Erling Haaland is a generational talent..

Erling Haaland is a generational talent posted by @JoelCressman

He was the product of an outlier youth program in Norway.

Researchers investigate his team cohort, this is what they found:
Bryne FC 99 (players born in 1999) was unique for several reasons:

• 6 of the 40 players became professionals
• 35 of 40 players kept playing into adulthood
• Grassroots-focus with no cuts or selections

Here’s how they did it:
1) Youth practices were age-appropriate

Players entered the team at 6 years old.

Until the age of 10, there were 1 or 2 training sessions a week.

Training focused on skill development, specifically teaching activities they could do on their own.

2) Tactics and position-specific training were delayed

From ages 11-13, players trained 2-3 times a week.

From ages 13-19, one group practiced twice a week while the other practiced 4-5 times a week (based on choice, not skill)

Tactics were introduced at 11 years old. Position-specific training only started at 15.

3) Fun and learning were the focus

The team didn’t play in their first tournament until age 13.

They played weekly matches from the start, but competition came from in the group:

“We had a lot of competitions during practice. A lot of skill development, and a lot of competition”

4) They put in lots of hours of informal play

Players regular weekend routine was to play a pick-up game they called “World Cup.”

Teams were always made across skill levels and inclusive.

They used small breaks in time to play: “At elementary school, we played soccer each break, even if it was only a 10-min break”
5) The Head Coach put people over results

The Head Coach was a former pro. He had the knowledge to be an authority.

However, his greatest success was how he connected with players.

He talked to every player at each practice. He treated skilled and lower skilled players with the same care and focus.

6) The community supported freedom

Bryne is a small town of 12,000 people. When players were 6 years old, a soccer dome was built in the center of town.

The dome was left unlocked and players could enter at any time.

A parent reflected: “The cohort we talk about here was raised in that dome.”

7) Time in the system was the success marker

The coaching philosophy was: “As many as possible, for as long as possible, and as good as possible.”

Players were given the choice to train more after the age of 13, they were not selected.

Future elite players noted: “they had worked harder and engaged in more hours of practice compared with less skilled players.”

The Bryne FC 99 team produced more professionals then they had dropouts.

Are these lessons universal? No.

Bryne 99 were an outlier in their own program. The groups before and after disbanded in the teen years.

But it shows the power of limiting adult ambition in youth sport.

Article source here: (Thanks @chasmahoney)


I always like to hear your opinions and views. If you feel you have something to say, please comment below or email me

If, you don’t have anything to add then please forward this on to a friend/coach. As always, thanks for reading.

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Academies Irish Grassroots Football

Aethan Yohannes – Story So Far AT AZ Alkmaar by Daniel his Dad…

This is the story of Aethan Yohannes time so far at AZ ALMAAR by his Dad Daniel.
It has been five months since my son @ has joined AZ Alkmaar U15 youth academy in the Netherlands. My experience as a parent watching his development in a first class Academy is a humbling experience.
Some have asked how he was doing….
Here it goes.. STARTS HERE > 
I have witnessed in close proximity about football in general outside of the US at an Amateur level and top pro academy level that could be useful to folks who may wonder how Academies work in Europe in relation to my experience through my son. Footballers here in the NL are considered an investment to the club at a young age. There are huge lines of footballers that are trying to break into the top level academies at a very young age but only the very best are invited to join after many months of scouting. Once a pro club extends a player to join though, the player is indeed an investment to the club and the club has made a full commitment to nurture their product by investing in the player upfront to be rewarded later.

You are that less then 1% that has a potential to make it big so while the club teaches you the ropes, it’s up to you to take charge of your destiny because if you don’t seize it, there are a lot of other kids waiting in line to seize it. So clubs will provide all kinds of education possible to ensure kids are developing because they recognise that if groomed right, you have a potential to make the club a lot of money that will keep the resources necessary to continue developing quality footballers in the future. 

My son coming out of a local amateur club in Amsterdam, , has really taken a leap to adapt to the level of intense training at Alkmaar club. School and Football consumes my son’s life today. I can literally say that he has no life except going to school, training, homework and sleeping. Free time is time to relax watching some games unless it is a holiday. However, your well being is one of the most important thing to AZ so they tailor your training schedule accordingly.
“To try to get to the highest level in football at the youth level is not easy no matter how talented you may be. It takes a lot of hard work, determination and focus not to mention you are giving up a lot of things your friends might enjoy doing”
What do I mean by that?
 As a new player in the program, Aethan trained 4 times/wk and a match in the weekend instead of training daily. Because of the intensity level, in order to avoid injury, the club has concluded a rest midweek for new players is important to stay healthy for the 1st 4-5 months. The level at this point is so high, it gives the new kids an opportunity to adapt to the program gradually so to avoid any injury resulting from fatigue or burnouts. Beside you are not useful injured as such the club protect their investments by resting your body.
You are tested for different things (speed, agility, endurance, jump, etc.) Sporadically at least every month to record your progress. You can see your progress in your profile where everything about the player is stored in the Academy system. One of the key factors in the scouting process at AZ is making sure the players have the necessary means to get to training and back to their home or school without inconveniencing parents.

As a parent if you have to drive 45min to one hour to take your kids to training during business hours, it causes stress to the family. A family with less to worry about transporting their kids can supplement in helping their kids in other ways at home and less stress to player. So, every day my son is picked up midday from school and dropped off at home. Players have to honour their time of pick up and drop off. It is the responsibility of the player to be on time because the club driver doesn’t wait for you after your grace minutes if u are not ready. 

A couple of months back because of the lack of understanding the Dutch language my son misunderstood the training time change that took effect because of a holiday so when the pickup van came to pick him up at 6:20am in the morning, he was sleep. So the van left without him leaving him a message that woke him up. He rushed to wake his mother to take him to his training as I was out of town on a work assignment. He arrived 8min late to his training. His coach had him seat and watch the full training while his teammates train for two hours and was benched the next game against Ajax. Was I happy to learn of this. Hell no. Can I say anything about how harsh of a punishment I thought that was, hell no.

