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Tour to Holland

As Director of TWAcademy.Org I organised a tour for 25 boys & parents to travel to Holland.  The tour arrangements were organised by my close friend & top Dutch Coach, Bert-Jan (BJ) Heijmans.  The tour brought together a selection of boys from over 6 different boys & Irish League clubs.  The tour offered an opportunity to live the life of a professional during the 4 day training camp.

After a great flight from Belfast International to Schiphol Amsterdam we were met by a luxurious coach & good friend BJ.  We transferred to Den Bosch to our base at the 4* Hotel Vaught.  After checking into our rooms & unpacking we met up for a team meeting.  BJ took the opportunity to welcome everyone & explain in full the weekend ahead.  The squad then enjoyed a meal together before having a stroll to the old town.  The boys then headed to their rooms for a well deserved rest.

Saturday morning the team met for breakfast before transferring to VV Eindhoven, this is a feeder team of PSV Eindhoven.  After a team talk & warm up the boys took to the field for what would turn out to be an excellent performance & very entertaining game.

Eindhoven v TWAcademy.Org, Saturday

The match was played in 3 periods of 25 minutes.  During the first period we had a number of great chances created by some fast flowing football.  Unfortunately Mackie, Stewart & McCrory couldn’t break the deadlock.  Against the run of play, & right before the first break, Eindhoven scored to go 1-0 up.  A very cool finish by the Eindhoven forward.

The second period was very exciting.  Mackie scored probably one of the hardest of his opportunities by finishing well with a volley to make the score 1-1.  More excitement was to follow after a free kick was awarded on the edge of the Eindhoven box.  Ryan McCrory stepped up to score a marvellous free kick into the right hand corner of the goal, 2-1 to TWAcademy!

All the goals seemed to be saved for the final period.  Eindhoven equalised, making the score 2-2.  Soon after Luke Fisher received the ball on the half way line & beat 2 players as if they weren’t there.  He then outsprinted the covering defender before cutting inside & finishing with a lethal right foot finish, 3-2.  TWAcademy then took control with Mikey Crawford taking a well worked goal, 4-2.  The temperature continued to rise & some tired legs started to show.  Although it was the heads to go first, switching off from a corner Eindhoven pulled a goal back.  A number of the Academy players were frustrated & ran to the referee claiming that the corner was taken half way between near post & corner flag.  To their frustration this is allowed in Holland.  Again this shows how they tailor the game to the children in Holland.

With minutes remaining the talented PSV Eindhoven forward finished brilliantly to make the final score 4-4.  What a great performance by the young boys.  The scouts watching were very impressed & will monitor a number of the TWAcademy players.

Philips Stadium

After the game we enjoyed lunch on the executive bus that the Premiership teams use for games.  We transferred to PSV Eindhoven’s ground, The Philips Stadium.  Our tour guide was very friendly, informative & interested in our party.  We got pitch side, taken through the changing rooms, media room & executive seating area.  We walked the corridors that many famous players & managers of the past have done.  This includes the great Sir Bobby Robson & players such as Ruud van Nistelrooy.

Before returning to the hotel we had opportunity to purchase some PSV gear in their shop.

Evening Session

BJ then took the boys for a training session at a fantastic indoor arena owned by our friend Martien Pennings.  Martien is a head scout at PSV & travelled over to Belfast to operate a clinic for coaches for TWSports.Org.

BJ’s session involved all the players & each of them always had a ball.  You can view these sessions on a DVD that will be produced from our trip.  For more information contact me on, 077 4012 0788.

Helmond Sport v TWAcademy.Org, Sunday

After breakfast we transferred to Dutch First Division side, Helmond Sport.  With the first team being away we had the opportunity to play in the first team stadium, a 5000 all seater stadium!  What a great experience for the boys.  The pitch was shortened & smaller goals placed on either 18 yard line.  Again proving why the Dutch are more technically gifted & offer a more child friendly approach.

