club Background

FC Porto was founded on 28 September 1893. It is one of the top three clubs in Portugal – alongside Lisbon-based rivals Benfica and Sporting CP. They are nicknamed Dragões (Dragons), for the mythical creature atop the club’s crest, and Azuis e brancos (Blue-and-whites), for the shirt colours. Since 2003, Porto have played their home matches at the Estádio do Dragão, which replaced the previous 52-year-old ground, the Estádio das Antas.

Porto is the second most successful Portuguese team, with a total of 74 official trophies. This includes 27 league titles and they are the only team in Portuguese league history to have won two titles without losing a game – the 2010–11 and 2012–13 seasons.

At the international level, Porto have won seven trophies – the European Cup/UEFA Champions League in 1987 and 2004, the UEFA Cup/Europa League in 2003 and 2011, the UEFA Super Cup in 1987, and the Intercontinental Cup in 1987 and 2004. FC Porto is the only Portuguese club to have won the UEFA Cup/Europa League, the UEFA Super Cup and the Intercontinental Cup, and to have achieved a continental treble of domestic league, domestic cup and European titles (2002–03 and 2010–11). Together with Barcelona and Real Madrid, Porto have the most appearances in the UEFA Champions League group stage (21).

FC Porto Youth Academy

FC Porto is recognized for having one of the top youth academies in Europe. The club has invested in renovating their former stadium, the Campo da Constituição, into a brand new training centre dedicated to their youth academy. The stadium, which served as home to FC Porto from 1913 to 1952 was converted in 2008 to a training complex – named the “Vitalis Park”. This youth centre serves as anchor for the club’s project “Dragon Force”, a youth development project based on football schools and trials for children aged from 4 to 14 years old. It is designed to help produce players for the first team, by exposing young players to the club identity, developing the players playing ability and developing life skills.

The ultra-modern Vitalis Park consequently also comprises a synthetic turf 11-a-side pitch and a covered synthetic 7-a-side pitch, both of FIFA 2 star rank for football turf fields. This provides their young players with a playing surface that offers safe and predictable conditions for player development. This helps optimize the players’ tactical and technical skills development, so that they can come up with better solutions to every game-related situation. It also helps facilitate more complete and creative players, who are trained to produce a very technical style of football.

Observations of our 1st Visit to Wolves in 2012

Background: 1v1 Soccer FC’s Partnership with Wolves FC Academy

In March 2012, 1v1 Soccer FC entered a partnership agreement with Wolves FC academy. Wolves FC have successfully attained the highest level of Academy status in the UK (Category 1) and share this distinction with only 19 other professional clubs in England. Their Academy has successfully developed world-class players such as Robbie Keane (transferred for total fees of $150 million) and current Manchester City and England international Joleon Lescott.

A greater percentage of their 1st team players every year are being developed within their own academy system. Currently, 25 % of their young players within their U18 and U21 academy teams have received 1st team opportunities and the goal is to increase this to 40 %.

Wolves Are you NextThe Wolves North American Academy partnership program has been established to develop development programs in North America that can share Wolves FC coaching methodology and provides opportunities for our young soccer players in Canada to fully realize their potential. This is achieved by following the “Wolves Way” player development model and providing our players with training experiences similar to the young players in England. This training includes technical, tactical, coordination, speed and physiological training preparation.

Academy staff coaches from Wolves FC travel to Canada on an annual basis to evaluate and provide feedback to the players on their progress towards a possible career in professional soccer. In July, 2012, 16 of our players were identified by Wolves FC academy staff at an ID camp in Ancaster and invited to attend additional training at the Wolves FC academy in England in spring 2013.

1v1 Soccer FC is the first organization in Canada to secure this type of relationship with Wolves FC and this represents a clear pathway for both our male and female players to play soccer at the professional level.

Trip Observations to Wolves FC – November 2012
Training GroundIn late November we were invited to visit the Wolves FC academy to observe training, learn more about their development model and view the facilities that the selected 1v1 Soccer FC players will be training at during their academy experience trip in spring 2013.
Our trip confirmed that Wolves FC are operating one of the most successful academies in the UK. The recent changes to the academy system at the professional clubs has dramatically increased the contact time with the players. This training is all supported by comprehensive education, sports science and performance analysis resources so that players achieve optimal performance and achieve a balanced lifestyle.
We were fortunate in being able to observe the training preparation of players from U7 all the way up to the 1st team. Their academy is operated out of one facility which means that the 1st team and academy players use the same facility on a daily basis. This provides the young academy players with direct access to professional players as role models. It also creates a very distinctive and consistent training and development culture at the club based on their philosophy.

Wolves FC – Academy Vision and Strategy

Wolves academy playerYouth development in professional football (soccer) in England is extremely competitive and includes 12,067 players. There are 40 professional club academies and 51 centres of Excellence, which is a scaled down version of a full academy model. Professional clubs typically start to identify and train young players as young as U7 age-group but cannot sign them until they are U9 (aged 8). Between the ages of U7-U9, several players will train at multiple clubs and then make final decisions on which club academy to attend at U9.

The main objective of professional club academies in England is to deliver an environment that promotes excellence, nurtures talent and systematically converts this talent into professional players capable of playing 1st team football.

Wolves FC consider themselves as a Premiership club, even though they suffered relegation to the second highest league (Football League Championship) at the end of last season. Traditionally, they have been one of the top club’s in England and are a founding member of the football league. They were formed in 1877 and have won the First Division Championship (Forerunner of Premiership) 3 times, the FA Cup 4 times and the League Cup 3 times. Therefore, their aim at the academy level is to develop young players capable of playing at the Premiership Level, rather than the Football League.