In a pay to play system, there is a feeling you can complain or have some influence in the management of your kids LOL. There is a tough culture here. As a parent, you have to be disciplined and know your place and that is to be a parent and letting the Academy do the teaching. Lesson learned is if you want to get ahead, you better not be late to the party. You have to learn to be Independence and responsible quick or you will learn it the hard way. The system is here to teach you to become not only a footballer but also a man.

After being benched a match against Ajax, believe me he got the message and instead he is at least 15min early for every pickup/ride. One thing for sure is he will never miss his ride to training again. To try to get to the highest level in football at the youth level is not easy no matter how talented you may be. It takes a lot of hard work, determination and focus not to mention you are giving up a lot of things your friends might enjoy doing.

Mental Toughness: 

Skills are key but without mental toughness, you are just a number. Discipline is one of the most important things you have to learn in a pro environment, no matter who you are. Periodic Top-sport class outside of training is a mandatory session players have to attend. You learn about mentality, character, discipline, work ethics and what to focus on to get ahead. You learn about what to eat and not to eat, – how much sleep you need and to listen to your body.
If you seem to feel your hamstring is tight or your back seem stiff, you are to check in with the clubs physiotherapist for treatment immediately. You have to be fit to continue to train. If there seem to be a small problem, it has to be evaluated so it won’t have a lasting effect. Aethan has been making great strides to fit in to the program and he has adapted to understanding the Dutch way of living. The language while difficult, he has made great advances to being able to follow conversations with extra help at the club after training. He has blended well with his teammate. While being scouted as a midfielder playing position #6,#8 and #10, he has been playing striker and winger positions doing everything he has been asked to do and growing in the game.

So far, he has participated in first class tournaments in Italy, Belgium, England and Germany since the start of the pre-season against top league academies of the respective countries and he has become an integral part of his team.

He has had an amazing experience at the USMNT U15 call up in September 2018 in Chula Vesta, CA. Nothing beats being selected to wear your countries jersey and seeing the excitement of that experience on my son’s face was such a blessing put mildly.

2018… has been an amazing year but most importantly my son’s mentality and commitment with all the challenges of adapting to a new country has given me hope that he is ready for the challenges ahead of him in 2019 and beyond. As to what the future holds, obviously what was a two years move to live in the NL for work and to experience life outside of the US for my family is more like to extend longer than we initially planned. Never had I thought my son (My daughter yes) will reach this level so quick jumping in from an amateur side to the pro academies and doing so well.
My gratitude goes to all the clubs that had nurtured my boy: JOGASC/LMVSC/NPCSoccer/DCUnited/

I know the road my son is in is not an easy road to climb. It is a very challenging road. Some kids burnout. Some don’t have the discipline to stay in it for the long haul. It is so important that kids have the right mindset and support system around them to keep focused. It’s a long road ahead for my son as he is turning 15 in a couple of months. God willing the path he started will bear fruit. However, as a father, I am mindful to continue encouraging and keeping him grounded and focused in all he does. School being just as important.
I will have more updates in the future. For those of you who have asked about Aethan, I hope this give you some insight as to how he is adapting.

Soon I will share some amazing things that’s happening with my daughter who is 11 & playing as the only girl in the u13 Boys team in the 2nd division league. She is a big talent and will share about the invitation she has received from the Dutch Football Association soon.
A fascinating insight into how much, time, effort and sacrifice is required to try and make it as a professional football in Europe.
You can check out Yohanne Channel The Yohannes Trio Football Channel as you will see they are both excellent footballers. However, they have a long journey ahead of them but it’s great to get an insight into their development at this stage and importance of family support.


I always like to hear your opinions and views. If you feel you have something to say, please comment below or email me If, you don’t have anything to add then please forward this on to a friend. As always, thanks for reading.

I’m also on twitter @Coachdiary and @LetTheKidPlay

Academies Coaching Irish Grassroots Football

To be or not to be, it’s all down to you!

You don’t send a player to the a professional academy to finish of their development. Going their they should already have Professional Habits. All the best players in the world, have these habits. They have a level of hard-work and commitment that is required to get to the elite level (paid to play). I listen to parents and players all the time saying they want to go to a pro academy to be a professional footballer but they aren’t even close to the commitment and lifestyle change required to even get noticed. 
They say, “My kid is talented”. 
I ask them,
ok, so he’s talented….. “what is he doing to try and achieve this the level required to play in a pro academy?”
If they don’t already have self managing skills and professional habits, then the professional club will probably be too much for them. We see this all the time, young players going over to the UK and coming back because they can’t handle what it takes to be stay in with the very best or to even perform at the Elite level (Paid to play I’m talking about).
Along with having the talent to play….the player must also have responsibility, accountability, self management, drive, commitment, attitude and belief.
Questions to can ask any teenage player looking to have a career in the game: 
  1. Did you get enough sleep or are you getting enough sleep before and after games or practice.
  2. Did you have a nutritious breakfast and did you prepare it yourself?
  3. Did you pack you’re own bag or did you mum do it?
  4. Are you drinking enough water and eating the right foods every day?
  5. Do you get to training early to start you’re warm up, dynamic stretching etc etc?
  6. Do you ask the coach to show up early to help you practice on some specific areas of the game to help you be fully prepared for the game or practice?
  7. Do you ever run home from practice to get an extra bit of fitness training in?
  8. Do you pack any half-time snacks, to help you recover?
  9. Do you pack any after game/practice snacks to help you recover.
  10. Do you ever stay back and do some extra technique training or do you ask the coach to help out after training?
  11. Do you ask the coach what you need to do to get better and are you using this advice?
  12. Do you ever ask other teams at the club if they are stuck for a player and if so to call you? (Messi played for the 1st, 2nd and 3rd teams at Barca).
All of above are some of the behaviours you will find in players who have made it to professional academies. If a player is not showing any of the above then they do not have the passion, drive or commitment to be outstanding. So moving your kid to the best team or travelling half the country to get them playing at the best level, will not make them better.  The player must decide that this is what they want to do. They must have the commitment, desire to be the best in everything they do and it starts with answering YES to most of the above. 
Facilities, money and equipment won’t make you successful. The commitment, being 100% committed and being obsessive about what you do and how you train, what you eat and how prepared you are, might..
They need to be obsessive about getting better, 1% every time they play and train. Getting the most of there talent in every part of their preparation, to be the best they can be. That is what is required and more and then you need a lot of luck, the correct amount of nurture and nature will also have a say.
So much of the success you want as a coach and your players want, is down to your coaching and guidance. This all happens with change and connections. Coaching is the art of emotional connection. We are in the business of making dreams but we need to be realistic with our players. Unless they are stepping outside of the norm they are unlikely to see that dream come through.