The game was quite one sided with TWAcademy.Org recording a great 10-1 win.  Although the Dutch counter parts were younger, played some nice football & never gave in.  Again a number of the TWAcademy players attracted interest.

The game finished with everyone hitting a penalty.  In both games our Dutch counterparts offered us all the balls, bibs, cones & water we required for our warm up.  We had showers & changing rooms & a club room for tea & coffee.

Dutch Taste

After the game we went to the local chippy to discover the Dutch equivalent to fish & chips!  Although some of the kids were not fussed on some of the items the parents & coaching team enjoyed it!

We then went for a game of bowls before transferring back to the Philips Stadium to watch PSV Eindhoven v AZ.  After a non eventful first half the second half improved & we cheered PSV on to a 2-1 victory.

After a very busy, but very enjoyable couple of days, we enjoyed a free night in the hotel.  Along with BJ & Danny we carried out player analysis after dinner.  This offered a 1-to-1 informative chat with each player to add to their game & how they can improve on any weaknesses.

PSV Eindhoven First Team Training, Monday

After breakfast we boarded the bus with our luggage sad knowing that it was our last day in Holland.  But to cheer us up BJ had organised another fantastic day!  We arrived at the first team training ground of PSV.  We saw a couple of first team & reserve team players train.  They also took the time to speak with us, sign autographs & pose for photos.

They also had their academy players in for a week of professional training.  2 sessions daily, basically training as a first team player.  It was fascinating to watch.  Kids had the freedom to train & coaches got down to their level & made it fun but always high tempo & use of the ball.

Hans Segers

I think the highlight was meeting ex Wimbledon keeper (aka crazy gang!) Hans Segers.  He is now a goalkeeper coach at PSV & organised a penalty shoot out for the boys against the PSV keeper!

It hit home to everyone – players & parents – to what I have been saying over the past number of years.  In Holland everyone is so approachable & down to earth.  There are no big egos or super stars.  This was our final meeting at PSV at what a way to finish on!

Ajax, Amsterdam ArenA

Before making our way back to the airport we stopped off to enjoy a stadium tour of Ajax at the Amsterdam ArenA.  We also had time to view the historic museum of this great European club.

On our way back to the airport our captains, Luke Fisher & Keegan Rice, presented BJ & our coach driver with gifts & made a speech through the microphone on the coach.  They spoke very well & it was very moving for BJ to have 2 young boys speak so well.

Observations

This was my fourth time in Holland.  So was great to meet up with friends & for so many parents & boys to see my love for the country & philosophy so much.  The boys & parents mixed so well.  It shows the training each week at the Academy really does add to their games along with what they receive outside of that.  In Holland boys of 11 & 12 will train up to 4 times per week.  In Northern Ireland the reality is once weekly, maybe twice.  This is why children attending the TWAcademy don’t only benefit from another session but the quality coaching & opportunities they receive really does add to their game.

Another massive difference is that the Dutch continue to work with players & always keeping them at a level that suits.  While Premiership clubs (& youth teams in NI) replace up to 50% of their players it is no surprise long term development is not available & more & more players are leaving the game.

The DVD features BJ’s analysis on this & what he thinks about TWAcademy.  If you want to hear more & watch more sign up to our Facebook page & You Tube channel.

This experience will live with us all.  We have made a video show casing what we do along with footage from our tour.  Watch our video review by clicking this link!

Future

The boys will continue to train with myself on a weekly basis.  Some also have booked & continue to avail of my 1-on-1 coaching.  We will return to Holland.  We also have an invite from Portugal.  Short term we will look at taking the boys over to visit BJ in Durham & play his side as well as Sunderland or Newcastle.

We also hope to organise player & coach exchange between TWAcademy & in Holland.  Many of our players attracted interest.  So if you would like to find out more about getting your child involved simply contact me now, 077 4012 0788 or by email.

Thanks

TWAcademy.Org would like to thank our sponsors; Absolute Marketing, Grounded Espresso Bars & Kaizen Print.  We extend our thanks to all the children & parents for their support.  Finally we thank all the clubs & people in Holland that welcomed us along with BJ who put together one magical experience!

