Grassroots Team Building – By Footblogball


“ Youth Sport Coaching is a complex and multidimensional where the coach can be expected to assume many different roles. Instructor , teacher , trainer , motivator , disciplinarian , substitute parent , social worker , friend , scientist , student , manager , administrator and publicity fundraiser.” ( Gummerson 1992 , Smoll and Smith 1996 )

Most coaches become involved because their Children take up the sport , they have very limited formal training and their reference points are often how they were coached when they were younger or through watching other coaches from a distance . Therefore the average coach is active for 5 years or less. We can conclude that many youth may lack the eseential knowledge to enhance the Youth Sport experience and make it FUN for participants.

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Coaching Clinics

Vicente Preaches a pro Ethos by Sarah O’Donovan

Portuguese football coach and Youth Academy Director of Sporting Club BragaHugo Vicente is in Ireland this week doing coaching clinics, he was brought to Ireland by David Berber of DB Sports Tours. I’ll be helping Hugo out tomorrow night at our Club, where he will be taking the u12’s for what will be a memorable session.

Sarah O’Donovan spoke to  him about player development and his philosophies on the game, which can be transferred to any sport..

IN every sport, developing solid foundations for  future success is a key aim. Funding and a long-term commitment are crucial elements of this, but SC Braga coach Hugo Vicente  believes a programme for development is the cornerstone of any good plan. Vicente was recruited from Portuguese club Benfica and installed at SC Braga for that specific purpose.

“Qualifying for the Europa League final against FC Porto in Dublin was a sign of the progress being made within the club, but the youth structures weren’t showing the same level of improvement as the senior structures.“The first part of the puzzle was looking at the demands placed on the players at each age group.“In Portugal every age group from U10 upwards plays in an official competition and because we were the best club in the region, despite the lack of organisation, we had the best players.“We were easily beating other teams but nothing was happening to improve the level of the players. There was no need to work more efficiently or challenge themselves. It was too easy for them.“We re-organised it by having them compete in the higher age groups to redress the balance”.

His Vision

Vicente admits that coming in to an organisation and presenting your vision can meet hostility. “There was a programme in place prior to my arrival with simple guidelines and targets for each group but that wasn’t being followed. “The coaching was random and according to the coach that was assigned, so my job spec was to put in place a full-use programme that would look at the player as a whole entity from U8 up to U14.
From U15 we hold official national competitions, so all preparation is geared towards presenting players at that competition.

“As is the norm in France, Spain and Portugal the players who come through the ranks to U15 level are then part of the professional programme. “There was naturally resistance, people don’t sit well with change. ”

I had presented the project to the academy director and he was happy to move forward with it, and most importantly agreed with it, but there were others in the club who felt their ideas were more important than the club ideas. “You ask any coach if they want to coach Chelsea or Barcelona and they will say yes, but what they don’t realise is that 60% of the work is done much earlier in the career of the players.

“What coaches can add instead is quality when providing the session in terms of correct feedback and watching things properly. It’s not about coming up with an amazing drill”, You, as a coach, can never be more important than the programme of the club, especially at youth level.”

“I mean everyone in the club knew that change was required and I suppose the resistance was more related to the ideology of the change rather than actual change. “You end up having to say ‘Look this is the direction we will take’. Obviously this will not suit everyone and the intention is not to hurt egos.”

Vicente pinpoints identifying a style of play for the club as one of the main aspects of the implementation structure. “To best explain the importance of implementing such a rigid system, say I’m the coach of a particular age group and I like technical players, fast players, but the next coach might prefer working with big, strong, physical players. “He could decide to replace the players that I was developing with players that have a more physical dimension — resulting in my work and those technically good players disappearing into the mist.”

The challenge

“Implementing a core philosophy was the first challenge. And the second challenge was improving the scouting facility available to us in the region to gather the players that we felt would benefit from our preferred style of coaching.” “Another challenge was facilities; believe it or not when I came here first we had the use of one sand pitch, one time per week because it is common in Portugal still to have half of the amateur teams in the country playing on a sand pitch.

“I go to the UK and they say other countries are so much more developed, but in truth in Portugal astro-turf pitches and grass pitches aren’t the norm!”

Vicente admits that while the theory is well documented, he feels the most important job after implementation is control. “You can buy books. You can read all the literature if you wish. “You will always find people willing to agree, but when you see them working, when it was put in to practice, it was just talking, it was never done.

“For example I find sessions in Ireland are very drill-orientated or focused on shadow plays, because they want their players to know how to play the game. “I want my players to know how to play the game but I want them to learn and live in situations in order to be able to understand them, which I have found translates in to progress in competitive situations much faster.

“We say openly that we want to focus on winning and people pretend to be shocked, but they misconstrue what we mean by winning. It’s not winning at all costs. “We want to win as a consequence of the way we work. We want our players to try to solve the problem. If they solve the problem better than the others they will win. It’s as simple as that. “Winning here in the youth projects should be about putting players in a position to reach the top.”

The Irish System

Vicente is concerned with a number of aspects of the Irish system currently. “I feel there is a lack of contact time with the ball, especially in terms of the youth. The quality of that contact time is also questionable. I think people still work without questioning the goal of the exercise.
“They say ‘but we have always done it this way’ and what they fail to understand is that we are coaching or preparing our kids for what will come in 10 years.” “Nobody understands, nobody can say accurately what the game can be in 10 years, but we can look at history and see how the game has evolved and predict where it might go with a programme to facilitate that expectation. “I think people still work the same way as when they were coached as players and this is one of the great mistakes.

In Ireland it may also be considered a problem to be near to one of the biggest football competitions in the world in the Premier League, but that can be a good thing.
“Some of the best players might be poached early but you must remember they will be playing and working with the best, so that will improve them as players and benefit the national team in the long term. “The key issue is the lack of professional organisation that the clubs have in Ireland and what I mean by that is under your amateur reality, that you should be working in a professional way.”