I always like to hear your opinions and views. If you feel you have something to say, please comment below or email me If, you don’t have anything to add then please forward this on to a friend. As always, thanks for reading.

I’m also on twitter @Coachdiary and @LetTheKidPlay

Academies Irish Grassroots Football

Irish Based Catalan Elite Football Philosophy

Catalan Elite Football began this summer in Ireland. Based out of Parnells GAA in Coolock and running every Friday from 7pm to 9pm and catering for kids aged 6 to 14 years.

Catalan Professional coach Marc Miquel writes about his experiences so far in Ireland, in his own words:

After four months coaching in Dublin I’ve noticed many differences beetwen Football in the Catalan region and the football that is practiced here in Ireland. I can say that there’s a lot of work to do, its going to be a challenging process in order to reach the targets in which we have set for ourselves.

“Our focus in Catalan Elite Football is to develop tactical qualities of the players as individuals”

Our main focus is to change the mentality of Irish people and players both on and off the pitch. We want them to consider said that this process possible for us to develop more intelligent players.

Our main focus in Spanish and Catalan football is to develop the cognitive qualities of the players, to use the brain in the game. In Ireland from my experience so far, players think about the game a lot less than that of Catalan players. Maybe one of the reasons is the fact that they do not have a professional league with professional players on their doorstep to watch on a weekly basis. For this reason I have found that players need continuous reminding of the concept of training. We hope that we can make a small difference towards this, like our Academy Director says,

“every process starts with a little change.”

This process will acquire different methods to make the things, develop the qualities that the smartest players have (based around tactical elements) or start to produce different players.

“The players do not recognise the training as a training, it is more like going to enjoy time with their friends. They don’t think to improve as a players and as a team in every training, it appears this is the coaches problem”.

Our focus in Catalan Elite Football is to develop tactical qualities of the players as individuals. The company’s founder, Colm Barron, studied the different football methodologies around Europe and specifically in Futbol Salou and the Tecnifutbol Academy. After meeting with Albert Vinas and studying the smartfootball methodology he decided with the support of Albert to reproduce the methodology in Ireland in the Catalan academy. In one of the last travels he visited Complex Esportiu Futbol Salou where I was working and spoke to both Albert Viñas (Complex boss) and Colm, they decided to give me the chance to help the academy to introduce the Catalan methodology. Our work started there….

Trainings And Matches
I’m gonna talk about the general level which we could see in our academy, in different pitches around Dublin and clubs where Catalan Elite Football started to work in (Knocklyon United, St. James Athletic and Park Celtic).

“When I came to Ireland I imagined strong players with really good physical qualities, showing aggressively to the ball, but they do not! They aren’t aggressive to the ball, it’s hard to see two players fighting powerful for the ball”.

Like I mentioned above the players do not recognise the training as a training, it is more like going to enjoy time with their friends. They don’t think to improve as a players and as a team in every training, it appears this is the coaches problem. Many of them are parents that find the players enjoyment to be more important, not the learning sense. Of course for us it’s really important that the players enjoy in the sessions, but they have to enjoy learning about the game with the games the coaches purpose. Our thinking is to help the players to develop their qualities within the trainings and out of it, as a player but as a person first. We understand the youth football as a person formation to develop useful skills for their life, trying to instil our passion for the game and the attitude to fight for your dreams and improve every day.

The training mentality is to play all versus all running behind the ball without thinking anything more. I was surprised because I used small sided games (2v2/3v3…) as a real match in a different pitch size and they don’t understand this game as a match. We are trying to explain to the players that by using these types of games they can reproduce a similar competition game in unreal spaces, but they are going to touch the ball more which will allow them to improve as players.

To review what I have seen in trainings, players don’t show passion and attitude for the game, and the tactical content is not introduced in the majority of the sessions. These things are some of what make the process harder, the process to understand the game. In order to create smart players, they must make mistakes within the sessions, they have to experience different game situations that they can find in the competition. Trying to reproduce the competition in the training where the players have to use the brain to beat opposite team.

Related with the previous problem, they don’t have collective sense, team sense, because they play as an individuals inside the squad. If you think as an individual you just want to run closer to the goal to score but will never think as a team, and with this mentality it’s impossible to develop the cognitive element. For this reason there’s a lot of transitions in the games that I watch in Ireland and this seems to be the same in the national teams. The coaches want the ball far from their goal and if the striker is lucky he will get options to score. If not, the other team will try to clear again, for this reason it is rare that any team will control the game.

What’s the problem if there’s a lot of transitions?

The problem is that the players lose their positions and nobody is organised. Everybody want a to run with ball and they don’t think where the defenders are, where their mates are, and where is the best space to play. The collective options disappear.

For the last part in this point I want to talk about the biggest surprise that I received. When I came to Ireland I imagined strong players with really good physical qualities, showing aggressively to the ball, but they do not! They aren’t aggressive to the ball, it’s hard to see two players fighting powerful for the ball. I think they have really good physical qualities which they have to transfer to the game and be aggressive to compete every ball, after that start to introduce technical and tactical elements to become better players.

More from Miguel in the coming weeks…

You can follow the Academy on Twitter @catalanelite Facebook at Catalan Elite football
or straight to their website


Part Two

Competition System
The competition has to be a part of the formation process for players. This competition needs to a part of both trainings and the games. I find it difficult to understand when parents struggle to accept the opinion on the levels of the players. All around the world in football and life, people are categorised by their current level. The best work with the best to become better, and other who are below that level at the time work harder to become a part of that group. This is soccer all over the world. It does not mean that the player of lesser ability at that time cannot improve past the others, it may just take more time.

