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Best practices from around the world

Through the professional European club coaching internship program, I was recently fortunate enough to have full access to the programs that both Ajax FC of Holland and Leicester City FC from England use to prepare future professional players. In this month’s edition of PlayOn!, I will share the best practices garnered through the program so that we can leverage these successful tactics in our own backyard.

As Technical Director of Washington Youth Soccer, I am constantly looking for methods and player development mechanisms to modernize the game in our state. In addition, Washington Youth Soccer’s leadership is constantly challenging our technical department to ensure we continue to stay on the cutting edge of inventive educational programming. During my recent time in Europe, I was granted the opportunity to meet with some of the most knowledgeable youth academy and first team coaches and managers in the game at Ajax FC and Leicester City FC.

This unique insight into how Ajax FC and Leicester City FC approach the development of players within their clubs is of the utmost importance to the continued development of our own best practices. Washington Youth Soccer aims to educate our players through age-appropriate, long-term player planning and development. Below, I discuss some of the training systems used by two of the most sophisticated professional clubs in the world – I hope this inspires practices we can invoke with our own Clubs and teams as we work toward the development of the game for our kids.

I began my experience at Ajax Football Club, and met with the academy personnel to delve into their philosophy and club culture. This assisted in giving me a grasp of the club’s different coaching and training techniques. I was also able to analyze all levels of the club – youth academy, to the highest level at the club, to the first team.

To get an idea of the age range comparable to the focus of our Long-Term Player Development Plan, I was able to work with coaches of the younger academy teams, U-10 thru U-16. Through my exclusive time with the club I was able to get a complete breakdown of how Ajax FC functions as a football club as well as their philosophies behind player and team development.

Club Stats

Ajax FC
Full nameAmsterdamsche Football Club Ajax NV
Nickname(s)de Godenzonen (the sons of the Gods)
Ajacieden, de Joden (the Jews)
de Amsterdammers (the Amsterdammers)
FoundedMarch 18, 1900
GroundAmsterdam Arena
Amsterdam
(Capacity: 52,960[1])
ChairmanUri Coronel
ManagerFrank De Boer
LeagueEredivisie
2009–10Eredivisie, 2nd

Ajax strives to uphold a trademark signature style and player-selection criteria using the TIPS method (Technique, Insight, Personality and Speed). Ajax is known for developing this modern approach. A large element of successfully implementing this method is the club’s emphasis on pre-academy programming; 8-15 years of age.

Ajax is partly dependent upon players from its own youth academy. The youth teams are trained in exactly the same way as the first team and these boys are therefore already accustomed to Ajax’s style of play.

Central within the club is the style of play (1-4-3-3), training, behavior and house rules. Ajax strives to keep the way of playing soccer recognizable; attractive, offensive-minded, creative, fast, fair and preferably far away from the own goal on the opponents’ half.

The Ajax player Foundations: “Think Forward, Look Forward and Play Forward”

  • Players should be inventive, find solutions in tight areas often against pressure / strong resistance
  • Develop skills to capitalize on overloads
  • Ball reception and ball speed
  • Feel for the ball / control
  • Stimulate creativity, Ajax playing style encourages lots of ball contact

Listed below are some key world players to pass through the Ajax player development model:

  • Marco van Basten
  • Dennis Bergkamp
  • Frank de Boer
  • Ronald de Boer
  • Johan Cruijff
  • Edgar Davids
  • Patrick Kluivert
  • Ronald Koeman
  • Marc Overmars
  • Michael Reiziger
  • Frank Rijkaard
  • Edwin van der Sar
  • Clarence Seedorf
  • Wesley Sneijder
  • Jaap Stam

Ajax FC - Training Center

Ajax FC Team Philosophy Foundations

Team Functions: Attacking - Defending – Transition

Team Tasks: Building up and scoring/ disturbing and preventing scoring

Fundamental Training Elements

Insight in the game: Individual player – Choices – Observing – Relationships team task/ team function

Actions

With ball (technique): Passing –Receiving – Dribbling – Shooting – Heading – Tackling

Without ball (decision): Running into free space – Squeezing - Giving pressure – Marking - Cover

Communication: Tuning into football actions - Cooperation of players on team level

Age-Related Characteristics:


Leicester City FC, who are currently competing to be promoted back into the EPL from the Championship, and who are currently leading the Premier League youth academy in England after beating the likes of both Chelsea and Liverpool this season, was my next visit.

Club Stats

Leicester City FC
Full nameLeicester City Football Club
Nickname(s)The Foxes
Founded1884 (as Leicester Fosse)
GroundWalkers Stadium
Leicester
(Capacity: 32,500[1])
OwnerAiyawatt Raksriaksorn
Iman Arif
ChairmanVichai Raksriaksorn
ManagerSven-Göran Eriksson
LeagueThe Championship
2009–10The Championship, 5th

The club’s youth development success story..... Over the past eight seasons:

18 players achieving Premier League and Championship appearances (Total 600 plus apps) Over $7 million of Academy talent sold - Premiership Academy Champions 2006/2007- Group winners 2009/10 - Runners Up 2005/06 – No. 1 rated academy three years out of last four.

International Recognition - Over the past eight seasons:

  • Under 16-21 Honors
  • England – 12 players, including Joe Mattock, second-youngest player to appear for England U21s (17). Players also represented Australia, Wales, Rep of Ireland, Scotland, Poland, Northern Ireland, Hungary and Ivory Coast.

Listed below are some key world players to pass through the Leicester City FC player development model:

  • Gordon Banks
  • Peter Shilton
  • Frank Worthington
  • Gary Lineker
  • Alan Smith
  • Gary McAllister
  • Steve Walsh
  • Emile Heskey
  • Muzzy Izzet
  • Neil Lennon
  • Kasey Keller

Club Philosophy

“To identify players with outstanding potential and place them in an environment to produce Football and Educational excellence.”

Long-Term development model

Technical:

  • Age-Specific
  • Varied games program
  • Individual development

Physical:

  • Linked to chronological and biological age
  • Physical development monitoring for all ages

Psychological:

  • Performance Goal setting
  • Emotional intelligence
  • Team intelligence

Social:

  • Lifestyle management as a top athlete

Grass Roots to First Team
Medical & Sports Science

Staff

  • 2 First Team Physiotherapists
  • 1 Academy Physiotherapist
  • 1 School Boy Physiotherapist
  • 2 Sports Masseurs
  • 1 Doctor
  • 1 Strength and Conditioning Coach

Facilities

Full strength and conditioning gymnasium - Physiotherapists room for assessment and treatment – Rehabilitation area and equipment.

Player Selection Questions:

Technical Skills - How does the player deal with the ball under pressure? What is his first touch like? - Can he play with both feet? - Can he dribble in tight areas and at speed?

Does he possess a feeling for the ball?

Tactical Skills - Can the player move into space to receive the ball? Can he spot a pass between players? Does he make creative runs to receive the ball? Does he understand his role when playing in a position?

Physical Skills - Look at the players’ balance - What is the players’ agility like? - What word best describes the players’ physical skills? (Power, speed, strength, etc).

Mental Skills – Can he cope in the academy environment? Look at the eight C’s — which of these qualities does the player possess? (communication, concentration, courage, commitment, control, composure, competitiveness, consistency).

Social Skills - How does the player fit in with the rest of the group? What are the external pressures on the player? Are there any traveling issues? - Is the player outgoing – has he made friendships in his short time at the academy?

   
Washington Youth Soccer

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