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Guadalajara Coaching Education Trip: Part 2

GUADALAJARA – So often in soccer, players, parents, and coaches get lost in the on-field aspect of the sport. And while playing the beautiful game is paramount to the many educators who make coaching their profession, the 24 coaches from Northern and Southern California who made the trip to Mexico were reminded of balancing the human aspect of soccer with the rigorous, sometimes brutal, demands of professional football.

At least that’s what the high-level instructors from historic Liga MX clubs Necaxa and Chivas de Guadalajara preached during the fourth and fifth days of the joint NorCal Premier Soccer and SOCAL Soccer League coaching education trip.

On Tuesday morning, the two dozen eager learners took the bus three hours Northeast of Guadalajara to the quiet and pristine city of Aguascalientes Necaxa have called home for two decades.

After watching the first team of the three-time league champions train, the coaches were whisked into a conference room for a presentation from head coach Andres Lillini.

The one-hour session began with a video presentation from Lillini where he detailed the method in which he scouted opponents and gave his players instructions based on what they expected from their opposition.

From there, Lillini, who has coached in Mexico, Argentina, and Russia, agreed to answer questions and was asked about the differences in coaching in the various countries he’s worked in during his coaching journey.

“In Russia the players study first before soccer and have to serve in the military, but everyone has to study if they want to follow their sports career,” the Argentine national said. “In Mexico studying is now more important than in Argentina and mostly that’s changing because of the parents. In my time they told me that it wasn’t important to study, but now I have 47-year-old friends looking for jobs. Argentina are world champions, but that’s not the true story of the country.”

“You can’t treat everyone the same,” Lillini said. “They aren’t soccer players, they are people who play soccer.”

Following Lillini’s lecture, Necaxa Sporting Director Alberto Clark delivered a brief presentation in which he described the club’s methodology, which included a massive investment in their youth development program.

According to Clark, it’s better if the club utilizes a shared philosophy and similar exercises from the first team all the way down to the youngest age group of players. Every coach is expected to work within the club curriculum down to the training topics for each training and moment of the training. While they are given some leeway in developing exercises, they must submit them to the staff for review before they are able to use them in their trainings.

“What makes us different from the other clubs is that we always follow the procedure,” he said. “At Burger King, they don’t hire a chef for each restaurant, they hire cooks who perfect how to make each burger the same. We look for coaches who follow the model similar to the cooks at Burger King. We’re looking for cooks, not chefs.”

“The key to success is following the model,” Clark added. “At the other clubs, eventually someone will want to be a chef instead of a cook and then we get ahead.”

Once the presentation concluded, the 24 coaches hopped back on the bus to Guadalajara and headed straight for Estadio Jalisco where they experienced an incredible match as Atlas came back from a 4-1 first leg deficit to defeat Olimpia of Honduras 4-0 in the second leg and advance to the quarterfinals of the Concacaf Champions League.

On Wednesday, it was finally time to spend a full day at Atlas’ city rivals and arguably the most famous club in Mexico, Chivas de Guadalajara.

First up was a U18 training session followed by a chat with that age group’s staff. According to them, it was incredibly important to support each of their players off of the field in addition to on it.

The simple truth is that most of the players who enter the Chivas academy, and any other academy in the world, will never play professional soccer, so Chivas makes it a priority to help their kids in a variety of different ways.

During cuts each year, the entire age group and staff will gather to send them off with love, hopefully to another place where they might be able to play – Chivas try to find a place for each player who doesn’t make the cut at the second most-successful club in Mexican soccer history.

Furthermore, those who don’t continue with Chivas are supported with scholarships to universities, ensuring that no child is left behind.

“You have to think about the human being first, then the player,” one staff member said.

The Californian contingent then headed inside for a detailed presentation from Tapatio (the Chivas reserve team) head coach Gerardo Espinoza. In it, he went into detail, including video, of a weekly microcycle of his training programs.

Next, the coaches were invited for a two hour conversation graciously hosted by first team coach (often referred to as Director of Tactics in Mexico) Veljko Panović.

While the topics of the session varied wildly, what was clear was that Panović cared deeply about the game and the mental health of his players.

Take for instance, his stance on recovery. “To recover physically, you have to recover emotionally,” he said. “You have to be rested and ready to work.”

Panović detailed how he helped his players accomplish this, including helping them stay away from distractions like social media, acquaintances asking for game tickets, and press hounding the players for the weekend’s starting lineup – for Panović, like most of the other coaches in Mexico, it was all about caring for the human being over the soccer player.

However, upon entering the club, he also found a softness, a lack of resolve, both of which he attempted to change by changing the environment – a small example  not allowing the trainer to run on the training field whenever a player was “hurt” in training. Instead, now he tells them to get up, when they are obviously not hurt, and insists on a mental toughness necessary to compete at the top of Mexican football.

Once Panović’s talk ended, there was one final U18 training session led by Chivas Sporting Director Fran Perez before the coaches headed to a dinner conversation with rival Club America’s Sporting Performance Director Paolo Pacione.

At the midway point of the trip, it was time for several coaches to reflect on what they’d learned over the past five days.

“The main theme these past couple of days has been about getting to know the person and not particularly focusing on the player aspect,” said NorCal PDP coach Paulina Gonzalez. “The Mexican style seems to take a very player-centered approach. The quote that really moved me today was when Panović said, ‘to recover physically, you need to recover mentally.’”

“I see many coaches in the states who avoid giving their players rest in order to reach the next level, but sometimes one must understand that less is more,” Gonzalez added. “After observing many of the trainings from these clubs, the intensity was always there. Some clubs had better facilities than others, but what I will take away and apply to teams is that maybe we don’t have enough, but we have all there is.”