The club opened the Sir Jack Hayward Training Ground, which we attended, in 2005. It cost £4.6 million and features five high-quality under-soil heated training pitches, eleven changing rooms, a fully equipped gymnasium, and a hydrotherapy pool -one of only a handful of English clubs to own such equipment. The training ground’s medical and physiotherapy facilities made it the first (and so far only) British sports club to establish a fully accredited professional sports laboratory, based on AC Milan’s Milanello model

New training centreIn July 2011, plans were announced for a redevelopment of the Compton Park area, situated in the green belt, where the training ground is currently located that will enable Wolves to build a new indoor pitch and improve facilities to create a ‘Category 1? Premier League football academy.

The £50 million project involves the football club, the University of Wolverhampton , St. Edmund’s Catholi School, the Archdiocese of Birmingham and Redrow. the construction company founded by Wolves owner Steve Morgan. The club is making significant investment in it’s youth academy and the goal is to develop technically excellent players who are tactically astute, independent decision-makers and fully equipped for a successful career as a professional footballer.

They also aim to develop educationally rounded people through a holistic approach. It is commonly acknowledged that to become top professional footballer, young players must be capable of learning quickly and making quick and correct decisions. Clubs such as Wolves FC are placing a great emphasis on the academic education of the player and have a full-time staff member solely responsible for the academy player’s education development. They have also developed close working relationships with two schools directly opposite their training ground.

Summary

To achieve success at the academy levels, Wolves FC, like the other category 1 clubs such as Manchester City, Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester United seek to implement the following characteristics within their Elite and Multi-Disciplinary Training Environment:

  • An elite environment where players have the necessary time and space to develop
  • An environment where all aspects of the program are challenging, developmental (not based on winning until later ages 16+) and inspirational
  • The program is supported by outstanding coaches at every phase of the performance pathway
  • The coaching program is supported by education, sports science and medicine and a playing games opportunities (30 max/year)
  • A multi-disciplinary approach that successfully develops all four aspects of talent development: Technical/Tactical, Physical, Psychological and Social
  • The development of educationally rounded graduates who are independent thinkers, both on and off the field.
  • An environment that consistently produces professional players at the appropriate levels of the game for each club’s academy status, for Wolves FC this means players that are equipped to be successful at the English Premiership level

This story ran in 2011, we continue to place talented players overseas 

You’ve probably never heard of the Cape Verde Islands. No surprise. It’s a largely unknown tiny cluster of islands just off the west coast of Africa which is home to barely half a million people.

Canada’s soccer-playing population is five times that. Yet with all those players and all our resources, we remain buried on FIFA’s world rankings, 80th overall, just ahead of places like Mali, Benin and Jordan. And yes, behind Cape Verde.

Ian McClurg would love see this change. All of it.

The new assistant coach with the junior team for Toronto FC’s elite soccer academy says there’s no reason Canada has to continue languishing in mediocrity or worse. Which is why he thinks some recent changes in the way the game is overseen will pay big dividends down the road. Maybe rather quickly.

If you are a young soccer star in this country, getting spotted at a young age has long been a crapshoot at best. You’ll need luck and probably some connections to be discovered. By the time a talented kid is identified as such, he may have lost a number of years of prime instructional and development time which puts him way behind players from other countries that are finding their top prospects early – age seven or eight in some European countries – and giving them the resources to become elite.

Further, few Canadian kids dream of a career in the pro game because they have no idea how to achieve such a thing. Hockey has a clearly defined hierarchy and path unlike soccer whose ladder remains a mystery to most.

“I believe firmly Canada hasn’t maximized (its talent),” the Ancaster resident says.

Hence our terrible international record in men’s competition over the past few decades. Throwing young men into games against opponents who have had top training since they were boys usually isn’t a fair fight.

McClurg knows a little about being on the other side. Growing up in Belfast until his family came to Canada in 1981, he was raised in a soccer culture. He later earned a tryout with a British team but he says he always felt he had a coach’s mindset more than that of a player.

“I definitely challenged coaches when I played,” he chuckles. “I would ask questions about why we would play in a certain way.”

He simply couldn’t figure out why some things were done the way they were. Still doesn’t. When he drives around town and sees practices going on, he occasionally finds his blood pressure rising as he watches drills he believes are rather unhelpful.

Coaching allowed him to fix that. With the kids he instructs, anyway. He ran a provincial team for a few years and for the past decade has run a soccer school that stresses building technique and skills ahead of winning games. Last fall, he was asked to help with TFC’s academy.

The idea behind the program is to scour the country for top kids, bring them to Toronto and train them effectively. Get kids as young as 14 and start getting them ready not only for a career in the pros but also to take on the rest of the world. McClurg, who recently got his top-level coaching licence in Europe, explains the kids don’t pay to come, so economics don’t weed out some of the best talent.

“This is the first time in my lifetime a young player in Canada can see a pathway to the pros,” he says.

Already it’s bringing some results. Canada’s Under-17 men’s team just qualified for that age group’s World Cup with 14 of the players on the roster coming from Toronto FC or the Vancouver Whitecaps’ academies. Last year, the Montreal Impact started its own academy, suggesting the number of elite players could continue to grow.

Further, McClurg says with Vancouver joining the MLS – the top level of professional soccer in the country – this year and Montreal in 2012, there will be more pro jobs for Canadians which will also help develop talent.

So, with all this effort being made to shore up the foundation of the sport here, is there really a possibility Canada could get back to the World Cup one of these years for the first time since 1986? McClurg doesn’t hesitate.

“Oh definitely,” he says. “Maybe not this time, but the one after.”

Maybe climb the FIFA rankings past the Verde Islands, too.

sradley@thespec.com

905-526-2440