“Of course everybody always wants to win, but it doesn’t have to be the most important. If you lose you have to learn about your mistakes and if you win you should keep working in the elements that you made good”.

The match day formation has a part of player learning. Practice in the match should be focussed on the work realized during the week. It’s a chance for checking if the players are improving and develop the competitive sense. Competition is a part of sport and players must learn to compete, not just compete to win because this thinking I feel is wrong. They have to use the competition to experience everything that is involved. The opposite pressure, the fans clapping, sharing your passion with the team members, sharing a dressing room, developing the cognitive and creative elements into the game because it’s reproduced in the game as a maximum expression.

“We have competitive leagues from u8 in Spain. Again this is the real game, there is no problem with competitive leagues from the earliest age, the problem is the environment that surrounds this”.

In this moment what appears to be the biggest problem is that everybody wants to win without focus in the players formative process. It’s a world problem, but the problem is in the adults not the kids, because the adults alter the kids mind. Of course everybody always wants to win, but it doesn’t have to be the most important. If you lose you have to learn about your mistakes and if you win you should keep working in the elements that you made good.

The competition in Ireland is difficult to understand, the governing bodies doesn’t have the elements structured and the rules which they play are not really established. For example the youngest kids don’t have league qualification, this is not really important, but it can be used in the right way as feedback for the players and you can introduce different targets in their learnings.

We have competitive leagues from u8 in Spain. Again this is the real game, there is no problem with competitive leagues from the earliest age, the problem is the environment that surrounds this. If the environment is professional and the parents are educated then there is no problem with this competition, in fact I think it is quite important for young players.

In Ireland they split the players in four categories, 5, 7, 9 & 11 a –side. I think it’s a good idea for the players development to play in progressive players numbers, but sometimes they play 6v6, 6v5, 11v14 because the difference in the score is huge. The rules in the federation doesn’t seem really clear! Do you think it’s a good decision to create 9-a-side game just for one year (under 12’s)? I think no, because you have to set up one different size pitch just for one year??!! I’m not sure how this fits into the development model for players!

I have never thought about the offside rule before, now I am thinking about it everyday. I think it’s an essential part of the game because the players must think in the game, if not they just can wait closer to the goal line. Offside is a rule from the earliest age in Catalonia, It’s a nice rule to learn to move into the space, work the defensive line as a team, make the passes in the right tempo with the right weight,… I have heard people say that the youngest players will “not understand” the offside rule. In our Catalan Academy we work with players from aged 6-15 and we introduce the offside rule in any tactical game related sessions of which there are many, and we incorporate offside. Now we have 7 year olds asking “can we play offside”, and they enforce the rule themselves. This is the real game and prepares the players for the real 11-v-11 game.

The last element I’m going to talk about are the referees. It’s a controversial role in the football world but really important at the same time because the referee has to make decisions about the game. In Ireland, the coaches or parents are the referees in the 5-a-side, other categories have the referee but they don’t exit the sidelines in the youth football. I consider that the referee federation has to be connected with the football federation, to create a competitive and air environment like the structure we have in Spain or around different European countries.

Marc Miquel
Catalan Elite Football & Complex Esportiu Futbol Salou
Cambrils (Barcelona), Spain.

You can follow the Academy on Twitter @catalanelite Facebook at Catalan Elite football
or straight to their website


I always like to hear your opinions and views. If you feel you have something to say, please comment below or email me If, you don’t have anything to add then please forward this on to a friend. As always, thanks for reading.

I’m also on twitter @Coachdiary


Catalan Elite Football – Parent Night

Catalan EF is an brand new Academy opening in Dublin next month, they will have an open night for all parents interested in enrolling their child at the Academy. The talk will take place on Friday 20th February at Parnells GAA Complex starting at 6.00pm.

About Catalan Elite Football

Our coaching team is focused on educating the players, and always striving to improve the small details. Catalan Elite Football has been set up to offer players, coaches and parents the option of experiencing a style of education, which has arguably proved the most successful system in world football over the last 10 years.

The style of football taught here is mirrored to the tiki-taka style which has dominated European football for the past decade, both at club and international level. Barcelona and Spain are by far the most successful teams in recent years, with the philosophy of football laying the infrastructure for such success.

Catalan Elite Football invites you to share an evening with Catalan Pro-licence tutor and Director of the Tecnifutbol program in Futbol Salou Albert Vinas, alongside Director of Catalan Elite Football Colm Barron.

On the night we will discuss the Methodology and philosophy of the Catalonian model and the future plans of Catalan Elite Football in the Irish market.

To find out more go to Catalan Elite


I always like to hear your opinions. Please comment below or email me, if you don’t have anything to add then please forward this on to a friend.

Thanks for reading. I’m also on twitter @Coachdiary

Academies Irish Grassroots Football

ECA Report on Youth Academies in EUROPE

The ECA which stands for the European Club Association compiled a report on Youth Academies around Europe. 96 clubs from 41 countries were used in gathering the data for the Youth Survey. You can download the full report on ECA website which is

I have taken some of the key factors relating to the youth game, no Irish or Welsh clubs were represented in the this report, however Liam Brady was a member of the Youth Task Force. Glentoran FC from Northern Ireland were 1 of the 96 clubs used. NI had two clubs who participated in the survey, England had 6, Scotland had 4.

In terms of the areas on which the qualitative research would focus, the task force agreed to limit the scope to the following areas of each youth academy that was observed: Vision & Philosophy, Infrastructure, Technical Approach and Education. I have selected some of key points from the report starting with vision & objectives.

Vision & Objectives:

  • Over 75% of the academies surveyed have a well-defined youth development vision.
  • 50% define the objective of the youth academy, ‘to create economic added value’ and 60% of the clubs consider their youth academy as a source of income, rather than a cost.
  • The goal for most clubs regarding  their youth academy is to develop players for pro football, in particular their own team.
  • 50% of clubs work with satellite clubs who are mostly amateurs.

