This year, professional football coaches are well represented in the Master in Coaching. The trainers were asked a number of questions to shed some light on Dutch football culture
In 2009, the Johan Cruyff Institute in Amsterdam started the Master in Coaching, which kicked off every year in September. Thanks to the success story of the program, an international edition was created two years ago, with two editions of the Master per year since 2017. The 15th edition will start in two months.
The target group has expanded over the years from sports coaches to a combination of sports coaches, managers from the sports industry and corporate businesses, life coaches and teachers. The sports coaches came from all corners of the sports industry, but football coaches from professional football clubs were still missing. That has been different since September. The head of the youth academy of VVV-Venlo, Roger Bongaerts, the former assistant trainer and head of the youth academy of Willem II, Jan de Hoon, and the youth trainers Tom Noordhoff (Ajax), Tim Lamme (FC Dordrecht) and Mathijs de Waard (de Graafschap) are making their way to Amsterdam every month and enjoying the different view on coaching that this program offers.
Mathijs: “Every player learns in his or her own way. This Master gives new insights into coaching and guiding yourself, the players as individuals and the team. We are often convinced that ‘B’ is the result of ‘A’. This program teaches you to separate your opinion and the accompanying value judgment from your perception.”
Tim: “It is an innovative and confrontational view of the coaching profession. I have noticed that I am learning to look at myself in a more realistic way. This is because the program is mainly aimed at getting to know yourself as a coach.”
Roger: “The program contains a mirror for self-reflection, but it is linked to a lot of insights and knowledge about the coaching profession to keep developing yourself.”
More and more professionals from the football industry are getting acquainted with the Master in Coaching and the Cruyffian way of coaching, which this year has resulted in a large group of professional football trainers in the classroom. A good development in the somewhat conservative football industry. All five students agree with this.
Roger: “The world of coaching starts but does not end in football. There is a whole world to be gained by being open to new insights, knowledge and experience from other sports, science and other disciplines. This Master responds well to this and gives these insights. In addition, it is good to continue to develop as a football coach in the field of coaching. Most trainer courses do not provide these insights, but this program does.”
Mathijs: “As coaches, we are coaching our players every day. But what is the value of coaching these players when you as a coach are not even able to coach yourself? You see many coaches working from the principle ‘we do this, because we have always done it in the past’. But successes in the past do not offer any guarantees for success in the present.”
In the hunt for new talent, Dutch football clubs are scouting younger and younger children. They are scouted on the fields of amateur clubs before their sixth year. According to experts, this system is ineffective and even dangerous for the mental and physical development of the talents. They argue that professional clubs should leave children alone until their twelfth year. The Dutch national broadcaster NOS made a documentary about this topic last year. What is the opinion of these football professionals?
Tom: “Competition in the football industry is getting bigger. As a result, you also see clubs scouting at increasingly younger ages. When I was 13 years old, I was scouted by Ajax. I could stay at my own school and was picked up from school every day in a van. I loved it, but that is different for every child. It is extremely important that a young talent is well supported by the club, but also by the parents.”
Jan: “To some extent, this is inevitable and the result of market forces. A lot of young players and their parents want to go to a professional football club and the clubs want to secure the best players and train them. As a result, there has recently been a tendency to scout talents earlier and take players into the youth academy. When a club approaches a player, the player or his/her parents can say no. Practice shows that this rarely happens. The clubs have, in my opinion, a great responsibility to make the right assessments for each individual in the interests of the child. This therefore requires a tailor-made approach and an eye for the individual. The other side of the story is that children will develop a lot of skills that their peers won’t experience or will only start to experience at a later age, such as planning, making choices, determination and the feeling of friendship. As a result, players who already play for a professional club at a younger age are ahead of their peers who don’t play for a professional club. A large number of players that I mentored and broke through in my time at Willem II started playing for the club at a young age. For these players, it certainly worked in terms of their football training, social environment and education.”
Mathijs: “The fact that they are being scouted is not the problem in my opinion. It’s more about the way it happens. Research has shown that children nowadays do far fewer hours of physical activity compared to the past. A whole day of outdoor games and football has made way to the PlayStation and social media. To encourage children to exercise and develop motor skills, it has become almost necessary for clubs to scout children at an early age. Then the key question is: What program will we offer these young athletes to help them develop optimally?”
