Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Pieter Legein - U9s coach, Club Brugge

“The kids have to remain kids”

“As a coach it is great to see how these boys progress in just 1 season. Kids in this age group are not arrogant, they have a lot of respect for their surroundings and their coach. A lot of times the coach is their role model and they are willing to do anything for him. Extra motivation is therefore not needed, they are naturally motivated. As a coach I think it is especially important that that the U9s are the first age category that can actually play (in 8v8), compared to the age categories below them.“

The motivation these kids possess makes it possible to teach them technique in great detail. Technique is the most important aspect within this age category. Legein believes that the U9s should spend most of their time working on passing, receiving and individual moves. “The accent is on passing with the inside of the foot, receiving, finishing on goal, executing moves, daring to take the initiative and lots of small sided games. They have to learn how to pass correctly, with the correct ball speed and with both feet. Along with passing you also coach receiving. Within the individual moves we have specified 8 fake moves, which are also applied during the small sided games. We have had an artificial grass field for about 2 years, which has it’s advantages during technical training. It also doesn’t strain these young kids as much with bad weather (heavy fields). So whenever the weather is bad these young kids get first choice to use this field. Another advantage is the fact that the execution speed is faster on artificial grass. We therefore train at least once a week on this surface.”

“In order to be recruited by Club Brugge you need to possess good basic technique, meaning good passing and shooting skills and good ball control. The players have to (positively) stand out at their original club. It is hard to predict the future of an 8-9 year old as it is dependant on so many different factors. What is their home situation? How will they react to puberty? How will their physical development evolve? I can go on and on. We are able to see whether a U9 player’s is technically strong and if so that will be an advantage for the remainder of his career. The same thing applies to tactics. Regarding the physical possibilities, this is heavily dependant on their physical development and growth. If a normal development occurs a fast player will never become the slowest and vice versa. Speed is also therefore an important selection criteria.”

Practice week
“On Tuesday we have an optional practice, which means it is not mandatory. This practice mainly consists of small sided games. Regardless of the fact that it is not mandatory generally speaking all players show up. To me this means they are having fun. Wednesdays and Fridays are regular practices consisting of various technical and tactical aspects. Sundays is game day for the U9s. All practices are about 80 minutes.” The strains on kids of this age is relatively high, Legein tries to take this into consideration in his activities and expectations.

The pressure on kids who are playing at a professional organization is usually pretty high. Club Brugge tries to prevent this by not placing too much expectation on this age group. “We ask for a good game preparation: rest well and eat well. We don’t want to place additional pressures on these kids. The kids have to remain kids. We therefore opt to play games during practices on a regular basis. Joking around is also allowed, although we do expect full concentration during practices and games. When it is obvious to us at the end of the season that a kid will not be able to continue his career at our club, we try to tell him that he needs to find a new club in a child friendly way (although this is never easy). We try to make it clear throughout the season and find a new club for him in conjunction with his parents.”

“The parents of a young player has a big influence on his success. They can take care of the ‘right’ mentality, rest, good nutrition, being there when the child needs them (for example after a bad game) and especially making sure they do not put additional pressure on the player. The combination with school is not as easy as it seems in some cases. A player who lives 50 kilometers from the stadium, has to be picked up from school and dropped off by his parents or in some cases grandparents. He has to quickly eat something, because practice starts at 18:00 hour and finishes at 19:20 hour. He will then leave the stadium at around 19:45 hour and will not get home until 20:15 or 20:30. And then it’s straight to bed. So you may ask: when does he do his homework? Good planning can tackle these problems and besides we do not practice every day. Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays are practice days. So whenever a player has a lot of schoolwork we take this into consideration. If a player shows poor effort at school he will immediately be called in for a chat with the staff in order to change his attitude and if necessary practice schedule. School results are forwarded to the club and we have someone on our staff in charge of keeping track of the player’s progression in school.”

“I do not get the impression that these players are growing up faster than their peers. After the game or practice they are just like other kids their age. They do however need a certain discipline in order to progress. We therefore make good agreements from the beginning and it rarely happens that a player doesn’t commit to these. Good agreements ensure that the coach rarely has to raise his voice.” This way Legein tries to make sure the players are having fun as well. “I believe as a coach we must distance ourselves once in a while in order to gain respect.”

“I try to give a positive input to my players, by not constantly pointing out their mistakes. When they make a good move or give a good pass I will (often over) positively comment on this. Other players will also see and hear this and are in turn motivated to achieve the same positive input from me. On the other side when they do not perform (in practice or a game) I sometimes have to raise my voice and wake them up a bit. However, I always try to keep the fun element alive. This is also relevant when we do exercises as well, I do this by including lots of variations, lots of small sided games and lots of game elements.”