75% of the clubs allow parents at training sessions

It was found in the report that having a philosophy, vision and mission were the key to successful solutions. Nurturing talent for the future should be the main priority for a club. The study showed that the most successful youth academies were those who pursued their vision and their objective with perseverance. It wasn’t a question of size but a question of spirit and belief. 


  • 50% of the clubs have the youth academy represented on the executive board.
  • 66% of the clubs have the youth academy represented in the technical heart/board by the youth director.
  • 40& of the clubs have the first team coach represented in the technical heart/board.
  • Transition of academy players is decided by the technical heart/board (66% of the clubs)
  • 80% of clubs consider the club manager/first team coach and the youth academy director as the most important members of the technical heart/board and responsible for the transition of players.

The biggest challenge for clubs academies was the organisation and transition of players to the first team. Many clubs struggle with the rolls of the 2nd team or reserve team. The balance of players who are not (yet) good enough for the 1st team, excessive contracted players from the 1st teams or players coming from the youth academy. Many players end up to good for the youth academy  but not ready for first team football. As we have seen UEFA have introduced the Youth Champions league to solve this problem.

‘It is fundamental that the academy directors main task is on the field, “Coach The Coaches”, and not the administrative management’

Education and Scouting

Most clubs have around 220 players in their youth academies and most work with 3-4 age groups. Success of any pro clubs starts with the talent recruitment and this is where a well organised scouting department comes in. The scout would generally be linked to the technical heart of the club in order to understand the parameters for selection of the club and also linked to the supporting function like Education, Social and psychological factors.

  • 75% come from the region (less than 1-hour drive)
  • 60% have players from abroad
  • 3% in the oldest age groups are from abroad.
  • 75% have relationships with schools, whereas 50% have relations with a university.
  • 50% have study opportunities at the club.
  • 75% of the clubs allow parents at training sessions.

Sporting is the only club in the world that has developed and trained two FIFA world players of the year, Luis Figo & Cristiano Ronaldo.

Studies have proven that the most successful players who have moved abroad to chase the dream did so at the right moment. After they had developed their football talents in combination with their social, educational, psychological and personality development towards adolescence.

The principles of football education are to combine football with school in building the players character. The report found that the focus on education of players is the core philosophy in most clubs nowadays.

Infrastructure ( Facilities, Medical, Social)

  • 75% have combined facilities for youth and first team.
  • On average there are 4 pitches per youth academy.
  • 66% have transportation for their academy players to training sessions.
  • 75% carry out antropometric assessment( refers to the measurements of the individual human)
  • 50% + work with psychologists, mostly for mental screening and about 60% of the clubs provide social support.
  • Many clubs are using a mix on natural grass and artificial grass.
  • Most clubs train senior and youth teams in close proximity to each other. However there is sufficient separation between the two to allow for tailor-made private utilisation processes.

In the youngest age groups, all the individual  creativity unwinds through fun and play without coaching interference, the middle age groups see introduction of more specific technical development for defence, midfield, and forward positions and , in the older age groups there is more focus on tactical (u16s+) playing systems.

Technical Content & Coaching

  • Most play a consistent formation 1-4-3-3 (52%) and 1-4-4-2 (28%)
  • 66% focus on individual progression rather than team development; however nearly all training sessions are organised with the team.
  • Most clubs have defined learning objectives and most work with 3 age groups: u12s, 13-15 age, 16 and above.
  • Team Sessions: U12s 41-42 weeks, 3 x per week, 4-5 hrs per week. U13-15s 44 weeks, 5 x per week, 7hrs per week. U16s and above, 5 x per week, 7-9hrs per week.
  • Individual Sessions: U12s once per week 30-60 minutes and 12 and above at least 2 per week 90 to 2hrs sessions.
  • Game time: U12s, 22-26 matches of 50-60 minutes. U13-15s, 30 matches of 70 minutes and above u16s, 30 official matches of 90 minutes.
  • Number of tournaments decreases from 10 to 6 per year but International tournaments has increased 1 to 2 per year.
  • 75% work with video analysis and coaching syllabus and physical fitness training starts at most clubs from age 14.
  • 99% of clubs youth teams follow the example of the first team.
  • Many clubs have no individual training whilst others are focusing a lot more in this area.
  • As the game is getting faster the main focus for many clubs is the technical development of the player in all age groups.
  • Most clubs have academy directors but it was important also to have the right balance between coaches who have a background as players and coaches educated through academies universities.

Finance & Productivity

  • 50% of the clubs spend less than  6% of their budget on Youth Academy.
  • 30% of clubs spend up to 0.5million on YA.
  • 30% spend between 0.5m and 1.5m on YA.
  • 30% spend above 3million on YA.
  • Average spending in YA was only 6% of the clubs total budget.
  • In general there are 6 academy players that are regularly playing for the first team.
  • 8.6% of academy players signed 1st pro contracts at the club in the last 3 years.
  • 50% of the clubs have a minimum of 2 first team players who were registered at the YA for at least 5 years.
  • In almost 50% of the YA, the budgets increased significantly over the last 5 years.
  • Staff (26%), facilities (15%) and players’ contracts (15%) are the most important costs of the youth academy.
  • Of the clubs visited on average they produce between 30 and 50 players per year playing in the national championships.

Youth Development

Whats shows from this report is that is makes sense to invest in youth programmes. In professional academies money is saved by not having to pay large sums in transfer and massive salaries. I for one no longer enjoy watching professional football, not being able to recognise the local players. If English and Irish clubs had proper structures like they do in Europe, I think we would see much more local kids making it.

The report also found that the average spend on YA was 6% of the clubs budget, but 60% of the clubs consider that their YA is a source of income, rather than a cost. Financial fair-play (cost of academy excluded from the break-even requirements) should now play a part in clubs investing more in their YA. You can see why Ajax, Sporting, FC Barcelona have been so successful in producing players, they each have their own philosophy and even when a new academy director comes in the ethos, the values and beliefs of the club never change.

