Ajax Youth Football Academy News
Youth Soccer News: AFC Ajax Academy Developing Stronger Ties Internationally
“Champions aren’t made in gyms. Champions are made from something they have deep inside them – a desire, a dream, a vision. They have to have the skill, and the will. But the will must be stronger than the skill.” Muhammad Ali
For nearly 113 years (on March 18), Amsterdamsche Football Club (AFC) Ajax, or simply Ajax, has been one of the dominant clubs in both European and world soccer. With two FIFA World Cups, four UEFA Champions League titles, 18 Dutch FA Cups and 31 National Championships, the team has built a legacy that is known far and wide. Top players such as Johan Cruyff, Wesley Sneijder, Marco van Basten and Frank Rijkaard have graced the pitch for Ajax, and many have returned after their careers to work as trainers and coaches.
Known for their attractive style of dominant, attacking soccer, Ajax use technical and tactical skills to keep full pressure on opponents across the field. To do this, the club has developed a special vision and style of play that incorporates technique, speed, insight and player personality. At the youth level, Ajax Youth Football Academy has taken these elements and combined them with a high-quality coaching and training staff to create one of the leading youth academies in the world.
“At Ajax, we believe in discipline and organization and it is within that frame work we want to see personality and creativity,” explains Eddie van Schaick of Ajax Academy. Van Schaick has recently taken on the role of expanding Ajax’s reach internationally, including seminars and player development in the United States. With a background in playing and coaching and experience studying on both sides of the Atlantic, van Schaick is uniquely qualified for his role. Charming and blunt, Van Schaick’s passion for soccer runs deep as does his knowledge of what it takes travel the road of youth player to professional footballer.
Van Schaick began his career on the pitch, but in his mid 20s realized the value that a college education would add. He began his college career at Christelijke Hogeschool in the Netherlands and Vrije Universiteit in Belgium, then completed his senior year at Michigan State University. The experience inspired him to want to help youth players to reach their own potential both athletically and academically.
While in the United States, van Schaick ran soccer camps in Ohio and Michigan, where he found American youth players to be “fun and goofy.” He later went to work as Director of Coaching for Richmond Kickers in Virginia, a club he continues to maintain working relations with. In 2004 van Schaick moved to the Middle East to work as a trainer-coach with the Qatar Football Association for two years, followed by a short stint as Director of Youth Programs with FK Almaty in Kazakhstan. Then in 2007 he returned to Europe to take on the challenge of trainer-coach of the U12 Academy team with Ajax.
In July, 2010, he took on the newly formed position of Consultant, where he continues today. When he stopped coaching youth soccer players he missed the process of development, but van Schaick had his sights on the bigger picture of developing the Ajax academy on a broader international level.
“So many people visit Ajax to see the magic,” van Schaick said, explaining his decision to move into the Consultant position. “They observe the trainings but don’t know the philosophy behind what they observe. Observing without understanding denies them any real opportunity for appreciation or growth.”
In order to help more players and coaches from around the world understand the Ajax magic, van Schaick works closely with countryman Loek van Zijl, founder of Premier International Tours. Through Premier International Tours, clubs and teams can visit the Ajax Academy grounds and experience that magic that has created so many international greats. In addition, van Schaick and others from Ajax have traveled to the USA, Ireland and other countries to put on clinics and development training – most recently with Richmond Kickers in December 2012.
Through van Zijl’s efforts, American coaches had the opportunity to hear from van Schaick and Ajax Youth Academy Youth Specialist Arnold Muhren at the recent National Soccer Coaches Association of America (NSCAA) Annual Convention in Indianapolis. The pair spoke to attendees about the Ajax style of play and how it translates from U9 through the first team. They also presented a field session on passing and receiving in the Ajax style.
“It is important to see how people from the other side of the world look at the world’s most popular sport,” van Zijl explained to NSCAA prior to the Convention. “Soccer players learn to appreciate the game of soccer from a totally different perspective after an international trip. And, bringing some of our partners to the United States is a key part of the process.”
Bringing that experience to the United States, and helping to develop a greater following for Ajax, are the essence of van Schaick’s mission. While he respects the exuberance that American youth players bring to the field, he believes that the Ajax method of training is second to none. For van Schaick, that transcends the field and applies just as much to off-field activities. He explains that players from Ajax at all levels understand that they represent their club and their coaches whenever they are out in public.
