Global Football Training has travelled the world to map, analyse and boost coaching methods to improve the next generation of footballers, and now it is time to recap the pros and cons.
Feature by Kenneth Steel
A few years on from setting out on a mission to get an in-depth look at coaching structures and player development strategies around the globe, the trip has come to an end.
The journey was scheduled to last 12 months. Instead, CEO Kenn Schmidt ended up travelling between continents for three years, notching up a staggering 125,712 air miles, staying in nearly 200 cities, and visiting more than 100 clubs and academies.
Global Football Training did, however, miss out on getting a first-hand glance at coaching and life in India, South Korea, Nigeria and the Ivory Coast as time ran out and visa issues played their part. Besides that, this non-profit project travelled to footballing powerhouses, sleeping giants and traditional minnows.
The aim never changed from start to finish: to map structures and develop a coaching method to improve the skill level of future generations of footballers. And visits to clubs and academies revealed some intriguing patterns and facts.
Status Quo – nothing new on the horizon
Global Football Training is now back in Denmark and ready to share valuable insights, lessons learned, pros and cons of the way the game is managed throughout the world. And ´uniform thinking´ seems to be an inherent part of the modern game.
“Europe is a dominant force in football, and most youngsters dream of plying their trade in one of the leading leagues over here. Coaches have developed a habit of using Europe as a benchmark and, as a result, adopted a conventional approach to coaching and player development,” states Kenn Schmidt and continues:
“In some way, the trip was a bit of a let-down as a majority of clubs and academies tend to think alike and employ identical programmes. I only saw a few tweaks as some coaches tried to push the boundaries of conventional coaching. To produce better players in the future, coaches need to evolve and embrace new possibilities.”
Letting themselves down
The British Isles were singled out as having to take a step back and regroup, leaving outdated coaching cultures and development schemes behind. Instead, British clubs should embrace a new style of football to increase the output of talented players as infrastructure and financial backing are in place.
If a large contingent of foreign players in the Premier League packed up and left, English football will be leaps and bounds behind other European behemoths. A new approach to coaching and player development is needed, and British clubs need to learn from other European countries – or risk being left behind.
Major problems in the US
Another country to share the same fate is the US. Whilst the US is not renowned for its footballing prowess and ability to produce talented players aplenty, the country boasts a plethora of state-of-the-art facilities, as well as a growing player base. And lack of funding never seems to be an issue.
The US could become a true great of the global game, but nothing will change until the approach to developing new talent is amended. “The system has been measured and found wanting,” says Kenn Schmidt and points out:
“Youth players are developed through a system dominated by a ´winner-takes-all´ attitude. The US should shy away from playing a large number of competitive matches. Instead, developing a unique skill set and a natural instinct for possession football should be the focal point up until the age of 13.”
Global Football Training also found that the game suffered from the close ties to the UK, as well as a lack of skilled coaches and officials. Youth football in the US has become an industry in which players pay a substantial fee to play, and the overall goal is to keep players at a club and, in the process, make a profit.
Instead, creating a setup with the primary focus on player development should take centre stage – and the US game would prosper if clubs and academies were open to children from all layers of society. Clubs should also aspire to attract quality coaches with a sound knowledge of the game to increase the output of talented youngsters.
Breaking free of the chains of conformity
Mexico and Denmark make up two out of a handful of countries adhering to such an approach, and they are starting to reap the benefits. Under the guidance of Morten Olsen, the youth setup in Denmark has improved immensely as results are starting to improve across all age groups – and major European clubs are snatching up a growing number of the talented youngsters.
Japan is another country to adopt a new approach and think outside the boundaries of conformity. JFA-run academies and clubs have embraced the Japanese culture and use it to their advantage.
“Regional and cultural aspects are incorporated into the coaching setup in a brilliant way as traditional values such as respect and an unreal work ethic compliment a freedom to create and the ability to take players on – and focus is on decision-making. A bright future awaits these talented youngsters,” states Kenn Schmidt.
Global Football Training was also impressed with the coaching structure at a number of clubs in Peru and Germany, as well as Sevilla FC in Spain and Wynton Ryfer in New Zealand.
After visiting South America, Global Football Training is, however, puzzled by the lack of coaching programmes run by the national associations, especially in a leading country such as Brazil. Due to the sheer number of talented youngsters playing the game, the country relies on skilled scouts to keep the stream of superstars flowing freely.