For a number of years, Dutch football hass not been doing so well. The Dutch national team didn’t qualify for the 2018 World Cup in Russia or the 2016 European Championship in France, and Dutch clubs have had a tough time in the European leagues. Unrest within the Dutch football federation broke out, resulting in a lot of criticism and changes at the top. Peace now seems to have returned due to, among other things, the appointment of Ronald Koeman as head coach and Eric Gudde as professional football CEO. How do the Master in Coaching students see the future of Dutch football?
Roger: “Youth trainers are the basis of the development of youth players and should therefore also be helped in their own development. By educating trainers better, not only in organizing training sessions, but especially in the field of talent identification, motor learning, developmental psychology, physical development and coaching, we help youth players in their development. The current trainer courses are not designed for this. In the (motor) development of children there is also a responsibility for the parents and the educational sector. Children have to play outside and have freedom to move. In addition, the Dutch football federation must adopt a different role in influencing talents. It is now too much of the same in talent identification. It should stop having national teams under the age of 15, and focus more regionally so that a greater variety of talents get development opportunities. If we can manage to make children more active, educate good youth trainers and influence more talents, then I see sufficient perspective for the future of Dutch football.”
Jan: “What is happening with the Dutch national team and a few professional clubs at European level is very positive. However, we have also seen this in the past and I want to look past it as an instructor and continue to look critically at the future. In my opinion, this starts with the youth players and the youth academy. It is therefore very important that the clubs appoint the right trainers who can monitor and realize both processes. Training in football is about learning to win matches. The focus within youth football has shifted in recent years to ‘we are learning, so it is not bad if we lose’, but it is used too often as an excuse. It is about learning from a young age to win matches and to show the behavior that goes with it. Here we can emphasize even more in the interest of Dutch football.”
When asked what the studious coaches would like to see differently and what they would like to change in Dutch football culture, they did not have to think twice. The five students have a clear vision.
Tom: “What I find very important is that players can develop in a safe learning environment, that they have fun and get the most out of themselves. The mentality of the players is something I think a lot can be gained from in the Netherlands.”
Jan: “What I would really like is that we continue to participate structurally at European level with a core of Dutch players from our youth academies. Now, we occasionally participate at European level and there are a few key players, both inside and outside the Netherlands, with a Dutch nationality at European level. I would like to use my expertise for this!”
Tim: “I notice that we are slowly becoming less stubborn, more open to change and better able to deal with foreign influences. We have always been a country with a good education system and we can be proud of that. Clubs are becoming freer to set up initiatives. This way every club can produce talents according to its own vision. This is good news. However, I notice that at a certain age the smaller clubs cannot compete against the big talent academies, because money also plays a role and therefore many small clubs lose their big talents to the professional clubs. This is something that should not get the upper hand, because then a lot of talent will be lost in the long term.”
Roger: “Trainer courses must be arranged differently. For example, by creating more and other development opportunities for the youngest players in a collaboration between the professional football clubs, amateur clubs and the Dutch football federation, and by creating more and other development opportunities for the talents of the professional clubs from the age of 13. It is also important that more knowledge and experience is shared instead of always getting knowledge from the same network. I would also like to see that a different competition structure and set-up is being implemented and I firmly believe that a copy/paste from other countries, federations and trainers does not work!”
Mathijs: “We have to invest a lot more in our youth academies. If you cannot compete against the large sums paid in countries like England, Germany, Spain and Italy, you have to look for alternatives. We are still able to develop top talent, so we have to focus on that. Youth academies should create an environment in which players are challenged to do lots of football hours and invest in themselves. Often arguments like ‘children no longer play outside’ or ‘they only have eyes for social media and gaming’ are being used, but that does not have to be a problem. That’s just how it is today. Despite the fact that there are other and more alternatives than before, children are still children. By that I mean that you can still stimulate and motivate them to play football. If I could change something, it is the times when the youth players are at the club. Let’s start with the youngest. Until high school, they should be able come to the club every day right after school. At the club they can play football with each other and training will be at the beginning of the evening. This allows them to return home on time. From secondary school, players naturally also have to deal with homework and other side effects. From then on, there has to be customization for each individual to perform both at school and at the club. Because players do many hours at a young age allowing them to determine their own intensity, the physical capacity of the body will be increased. Hopefully, this will ensure that they can handle more in later life. This will allow us to join the European elite again. Of course, this all depends on the availability and quality of the trainers. So it is high time to invest in the youth academies.”
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