“Players represent the brand,” he explained.
For Ajax, that brand continues to grow every day. The club has recently unveiled a new Ajax Online Academy that allows players and coaches to more easily access the “magic” of the Academy. On the site coaches can download examples of training exercises at multiple levels, as well as access coaching courses including an Ajax Coaches Symposium presented in association with Premier International Tours.
What is the world famous “Ajax” style of play?
- Attacking Football
- Dominant Football
- Attractive Football
Ajax style of play is attacking, dominant and attractive style of football achieved with a high level of technical and tactical skills unified by full field pressure. It is the Ajax philosophy that differentiates this club from others and their long term attention to the development of players. Ajax believes players can force the shape of the game and display a dominance of play. With creativity and an understanding of the disciplines required, Ajax trains players to be a force to be reckoned. Ajax believes “winning is a consequence.”
Since 1900, Ajax has been a model of efficiency and success in training, with 70% of the First Team made up of home grown players. The club targets one to two players to advance from the Academy to the First Team each year, and the results speak for themselves. With van Schaick’s efforts, that level of dedication and success is now more available than ever to clubs around the world.
For more information, visit the Ajax Online Academy
Soccer Academy Alliance Canada News
SAAC Members Part of First ORNCA Class
This past weekend, thirteen SAAC members have been officially approved as OSA Recognized Non-Club Academies (ORNCA). These organizations have undergone a rigorous approval and assessment program and have represented SAAC well during the process. Congratulations to the following SAAC organizations:
- 1v1 Soccer FC Academy
- ANB Academy Futbol
- Atak Sports Academy
- Bryst International Football Academy
- Eurostar Football Academy
- King David’s Stars Academy
- Maccabi Soccer Club Academy
- Master’s Futbol Academy
- Power Soccer Academy
- RVDL Soccer Academy
- Sigma FC Academy
- Toronto Skillz Soccer Academy
- USC Academy
All but one of the 14 original ORNCA groups are SAAC members. SAAC expects its remaining Ontario-based members to complete their assessments prior to kickoff of the 2013 season.
The approval/assessment process is one in which no other organizations in the province have ever been evaluated against, and mirrors the high standards that SAAC has held its members to since 2005.
This is a major step in a process that commenced in 2005, when SAAC was created and began negotiations for the formal affiliation of private academies. With this confirmation, SAAC members will now be able to participate in officially sanction competitions in Ontario for the first time ever.
The SAAC season will commence in April 2013, and for the first time ever will use referees that are officially sanctioned by the Ontario Soccer Association. As well, SAAC members will be able to compete in official exhibition games against Ontario club teams. SAAC Showcase teams (U15+) will also be eligible for selected Showcase Tournaments within the province.
An important feature of ORNCA designation is that full-time Academy players will now be eligible for Regional and Provincial teams. SAAC will support our membership and any players that are interested in pursuing this development pathway.
SAAC looks forward to a positive relationship with the OSA and its member organizations in 2013 and the years to come.
Power Soccer Staff Announcement
Jan 30, 2013
Power Soccer is pleased to announce that former Canadian International Marco Reda has been appointed to the position of Director of Coaching.
Marco’s coaching responsibilities will encompass the Power FC Academy, the Power Soccer School of Excellence as well the Camps program.
Marco is currently the Head Coach of the U14 Power FC Academy team. Over a 12 year professional career Marco played with Sogndal FC in Norway and Charleston Battery of the USL First Division. Marco also played in the MLS with Toronto FC and the Vancouver Whitecaps. In Norway, Marco was voted to the ‘League’s Best 11’ in 2003 and named Sogndal FC’s ‘Best Foreigner of All-Time’ that year.
Marco holds a USSF “B” Coaching License and a Degree in Kinesiology with a Certificate in Sports Administration from York University. He is presently completing his teaching degree.
Marco is married to Lauren and they have two children.
The young player recently returned from a 10 day trial with the Pescara Soccer Club of Serie A in Italy and is being regarded as a young phenom. Steven, who has been developing his skills over the last seven years with Power Football Club of Toronto, Canada, is proving to be a wonderful talent.
He impressed Pescara so much that the city’s newspaper, Il Centro, even wrote an article on him which can be found-here-(translation of the article can be found below).
Simpson enchants, but has to skip the first game due to injury
The twelve year old Canadian player, regarded a phenomenon, demonstrated his talent with the under 14′s of Pescara.
