Saludos desde Madrid!
Over the past four years, we have had the opportunity to work with LaLiga (Spanish soccer's first division professional league) and US Club Soccer through the "LaLiga Formation Methodology Program". It has been an incredible experience of learning, proper soccer methodology, developing/ executing your personal philosophy, and much more!
This year, I advanced to the very first LaLiga Formation Methodology (Level 1 - Spain Expert Level) program in Madrid, Spain. Our select group of coaches (only seventeen other coaches in the nation at this level) has had incredible learning opportunities at every turn. We've had the chance to learn from some of the largest professional soccer clubs (Real Madrid, Atletico Madrid, FCBarcelona, and many more); including professional lectures, training session observations, behind the scenes tours, and insight into club practices/procedures.
"Before LaLiga's partnership/program, no other outside coaches have been allowed behind the scenes at Cuidad Deportes de Real Madrid; Real Madrid's training academy."
To say that I have learned much would be an understatement. The insight from the coaching staff and directors of some of the biggest Spanish soccer giants has been eye-opening. The amount of detail, planning, science, and precision going into each program makes you quickly realize how far behind we are in the United States. I don't say that as a slight against our soccer programs, but rather a recognition for the need for change in our country. Change our viewpoints, our approach, and our organization as coaches, program directors, players, and parents alike.
There has been so much information that it will take time to process, organize, and start planning ways to implement in our training at (QTSD©). We've also received quite a few validations on our current approach to training and methodology. But in our eyes, that is not good enough. Always striving to improve, we are excited to apply our continued education to all of our (QTSD©) Training!
Heading into the mid-week, I wanted to share my "Top 6" takeaways from the trip so far:
It is no longer enough to "just play" soccer - The sport is rapidly advancing on many fronts. Players/coaches/parents MUST take into account the need for proper sports nutrition, psychology, and injury prevention/physical fitness. We also need to consider our athletes' total workload and recovery. The idea of non-specialization has been twisted in America. Playing multiple high-level sports at the same time DOES NOT make a better athlete. The incorporation of other sports movements and techniques CAN better a player as it changes up muscle confusion, BUT only if it does not continue to add to the break down of muscle fibers/tissue/fatigue, etc.
To change, we need to educate everyone; coaches, players, AND parents together - Not only educate, but to stop doing things because "that's how they've always been done."
The end goal is a long term project; winning early doesn't matter much - A player's development is from age four to 18+. Spain has one of the best home grown player development pathways in world. Even though they develop some of the best players in the world, their focus is on the player's holistic (individual long-term) development. In the United States, we are way too focused on multiple games per week, college showcases, winning trophies, and other aspects that are considered distractions in Spanish development. The focus needs to shift to a true holistic development of an athlete that will succeed in soccer and life.
Our athletes need to put in more intentional training - Simply put, the amount of time our players put in with the ball is significantly behind our Spanish counterparts. I will be posting a breakdown of training time of American players vs. Spanish players later this week to help drive home that point.
Our mindset needs to change, meaning everyone - We must embrace dedication and expectations vs. making excuses. High-performance athletes are precisely that - athletes that take extraordinary steps to be better. They don't make excuses or allow distractions - they change their mindset to be better in every aspect. That was a significant difference in Spain compared to America. Players came to every session prepared to compete in all aspects, partially from the passion for soccer and partly because of the professional culture instilled at the club/academies.
It's no longer good enough to be "just a soccer coach" - Modern coaches must consider sports psychology, education techniques, communication techniques, physical fitness loads, methodology, game model development, and MUCH more! Additionally, coaches, trainers, and sports physicians MUST start to have soccer-specific training and education. The days of high school coaches running strength and fitness programs are no longer enough. Our sport is too complex to have a general fitness instructor to work with athletes. Every one of these clubs requires their fitness trainers and psychologists to be soccer licensed to understand the demand of the game. A track coach teaching soccer players? How does that make any sense?
While these are simply takeaways, there has been a question that keeps coming to my mind:
"Could our athletes even handle the amount of determination and professionalism required of these Spanish athletes for success?"
I think they could, BUT it would take a massive change of mindset and embrace of higher expectations. Yes, these large clubs have a lot of resources (Real Madrid has eleven training fields, two training stadiums, AND the Bernabeu)! But we can do much of what they do on our own (or with minimal assistance). Research into proper sports nutrition (fueling and muscle repair), adequate sleep (physical and mental recovery) sleep for recovery, and working with a sports psychologist/soccer oriented fitness trainer (physical and psychological development) are easily accessible for many players.
I'm incredibly thankful for this opportunity that LaLiga and US Club Soccer has provided us. If you had told me four years ago, I'd be working with the directors of LaLiga and standing on the training ground of Real Madrid; I would have laughed at you. Even as I type this, it has taken me a couple of days to fully realize the scale of the opportunity our group of coaches has been given. A chance that many coaches may not receive in their lifetime - the opportunity to learn from some of the top soccer coaches, directors, and specialists in the world!
Look to hear more about the trip in our next (QTSD©) Training Ground blog post and "Adios por ahora!"