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Euro Trip Day 7: An Introduction To Germany

GELSENKIRCHEN, Germany — After an early morning which included a two-hour drive from Amsterdam for the second phase of NorCal Premier Soccer’s 2017 Coaching Education Trip, the travelling contingent headed to their first German club: FC Schalke 04.

NorCal Premier Soccer’s Directors of Coaching were welcomed into Germany by Bodo Menze, a Schalke ambassador, who quickly went over the history of the club because he found it pertinent to the series of lectures set to take place later in the day.

Make no mistake, the industrial region of Nordrhein-Westfalen is the real capital of German football.

Home to top level clubs like Schalke, Borussia Dortmund, Bayer Leverkusen, Borussia Monchengladbach, 1. FC Koln, and more, the region supports more top-flight clubs than most regions you can find in any country in any part of the world.

And with the area home to nearly 18 million Germans (about 20 percent of the country’s population), there’s fierce competition from each of these clubs to recruit top talent.

“It makes our work difficult because everyone is fighting for players,” Menze said. “On the other side, it’s good for the boys because each Saturday or Sunday, there’s a big fight on the pitches for points. You will not find a team that is very weak and one team that is dominating all the others. It’s not possible here so for the boys, it’s the perfect way.”

But that challenge has perhaps driven the region to incredible heights, especially for Schalke’s famed youth academy that saw several of its alumni win the World Cup in 2014 with Germany, including key players in Manuel Neuer, Benedikt Howedes, Mesut Ozil, and Julian Draxler.

Scouting For A Winning Program

After Menze gave the Directors a bit of history of the club, Head of Scouting Uwe Vester arrived to explain exactly how Schalke has been so successful based on a sustainable model that prioritizes youth development.

At Schalke, if they don’t identify the top players early, there’s a good chance that their modest — for a top European club — budget won’t allow the club to purchase said player even if they want them.

Even if they do identify the top players at a young age, though, Vester must make sure that Schalke is an attractive destination. While he believes that youth development doesn’t always correlate with victories, he still finds winning at the youth level imperative.

“Some people say that the table isn’t important, but the parents and the agents and the players look at the table. It’s normal,” Vester said. “We have to create good teams and win championships.”

“Their scouting was interesting because they have a pretty small staff but they’ve developed some good players,” said Sonoma State Head Coach Marcus Ziemer. “Their organization, the way that they organized their area, which for me would be california, I’ll definitely bring it home and put it in my program.”

Added Ballistic United U11-U15 Director of Coaching and U15 Developmental Academy coach Andrew Ziemer: “Scouting the players, Schalke does more with the kid as a person, how they learn based on the main criteria that they select from you have to know more about him as a human being, not just a soccer player.”

Vester also left the NorCal contingent with a warning: when scouting, make sure that you’re able to watch games by yourself, uninterrupted.

“You never can see what you want to see (if you’re talking),” Vester said. “You have to be very concentrated all the time.”

Implementing Video Analysis

One way that Schalke has gotten a leg up on the competition is through introducing video analysis.

While the use of video is certainly not unique in the soccer community, the extent in which Schalke do use it is.

Not only do the club help the first team with tactics and training through video, but that program extends all the way down through the U14 level and includes video of coaches as well.

Still, Schalke were quick to explain potential problems that could come with using video in the wrong way.

“Don’t use video as a way to point out to a young player that he defended poorly,” U21 assistant coach and video analyst Jacob Fimpel said. “Use it as an example for how he can get better.”

“Give your players a chance to understand,” he added. “Don’t make the mistake that you think the players know the same things as you. You watch the game three times, you look at your presentation two or three times. They watch it one time.”

“Based on working with young players and video, you have to use evaluation in video in the way that’s age-appropriate on the stage that they’re in as a human being and a child,” Andrew Ziemer said. “When they’re really young and they’re not ready psychologically to be self critical, you look more to inspire. We’ve been using one way with our video from our 11-15, now we’re going to adapt and use it in a different way.”

Training Practically

Of all the lectures, the one that perhaps generated the most interest came from U23 coach Onur Cinel, whose philosophies stated that teaching youth players an implicit knowledge of the game by coming up with exercises that did the teaching was paramount.

Essentially, Cinel said that teaching theory in a classroom was one thing, but getting his players to translate that theory onto the field was a whole different task.

“When I sit in front of the team and have a technical question, 22 hands go up, but when they go to training, they don’t know it,” Cinel said. “They don’t have to understand it (in the classroom as long as they do on the field).”

Said Andrew Ziemer: “The kids need experience to develop intuition by doing it, their trainings need to be set up in a way where their behavior comes out by the demands of the session, not by the coach in a classroom. They want to create players that are flexible and understand and can play the game so they’re  useful not only for Schalke, but other first teams.”

Also on the docket for the day was a presentation of Schalke’s player database and their sports psychology program which preceded youth trainings, or so the coaches thought.

Due to heavy snow, trainings were cancelled and NorCal’s Directors were given a rare night off to explore the city before tomorrow’s club visit at Bayer Leverkusen.