Bohdan Gorodnyuk, coach of the Left Bank Football Club, raises the key issues of our children’s football and shares how Europe is developing.
Any footballer can improve his ball control techniques throughout their careers, but the foundations are laid in childhood. If you skip the basics, it will be very difficult afterwards. Therefore, to become a professional player, it is very important how a football player is trained at a young age.
In the late 1990s, I myself went through the entire system of our youth football. We were constantly told that a player must be physically strong and resilient – there is no other way to play football. At the age of 13, we even ran the Cooper test (12 minutes of running at maximum speed, where you have to run 3.2 km – author’s note). And this focus on physics always led to injury. As soon as I began to get in shape and reach a certain level, because of the heavy load, the body could not stand it, and I had to get treated again. This was the main reason why I was unable to reveal myself as a football player.
At that time, Ukrainian children’s football worked according to the Soviet method – the strongest will survive. Due to the large population and “training until exhaustion”, the best survived and the Soviet sport was among the leaders. Today, the number of children doing sports has decreased significantly and this system no longer works. We are in a transitional phase. But some academies have returned to the practice of giving Cooper tests to 13-year-olds. This is complete nonsense! To what end?
The European approach is more appealing to me. Its main idea is the development of a child. In my opinion, this is the future.
When I, while still a player, went to the Austrian team Red Star for observation, I saw how the academy worked there. This picture changed my approach to football. The way children worked on tactics, communication of coaches with them, no shouting. And at 22, I realized that I wanted to become a children’s coach. Having arrived in Kyiv, I thought for a long time on how I could develop. Then I bought the program “Children’s football in Austria: 5 to 9 years old” on the Internet. I took the European vector and began to collect further information. I have a goal and a dream to change our children’s football.
In Germany and Austria, they think about the progress of children and their development above all. Not a result at any cost. They understand that in order to get something in the end, you need to lay the base at a very early stage. Local coaches told me that people who work with toddlers can earn more salaries than coaches who train children of graduation age. After all, mistakes in childhood will be visible to the naked eye. We have a completely different attitude to children’s coaches.
In our football, parents and individual club leaders are very focused on the result. Once a father brought his son to a training session. After the class, he said that he and his son liked everything. I told him about my approach: “I set long-term goals, there is no desire to win every match at any cost; the most important thing is to educate children”. The father asked: “But how? I want my child to take first places. He is a strong boy.” I explained that if you bet on ball control at a young age, then due to a lack of skill, children will make mistakes and miss, but in the long run they will become more technical and stronger football players than those who, at a junior level, begin to “hustle” the ball and just play for the result. The father decided that he needed medals and went to look for another team.
Many parents try to transfer their non-embodied dreams to children in the form of medals. Some of my colleagues are led by the parents’ wish to win and start to arrange “setups”. They let out older guys in order to win, because this is important for the prestige of the club, and then they can tell the parents that they are a club that constantly wins. But this is a road to nowhere.
There is no unified youth training system in Ukraine. In Germany and Austria, the concept, methodology and directions are spelled out, and here everyone trains the way he wants. Globally, we do not understand where we are going.
The big problem in our children’s football is the coaches. There are different categories. The first are coaches of the old school, who don’t want to learn and train in the old-fashioned way. The second problematic type is mentors, who have chosen the financial direction as the main one. In such teams, one coach conducts training for more than 20 people. It is impossible to carry out a workout in such conditions! You do not have enough strength, eyes and time to guide the guys, suggest something and correct them. The main thing for them is not the quality, but the number of children in the team, because parents pay fees for training. According to this logic, the more guys are in the team, the better. One trainer can supervise 10-12 children during training. To train more, you need assistants.
Another aspect of the business approach is the constant travel to tournaments. Where there are tournaments, there is collection of money from parents. Price are often above the normal. I do not argue that tournaments are needed from time to time. But not all the time. This is already becoming a business platform for trainers. There is no time for teaching children on these trips. When to lay the foundations, if there are always matches and traveling?