Let take a look at the Organisation Of The Youth Competition around Europe. 

Team / Game size per age Group

  • 11v11 : Age 13 was the most common age and a large percentage at u12s
  • 9v9: Age 12 mostly but also U13s
  • 8v8: This varied from u10s to u13s with u10s having a large percentage.
  • 7v7: Mostly played at u10s and u11s
  • 6v6: u5s to u9s
  • 5v5: U5s to U9s mainly. U8s mostly
  • 4v4: U11s

Age Group When Start On Full Size Pitch

  • U15s: 5% & U14s: 25%
  • U13: 28%
  • U12s: 29%
  • U11s: 11%
  • U10: 1%, U9s: 1%,

Number Of Players & Game Format Per Age Group (U5 up to U9

  • 4v4=45%; 5v5= 40%; 6v6= 5%; 7v7= 10%

Number Of Players & Game Format Per Age Group (U10 up to U11

  • 7v7= 55%; 8v8 = 23%; 9v9 =12%; 6v6=5%; 5v5= 4%; 11v11= 1%

Number Of Players & Game Format Per Age Group (U12 up to U13

  • 11v11 =52%; 9v9 =29%, 7v7 =14%, 8v8 = 7%; 10v10 =1%; 6v6 = 1%

Number Of Players & Game Format Per Age Group (U14 up to U23

  • 11v11 =98%; 9v9 =2%

To find out more go to European Club Association 

Content for this post was gathered from the ECA  report on Youth Academies In Europe and I want to thanks OlivIer Jarosz supplying me with the information. Follow the ECA on twitter @ECAEurope


I always like to hear your opinions and views. If you feel you have something to say, please comment below or email me If, you don’t have anything to add then please forward this on to a friend. As always, thanks for reading.

I’m also on twitter @Coachdiary

Academies Irish Grassroots Football World Football

COACHTALK: Anthony O’Neill

Anthony is a football coach back living in Ireland, having spent some time abroad. I caught up with him last weekend at the Multi directional Workshop with Mike Antoniades at the NDSL Development Centre. In this brilliant insight into the Ajax philosophy; Anthony talks about how they implement the methodology both in Holland and Ireland.

UntitledTCD: What got you into coaching and how long have you been doing it? 

AON: I initially got into coaching through a FAS football coaching course I attended in Galway 10 years ago. John Power, who operates a very successful soccer school of excellence called Power Soccer was my mentor on the course, and he asked if I’d like to assist with the weekly sessions in the school of excellence. One of my reasons for attending the course initially was to learn from someone like John and I’m thankful to him for introducing me to coaching. After a few weeks I began to lead sessions on my own and John then asked me to help out with the Galway Schoolboy League Kennedy Cup squad as an assistant coach. I spent 18 months with the team and to be involved with a Kennedy Cup squad as a young coach at 21 years old was a great learning experience for me personally. From that squad Daryl Horgan, Stephen Folan and Enda Curran are now playing in the League of Ireland Premier Division, several have represented Ireland at international level and Joe Shaughnessy is playing in Scotland for Aberdeen.

“Another interesting facet of the academy is that the coaches are only offered one year rolling contracts. This helps to prevent the coaches from ‘taking it easy’ and increases their work ethic, taking into account that every coach in Amsterdam has aspirations to be a coach at Ajax”

Since that initial involvement in coaching I continued to pursue further education which led me to a soccer scholarship in America. At the same time I began coaching youth soccer in the States and obtained my coaching badges alongside a degree in Sports Management. After graduating I spent 6 months coaching in Singapore before returning home to Ireland to work as the Head Coach for Coerver Coaching for almost 2 years. I spent the last year as Academy Director for Everton’s affiliation club Everton America in Connecticut and New York, where I was responsible for overseeing a development programme for Under 7s to Under 12s. In September I moved home again to start work on a new project with the Football Coaches Association of Ireland in partnership with Ajax.

TCD: What is your coaching philosophy? 

AON: My coaching philosophy is to develop confident, creative and skilful players who are encouraged to express themselves and play with a sense of freedom. For me personally, winning should not become important until senior football or at least until the latter stages of youth football. Having worked with players at the younger age of the spectrum for many years, I find that they naturally want to win games anyway, therefore my focus should be on developing the technical and tactical side of the individual player so that he has the necessary tools to perform to the best of his ability when he enters the environment of senior football. I’m not saying as coaches we should not attempt to win games, but I do believe that playing with a certain style of play that is beneficial to the long term development of the player is more important especially in youth football.

Enthusiasm is one of the most important characteristics to have as a coach when working with young players and it’s always good to offer encouragement. Using simple words like “well done” can have a big effect on a child’s confidence. It’s important to build a relationship with each individual and I try to do that with every player I coach.

ArenaTCD: You’re just back from the Ajax Academy, tell me about your trip? 

AON: First and foremost I’d have to say the best thing about the trip was having first class access to the academy. Myself and the other FCAI members who made the trip were not only allowed to watch academy training and games but also to interact with the coaching staff. We were given lectures on the Ajax vision, philosophy and style of play by Eddie van Schaick, as well as a discussion on the Ajax scouting methodology by Head Scout Ronald De Jong. Ronald explained that Ajax invests and networks with the amateur clubs within Amsterdam granting them access to the Ajax Online Academy training programme. The advantage of this is that all players are coached the same way as those in the academy, making talent easily identifiable and making the transition from amateur club to Ajax Academy an easy one, with very little difference in the style of play.

We were given little tasks to complete such as match analysis of the Under 13 & Under 15 games. We were asked to analyse the style of play as well as pick out 3 prospects on each team which we felt best fitted the profile of an Ajax player. These exercises helped with the learning process and to better understand what was discussed in the lectures.