Days of intense workouts for a twelve-year-old Canadian Steven Simpson. Warmly welcomed by all members of the U14 team of Pescara, the child-prodigy enchanted the audience with skills and play of high-quality. Unfortunately, yesterday an injury prevented him from playing the friendly match against River Soccer club, which was organized to test his talent in a match itself. During his visit Simpson went through numerous exercises (individual technique, one on one, shots on goal) but due to a small muscular problem he was unable to take the field for the match. The young jewel, Canadian-born Jamaican, will remain in Pescara until next Wednesday.
Then the club will decide when to bring him back to Italy, probably in May, during which the club has organized to take part in many youth tournaments, or alternatively in August during the days when schools are closed in Canada. At that point he will be evaluated again and the club will look at the possibility of having him transferred permanently in Italy. Tonino Di Battista, technical manager of the youth sector, was impressed by the talent of Simpson. “He has shown incredible technique,” said Di Battista. “He is naturally right-footed, but does well with both feet. He has excellent mastery of the ball, an ability to control it well above the average young player. Steven also has a strong personality. We must not forget that he is only 12 years old and is in a stage of development. From a physical point of view he is a little ‘smaller’ than the average 12 year old, he will have to develop physically, but he has already made a great impression. He is a very interesting player.”
Steven is currently back with his Power FC team in Toronto where he will continue to train and play until further arrangements are made. There are other clubs in Europe that have shown great interest in him so at the moment it is a matter of finding the best fit and sorting out all details.
‘We’re all in this together’ — U.S. Soccer Development Academy
While becoming the main avenue to the national team program, the U.S. Soccer Development Academy, launched in 2007, has also sparked controversy by introducing a 10-month season that prohibits its players from participating in high school ball. Development Academy Director of Scouting Tony Lepore, who is also U-15 national team coach, addresses that issue and complaints from some non-Academy clubs that the national team program is steering players to Academy clubs.
SOCCER AMERICA: Did you expect keeping Academy players out of high school play would cause so much controversy and is there concern that this has further divided the soccer community?
TONY LEPORE: When we started the Academy and did a lot of research, one of the things we wanted to make sure was we don’t have the thinking that, “This is the way it’s always been done. It’s what we know. So it’s what we do.”
We came into this knowing that change is always a challenge. We also knew we wanted to empower the clubs and that the everyday environment is the most important foundation of player development, and that’s all-around technique.
We knew there would be some difficult things to change so we knew all along a 10-month season would be a challenge. That’s why we waited until we thought the clubs and the players were ready and the Federation was ready.
We expected this would be controversial and was a change in culture. But this is something soccer people had been talking about long before the Academy.
SA: What’s the fallout been like?
TONY LEPORE: I think it’s going great. It’s a credit to our clubs in the Academy. I think the players were ready. We knew our clubs intimately, so we knew which players were having a hard time with the choice. For some clubs it was full speed ahead and easier, and there’s other pockets and markets where it’s been a little bit harder. There’s a reason why SoCal and Texas and the Northwest were the first. There are certain dynamics around the high school issue.
For the most part we’re not looking back. Once we start the U-14 program this gets easier, because in most cases it’s a social decision and not a soccer decision. The 14s will be on this pathway and [high school ball] is something they won’t get a taste of it, so they won’t get enough of it to know if they’ll miss it.
Clearly, the hardest was for the players who were entrenched and were a part of their high school program.
I really don’t think that this has divided the soccer community. There are plenty of players who need the opportunity and different pathways, but we now have a clearly defined pathway with the Academy and that’s where the top players should be.
SA: I’ve been told by some non-Academy club coaches that when their players go to a youth national team camp, they’re not only highly encouraged to leave their clubs for Academy clubs, but also that they won’t be invited back if they don’t …
TONY LEPORE: That would never happen. Would we encourage players to go to the top development environment in the country, which is the Development Academy? Absolutely. But we don’t discriminate with the national teams. If they’re good enough, we bring them in.
I think 80-85 percent of youth national team players come from Academy teams, but that’s also because they’re in the key markets. And the top players have migrated to Development Academy clubs.
SA: I’ve been told by some non-Academy club coaches they may not send their kids to a national camp for fear of them being convinced to leave for an Academy club …
TONY LEPORE: How appalling is that? That someone would want to keep a player away from an opportunity to keep them at their own club longer, which I think would be simply to help them grab more trophies.