“At Club Brugge the guidance of young players is a priority. We mandate them to get checked-up by the club doctor twice a year to undertake several sport medical tests. We want to make sure they are healthy and do not have any hidden injuries. Furthermore we believe the quality of our coaching staff is very important. We only hire coaches with a recognized coaching license and with sufficient experience. We also try to organize events or activities which provide the players with fun elements. For example, the U8s, U9s and U10s take turns escorting the first team players onto the field at home games. Obviously this is an unforgettable experience for these young players to enter the field with 27.000 fans in the stadium.”

“In order to retain the attention of these young players, I always try to stimulate them positively in the execution of the exercise. Motivated players have a greater attention span. Furthermore I look for variation in the exercises and try not to do the same exercise three times in one month. Another good way to keep them motivated is to make a competition out of the exercise. For example, which group can finish 10 correct passes in a row the quickest? Or which group can score 10 goals first?” So stimulating the players and retaining the wanted level of attention are very closely related. This is often underestimated by coaches. It is important to place yourself in their shoes, especially with the youngest youth. Peter Legein realizes that it is tough to play at this level in a youth team, so fun is an absolute must.

Michael Dober - Hertha BSC Berlin U11 coach

“No goal kicks in Germany”

“In the Hertha BSC Berlin youth academy all U11 players must be able to play in all positions, in defense, midfield and in attack. This way they will automatically learn all aspects of soccer. This also means we do not bother with tactics at this age group. We do give them tips once in a while,but overall they have to discover it for themselves, simply by doing.”

Complex exercises
“We try to educate players in the broader sense of the word, which is why we
train with complex exercises. We call them complex exercises, because they
cover every aspect of soccer. The following elements always have to be in every exercise: passing, receiving, running with the ball, fake moves and shooting on goal. All these elements have to be a in every exercise. You can also have 2 players across from each other shooting the ball back and forth, and they will also learn from that approach, but it is very boring and the players will be less motivated to execute it correctly (and therefore also to learn). Having fun is a huge part of the training sessions, but you have to make sure there are always enough repetitions.”

No goal kicks
“We, under no circumstance, want to play ‘kick and rush’ soccer. We want to build up from the back. Not just with the U11s, but throughout the entire academy. A lot of districts have already reinforced this rule in Germany. The goalkeeper is not allowed to kick the ball across the halfway line whenever he has it in his hands. This way they are forced to pass it to a teammate who is close and will build up from the back.”

Over the ground
“With the U11s we prefer to play in a 3:1:2:1 formation, so that we play with 2 diamonds in midfield. Whenever the goalkeeper has the ball, one of the defender always has to be available to receive the ball. If need be a forward can also come to the ball. Whatever happens you have to build up from the back and are not allowed to kick the ball long.
At Hertha we have an extra rule that the goalkeeper must always pass the ball along the ground. From there on we try to play combination soccer with fast short passes to get the ball to the strikers.”

“During matches and training sessions I always pay close attention to the techniques that are being used. Aspects such as passing the ball correctly, receiving the ball, etc. I also pay attention to the movement to the ball and movement off the ball. Furthermore players should never pass the ball from a standing position, they should always be moving. Even when shooting on goal.
They have to react within seconds, so the handling speed should be high.Whenever something goes wrong I interrupt the game, because every player on the team should be able to act faster and more efficient. At the end of the season a coach has to be able to say ‘he improved in this aspect, he reached that goal and he made steps in that area’ about every single player. The next coach taking over the team will then know what they can and cannot do. I also ensure that they execute every exercise with the will to win. I believe that is important.”

“In the past endurance was probably the most important aspect in German training sessions. This has changed. The players spend enough time running during training sessions, so I don’t bother with additional conditioning exercises. The German mentality has changed from educating powerful and enduring players to educating creative players.”

Mental guidance
“I do not coach mentally. Although I probably shouldn’t say never, indirectly you are doing it. Whenever a player has problems in school or at home you have to help them, but we don’t do it separately. You are also trying to prepare the boys for inter national youth tournaments, where we play teams like Inter Milan, Arsenal and Ajax. These are all big teams and my boys look up to them. A club like Hertha may be known in Germany, but it does not have the international fame like some of these clubs.”

“I told my boys not to look up to the bigger international teams, but simply play them like they play against Bayer Lever - kusen or Borussia Dortmund. They know these teams and therefore also know they can beat them. When they play at home, you see real competition, but at these tournaments it is new and they have to play against foreign teams. In their mind this plays a role, which was apparent in a game we played again Inter Milan. We were trailing 2-0 after 30 seconds. Afterwards they realized they could have won, but they were nervous. Eventually we were the only team to beat the tournament champions Everton and we also beat Ajax 5-1.”

“After the tournament I asked the players what they learned from the experience. They all said that they learned that they were able to compete against the bigger international teams. That those teams aren’t much better than they are and that we were able to play good soccer, with a solid build up and organization against these teams.”