“You say you want to develop your players technically but you go to the game and because you want to win you always ask your goalkeeper to kick the ball long, far away from your goal. “You don’t allow the players a chance to take on an opponent. This is a common mistake from coaches and they totally go against what they said was a top priority without even noticing. “You must think about your daily actions and the result that has on the youth development of a player.”

 HUGO VICENTE has been running a series of clinics in Ireland all this week and over the weekend.

The clinic will involve a three-hour workshop broken down into two sections: theoretical and practical. Irish coaches will first be presented with a lecture detailing the make-up of the Portuguese club’s youth structure, goals, methods and specific details in the day-to-day running.

Report by Sarah O’Donovan – Evening Echo CORK.


Youth Academies in Europe – REPORT

I haven’t read this report in full yet and will review in time. I came across this piece on a friends facebook, Dave Hannigan discusses a lot of the things I have been pushing, to be introduced in Irish schoolboy soccer.

Will the FAI ever learn from Ajax?

The Dave Hannigan column in the evening Echo

LEAFING through an explanation of the philosophy employed at the Ajax academy, somewhere between the part about making sure their teenage talents don’t overtrain and the stuff about all exercises involving the ball, there is the following quote.

“When they are not training, young academy prospects should play on the street with their friends.
“This can be crucial to a player’s development both as a person and a football player.
“Under these conditions, they can play with no one telling them what to do and they can be totally free.
“It is this very freedom that enhances and encourages their creativity.”

They want them to play street football. Not just for the skills they can hone in that environment but because it will help them develop as human beings too. This is the Ajax way and, well, their record would suggest they know something about how to produce some of the world’s finest footballers.

Following their recent heroics against Manchester City in the Champions’ League, the Dutch club, the home of total football, has been back in the spotlight. Much has been justifiably made of the fact one of their starting XIs against City cost a whopping 3.5m to assemble.
Little wonder then Ajax was chosen as one of the clubs to feature when the European Club Association produced a report into Youth Academies in Europe. Piecing together case studies on nine of the most renowned facilities, this fascinating production, running to nearly 200 pages, compares them in terms of cost, size and success.

Sporting and Ajax, two of the top 3!

The statistics are astounding. At any given time, 30 per cent of the players in the Dutch First Division will have spent some of their formative years at the Ajax’s De Toekomst, a place where they are taught confidence on the ball is a priority. If the Dutch have always been celebrated for nurturing talent, they are not alone.

As Diego Matos, Sporting Clube de Portugal’s Head of Youth Academy points out, the Lisbon outfit is the only team in the world to have developed and trained two FIFA world players of the year, Luis Figo and Cristiano Ronaldo.
When asked to sum up their approach to training, it’s simple: The same exercises for all age groups (starting at 7), always with the ball. Only intensity and complexity changes.


It should also be pointed out that none of their kids play an 11 v 11 match until they are 12 years old (u13), Imagine that! Maybe that approach explains why Portugal regularly field seven Sporting products in international matches and why 100 of the club’s graduates are currently playing professionally around Europe. All of those players came through the ranks since 2002.

Portugal has a population just over twice that of Ireland. 

How come one academy over there is able to produce so many more good players? Does anybody in the FAI ever wonder about that? If they don’t, they should.


There are several recurring themes in the report. One is the emphasis clubs place on honing the intelligence of their players.
Not just their football intelligence, their actual intellectual development too. They all seem a lot more serious about academic matters than English clubs are known to be.

  • At Inter Milan and Bayern Munich, the best teenagers are not allowed train or play if they fall behind in the classroom.
  • At Standard Liege, one of the shining lights in terms of player development, the approach is all about “brain-centred learning”.
  • At Barcelona, 11 of the players in the B team today combine playing with studying at university.

“The player should be trained in such a way that he can imagine the best solution during the action and have the technique that allows him to implement it,” reads the Barcelona entry.
“At Barcelona, there is a strong belief that players will only succeed if sports training, education and a strong family unit are part of the players’ lives.
“This will help them become well-balanced, elite players.”

Problem-solving is another buzz phrase in this document. The idea is that all training is built around the players being put in positions where they have to figure out the best way forward for themselves. Anybody who has watched the Irish team in recent years can only wonder did any of the players who currently tog out for Giovanni Trapattoni ever get exposed to this kind of thinking at any stage in their development.

Academies and the small sided game

You wouldn’t think problem-solving is a strength looking at them in recent games. There is so much in this that it should be mandatory reading for everybody in the FAI. At Barca’s now fabled La Masia, the boys play 7 v 7 matches until the age of 13. The same at Racing Club Lens in France. While at Inter Milan, they play 9 v 9 until 13.
These are the academies now ranked the finest in Europe and they feel the best way to groom young players is to have them playing small-sided games on small pitches. Yet in Cork, we still throw undersized 11-year-olds on to full-sized fields where the big, fast fellas dominate and the skillful kids don’t get enough touches to develop.

Perhaps the most impressive element of the report though is how much these market leaders (and they all talk about running their academies as businesses) have in common.

  • Every club talks about prizing training with the ball over physical work until the boys are 16 or so. 
  • Every club has variations on the theme about technique being the most important attribute to hone in a young player.
  • If you’d expect that in this day and age, there’s also the matter of discipline.
  • A lot of the academies now ban tattoos, baseball caps, jewellery, dyed hair and the wearing of shirts outside the shorts.
  • Some even insisted the youngsters must wear black boots. 

As the father of a 12-year-old with salmon pink Nike Mercurials, that might be the rule I liked the most.

Post by Dave Hannigan – Cork Evening Echo