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NorCal Premier Coaching Education Trip Day 2: Vitesse Arnhem

ARNHEM, Netherlands — In the 125-year history of Vitesse Arnhem, the club has won just one trophy: last year’s KNVB Cup.

And that trophy is consistent with the recent success level of Vitesse, five-time runners-up in the Eredivisie.

Strong finishes in the Netherlands recently have seen the club qualify for European competition in four of the past six seasons, an achievement that can largely be attributed to the four-year-old complex the club built near the German border at the National Sports Centre Papendal.

Vitesse was kind enough to let the Directors of Coaching of NorCal Premier Soccer a full day of access during the second day of the trip, featuring youth team trainings in the morning and lectures in the afternoon.

No detail in Papendal has been forgotten, from the names of every first team player that adorn the gym to the transponders surrounding the fields that help the club measure player data with the utmost precision.

Youth players can walk to their social media trainings or fitness sessions and pass through a hallway full of portraits of the club’s many legendary players, giving them more motivation to one day be among those greats.

At the forefront of Vitesse’s resurgence is Academy Director Edwin Peterson, who has been on the scene for about a year-and-a-half and has restructured the academy’s goals in that time.

According to Peterson, it is expected that at least 40 percent of first-team players and at least 50 percent of the starting lineup come from Papendal, with those players expected to have high value on the transfer market as well so the club can sustain its growth.

Since he took over, Peterson’s project has been rated as one of just four Dutch academies to receive the “international” rating by FIFA and currently houses roughly 25 youth national team players.

“We are getting there, we’ve had the opportunity to get players from other clubs…but overall there are too many average players,” Peterson said in his lecture.

Four years ago, the academy structure looked much different for Vitesse. According to Peterson, much of the staff was part time, the facilities were old, and there was no integration in between the first team and the academy.

Now, the club dictates academy policy, they are required to remain budget-neutral (the players they sell must cover the entire costs of the academy), the coaches are full time, but they still haven’t met their goals for the quality of their players, something that Peterson is working on turning around in various ways.

“You always start with analyzing what’s in the house,” he said. “I talked to a lot of people and what they all said was that we missed the conversation with the academy director to discuss football, there was a need of discussing football. We organized meetings to just put a theme in a week, talk about that thing and hopefully that will encourage them to become better coaches on the field.”

The key for any of Peterson’s coaches to succeed: a deep love of the game.

“What I want is people who are dedicated and passionate,” Peterson said. “If they don’t know everything, that’s not a problem, but they need to be dedicated and passionate.”

The philosophy for those coaches is to put the onus on players to play a big part in their own developments.

“One thing that we try to do in the academy is we stimulate ownership for the players,” Peterson said. “They’re responsible for their own growth. When they’re very young, we tell them what to do, but when they’re older, we just let them do what they want. They can make mistakes, but they can learn from those mistakes.”

NorCal’s Directors of Coaching had the opportunity to see that in person earlier in the day, where, surprisingly, an American was calling some of the shots for Vitesse’s U17 squad as an assistant coach.

Before the training, Milwaukee-born Charles Kazlauskas, a former professional for several Dutch clubs, spoke to the group on hand about the differences between the game in the Netherlands and the United States.

“The biggest adjustment was just the way they play the game, the positioning, the formations. When I was brought up…it was more of a physical game in America, where here it’s more positioning and tactics,” Kazlauskas said. “That’s what I missed when I was younger, just learning the tactics of the game. Here they start when they’re U8 and they just bring them up in the system. It’s like they have their own farm systems.”

As the eight-hour visit came to a close, the day ended with a tactical preview of tomorrow’s Europa League game, where NorCal will have the opportunity to see first hand all of the principles of Vitesse put into play as the Dutch side hosts Nice of France in the first of seven matches on the schedule during our two week stay in Europe in search of the betterment of coaching in Northern California.

The tactical preview, coupled with the game, will serve as the first assignment for the Directors of Coaching, who are tasked with providing a full match analysis will be presented to the entire group.

“We believe that everyone should see what is going on at the highest level,” NorCal Premier Soccer President Benjamin Ziemer said. “I will return a better coach and I’m looking forward to every session from the youngest, to the olders, watching the games, the game analysis, the discussion, talking with people in the bus…and looking at talented players just to try to hone my eye.”