11 Feb Catalan Elite Football US Visit
Catalan Elite Football Director writes a blog below, on his experience in the US.
We arrived in the USA with an open mind. Our trip would entail 3 weeks of travelling from New York to Boston, on to Texas, San Diego and finishing off in Utah. Our main objective was to educate ourselves in the U.S system both on the west and east coast, gaining a more definitive understanding of the structures involved at all levels from MLS to college scholarship programs to the grassroots game. We are always focussed on helping in any way we can, taking any opportunities possible to pass on the knowledge and experience we have from working with professional level players and clubs around Europe.
We made various contacts both before and when we arrived, with some great help from knowledgeable people involved within the sporting field at all levels. It was to be a new experience from a coaching point of view, we looked forward to learning about the coaching methodologies adapted in the various States and always most importantly for us, how the work is being implemented on the pitch with the players.
Within this article I will be very open and honest with my opinions on what we observed. I would like to highlight that these are just my opinions, built on what we experienced from our short time in the U.S.
Our first stop was New York. We had three interesting days meeting a top US soccer agent who represents various high profile players and coaches in the MLS. Unfortunately within our time in New York we didn’t get time to see any grassroots training sessions, but we gained a greater understanding of the background into how recreational soccer clubs vary from travel teams and the different levels within the game.
Boston was our first hands on experience working with teams and players and meeting people involved in the game at grass roots level. I would like to highlight at this point that my perspective is always based around the soccer development of players from a holistic point of view, no matter what level they play at. The structure, the culture of the coaches, the attitude, application and personality of the players are the main points I consider!! I have always believed that if you are extremely passionate about sport, music, art, writing then that passion will carry through in what you deliver. Ultimately it is not what you do it is how you do it, and even more importantly why and how you do it.
I will explain some background here into the way we work with the players. Our philosophy and training methodology is based around the Catalan style of coaching, which has seen Barcelona dominate world club football for the last ten years producing a constant conveyer belt of players. We also study the work we experienced in premier league clubs. Our focus is always based around developing intelligent players emphasising the decision making process within our practices. We focus on “open practices” whereby the players have to constantly find solutions to problems which are directly related to game situations, but broken down into small group practices. We try to teach the players the real game, not situations whereby players play in straight lines, with no pressure and very structured rules, or just technical practices. These technical areas do have a place in the training session, but we spend a very limited time working on these practices. We believe that teaching the players about the individual tactics from the earliest age, will improve their soccer related intelligence and give them a greater game understanding. For example we are very attentive in delivering work around the areas of; Awareness to find space, body position, creating passing channels, working in small units together, individual transitions, as well as the technical and cognitive elements of the game. This is what we believe in and is the bases of our work. We believe in it for two reasons. One the reaction we have gotten from the players along the player pathway and two our success producing professional players. Many of the young players we worked with over the last number of years are now playing with professional Premier League and championship clubs.
Our coaches are trained with the understanding that Soccer is an education. Within any training session, we are merely there to facilitate the players in their learning, and guide them in finding solutions to the problems. We do not direct or dictate to the players, we would hope that the players can find solutions to the problems which arise in training sessions and in turn in match day situations.
We start our training sessions using the following process:
- Explain the topic for the session to the players.
- Show them the session in animation on the IPAD.
- Ask some questions based around the topic and look for feedback/general understanding of what the player’s objectives are in the session.
- Demonstrate and then let them play.
On our first night of arriving myself and Marc (our professional coach from Barcelona) took a team each for training. I had u15 boys and Marc, the u 13 girls. The first thing that struck me was the level of facilities. This is something which is plausible in Boston. The training had four full sized new Astro turf fields, all fully flood lit. After our introduction with the players we began the session in our normal way.
We found the player’s application to the session to be very good, they were attentive and wanted to impress. As the sessions progressed the players struggled to take the individual tactics and relate them to small group practices. When we give the players breaks we like to ask them open ended questions; “what are the main problems we are having in the session” or “how do you think we could get more success in a particular area”. The players struggled in these areas, but this is normal for players working in our concepts for the first time. It was an enjoyable first experience and we were looking to working with players from many different clubs around the area over the next few days in our player I.D. camp.
The player ID camp in Boston saw a number of boys and girls attending ranging from ages 8 to 17. As part of the project we wanted to give a player the opportunity to train in our partners International Academy in Salou (just outside Barcelona) for one week. This academy has players from all around the world in attendance, with the players living a life as full time soccer players. They train 3 times a day most days during the week with Pro Licence Catalan coaches, an exciting opportunity for any young soccer player. Currently there are 3 youth players from the US on a full season program (Connecticut, Kentucky & Nevada)
Once the camp kicked off we got straight into the work. The focus from a learning perspective was to give the players a snapshot over 2 days into the basic foundations of our coaching concepts, with the hope of players leaving more insightful, intelligent and stimulated, always with a high level of enjoyment. The players again showed a great willingness to learn and had a great application towards the work, this is something that was common throughout the whole trip, a trait which is very important in players, but also must coincide with an element of personality, and interaction between the players.
From a coaching and learning point of view, we felt that their Individual and small group practices where areas in which they struggled. Individually, their physical capacity and level of athleticism was high, but their game intelligence and individual tactics was not at a level which we felt it could be. I will speak a little more in the article as to the reasons in which we feel the players lack in these areas, as this became a common trend throughout all the states we worked in. The player ID camp wrapped up with us having a positive experience with the players and from the feedback they gave us they left with a greater understanding of their individual roles within the game.