Braga Club Visit

As coaches you can never stop learning in this game.  I feel it is essential to travel and exchange ideas on club visits.  More importantly we need to share our experiences as coaches.  Personally I don’t think we do this enough.  Coaching can be a very lonely job.  I love the European way of talking about football and coaching over a coffee or beer after sessions and games.  In the UK we don’t seem to do the same, unless we get paid for it!

During November I travelled to Braga, Portugal.  It was another great experience viewing a top European Club that is competing in the UEFA Champions League.  I would like to express my thanks for the kind invite & hospitality from Hugo and SC Braga.

Here is my report, enjoy!…

Braga

The northern city is the third biggest in Portugal, although it still keeps its charm and feel of a village.  The architecture of the buildings and Se Cathedral were beautiful.  The views over the city from the Bom Jesus do Monte was breath-taking.

We found the people to be very friendly.  The food was of a very high standard and very reasonable to eat out.  The Portuguese don’t do a quick sandwich but eat a large meal at lunch time as well as evening.  It is a very social thing to meet friends and family at lunch.  We enjoyed eating fresh bread and a great main course before finishing with coffee.  It was great to eat at leisure and talk about football.

SC Braga

Sporting Clube de Braga is commonly known as Sporting de Braga or simply Braga.  They play at the AXA Stadium which is also known as ‘The Quarry’ or the ‘Tool Box’.  This is due to the design where the stadium is built inside a Quarry with cables attaching the 2 main stands.  The ground was built for UEFA Euro 2004.

Braga had been known as Arsenal do Minho and changed their kits from green and white hoops to their Arsenal style red in 1935.  This is due to their coach, Jozsef Szabo, visiting and watching Arsenal at the old Highbury ground.

The emblem of Sporting de Braga is the city of Braga’s shield with Mother Mary and baby Jesus.  On the top of the emblem is the golden Mural Crown of Braga, with the name Sporting Clube de Braga on it.  Many fans of Braga have said that Mother Mary gives them luck.  The fans of Braga are known as Arsenalistas due to their team home kit that resembles that of English club Arsenal.

After finishing runners up in the Portuguese league during season 2009 / 2010 they qualified for the knock stages of the Champions League. They defeated Celtic and Sevilla to qualify for the group stages of the Champions League for the very first time.

Youth Set Up

Braga provides teams from 7 / 8 year olds and above.  The younger section of the Academy will train 3 times per week along with a match.  They concentrate heavily on ball mastery and 1 v 1 duels on defence and attack.

Players also receive homework so they really develop and are confident using both feet.  Braga will work closely with a number of other local clubs.  They play in a number of tournaments so they are playing against the best.

They will play small sided games on smaller pitches and with a smaller ball at the young age.  On the day we arrived into Portugal we got to watch their U13′s.  At this stage they play 11 v 11 on a full size pitch.  I suppose one of the problems is with the local leagues that they are forced to play in.  Some opposition are very poor.  Braga eased to a 19-0 victory on the day.

As the players get older they will start to train more.  The U19′s for example are in every day.  They also have players from all over the world.  The nationalities in the squad asides from Portuguese include; German, Greek, Brazilian along with a number of players on trial from Africa.

The U19′s train at the old Braga stadium which is a great facility.  The Spain National team used this as their base during Euro 2004.  They also play their home games here.  An athletic club also operate out of the same base.  During the week that we were in Braga there had been a lot of rain so the training was transferred to 2 full size 3G pitches that are at the same location.  They are Council run but a great facility to fall back on.

All the players training clothing is ready on their arrival in a basket set out in the changing room with their name on it.  They change before reporting to the pitch.  Each day we watched we were always greeted with a smile and hand shake.  I also found it nice that all the players always shake hands when they meet including players and children from different age groups.

1-on-1 Coaching

Another important role for Hugo Vicente as the Technical Director is to work with players 1-on-1 or in a small group.  He’ll concentrate on ball mastery, using both feet and a number of games and sessions that relate to the position they play.