Little tactics
“Like I said before we don’t really spend a lot of time on tactics and I don’t bother with complex tactical talks. We want to play combination soccer, with good passes and we want to play forward and I try to make this clear with as little words as possible. Less is more. They don’t hear it anyways, they just want to play soccer and I allow them to do that. We want players to show their qualities. Of course we explain to them that they have to play structured in defense and that they shouldn’t execute fake moves or actions (in the red zone), but rather do that in the attack. We also motivate them to do it in the opponents half. During a match I try to coach in a composed manner and stay positive. For example tell them to receive the ball, or when a player is dribbling towards the opponents goal and is not sure whether to shoot, I will them him ‘go ahead shoot, try it’. He shouldn’t pass the ball in those situations, but simply go for it.”

Bristol City Academy - U9 The Way Forward

Sleeping Giant
Bristol is one of the largest cities in the UK. In recent years there has been a splendid regeneration of the city with vast new shopping centres and the old docks being transformed into a thriving area full of restaurants, bars, cinemas and clubs. However the fortunes of the two football clubs have not kept pace with these exciting developments and other than a brief flirtation with the top flight some two decades ago the city, based in the south west of the country, has always been seen as a bit of a football backwater. There are signs that all this could change with Bristol City currently leading the second division, two divisions below the Premiership, however their city rivals, Bristol Rovers are currently languishing in the bottom half of the Nationwide 3rd division. It is a great credit to the clubs Academy system that no less than six of the current first team squad were once U9s at the club. This could be the key to the clubs future in what are financially difficult times.

The club set targets for the U9s so that when they reach the U11s age group they are expected to be at a certain development level. The coaches then put their own coaching programs together to help the children reach these targets. The coaching program for the 9-11 age groups should focus on developing techniques and applying it in small-sided-games and achieving the following age related targets.

By the age of 11 a boy should:
Understand the importance of a disciplined approach to training which includes:
- Arriving on time for every session
- Properly dressed and equipped
- Enthusiastic attitude- Willing to practice between sessions

2. Be able to perform basic individual moves and be able to control the ball in the air.

4. Be able to receive the ball comfortably across the body.

5. Be able to play 2 touch football in tight situations.

6. Be able to execute the wall pass (give and go) and cross over.

7. Be able to dribble and run with the ball in 1 v 1 situations.

8. Be able to defend in 1 v 1 situations.

9. Understand how to keep possession which includes:
- Spreading out as a team.
- Support early in front of and behind the ball
- Pass quickly
- Use moves where necessary

10. Be able to select when to pass back, pass forward and between players.

11. Be prepared to run unselfishly to support the man on the ball.

12. Be able to complete a lap of Ashton Gate (Bristol City stadium) in 72 seconds or less.


At the end of the season each player is evaluated by the coaches and given the following ratings: excellent, very good, fair, average, poor, needs special attention.

The evaluation is then broken down into individual sections:

Training session
It is quickly evident that the three coaches understand the needs of the young children they are coaching and are very much on their level. The atmosphere is friendly but professional and the children are clearly enjoying themselves. Frank Jacobs, Ian Tincknell and Ian Rossiter begin to put the players through their paces. Everything is done with the ball and the players pair off with a ball each. As one would expect with children of this age, there are the usual Coerver ball familiarity exercises such as toe taps, ball dancing and step-overs.Frank Jacobs explains the reason why they do everything in pairs is that it encourages the boys to look at each other while they are practicing their ball exercises as this brings their head up. Frank is very keen that children learn good habits at the start and continually encourages the players during the small-sided games to “get their head up”. During the winter months when the evenings are dark the U9s, 10s and 11s train indoors on three tennis courts. This is by no means easy with 20 children on each court and does limit the coaches in what they can do. There is a lot of 1 v 1 exercises where children have to beat their opponent and run the ball over the line for a goal as well as with no goals where one player has to keep possession by keeping the ball away from his partner by turning, looking up and making sure his body is always between the ball and the opponent. The players then work on their turns and moves such as the Cruyff turn and the step over move. The children are encouraged to express themselves and repeat with both left and right feet. The sessions normally end with 3v3 or 4v4 games. Tonight they play 3 games of 3v3 line soccer with the emphasis on getting their heads up and opening the body up to receive a pass. The children are encouraged to practice the moves they learn at home; indeed it is essential for them to do the extra work if they are to develop any further in the Academy program. The children I saw were very bright and extremely keen to further their skills in their own time.

Bristol City is a club with a future and with players that represent a good cross section of the local community. The next few years will see if the sleeping giant will awake and play on a bigger stage that the size of the city should warrant. There are certainly some good strong foundations that the club can build on thanks to the efforts of a dedicated bunch of individuals such as Frank, Roger and the two Ian’s.