Will such an approach continue to make an impact on the world stage? Only time will tell.
Regional differences – way of life plays a huge role
The hours spent at clubs and academies also highlighted the cultural and social differences that exist in every aspect of life. In poor regions such as South America and Africa, young players seem to be more committed to the sport and showed an incredible hunger to succeed.
The passion is widespread, and football is seen as a ticket to Europe and a life in wealth. “Their training ethos exceeds that of their European counterparts, and playing football is a way of life. It is a game. But it also offers a chance of making it to the big leagues,” says Kenn Schmidt.
Clubs and academies on the African continent also feel the effects of poverty and the struggle to make ends meet as facilities are outdated, and a lack of funding is hampering the development of the game.
Life in Europe is a stark contrast to this portrayal as economic and social stability is not at risk in most Western European countries. And in some way that could be construed as a negative as Kenn Schmidt explains:
“Not long ago, children would play football all day long. That scenario has changed as several other factors have come into the equation. It is safe to say that young players in Europe could spend a lot more time on the training ground than they do. And it would not hurt them at all – quite the opposite, in fact.”
In China, the one-child policy has also made an impact on football as youth players find it hard to adapt to the idea of playing and working as a team. Instead, focus is on achieving personal goals and success.
Football is not the number one sport in many parts of Asia, and it showed in Thailand as teams rarely train and play on full-size pitches. Thus, youth players struggle to gain a thorough understanding of the game and develop the necessary tactical and technical abilities to evolve into talented footballers.
Lack of quality coaches
Economic, social and cultural aspects are not the only issues to pose a danger to the development of a steady stream of talented youngsters. The lack of top-notch coaches involved with bringing through future generations of footballers is mind-blowing and a real threat to talent development.
“Top-level coaches need to master the fundamentals, but, more importantly, they have to be able to instil a new skill set into youth players. Quite simply, coaches need to coach players to make the right decisions and allow them a great deal of creative freedom,” explains Kenn Schmidt and elaborates:
“Studies show that learning is easier early in life, and when players take ownership of the process. Thus, coaches should create an environment for youth players to flourish while adding the basics and enhancing the technical skill level. It is easier said than done, but good coaches will adapt to such a way of thinking.”
Global Football Training also got to watch its fair share of talented coaches in action, and their players showed off some incredible skills, both tactically and technically. If only, this was the norm.
The future goal of Global Football Training is to promote a new approach to coaching and player development, and move away from rigid, outdated environments that leave little room for creative players to thrive. To develop the game, this should be the aim of all coaches.
Incorporating other sports – and the mental aspect
Global Football Training is a staunch supporter of incorporating methods from other sports to improve skills and physical attributes. Coaches could draw on tennis, volleyball or basketball to improve movement and the ability to leap off the ground.
Further, sports such as athletics and American football have a knack for producing all-round athletes that combine speed and agility with power and strength. Kenn Schmidt points out:
“Coaches should not be looking to emulate all the physical attributes of a sprinter or a wide receiver; instead the idea is to incorporate certain elements that will turn players into better footballers. And other sports could also learn from studying football. That is how the dynamics of sports work.”
Studying other sports also revealed that the modern approach to coaching could gain from focusing more on mental training – even when coaching youth players.
“It is the missing link. Mind training plays no, or only a minor, role in coaching, but it is a vital tool to prepare youth players for the future, as well as produce talented players in peak mental and physical condition,” says Kenn Schmidt.
This cannot be implemented overnight as it takes time to create a sustainable coaching culture, but Global Football Training will continue to promote such an approach to coaching and talent development.
The end of the road
Global Football Training crossed the equator eight times and covered a total distance of 165,000 miles – enough to travel around the equator 4.7 times.
However, this is the last and final piece to come from us in a while as CEO Kenn Schmidt has set his sights on new, exciting projects and would like to employ his coaching skills and knowledge at clubs and academies all over the world. A new role of Technical Director or Specialist Coach is high on the agenda, while Kenn Schmidt is also eager to give a lecture on Global Football Training´s world tour.
That was all for now. Hope you enjoyed our insights into the world of football and views on coaching and player development from around the globe.