Our kids are very capable themselves. Throw them a ball – they will progress, but the question is how? When you come and chew on every little thing for a child, put into detail every element, correct mistakes, they develop much better. Again, I want to repeat: there are many talented children with whom they do not work properly in childhood, and they miss a chance to become a football player. And that is how we are losing generations of potentially powerful players.
I give you an example: a 9-year-old boy is attending a sports school and doing gymnastics. At one lesson, children are doing “frogs” exercise, jumping over barriers, dragging each other on their shoulders. The boy wakes up the next day and tells his dad that he cannot sit on the toilet because of the muscle pain. Injuries at this age will not appear yet, but they may appear when he is 16. Now many coaches overload children, they fight, “run over”, and what will happen to them next?
Until the age of 15, they often do not pay attention to technique at all; they win tournaments due to physics. Even European tournaments are won by our children at the expense of physics at this stage. But then, after 15 years, physics alone is not enough. Physical fitness alone is not enough to fight against a thinking and technical team.
Currently, I work at the Left Bank Football Club. This is a project that has been created from scratch by Nikolai Nikolaevich Lavrenko together with Nikolai Petrovich Pavlov and Anatoly Ivanovich Buznik a few years ago. The philosophy of the club is the essence of the child’s development as a person and a football player, and not of the outcome of children’s tournaments. The main result will be achieved if we prepare graduates for youth and national teams and decent people.
During my work in children’s football, I read a lot of literature, attended master classes and talked with many successful foreign children’s coaches. Based on internships and my own experience, I wrote a methodology for training young footballers. It is now used at the Left Bank Football Flub. This document clearly defines technical, physical and psychological aspects of working with children. It all comes down to small details. The essence of the technical elements is to teach a child to perform each technical element correctly and correct mistakes in a timely manner. During training, you never keep silent, to the extent that you guide their leg with your hand so that the children do it as correctly as possible.
For example, everyone says that you need to develop speed. At the beginning of the workout, they give a straight run. But why? In football, there is such a thing as muscle memory, but in a game you never run straight, they constantly change direction, slow down. Strength cannot be developed by jumps, barriers, there are special exercises for this. For example, there is Korver’s technique, which develops strength due to intensive work with a ball and a load on legs. At the same time, there is no critical strain on the joints. There is even a whole program of exercises, work with a ball, a set of touches. In general, in modern football, it is very important how many touches a child has made to the ball during training. The number of touches defines the feeling of the ball and, as a result, the technique.
Anatoly Ivanovich Buznik brought a Belgian coach to our school; he showed how they work on thinking with the help of modern technologies. We must make children not just “juggle” a ball, but think.
At one of the forums, I was able to talk with the Dutch specialist Patrick Van Leeuwen, who was once the head of the Donetsk Shakhtar Academy. In personal communication, he confirmed my thoughts that I was moving in the right direction. And it is in conversations with him, that you understand that training and detail are important.
For example, let’s take the inside of the foot pass. Coaches often explain it, but don’t observe. As a result, the foot is not developed correctly, not as it should be. If this is not corrected, the quality of the players will be completely different in the end. On the small fields, incorrect passes can still be received. But then, when the distances on the field increase, these passes will not work.
In Ukraine, there is an opinion that children under 12 do not perceive tactics. I strongly disagree with this. Obviously, at a young age they do not need the tactics of adult football. It’s just that the tactics need to be adapted to the age format. For example, in Ukraine there are three formats for participation in competitions among children: 4 + 1, 7 + 1 and 10 + 1. In a 4 + 1 format (four field players and a goalkeeper) we play a diamond. I make children think so that they don’t just run, but understand the game and what they are doing. For example, not just knock the ball out, but go through a pass and control, constantly thinking. You can arrange the players as you like, but if you do not lay down the idea, there will be just a meaningless running around. In 7 + 1, we play with 2-3-2 tactics – this also turns out to be a diamond. And with 10 + 1 the classic 4-3-3 comes out. Already in the 4 + 1 format, we prepare children for 4-3-3.
What is the idea of a diamond? The point is to break the opponent’s line. With this arrangement, you lay the essence of cross and diagonal passes and opening zones. With a diamond, you make them think and lay down the principles of football. If you educate a generation of thinking football players, they can quickly change to other schemes when moving to the big field. The main thing is to get children to think on the football field.
