Braga Visit TW Academy in Belfast

We were pleased to welcome Portuguese side, SC Braga, to Belfast over the Easter period.  My good friend & Braga's Assistant Academy Director, Hugo Vicente, travelled with his U13 side.  They were taking part in a tournament in Dublin.  We organised for them to travel up to see Belfast & play TWAcademy.

SC Braga U13 side that drew with TWAcademy.Org 1-1 in Belfast

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.  Their U13′s 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.

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.

Belfast Welcome

MLA, Chris Lyttle, from Alliance Party welcomes SC Braga to Belfast at the NI Assembly

We organised a coach to transfer the players, staff & parents of SC Braga from their Dublin base to Belfast.  Chris Lyttle, MLA, from the Alliance Party organised a tour around the Northern Ireland Assembly at Stormont.  This is were the Good Friday Agreement was signed.  The players & coaches enjoyed the tour & were able to get some great photos.

It was also superb to welcome a good 'Twitter' friend of mine called Liam.  He flew in from England to enjoy the full day...showing a real hunger to learn & develop as a coach!

After the tour it was back on to the Braga coach & transfer to Belfast Boys' Model School to play the challenge game at the fantastic venue of Mount Pleasant on the 3G pitch.

Braga playing in their famous red tops while TW Academy turned out in their bright orange tops like the Dutch!  It was a very well contested game of football.  The technical ability from both sets of players on show was impressive.  TW Academy started well & were very disciplined & played some attractive football.

Very secure at the back with Matthew & Jamie having excellent games in front protecting the back 4 it allowed freedom for the attacking players to try & create opportunities.  It was Curtis Ritchie who controlled the ball toward the end of the first period & beat the Braga defender.  Stephen Wilson then made a great run from the right & when Ritchie weighted the perfect ball Wilson made no mistake with the finish.  What a goal it was going in off the underside of the crossbar!  TW Academy 1-0 SC Braga.

The side that played SC Braga in Belfast

The second period was much more even.  Braga started creating more opportunities.  It was a pass that was made for the Braga forward that the defenders thought was off side but he didn't stop & put the ball in the back of the net to equalise, 1-1.

Both teams in the last period defended well.  The central defenders of TW, Nathan Kerr & Louis Simpson, made it difficult for Braga to break them down.  The final score was 1-1.  The parents & supporters enjoyed a very entertaining game.  What an experience for our boys, & myself, to prepare & play against a top European Academy!  It was evident how developed the Braga players were & how comfortable they all are on the ball.  It was a nice test for us.

Hugo Vicente, Assistant Academy Director of Braga, commented; 'I was very impressed with your team considering this was your first game together with a new squad & you only have access to the players once a week.  That is a testament to the work you & Lee carry out.  Imagine what you could achieve if you had them 3-4 times per week what you could achieve!'

Watch the match highlights by clicking here!

Player & Coaches Clinic

After the game the boys from both teams transferred to Belfast Boys' Model School for refreshments before they returned to Dublin.  We supplied all the players with a goodie bag thanks to the Northern Ireland Tourist Board.  I also included a copy of my '1-on-1 Coaching The Secrets To Improve ALL Football Players - GUARANTEED!' book for each of the players.

Hugo Vicente shares the methods of SC Braga - fascinating night!

Our players remained with a number of coaches for the player development & coaches clinic.  Nigel Best from the Irish Football Association was pleased to award 5 credits for coaches CPD.  Hugo Vicente led the clinic assisted by the Braga Director of Goalkeeping, Ricardo.

Below is the report of the clinic from my Academy Assistant, Lee Hodge...


  • Develop players with initiative and top technical ability
  • Develop players’ able understanding, analyse and decide with quality in the game. – (Game based training helps develop intelligent players so they always include defenders)
  • Develop players with the right mentality and ambition to reach the 1st team and to play at top level football
  • Be a Community Partner (i.e. help them with school work, social lives etc.)

What they want to develop

  • Develop players through a clear vision
  • Create players in a team context and not teams (focus on individuals)
  • Specific contents for each age group, to develop the player in each dimension; Technical, Tactical, Mental and Physical
  • Creating a demanding environment but fun environment and ensuring the sessions are age appropriate

(We need to put ourselves in the players place – what do they want?)

Main focus is on individual development – Play players up if required. They are willing to lose to win in a few years’ time when it matters.