That’s not a player development model. These are real opportunities that you wouldn’t want to hold a player out of for any reason.
And you can’t hide good players.
Part of being a good Academy is having good scouting. This is how it is in the rest of the world. And hopefully there are more and more cases when your player gets this opportunity you feel really good about the role you played in helping them go to the next level.
How is this any different than when they got the player? It so often becomes one of these things that lacks any type of empathy. They also got the player from somewhere else. That the player started out with them is rare.
Hopefully, we all have the best interest of the player in mind. That we’re fine with having them go somewhere where they can get more than we’re giving them. And hopefully the Academy clubs represent that.
SA: Is it still possible for players to reach the highest levels of American soccer without being on an Academy team?
TONY LEPORE: I think if you’re a player who wants to reach his full potential and you have access to an Academy – that’s the best choice.
But we also realize that there are a lot of different pathways for players.
And players need to be ready. The Academy is a much bigger commitment. If they want to reach their full potential, if they want to reach the next level, the commitment required is different than the other pathways.
SA: Isn’t there also a geography issue — that some players don’t live near an Academy club?
TONY LEPORE: Absolutely. There are more and more of those players looking for a residency opportunity.
The pathway to the national team is also Training Centers. We’ll do a few hundred Training Centers this year. They are a good opportunity for us to see players from Academy and non-Academy, affiliated, un-affiliated clubs – the top players who are recommended by the clubs.
You don’t have to be an Academy club to apply the same principles to player development.
The training centers have really helped us evaluate who the clubs are out there outside the Academy that do a great job. A number of them do a great job up until that age group. Some continue to do a great job. So there are situations in which a player might have a hard decision to leave for an Academy club. …
We still scout ODP. It’s important for us to continue to scout not just the Academy but wherever we think we can identify the top players.
SA: There does seem to be a trend of clubs merging to handle the challenges of Academy play, and non-Academy clubs partnering with Academy clubs. …
TONY LEPORE: There are a number of non-Academy clubs that have a great relationship with neighboring Academy clubs — and they’re happy to be a feeder and work with them. Which is the model throughout the rest the world.
But we still have a long way to go in recognizing that we’re all in this together.
Progress in Triples — U.S. Soccer Development Academy
The American youth soccer landscape changed dramatically when U.S. Soccer created the Development Academy in 2007. In Part 1 of our interview with Tony Lepore we asked the Development Academy Director of Scouting to explain how he believes it has improved the youth soccer experience for the USA’s elite players.
SOCCER AMERICA: Do you think the Development Academy is on pace to make the positive impact on the U.S. game hoped for when it was launched in 2007?
TONY LEPORE: In general, we feel like we’re making great strides. We’ve always seen this as a long-term process so we want to be critical of ourselves throughout the process. So we still feel like we have a long way to go. But looking back at the major tenants of the philosophy when started the Academy is a really good way to measure progress.
SA: Such as …
TONY LEPORE: We wanted more training and fewer games. And we’ve really flipped that schedule. In terms of hours, we’ve tripled training in five years.
Before the Development Academy, training was an average of two times a week – so say 3 hours a week, or 12 hours a month. In early Academy we moved that to three times a week. Now it’s four times a week — 6 to 8 hours a week. Which is closer to a player this age in Italy. Before the Academy, we were training 50 percent less in that comparison. Now we’ve really closed the gap.
That’s significant progress. And we’ve got a 4-to-1 training to game ratio.
SA: Decreasing the number of games was a key part of the Academy’s aim for elite players …
TONY LEPORE: We wanted more meaningful games. Fewer games but more meaningful games. Before we started the Academy in 2007, we surveyed the U-15 boys national team. The average was a 100 matches a year. We asked how many were meaningful games. That was around 10.
We’re at an average of 32 games and for the most part the Academy’s games are meaningful.
So meaningful games have tripled.
SA: How about the aim to emphasis development over winning?
TONY LEPORE: We have made progress, especially since Claudio Reyna came aboard [as Youth Technical Director in 2010]. He’s been a really powerful voice
We’ve called people out for having too defensive an approach. We have good competition but with a focus on the style of play.
One measure we always look at is how many younger players do we have playing up. We track it through our database and that has tripled.
Young players playing up can be at the expense of winning games if they’re physically not ready or physically don’t help you. But people are prioritizing that with style of play as well.