“The youngest team at the academy is the Under 8s. They train 3 times per week with an emphasis on developing technique and game intelligence using small sided games. Initially I was a little surprised to learn that this age group play 7v7 on match day but having watched them play on the Saturday morning it soon became clear to me that they were capable of playing this format”

It was evident from viewing academy training and games and a 1st team game at the Amsterdam Arena on the Saturday night that there’s a philosophy and style of play evident throughout the club from the Under 8s right through to the 1st team. The Ajax style of play is based on playing attacking attractive football, dominance in possession and 1v1 situations, playing out from the back and full field pressure. Every team within the academy plays with this style in either a 3-4-3 or 4-3-3 formation. Similar to Barcelona and Bayern Munich, Ajax play with one holding midfielder (6) and two attacking midfielders (8) & (10) within the 4-3-3 formation, which is slightly different to playing a 4-2-3-1 formation. Having watched numerous games at various different age groups in the academy it was great to see each team attempting to play the same and believing in ‘The Ajax Way’.

In relation to training, which is all conducted at De Toekomst (The Future) across the road from the Amsterdam Arena, which in turn acts as a motivational and aspirational tool to all the kids within the academy, the focus is primarily on developing the individual. The Ajax Academy is not concerned with winning trophies at youth level but moreover producing players for the 1st team. One of the objectives each year is to produce one or two Under 19 players to play in the 1st team and 70% of the 1st team need to be academy produced players. Ajax spend €6 million per year on their academy.

Ajax has a fantastic strength and conditioning programme which is also an important part of the training for the youngest age groups within the academy. Balance, coordination and footwork are enhanced as early as possible and the club even employee judo and gymnastic coaches to work with the players. It was fascinating to watch the judo coach work with the Under 8s on their core strength as well as developing football combat to prepare the players for the physical side of the game. Attention to detail is also paid to the growth spurt of players between the ages of 12 and 16 with the workload on individual players more relaxed. The club can determine when a player is going through a growth spurt thanks to cutting edge technology from the sports science department. As players begin to exit their growth spurts, coaches then look to re-engage the player technically, physically and mentally.

Another interesting facet of the academy is that the coaches are only offered one year rolling contracts. This helps to prevent the coaches from ‘taking it easy’ and increases their work ethic, taking into account that every coach in Amsterdam has aspirations to be a coach at Ajax. The club feels that if the players are under pressure to improve and maintain their position within the academy, then so should its coaches.

TrackTrainingI found the staff at the club to be very welcoming and it was evident from spending three days immersed in the academy that the club possesses a family environment with a relaxed atmosphere whilst at the same time maintaining a very professional outlook. The majority of the coaching staff consists of ex academy players and it’s easy to bump into some of the former greats of the club who often come to watch the academy games on a Saturday morning. Some of the names involved with the club on the coaching side include 1st team manager Frank De Boer and 1st team coach Dennis Bergkamp, as well as Marc Overmars, Jaap Stam, Wim Jonk and Bryan Roy. Edwin Van Der Saar is involved on the marketing side while one of the greatest players of all time Johan Cruyff is also a big figure within the club.

I had the privilege to meet with Arnold Muhren who scored in the FA Cup final for Manchester United as well as winning the Uefa Cup with Ipswich Town under Bobby Robson. He also won the Cup Winners Cup and European Cup with Ajax and crossed the ball for the famous Marco Van Basten goal at Euro 88 which Holland went on to win. Arnold is a former youth coach at Ajax and has been to Ireland to conduct coaching seminars in partnership with the Football Coaches Association of Ireland. I’m already looking forward to the next trip in April as well as welcoming Patrick Ladru (U13-U16 Technical Manager) to Limerick and Galway that same month to conduct  the first ever Ajax coaching workshop in the west of Ireland.

TCD: Tell me about their SSG pathway and how it differs to ours? 

AON: The youngest team at the academy is the Under 8s. They train 3 times per week with an emphasis on developing technique and game intelligence using small sided games. Initially I was a little surprised to learn that this age group play 7v7 on match day but having watched them play on the Saturday morning it soon became clear to me that they were capable of playing this format.

The players were comfortable in possession and attempted to play out from the back when possible and had plenty of success in doing so. The formation used at this age group is either a 3-3 or a 2-3-1 and as with the older teams the focus is on keeping possession and taking players on in 1v1 situations. My conclusion is that at the academy level players are capable of playing 7v7 at Under 8 but games of 4v4 for example are more suitable for players of this age at amateur grassroots clubs which is the format we are moving towards in Ireland because we don’t have professional academies. It’s worth nothing that at Ajax we are talking about the best selection of Under 8s in Amsterdam all playing on the same team and we don’t currently have that situation in Ireland. One of the aims of the FCAI Player Development Programme is to get the best young players in a region as young as Under 7 training together one night per week and playing against other regions four times per year in a non-competitive small-sided games format.

Ajax U8s Playing Out From The Back

(Watch how they can pass 15/20 yards with ease, playing with a lighter ball)

Under 8’s

Another point of note is that the Under 8s play with a size 5 football that is much lighter in weight to a standard football. Even players as young as 7 years old were able to play 20-25 yard passes with proper weight which was intriguing to watch. The lighter footballs if anything encourage young players to get their head up and play a pass over a longer distance i.e. switch play because the football allows the player to technically make the pass. The result is young players passing the ball and keeping possession way beyond their years and this is mainly due to the weight of the football. On the other hand you could argue that a size 5 football is more difficult to control technically but that was not apparent at this level and we will be using these lighter weighted footballs in the Player Development Programme which incidentally also come in a size 4 for the youngest age groups. The 7v7 field did not have a penalty area which helped with the keeper joining in the play as a sweeper because he was not mentally restricted by his area. Corner kicks were taken at least 5 yards in from the corner flag and this was the same in the 11v11 set up so that the players could reach the penalty area with the kick.

Corner KickTeams progress from 7v7 to 11v11 at Under 11s and again having watched games at this age group it was evident that the players were comfortable with this format. They spend 3 years (U11-U13) playing in a 3-4-3 formation with a midfield diamond which helps with the development of 1v1s both defensively and offensively. If both teams play with a 3-4-3 formation you will notice that players are matched up in 1v1 situations all over the field. Teams then progress to using a 4-3-3 formation at Under 14 with one holding midfielder (6) and two attacking midfielders(8) & (10), similar to the Ajax 1st team as well as the current Barcelona and Bayern Munich 1st team.

