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Typical Schedule of an U13 European Player

I travelled to SC Braga, Portugal during April.  This was my second visit to the Europa League Finalists; you can see my first report by clicking here.  2 of my coaching team travelled with me to visit my good friend & Youth Director, Hugo Vicente.  Braga this season have created a lot of headlines by beating a number of British teams in the Champions League including Celtic, Arsenal & then Liverpool in the Europa League.  They then beat Benfica in the semi final to set up a final against Porto in this year’s final at the Aviva Stadium, Dublin.  The final takes place this evening & I’ll be there to cheer them on!

We flew from Dublin into Porto.  We had time to explore this beautiful city & walk around Porto’s Stadium.  This was the first time I had been in the city (apart from commuting through to Braga.)  Porto is situated in Northern Portugal & is a busy industrial & commercial centre.

The weather was terrific, 30 degrees +.  On arrival we jumped into a taxi to head to the stadium.  Finding that not many locals spoke English I had to use my Portuguese which involves talking louder, slower & in a European accent.  After demonstrating my silky football skills with the imaginary ball we were soon on our way.

Porto had just been crowned Portuguese champions.  Although on arrival at the stadium we were disappointed to learn that they only operate tours from Thursday – Sunday with games also affecting the tours.  We arrived on a Wednesday so made do with walking around the outside of the ground & looking in…& a quick visit to the supporters shop.

Hugo, who was conducting a morning training session, suggested we went to the cafe bars at Ribeira (pictured.)  Well want an adventure.  The taxi driver couldn’t understand us & must have simply taken us to his brother’s cafe lol.  Although it was a lovely cafe & we grabbed a few cold Super Bocks (the local beer) for only €1…we soon seen the funny side of being nowhere near Ribeira!  After a few fun conversations, a number of stops in bars to keep hydrated we arrived at Ribeira to meet Hugo.

It was great to see Hugo again.  He is a modern coach, loves to learn & share ideas & has a hunger to succeed.  To enjoy his company over some of the best tasting food & drink was unreal.  After lunch we had a walk around Porto with the multilingual Hugo – he speaks 6 or 7 different languages!

Typical Portugal

The city is quite varied in terms of its architecture.  We seen many old, beautiful buildings sat next to modern new buildings.  Porto’s geography is hard on the feet, but pleasant to the eye.   The city is extremely hilly, with many buildings built into a cliff face that overlooks the river.

I’m not one for heights or water.  So met with the challenge of walking across the cast iron bridge, which is at least 100ft above the river, & being able to see right through was not an easy challenge!  I tried to walk further away from the edge but also had trams to contend with coming on the other side of me!

We had fun climbing down the stairs (cut into the stone running up and down the cliff face) after a few Super Bocks!  Across the river, in the suburb of Gaia, are located the warehouses of notable companies dealing with Port Wine, such as Cálem, Fonseca, Sandemans, Kopke, and others.  This is where we sat facing eating lunch.

I couldn’t help take a photo of the beautiful alley way in Porto.  The colour of the buildings with light shining through was a piece of art…far from the alley ways of Belfast.

The locals regard themselves as being the economic heart of the nation.  As their saying goes, ‘Porto works, Braga Prays, Coimbra studies, & Lisbon gets the money.’

Well our next port of call was Braga.  After a previous visit the above statement I wouldn’t disagree with.  There must be a church on every street corner!

SC Braga Youth

My previous report details more about Braga & the club.  The focus for this report was an interesting meal we shared with one of the U13 Braga players.  Pedro is one of the few boys that lives away from his family & is based at the club.  Normally boys at this age group reside in Braga (or nearby, i.e. no more than 50 kms or 1 hour travel) & commute to training with parents.

Pedro, U13 Braga

A typical day for Pedro starts at 7.30am.  Wake up call, shower & breakfast.  The club will then send a car or club bus to take Pedro to school at 8am.  Lessons will start at 8.30am & continue through to lunch at 12pm.  Pedro will then head to a restaurant before returning to school at 1.30pm.

In Portugal they have extended lunches but school can finish later.  On this particular day lessons didn’t finish to 6.30pm.  He then travelled back for an evening training session with Braga U13′s at 7.45pm.  The session was shorter on the night we were there, it lasted one hour.  Pedro then showered, changed & head for a meal at 9pm.  Club officials would insure the young players are accompanied to restaurants.

Pedro arrived home to start homework at 10pm before bed time at 11pm.

I must stress that this schedule is variable.  Some day’s school finishes at 4pm & home work can be completed then.  On other days lessons will start later so Pedro can have a longer rest.

Personally I was surprised at the long days.  Pedro admitted on this particular day he was feeling tired but I was impressed at the same time how the club monitor their young players.

All players greet each other, coaches & visitors with a hand shake

Schedule

The club will always arrange transport for players that are away from home.  This includes too & from school, training & meals.  At meals they will always insure, especially the younger players that they eat with a club official or the U19′s.

Although Pedro lives away from his family & misses them he simply told us he adapts.  He lives in an apartment owned by the club with 3 other boys & looked after by a ‘Nanny’.  The adult will look after the boys.  Generally the boys will partner up & share a room each.  He will see his family generally every weekend.  If he has a game on the Saturday his father will come along to watch the game.  After the match Pedro will travel home with his father & return on Monday morning.

The club try to send all the children to the same school so they can adapt a schedule to suit their training sessions.  They eat together so that the club can control what they eat & when they eat.  The players will generally eat red meat on Monday & Tuesday, white meat on Wednesday & then pasta, etc. thereafter.  The nutritionist talks with the restaurant to adapt & suit the weekly programme.  The boys’ height & weight are recorded every month too.  The club also has 3 Doctors to attend to any sickness.

Players, at this level, will generally train 4 times per week.  The U19′s will train every day & also receive wages.  The accommodation, schooling, transport & food are all paid for by the club.

Braga has psychologists that work alongside the club.  If a coach knows he will be releasing a player the psychologist will work closely with that player but not obviously tell him right away.  The club will also try to find another club for the player.

Summary

The first thing that I picked up on from my first visit to this club was the family feel it had.  Everyone greeted each other with a welcome, smile & hand shake.  This is very positive & creates a real togetherness.  The set up is very impressive.  All sessions concentrated heavily on the technical side of the game.  This includes use of the ball along with pressurised drills & sessions.

Personally I was surprised at Pedro’s schedule when I was talking to him but I suppose we have to consider that this was possibly his busiest day.  Other days of the week had later starts, or earlier finishes or a non training night.  Although in some cases it is no difference from a child living in the UK that has to juggle schooling, homework, meals, transport & training.

The big difference I feel is the interest they take in each individual child.  The club record everything from school work to eating habits & from training to simply monitoring their height, weight & rest.  Also for the players living away from home.  The effort they put into for accommodation, transport & duty of care.  Then the long term development & future of the child is put as most importance with every last detail thought of – even if they unfortunately have to let a player go.

It was nice to sit & have a meal with one of the players at this age group.  It also, I suppose, shows how quick they mature as in Pedro’s words he simply ‘adapts’.  He obviously enjoys what he does even if he does miss being away from his family.  I found all the Braga Academy players to be confident young players that behaved & worked very hard in all sessions & games.

So in closing, here’s to Braga in becoming Europa League Champions 2011!

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