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Argentina Coaching Education Trip: Part 1

BUENOS AIRES — For the first time in nearly three years, NorCal Premier Soccer sent more than 30 coaches abroad to learn from some of the best clubs in the world in order to bring back valuable lessons to Northern California.

NorCal Premier Soccer believes that better coaches make better players which is why the organization’s leadership worked in conjunction with the Argentine Technicians Football Association and Premier International Tours to schedule a 10-day program designed to improve the practices of nearly three dozen NorCal leaders.

Following the trip the coaches, mostly made up of club directors throughout the state, will pass along what they’ve learned to players and other coaches to raise the level of the game locally.

After a long day of traveling, the NorCal contingent arrived in Buenos Aires Friday and immediately began the course with a lecture from Juan Cruz Anselmi, a youth development expert who has worked with famous Argentine clubs Independiente, San Lorenzo, and Newell’s Old Boys as well as for the AFA and CONMEBOL.

Anselmi’s three-hour presentation and discussion focused on early development from ages 6-13 and how much of an impact those crucial years can have on a player especially when it comes to the thousands of decisions they must make each game.

“We talk a lot about decision making when players have the ball but over here in Argentina, they’re referring to the decision that is made first before you get the ball when you’re scanning and you’re anticipating what’s going to happen,” said PDP Assistant Director Justin Selander. “And then as the ball is coming to you, you’re thinking of your decision and then once you receive the ball there’s a different process of how you make that decision. Then once you receive the ball there’s even another decision to be made when you feel pressure. It was fascinating to learn more about the pieces of how you make decisions before you have the ball when a lot of our decision making is when we do have the ball.”

The longtime youth coach then gave a detailed explanation on how to work well in those formative years, going over a seven step process while stressing the need for trainers to formulate their lessons to the individual child based on their socio-cultural background and personality traits.

“If you don’t work really well in these formative years, it will be tough to fully develop a player,” Anselmi said.

This idea came from early in Anselmi’s coaching career when he tried to directly replicate a model from another country but found it ineffective with Argentine players.

“(The kids) are players before they’re athletes,” Anselmi said. “The game needs to be adapted to fit the player, not the other way around.”

After a much-needed full night of sleep, the coaches went back to work Saturday morning where they bussed just outside of Buenos Aires proper to visit the training center of Independiente, the most successful club in the history of the Copa Libertadores.

There, the NorCal visitors were allowed to observe three youth team games as the capital city side faced fellow Primera Division club Sarmiento before first team staff members Maximiliano Sa and Santiago Rodriguez and club legend Francisco Sa explained the vision and goals for Independiente.

The trio provided detailed information on the periodization process for the entire year of trainings while laying out the club’s core philosophy, namely to always think forward both on and off the field.

According to Independiente, there are many desirable qualities in players with intelligence counting as the hardest to develop, but the most important for the club that produced Sergio Aguero will always be passion.

Independiente tries to foster this passion among their youth, many who grow up in the poorer areas of the city and can’t even afford bus fare to practice, which is why they choose to encourage their players to develop decision making skills in a calm and compassionate way. Here if a team is struggling in training, the coach will call them aside and ask what they can do to fix the issues. Only if the team continues to struggle will the coaches provide suggestions.

“Independiente talked about their rich history and are very proud of their accomplishments, not only in winning championships, but developing players and taking care of them in their youth,” said Placer United Boys Director of Coaching Kevin Unsworth. “I was really impressed by their openness to share information with us in addition to giving us full access to their facilities.”

Saturday night brought the much-anticipated first Argentine Primera Division game of the trip where the group of more than 30 traveled to the south side of Buenos Aires to watch Huracan defeat Newell’s Old Boys 1-0 in a match full of physicality and passion.

“The players played at such an intense speed and were always looking to go forward,” Selander said. “There were lots of intense battles, you’ve gotta be able to play with a lot of nicks and bruises here. The crowd is so connected with the fans and team, it doesn’t really seem like they’re ever really negative with them, they’re constantly trying to connect with them and show their love and support.”

“Seeing this shows me how we need the consistency in training of being intense in our actions and the intensity of sessions when players are in the moment of the action in practice, they have to be going 100 percent or more,” he added. “We have to figure out how mentally we can get them to always give their best.”

The following day, NorCal coaches took the time to learn a little more about Buenos Aires and perhaps its most famous club, Boca Juniors. The group toured the city’s La Boca neighborhood, visited the club museum, and ended the day with a Primera match between Defensa y Justica and Boca Juniors.

Finally, the coaches ended their short time in Buenos Aires by watching youth and first team trainings at Lanus before listening to a lecture from the club’s staff.

For those in attendance, it was an opportunity to experience the game at its more humble stage as the Lanus complex lies in an area surrounded by homes that are barred up and fenced for the protection of their owners. NorCal’s tour guide likened the experience of those growing up here to living in jail where the people were prisoners rather than criminals and one of the few ways to escape this metaphorical prison was through soccer. Perhaps this is why, as many noted, the Argentine players fight for every lose ball and through every challenge with a ferocity not often seen elsewhere.

“Both club visits were fun and interesting experiences,” Unsworth said. “What really stood out was their sense of community and culture. Overall I’m really happy to be here and looking forward to seeing what else the trip has in store for us.”

After Lanus, it was onto Rosario where NorCal’s trip begins Monday night after a drive through the Argentine countryside.