“As a coach it is great to see how these boys progress in just 1 season. Kids in this age group are not arrogant, they have a lot of respect for their surroundings and their coach. A lot of times the coach is their role model and they are willing to do anything for him. Extra motivation is therefore not needed, they are naturally motivated. As a coach I think it is especially important that that the U9s are the first age category that can actually play (in 8v8), compared to the age categories below them.“
The motivation these kids possess makes it possible to teach them technique in great detail. Technique is the most important aspect within this age category. Legein believes that the U9s should spend most of their time working on passing, receiving and individual moves. “The accent is on passing with the inside of the foot, receiving, finishing on goal, executing moves, daring to take the initiative and lots of small sided games. They have to learn how to pass correctly, with the correct ball speed and with both feet. Along with passing you also coach receiving. Within the individual moves we have specified 8 fake moves, which are also applied during the small sided games. We have had an artificial grass field for about 2 years, which has it’s advantages during technical training. It also doesn’t strain these young kids as much with bad weather (heavy fields). So whenever the weather is bad these young kids get first choice to use this field. Another advantage is the fact that the execution speed is faster on artificial grass. We therefore train at least once a week on this surface.”
“In order to be recruited by Club Brugge you need to possess good basic technique, meaning good passing and shooting skills and good ball control. The players have to (positively) stand out at their original club. It is hard to predict the future of an 8-9 year old as it is dependant on so many different factors. What is their home situation? How will they react to puberty? How will their physical development evolve? I can go on and on. We are able to see whether a U9 player’s is technically strong and if so that will be an advantage for the remainder of his career. The same thing applies to tactics. Regarding the physical possibilities, this is heavily dependant on their physical development and growth. If a normal development occurs a fast player will never become the slowest and vice versa. Speed is also therefore an important selection criteria.”
“On Tuesday we have an optional practice, which means it is not mandatory. This practice mainly consists of small sided games. Regardless of the fact that it is not mandatory generally speaking all players show up. To me this means they are having fun. Wednesdays and Fridays are regular practices consisting of various technical and tactical aspects. Sundays is game day for the U9s. All practices are about 80 minutes.” The strains on kids of this age is relatively high, Legein tries to take this into consideration in his activities and expectations.
The pressure on kids who are playing at a professional organization is usually pretty high. Club Brugge tries to prevent this by not placing too much expectation on this age group. “We ask for a good game preparation: rest well and eat well. We don’t want to place additional pressures on these kids. The kids have to remain kids. We therefore opt to play games during practices on a regular basis. Joking around is also allowed, although we do expect full concentration during practices and games. When it is obvious to us at the end of the season that a kid will not be able to continue his career at our club, we try to tell him that he needs to find a new club in a child friendly way (although this is never easy). We try to make it clear throughout the season and find a new club for him in conjunction with his parents.”
“The parents of a young player has a big influence on his success. They can take care of the ‘right’ mentality, rest, good nutrition, being there when the child needs them (for example after a bad game) and especially making sure they do not put additional pressure on the player. The combination with school is not as easy as it seems in some cases. A player who lives 50 kilometers from the stadium, has to be picked up from school and dropped off by his parents or in some cases grandparents. He has to quickly eat something, because practice starts at 18:00 hour and finishes at 19:20 hour. He will then leave the stadium at around 19:45 hour and will not get home until 20:15 or 20:30. And then it’s straight to bed. So you may ask: when does he do his homework? Good planning can tackle these problems and besides we do not practice every day. Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays are practice days. So whenever a player has a lot of schoolwork we take this into consideration. If a player shows poor effort at school he will immediately be called in for a chat with the staff in order to change his attitude and if necessary practice schedule. School results are forwarded to the club and we have someone on our staff in charge of keeping track of the player’s progression in school.”
“I do not get the impression that these players are growing up faster than their peers. After the game or practice they are just like other kids their age. They do however need a certain discipline in order to progress. We therefore make good agreements from the beginning and it rarely happens that a player doesn’t commit to these. Good agreements ensure that the coach rarely has to raise his voice.” This way Legein tries to make sure the players are having fun as well. “I believe as a coach we must distance ourselves once in a while in order to gain respect.”
“I try to give a positive input to my players, by not constantly pointing out their mistakes. When they make a good move or give a good pass I will (often over) positively comment on this. Other players will also see and hear this and are in turn motivated to achieve the same positive input from me. On the other side when they do not perform (in practice or a game) I sometimes have to raise my voice and wake them up a bit. However, I always try to keep the fun element alive. This is also relevant when we do exercises as well, I do this by including lots of variations, lots of small sided games and lots of game elements.”
“At Club Brugge the guidance of young players is a priority. We mandate them to get checked-up by the club doctor twice a year to undertake several sport medical tests. We want to make sure they are healthy and do not have any hidden injuries. Furthermore we believe the quality of our coaching staff is very important. We only hire coaches with a recognized coaching license and with sufficient experience. We also try to organize events or activities which provide the players with fun elements. For example, the U8s, U9s and U10s take turns escorting the first team players onto the field at home games. Obviously this is an unforgettable experience for these young players to enter the field with 27.000 fans in the stadium.”
“In order to retain the attention of these young players, I always try to stimulate them positively in the execution of the exercise. Motivated players have a greater attention span. Furthermore I look for variation in the exercises and try not to do the same exercise three times in one month. Another good way to keep them motivated is to make a competition out of the exercise. For example, which group can finish 10 correct passes in a row the quickest? Or which group can score 10 goals first?” So stimulating the players and retaining the wanted level of attention are very closely related. This is often underestimated by coaches. It is important to place yourself in their shoes, especially with the youngest youth. Peter Legein realizes that it is tough to play at this level in a youth team, so fun is an absolute must.