If you place the children in a 4 + 1 format just in a square, a diamond breaks the line in three passes. It is even easier to pass in a diamond. But for some reason, only 20% of our children’s teams play a diamond. Apparently, they don’t understand how it works.
Some coaches force the transitions to formats. While before the age of 10, everyone is supposed to play 4 + 1, there are mentors playing 7 + 1. The question is: what for? In a business approach, the challenge is to prepare faster in order to travel to tournaments. If you play 4 + 1, then you can take 12 children to a tournament, and if 7 + 1 – twice as many. You are taking a child of 8 years old to a tournament, and he already has a field of 50×30, how much unnecessary running and how many touches to the ball will he do?
While on an internship in Dortmund, I attended an international tournament, where I had the opportunity to talk with the coaches of the Manchester City team of 2011. They have 4 coaches per team: chief, assistant, goalkeeper and physical training coach. 8-year-olds have 4 coaches per team! Imagine how much more attention they can give to children. They always keep it positive. Even if they miss, there is no shouting, they calmly take the ball off the net and continue playing football. In contrast, in our football, I often witness situations where, if a goal is missed, the coach starts shouting at the children, parents join in, and the children themselves shout at each other. It is difficult for a child to develop in such an atmosphere.
Another question is what philosophy the clubs adhere to. For example, my friend works in a youth sports school. He’s a young coach willing to develop children and children’s football. Coming to the club, he recruited a group of the youngest children, 5 years old. He trains and develops them, and the management tells him to go to the tournament in a 4 + 1 format. He asks: how? They are 6 years old, we play “1 to 1”, “2 to 2”. And they answer that they don’t care, that he must collect money from parents and go to the tournament, otherwise he will be fired. So a lot depends on the clubs.
Or another situation. The coach trains a team for the championship and the clubs demand first places. The coach understands that he can play through the passes, control of the ball, comes to the tournament and just starts to knock the ball forward. The match is over, the team has won, I come around and ask: “What happened? I saw how they play with you”. He replies that it was a game for the first place, and he had no right to give up, otherwise he would have been kicked out of work. He was thinking about the result when training children. And what does this philosophy lead to? That we have few players who are ready to play under pressure.
One of other main problems of our football is infrastructure. Only a few clubs in the capital have full-fledged bases: Dynamo… But most of the clubs are all commerce, they rent some weird boxes, fields – all at the expense of parents. Coaches from this pay rent and take their own salaries. In winter, it’s just awful! We are hiding in the halls; there are not enough arenas. And how can we compete with Spain or Germany in such climatic and infrastructural conditions? Sometimes we rent a gym, but the money for a full-fledged workout for an hour and a half is not enough, therefore they train only for an hour.
We in the Left Bank are lucky in this regard, because our honorary president Nikolai Nikolaevich Lavrenko has created the conditions and improves them. And we always try to make sure that the kids can enjoy the field with the ball after training, just play.
One boy who trained at our club went to the Milan academy. His dad and I are constantly in touch. If it wasn’t for quarantine, I would have come for an internship at their academy. The guy is not that tall, smart and technical. He works well “1 to 1”. He was one of the smallest in the team, we were worried that this could be a problem. But in Milan they took him to their legendary laboratory, connected to the equipment and saw that he was lagging behind in physical development, but then everything would be all right. In Milan, they understand that he will get stronger and play. At this age, the child may lag a little, this is normal. But in the future, he can grow to a good football player, and such children cannot be cut off just because of today’s physical development.
Often, many consider a child exclusively as a football player, but they forget that no matter how strong children are, only a few end up in adult football. Because of this, some education moments are missed. I try to constantly explain that they should study well and listen to their parents. We check the children’s diaries, if there are bad grades, we can not allow them to train. It amazed me that when children come to you, the coach is an absolute authority for them; they listen to every word. And it happens that parents come up and say “Bogdan Viktorovich, help us! The child listens to you more than us”. And this is something to be kept in mind: the coach should give a personal example and he influences the development of a child.