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Spain trip day 5: The Athletic Bilbao youth setup

BILBAO, Basque Country — It’s likely that the majority of NorCal Premier Soccer would have liked to spend an eternity in Bilbao and the Basque Country, but Monday was unfortunately our last day in the heart of Biscay as a trip to Barcelona loomed on the horizon.

Before we left though, there was one last opportunity to learn from the club that’s fast becoming a favorite of many NorCal directors: Athletic Bilbao.

Monday brought us a second team training session in the morning, followed by a Q & A session with one of the team’s assistant coaches and, upon a return visit in the evening, the viewing of a handful of youth sessions from the club’s academy.

“What I was looking for was to see how they trained compared to the first team, what their theories were, what their philosophies were,” said Gavin Glinton, the Director of Coaching at Impact SC. “Was it to win games? Was it to put players in the first team? Was it to try to sell players off?”

Glinton was able to ask his question to that assistant coach, who informed the group of over 30 NorCal directors that the whole purpose of the second team was to see their players graduate to the first team.

At the Athletic youth academy, even though they win most of their games, success not measured in wins or losses, but by how many players they are placed into the first team.

Another unique aspect of Athletic is the faith that they have in their players as the club sticks with them for the long run ensuring that those who do eventually make it into the first team have as many of the Athletic values instilled in them as possible.

“They say they trust their players, they don’t get rid of them, they don’t start looking to bring in players because I could see at big clubs, normally you have great players, players are always trying to come into your team and you get rid of them as soon as you find someone who is better,” Glinton said. “But they said, “No, we have faith in our players,” and I really think it helps support their whole club culture and I think it’s huge.

For Glinton, the lasting impression he came away with from the youth trainings that followed was all about the culture built by the club.

“When those kids came onto the field, it was like there was a bunch of candy on the floor,” Glinton said. “There were just balls scattered around and they went straight to the ball and they started picking up the ball and they started working with it. They weren’t trying to kick it as far as they could, they weren’t trying to take shots, they were massaging the ball, working on their technique feeling comfortable with their ball, the same thing with their younger teams, when they get out there, their attention to detail and their focus is fantastic.

“You see kids, you see them putting out an exercise and there may be an exercise with three or four kids in a line. Instead of kids taking every chance they get to chat with somebody, it was 100 percent focused, they were ready to go,” he added. “As a coach sometimes we try to take that part, that waiting part out of the sessions so that our kids don’t have the time to mess around or to chat with each other or to get distracted. Here, you can still really work on timing and what you want out of the periodization of the session so if you want kids to work hard for 30 seconds and rest for a minute, you can have them do that and the rest of them are sitting there, they’re focused, they’re sitting there, they’re paying attention.

“Obviously their technique was phenomenal, but for me the biggest thing I saw was the focus and the maturity in the training sessions.”

These are lessons that Glinton plans to implement upon returning to the United States and
Impact SC.

“I think that setting those standards, I think having trust in kids goes a long way, but to do that, the kids need to understand that, the players need to understand that,” he said. “That would be the one thing I take back, going and setting down a culture of expectations for our kids. We’ve done it. It’s not as well thought out. It’s not as well drilled.”

Check back tomorrow for a lighter day in which NorCal visited a youth club and a Catalan national selection on Day 6 of our trip ahead of trips to FC Barcelona and RCD Espanyol later in the week.