This is something crucial to the overall development in each individual player’s game.  The players I personally work with 1-on-1 have found the benefits that it has added to their game and overall development.  You can find out more by following this link or watching video 1 or video 2.

Champions League

What a treat to watch a live game in this wonderful stadium.  Made even better that it was Arsenal in the Champions League!  To be a stone’s throw from the players during the warm up and to be part of the crowd was something else.

With the teams lined up, the Champions League music blasted out and all the home support held up Braga posters to really create a special atmosphere.  I got goose bumps; I knew something special was going to happen!

To see players like Theo Walcott, Denilson, Jack Wilshere, Rosicky, Bendtner and the great Cesc Fabregas in the flesh was a treat.  Although I must admit, Arsenal was very disappointing on the night.  Braga over all deserved their win and Nascimento Matheus scored two great goals – especially his second.

What a result from Braga, especially after being defeated 6-0 away to Arsenal earlier in the group.  I was surprised that it was not a sell out but those that came went home happy…apart from the travelling Arsenal supporters!  The Porto Manager also watched the game behind us.

Review

The hospitality that was shown to me and my colleague Daniel is hard to express in words.  Hugo, the club and the players were so welcoming.  SC Braga is such a family, friendly club.  Every staff member and player – from the young age of 7 – welcomed us with a smile and a hand shake.  This created such a positive experience as everyone was so approachable.  Especially in a day and age where at some clubs people and players feel they are above the normal person.

I also found all the youth players very confident and polite.  This is very much a European way but something I like to instil in my own children and kids I work with.  Manners and confidence cost nothing but create a lasting experience.

This experience will last with me and I will always have a real fondness and interest in SC Braga.  Watch our video review by clicking this link!

Prevention better than cure

I watched Sky Sports with interest today on their report about sport in school.  The Government have said they will cut £162 million from school sports…although surely prevention is better than cure?  The money that will be cut from sport will end up being spent on treatment and health clinics to try and cure preventable illnesses in children later in life.  In a day and age that the Government recommend children receive at least an hour activity per day they cut funding in sport!

My own award winning community programme has received plenty of interest but unfortunately not all Council’s welcome it. More pressure will be on independent, skilled coaches but what support & recognition do they receive?  I travelled to Holland last year and listened to a very interesting presentation by the Mayor of Oss.  I compare how the Dutch Council’s compare to our Council’s in Northern Ireland…

Oss is a city with 9 villages and small towns.  With 77,000 inhabitants & 125 nationalities, the Council insures plenty of activity for all.  The facilities on offer and sporting opportunities on offer is too much to mention in this report.  Although one fact which I will mention is that they spend €256 million (£233m) on sports funding each year.  On average they will spend €69 (£63) per person per year on sport!

How refreshing to see a Council wanting to provide for the community and work with sporting business’, sports clubs and organisations.

The Dutch Council was shocked that my local Council, the capital of Northern Ireland, Belfast, does not promote my sports development programme.  I have touched on the subject before but Belfast City Council and a number of ‘our’ Councils will not support private run organisations – even my own award winning business.

Even if I do manage to get past the bookings officer and they accept a booking from me, in one of Belfast’s 11 Leisure Centres, they will charge £100 per 45 minute slot per week.  Yes you did read that right…..£100 per week!  If that is not enough to hinder me thinking about starting a programme for children that will develop their football skills along with their social skills and improve their health they charge a further £2 per child attending!

So for me to take a group of 20 children I would have to pay Belfast City Council £140 per week.  Or, if you like, £840 per 6 week term.  That would result in charging each child £7 per 45 minute class!  But how do I pay my coaches, insurance, equipment, petrol & support my family?  Well I would have to charge more!

Honestly, drug dealers get more freedom to operate in Belfast than my youth development programme that is open to all.  This country will never change; it will always remain a culture of, ‘who you know’ and ‘who you are’.  Although the lack of support and hatred I receive from Councils and Sports ‘Development’ officers is a compliment.  They are jealous of a successful programme that is run by a talented group of coaches – its competition!