They believe when working with children it is essential to show you care. Then they will be willing to learn – BE THEIR FRIEND!

  • Focus on technical ability
  • Focus on speed
  • Focus on aggressiveness

The club also do one on one training with each player every week to improve these areas.

When the teams are playing the coaches limit the players when they don’t have the ball but not when they have the ball.

At the club they strongly believe in having a club vision. Therefore, they promote coaches after training to sit together and discuss the vision and develop ideas on how to achieve the clubs aims.

Hugo & Ricardo work with the players while educating the coaches

Specific Contents


  • Dribbling
  • Protect the ball
  • Moves
  • Shooting
  • Receiving and Control
  • Short Pass
  • Long Pass and Crosses
  • Heading
  • Other Behaviours

Defensive Techniques

  • Closing Down
  • Tackling
  • Charging

Under 9’s Syllabus

  • Technical development is top priority
  • Usage of weaker foot – condition games
  • Rules of the game
  • Basic tasks on different phases of the game
  • Learning the game principles
  • Learning the specific playing principles of the club: Focus on progression and closing down
  • Same percentage of playing time for each player
  • Players play in every position
  • 7v7 at this age group

Under 13’s

  • Technical development
  • Weaker foot
  • Pre specialisation: Players play in two or three positions according to their characteristics
  • Specific game principles based on the way we play
  • Percentage of usage time is merit based: According to the balance between quality and commitment
  • Control the game – don’t lose the ball

(Results are important as the games are reported in the papers).

Session Model

1st Phase – They do not believe in warm ups. Therefore they will play games such as tag.

2nd Phase – 1v1, 2v1, 2v2, 3v1

3rd Phase – 4v2, 4v3, 4v4, 5v2, 5v3, 5v4, 6v3, 6v4

4th Phase – 6v4, 7v5, 7v6

Final Phase – 7v7 with no coach intervention

Liam filmed some of the sessions in the clinic...the links are below;

Braga Clinic - Part 1

Braga Clinic - Part 2

Braga Clinic - Part 3

The European Approach

After the clinic Hugo & Ricardo took the time to speak with coaches.  This is typical of the European approach.  They don't look at their watch or think I'm not being paid for this!  Remember they had departed Dublin at 7.30am & were still talking to coaches well after 9pm!  We got cleared up & drove them to Dublin.  Again many people would think that they don't want to drive to Dublin at that time as they wouldn't be home to after 2am...take 4 hours...spend money on petrol.  For me?  Easy decision, I jump at it.  Not just because Hugo is a great friend of mine & puts himself out for me when I visit him but I never stop learning.  In a car for a couple of hours with top European coaches develops me as well!

Can we change a culture here?  Let's stop looking at our watches & thinking what's the point...let us think can we develop & continue learning as coaches?  If it is the latter join me on my journey...

Thank you...

Massive thank you to SC Braga, Hugo, Ricardo, it's coaching team, players & parents for offering us such a wonderful opportunity to play against them.  Thank you to my players & parents for supporting the event.  Massive thank you for the coaches that attended - especially Liam from England!  What can I say about my team of coaches?  Lee Hodge my assistant that worked so hard in the lead up to the event & on the day.  Frank McLean who did referee & loads of jobs for me.  My young coaches of Craig & Brad who assisted on the day with set up & filming.  I'm sure I have forgotten someone so very sorry if I have...of course the support from the rest of the team that kept our weekly centres operating on the day.  My wife & kids deserve a massive thank you for their hard work & organising they did on the day & lead up to the event.

Professionally I would like to thank Chris Lyttle MLA from the Alliance Party.  Darren Nixon & Belfast Boys' Model School.  Grounded Coffee for supplying sandwiches & Julie from the Mace at Greenway, Cregagh for supplying refreshments.  The Northern Ireland Tourist Board for the welcome packs for the Braga kids.  Again I hope I haven't left anyone out!

Dublin Tournament

For those interested in watching some footage from the Dublin tournament that Braga took part in I have included links below.  They defeated Brondby from Denmark 6-0 to help progress to the semi finals.  They faced a very talented Arsenal side.  Enjoy!

SC Braga v West Brom

SC Braga v Arsenal (Part 1)

SC Braga v Arsenal (Part 2)

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


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.


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!