Training Approach: 2 part model
1st Part (1-hour)
(Ball Mastery and Technical Skill Development)
This part of training is predicated on ball mastery and maximizing the amount of touches players get on the ball. Drills usually consist of one ball per player, or at minimum one ball per two players. Players will learn a variety of moves, feints, ball control and skills, while constantly moving and gaining cardiovascular endurance. Drills are run with limited space and varying amounts of pressure to simulate game-type situations, so when players encounter challenges during games they can pull on their experience from training to successfully solve the challenge.
Repetition is used constantly as this is the best way to develop skill, and make the skills so natural that players perform them subconsciously during gameplay. According to Daniel Coyle, author of the “Talent Code”, it takes 10,000 hours to develop skill, and at AFC that is what the first hour is dedicated to doing for each of our players. Proper techniques are stressed constantly to create good habits and efficient movements. Trainers encourage players to constantly challenge their boundaries in the game, and work to improve upon what they have learned.
Training is run on a team-by-team basis by the team’s trainer overseen by the Academy Director. Taken from the original club wide “First Hour”, this format allows trainers to identify specific challenges per team/player, as it lowers the player to trainer ratio, so each player gets more individualized attention.
2nd Part (1-hour)
(Continued Technical Development and Age Appropriate Tactical Development)
This part of training utilizes the technical skills developed in the first hour, and applies them to game-type situations through the use of small-sided games. Small-sided games are the preferred method of teaching game-type situations as they maximize the number of touches a player gets on the ball, while still maintaining technical and tactical challenges from the game. This type of practice helps players to solve problems collectively in small groups as well as individually (reinforcing lessons learned from the first hour).
The second part is always finished with the game, or a very similar type of “free play” where players can apply the lessons learned from the training session in the game itself. Trainers encourage players to take risks and apply the skills they have been practicing. This is where players can experiment, craft their own unique style of play, and develop creative ways to solve the many challenges the game of soccer presents each match.
What advice do you give a youngster who wants to become a professional player?
Well, enjoy [playing] and don't think about becoming a professional. To enjoy and play every possible hour and minute, all his spare time, when he comes out of school, when he's off on weekends. He should play, enjoy, have a good time and, most importantly, make contact with the ball. What I used to like as a boy was to take the ball, touch it, pass the ball, be in constant contact with the ball.
-Xavi Hernandez (Spanish National Team and Barcelona Midfielder)