I can’t find any information on what Belfast City Council spends on sport and leisure.  Although some interesting and confirmed facts that I found on their website (Belfast City Council) and from the Belfast Telegraph include the following;

  • 11 Leisure Centres operated by Belfast City Council.
  • £41 million loss in last 5 years, despite more than £50 million of rate payer’s money invested.
  • Not one Leisure Centre made profit or came close to breaking even.
  • Between 2002-2007 £53 million of public money was put into keeping the 11 facilities open.

Belfast City Council also claims the following;

  • Giving young people a sound start in sport.
  • Encouraging and supporting good relations.
  • Promoting physical activity and leisure.

Personally I can’t agree with any of the statements above.  They will argue back that I’m a business & I’m out to make money?  Well of course I need to make money; I have a family including 3 children to support!  Maybe Belfast City Council want higher poverty rates throughout the province.  Maybe they just want private ventures like my own to help recoup the millions that they are throwing away through poor management.

I could offer a long list of benefits what TWSports.Org offers through their inclusive and innovative products that are open to all.  That introduces toddlers from the age of 2 to sport.  Educating the importance of a healthy lifestyle; children and parents mixing socially; giving children more responsibility & freedom to be creative and develop their technical skills – oh, and developing young coaches and offering employment in the middle of a recession.  But that sounds too good to be true.

I am realistic that my programme is successful due to the hard work that my staff and I put in but more importantly the continued support we receive from parents, children, schools and other Councils and organisations in Northern Ireland.

As you can see from my headline; Northern Ireland are getting stuffed by a well managed country like Holland but there is a late surge of activity from Northern Ireland.  The fight back is on with the following starring…

  • Standard of health in general is lower than the UK average.
  • Numbers dying from heart disease in Northern Ireland are amongst the highest in Europe.

So two great facts to finish on over Holland…where did I gain this information?  Well, that again would be from the Belfast City Council website!  So those that are reading this report in Northern Ireland, maybe you should think twice about what our Politian’s are really doing.  Is this the way you want our children brought up?

I would love to hear what you think, please add your comments by clicking on the comment feed at the top of my story!

Barca – Total Football

Last Mondays El Classico was so one sided it was embarrassing.  Jose Mourinho and his multimillion ego driven squad simply didn’t deserve to be on the same pitch as the slick Barca side.  4 years ago I had the pleasure of spending a week with FC Barcelona and I learnt back then the importance that they put into developing youth (you can read my report by clicking here).  So how many players came through the Academy that represented Barca on Monday?  What is the organisation and structure to their Academy and how does this affect their approach to games?  Read on…

My philosophy and coaching is all about developing young players that play with creativity and flair.  I encourage them to run at opponents and beat them with skill.  I also concentrate heavily on possession games.  I always use Barca as a great example of a team full of players that play with freedom, creativity and flair but at the same time are very disciplined.  When you watch Barcelona you will see triangles all over the pitch.  The player on the ball always has options.  They are such an exciting team to watch.

Against Real Madrid every player knew each other’s game.  It wasn’t a simple case of Barca having the best players in the world.  Every player instinctively knew where every other player was on the pitch at all times.  Out of Barcelona’s 14 players involved against Real Madrid only 4 where not developed through the Academy (Abidal, Alves, Keita and David Villa).  This compared to Real Madrid only producing Casillas with the remainder being assembled to the tune of nearly $500 million!

While Real and a host of other top European Clubs spend millions on players hoping to buy success Barca continue to develop their own home-grown players.  Messi, Iniesta and Xavi all came through the Barca Academy and cost nothing.  Barcelona’s youth Academy, which in Spanish goes by the name of ‘La Cantera’, meaning the quarry.

