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Youth Futbol in Barcelona II-Training

We are blessed with facilities in North America and facilities are always at the forefront here but does that always translate into a formula of development? Of course the better the facilities the better the environment for the player but we all know many world class players have come from environments that were less than ideal. As mentioned in my previous post , Vic Riuprimer FC had a stadium with artificial turf and three dirt fields, commonly referred to as "sand" fields for training. One will be replaced with artificial grass in the summer prior to the beginning of the season in September that will leave them with two turf and two "sand".

While I was there, I really wondered how parents would react in Canada if their club had similar fields? In fact I believe that these hard surfaces were definitely great for training as your first touch had to be the right one and the technical activities involved that extra element of difficulty with that hard surface coupled with the blowing dust in your eyes at times. Sometimes I feel it is all about the show here and less about development, and of course this is a general statement and varies from club to club but its seems to me that it is much easier to "dress up" all the off the field items than to focus on the important part of player development, but to be fair,

"Do we really know what true player development looks like and do we have the necessary coaches and tools in place to execute?"

We spend quite a bit on unnecessary uniforms each year, we have fancy promotions with sponsors, we have permits upon permits and are consumed with so many rules and regulations and sometimes these vary from district to district. With the introduction of LTPD in Ontario it provides a framework for clubs and coaches. Also the CSA plans on introducing a long awaited National Curriculum. Another very important document that will hopefully move all those involved in our wonderful game onto the same page and move them in the same direction. Now we join the blog already in progress.

The boys first session involved Alexander(U11) on turf and Dimitri(U14) and Nicholas(U13) on the dirt field. Lukas(U10) did not start training until the next day. They weren't exactly excited to be on the "sand" but then again they were in Spain training for the game that all 4 are all passionate about. There were similarities in all the sessions. All 4 teams trained 3 times/week with a game on Saturday or Sunday. Even the mighty FC Barcelona trained at 3 to 1 training to game ratio and went to 4 to 1 at U16, which seemed to be the standard everywhere in Spain. They all played a 30 game season run by the Catalan Football Federation that began in September and ends at the end of May/early June. Imagine if we were blessed with good weather and we could have July and August off to enjoy summer?

Each training session was 90 minutes. Half of the session was spent on technical, whether it was simple reps on passing and receiving, dribbling with all parts of the foot, long balls, short balls, rondos etc and the other 45 mins was spent in some sort of game like activity where possession was key. These games were directional, north and south and always had a way to score. Whether there were 4 goals, end zones that you needed to get to or the standard 2 goal game, training always involved a "game-like"activity.

Many of the sessions were no different than what most do here. The only difference was the players they had. All players were highly technical and tactical even at the younger ages. They were all comfortable with the ball and their first touch away from pressure occurred 99.9% of the time. If the ball came from the left they would take their touch to the right and they were very patient with the ball. It wasn't a very physical game but very technical. The players lined up on their field just like their older counterparts and played the same way.

"Spain really had a national football identity no matter what club you went to and what age the players were.This was Spain where the key component to their game was possession."

They did not force the ball into difficult passing channels or put their head down and try to dribble through the whole team. Do we as coaches see a lot of these players on our teams or in our leagues? Now the million dollar question, what do we do to change this in Canada? I have my opinion and many of you have your opinions as well but that is for another post.

The teams that played the 7v7 format lined up in a 3-2-1. There was a centre back and the two outside backs had the freedom to play high up the park in an attacking role and off course had to get back to defend. When they had possession the outside backs were as wide as possible and they stayed very close to the touch line. This provided a lot of space in the middle of the park for their two central midfield players. The lone striker played high up the park and provided that depth needed to stretch them out. On the Friday the U10 team was preparing for their game on Saturday. Their opponent on Saturday was FC Barcelona, the best of the best and the last 30 mins of the training session was very tactical in nature. Tactics at 9/10 years old is a very touchy subject for many of us in Canada but in general we have technically poor players as a whole and I have used the expression, "No technique equals no tactics." These kids were technically very good so maybe the tactics could be successful.

What were they working on? Quite simple to us adults, they had determined their line of confrontation and how they were going to sit back and try and counter attack FCB. I think this was the same tactic many La Liga clubs and/or Champion's League teams have used at the senior level. Sit back, soak as much pressure as they can and perhaps have the option to counter attack and get that goal or two from that. They had split the team into an attacking team and defending team. The defending team was going to sit back, allow the attacking team to retain possession in front of them and decide when was a good opportunity to counter. These kids were 9 and 10 right? Here is a small sample of the team trying to retain their shape and allow the passes in front of them.

They would play and when they won the ball they would give back to the opposing goalie or coach to start over again and they would get back into their shape. Some will say that this is wrong, but these were technically good players and understood what they needed to do to accomplish this and knew when a good time to win the ball was. So would this tactic be successful with their game against FC Barcelona who spend tens of millions on their academy and bring talent in from all over the world? At least in training the players were very disciplined and retained their shape well. They tried to take away passing channels so the attackers couldn't penetrate, they tried to keep the attackers on the outside and would collapse as a team if a ball did penetrate. They did this repetitively for 30 mins and they also switched so each group had an opportunity to defend. There were no moans from the players, there were no questions to the coach asking if they were going to play a "real" game. They were all engaged and knew the task at hand for tomorrow's game. Even Lukas was excited with the team at them playing against Barca the next day even though he was ineligible to play. He couldn't believe that this team he was training with was playing against arguably one of the best academies in the world. In fact all the boys were excited to see the game tomorrow and see how it was going to play out.

In my next instalment I will reflect on the game against FC Barcelona and all the youth games I attended. I am sure you have figured out the level was very good and their understanding of the way the game is played was very good. Nonetheless there are some differences in the way the league was structured compared to us here in Canada. Hope you enjoyed!!

My name is George Sarakinis and I have been involved in the game of futbol for many years as a player, coach, parent, Technical Director and presently I am the Project Manager Of MBP(Making Better Players) Academies and Camps for Sport Networking Barcelona in Barcelona, Spain. This blog came along as I wanted to share my experience within the game of futbol.

My recent travels have sparked some debates and information sharing and thought it was a great avenue to share this information through this blog. If you have any questions or comments I can be reached at or on twitter @GSarakinis.

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