The term over coaching is being used a lot in relation to kids soccer and we always hear people say, ‘let the game be the teacher’, how do Ajax coaches, coach? 

 In particular with the younger age groups which begin at Under 8, the coaching incorporates teaching the fundamentals of dribbling, receiving & passing and finishing with a heavy emphasis placed on developing creativity in 1v1 situations and the use of overloads i.e. 2v1s and 3v2s. Small-sided games are also widely used within the training sessions to develop game intelligence.

A recurring theme is that regardless of the age group, coaches only offer gentle encouragement on the sideline. The focus on match day is not the result of the game but how well the individuals in the team apply the topic of the previous week’s training which can be anything from playing out from the back to forward runs without the ball. There seems to be a great understanding between the players and the coaches of the set objectives for each game which is most often determined by the Technical Manager for a specific age group i.e. U13-U16.

In a coaching environment that facilitates development over winning, coaches are required to be as efficient as possible, providing maximum playing time in training sessions where enjoyment is the main priority; ensuring players are open to learning, whilst simultaneously removing the players from their comfort zone in order to take calculated risks. To maximise each player’s development, positions are rotated from game to game, preventing players from becoming one dimensional and instead producing talent capable of playing multiple roles at the highest level. 1st team player Daley Blind, son of Danny Blind is a great example of this as he is equally inept at playing as a holding midfielder as a left back and he was particularly outstanding in the recent win against Barcelona when he had to play both positions.

TCD: If we class success as winning in the same way Barcelona have done for many years, why can’t the Ajax formula work for Ajax in the same way it has done for Barca?  

AON: The Ajax formula is the most successful in Europe in terms of producing young players although not as successful as Barcelona in terms of winning the Champions League in recent times. I read a report recently from the International Centre for Sport Studies (CIES) which conducted a survey of Europe’s most competitive 31 leagues last year and found 69 players who had been coached at Ajax. This placed Ajax in first place ahead of Barcelona who finished fourth.

The problem Ajax encounter on almost a yearly basis is that due to not playing in one of the biggest and most lucrative leagues in Europe they struggle to hold on to their best players. I watched Ajax beat Barcelona 2-1 recently playing attacking free flowing football very similar to what we have witnessed from Barcelona themselves over the past 5 years. The majority of the Ajax team consisted of academy graduates with the average age of the side in the early twenties. I believe that if Ajax could have held on to players like Luis Suarez, Gregory van der Viel, Jan Vertonghen and Christen Eriksen allied to the current crop of young players they would indeed be challenging for the Champions League. It remains to be seen if they can hold on to the current group but in any case they will continue to produce good young talent because that’s the Ajax way.

PlayerDProgrammeTCD: Tell me about Ajax’s involvement in Ireland and how you’re getting involved? 

AON: Ajax initially set up the Ajax Online Academy to assist amateur grassroots clubs in Amsterdam and the surrounding area. The system provides access to 32 weeks of age specific training sessions from Under 7s to Under 15s as well as a player tracking system to evaluate each player and provide feedback to parents as well as other coaches within the club. As Ajax recruit the majority of their academy players from within Amsterdam itself this programme makes sense in that the coaches within the amateur grassroots clubs are able to use the Ajax coaching methodology and have access to a curriculum that coincides with Ajax’s philosophy and style of play.

Now the Ajax Online Academy has become available worldwide and is the official education partner of the Football Coaches Association of Ireland (FCAI). Through the FCAI club partnership programme clubs in Ireland can from a partnership with Ajax which entitles that club to access the Ajax Online Academy curriculum and participate on twice yearly trips to Ajax to see at first-hand how the academy operates from top to bottom.

I’m involved with the FCAI Player Development Programme which is a new initiative aimed at the development of young players aged 6-12 years old. There are currently two programmes in Dublin with further programmes planned throughout Ireland in 2014.

The Player Development Programme will operate on a regional basis. The programme is step by step in format and is developed in a non-competitive environment, which allows kids to improve consistently through their own mental and physical growth patterns, while also, crucially, enjoying the beautiful game.

Children are encouraged to continue to play and train for their club sides as part of their development. The programme will organise quarterly tournaments internally with other provinces. The tournaments are designed to give players the opportunity to play games across Ireland against those who are receiving the same footballing education.

From my experience teaching good habits and developing technique and game intelligence is best taught to players aged 8-12 years old which in Japan is called the ‘Golden Years of Learning’. Players at this age are most receptive to learning technique and gaining an insight into the game which relates to the Ajax TIPS model of recruiting players based on technique, insight, personality and speed.

The key for us is to make sure that players in these younger age groups are receiving quality age specific technical and tactical coaching similar to that at professional clubs on the continent.

TCD: How many clubs are using this method in Ireland? 

AON: Hartstown Huntstown and Cabinteely FC are the two clubs in Dublin currently using the Ajax Online Academy. Hartstown Hunstown has been using the programme for just over a year now and they had 15 coaches on the recent FCAI trip to Ajax where they learned about the Ajax vison, philosophy and style of play. The Ajax Head Scout also spoke in detail about the Ajax TIPS Model and the process involved in recruiting players for the academy.

Cabinteely FC are the latest club to become a partner of the Ajax Online Academy and the FCAI are currently speaking to numerous clubs up and down the country about potential new partnerships in 2014. I believe that this is the best education programme for amateur grassroots clubs on the market and clubs are aware of this when they see the FCAI presentation.  Not only can coaches attend Ajax coaching workshops in Ireland and travel to the Ajax Academy in Amsterdam, they also have full access to a complete age appropriate online curriculum developed by Ajax which they can use on a weekly basis at their club. This in turn will only benefit the long term development of the players.









TCD would like to thank Anthony for this brilliant insight into the ‘Ajax Way’. If you wish to get in touch with Anthony, you can email him at


I always like to hear your opinions. Please comment below or email me If, you don’t have anything to add then please forward this on to a friend. Thanks for reading. I’m also on twitter @Coachdiary