Other players to come through the Academy include Cesc Fabregas, who Arsenal took away at the age of 16,  Mikel Arteta from Everton and Liverpool goalkeeper Pepe Reina.  Barca manager, Pep Guardiola, also came through the Academy.  In his first season as manager he helped Barcelona win every competition they competed in, 6 in all, including the Spanish League title, World Club Cup and the Champions League against Manchester United.

Against United in the Champions League final, 7 of Barca’s starting line up were all produced from the Academy.  Goalkeeper Valdes, defenders Puyol and Pique, midfielders Busquets, Xavi, Iniesta and forward Messi.

When I visited Barcelona I loved the fact that the training complex was beside the Camp Nou.  The club has a boarding house that accommodates the older boys from the Academy.  Boys from the age of 13 or 14 that live outside the city are housed here so they don’t have to worry about travelling to and from training.  Typically they will train for 6-8 hours per week along with playing a game.  The club insures they also develop their lifestyle and attitudes along with their football education, preaching the importance of healthy eating and early nights.

The boys live, sleep and eat together.  Each morning they are bussed to the best local schools.  Barcelona stresses the importance of finishing their education to the boys.  They return at 2pm for lunch and siesta, with training early evening.  They do their homework in a library with access to private tutors and have a games room with table football, pool and PlayStations.

The boys have 3 objectives when playing matches.  First, they must be the more sporting team, committing fewer fouls and being less aggressive.  Then they must try to win by playing very well, more creatively than the opposition, with attacking football.  Finally they need to win on the scoreboard.

Reina and Arteta were great friends at the Academy.  Although Arteta suffered from homesickness and cried himself to sleep many times.  Iniesta also had problems with homesickness after moving from central Spain to Barcelona at the age of 12.   Saying goodbye to his parents at the end of each weekend would become a mini-drama.  Although Iniesta only had to look out and see the Camp Nou to remind himself of his goal to play there.

Messi arrived at Barcelona from Argentina with his family at the age of 12.  He had a growth deformity and no club in Argentina would pay for the drugs he needed to treat it.  It is no surprise that Barcelona took on Messi unlike in England, where size, strength and the ability to throw your weight around is highly prized.

The model of Barcelona is that 50% of their team should be from the Academy, 35% should be the best players from Spain or Europe and then 15% from the top ten players in the world.  Although the Barcelona Academy is so successful it is also producing players who are among the top ten in the world.

The Academy has 12 boys’ teams.  In the Academy each squad has 2 coaches and there are 23 or 24 players in each group.  At least half of the coaches have a UEFA Pro licence.  The club provides the budget, around 6 million Euros per year, and is fully responsible for the academy facilities and training programme.

The qualities that Barcelona look for in a young player is pace, technique and someone who looks like a player.  The speed of decision-making, the way he approaches the game, the vision to pick off a long pass – in other words, the mental qualities to go with the technical ability.  The emphasis is on speed.  When this speed is combined with top-quality technique, then they believe they have the ingredients.

From the age of 7 to 15 everything is about working with the football at the Barcelona Academy.  With the very small boys, the most important thing is to control the ball very well, to have the ability to run with the ball and to think very quickly and execute their passes very well.  They use the same playing system as the first team, so all the youth teams play 4-3-3 formation.  The development teams have to play attacking, attractive football.  Barcelona believe if they do everything well, the winning comes as a consequence.

They also like to keep an open mind and expose players to different playing roles as part of their education.  They work intensely on the individual skill, but also on group play, including each line of the team.  They train the Barca way which involves fast movement of the ball, player mobility, use of width, and a lot of fast, effective finishing.  They watch the passing movements of the first team as they provide the role model of the youth teams.

Another factor which helps continue the development of young players is that Barcelona have a ‘B’ team.  They play in the lower Spanish League. This helps the club continue to develop young players between the ages of 18 and 21 in a controlled environment.  In England the FA prevent Premier League clubs from having feeder teams in other domestic leagues.

The Barcelona model is based on a number of people providing specialist skills and all working in the same direction, with the same objective: to prepare players for the first team.

Based on last Mondays El Classico, the people behind Barcelona’s youth Academy are certainly working in the same direction.

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