This year’s Academy final was a really good example not just for style of play — the possession play, the attacking approach for both teams — but for the number of young players in that game. …
Another important facet of the Academy is adopting international rules …
SA: No reentry …
TONY LEPORE: It seems so simple now. No more frantic in and out. Now we have players coming into a national team camp and it’s not something new to play at international rules. How many guys did we have playing on the national team whose first time playing international rules was either when they came into a youth national team or when they went pro? For some it didn’t happen until they were in their 20s.
And thanks to our start rule [25 percent of the games], when clubs take on a player, they invest in his development, which means they get matches. Also, we had a lot of guys who didn’t know how to be a sub when they came into a national team. And we don’t have a lot of overplayed guys at key points in the cycle of the national team.
SA: Another aim of the Academy was removing the pay to play.
TONY LEPORE: We’ve gone from nine to 23 clubs [out of 80] who fully fund their Academy teams. We feel we have a long way to go, but we’re making great strides there.
SA: So would you say the Academy has made youth soccer less expensive?
TONY LEPORE: It’s less expensive because we have more of our elite players playing at no cost than we’ve ever had before in this country.
Friday, Aug. 31, 2012
U.S. Academy goes younger; futsal in the plans
By Mike Woitalla
The U.S. Soccer Federation continues increasing its influence on boys soccer.
Launched in 2007 with 64 clubs, the U.S. Soccer Development Academy enters its 2012-13 season with 80 clubs, and for the 2013-14 season will add a younger age group, U-13/14.
Academy clubs currently field one team in each of the two groups: U-15/16 and U-17/18. The U-13/14 division will include teams from clubs not part of the current Academy structure.
The U-13/14s will, like the older age groups, play a 10-month season. It will, during the winter, include a futsal component.
Tony Lepore, the Development Academy Director of Scouting, answered questions about the Academy’s growth during a Friday morning conference call.
Will players at the U-13/14 level also be banned from high school play?
TONY LEPORE. First of all, there’s no high school ban. There’s high school choice. There’s a 10-month choice. And we think this will help.
This is an age group with some entering high school, some in the eighth grade, and I think it’s much easier to make the decision when you’re in the Academy structure and environment and you really know what to expect from that environment.
So it will be a much more educated decision. We’ve also seen during these transition years to the 10-month season that the hardest decisions are for the players who’ve gotten a taste of high school. And in most cases it’s been that social draw to pull them back.
With the 14s they’ll enter an Academy environment early enough so they’ll be much more educated and we think that when the top players get in this environment early, they will know how to make the choice that’s best for them. The Academy is not for everybody.
How closely will the U-13/14 season resemble the older age groups?
TONY LEPORE: We’ll probably build in a longer break period in the winter for this group. We’re also going to implement a futsal program, because we know the benefits of futsal, during that winter time.
And then it will be the same standards in terms of approved events outside the Academy that meet our standards. For example, the Dallas Cup is in a window for the 15, 16, 17, 18s, and Disney is another one of those. It will be similar for 14s. We’re also encouraging all our age groups to consider international experiences during these open windows.
What’s the rationale for welcoming clubs outside the Academy to field U-13/14 teams?
TONY LEPORE: Really there’s three parts to that. For us the first one is we want to spread the philosophy of the Academy, the principles, the approach to player development. We want to also fill in some travel gaps.
We know that the current schedule, when we look at the match schedule for the 15, 16, 17, 18s, that doesn’t fit [the younger division].
That was part of the challenge in the beginning. That model doesn’t fit the 13, 14s. In some cases we can, where there’s less travel, but there’s certain parts of the country where the 15, 16, 17, 18s’ schedule would just be too much travel. So we’re going to look to fill in those travel gaps.
The other piece is we want to cast a wider scouting net. The Development Academy has always been an extension of our youth national team programming. As you know, we start at U-14s there. So we want to cast a wider scouting net with younger players, which is in line with our training centers as well, going into 12s, 13s, 14s as we scout these national team prospects. Bringing in more clubs helps with those three things. …
Obviously this is exciting because it opens up room for some more clubs. We’ll continue to be careful. There are areas where we probably won’t expand at all for the same reason we don’t expand at 15, 16, 17, 18s, which would be because it would dilute the competition.
How do you evaluate potential clubs?
TONY LEPORE: We have nine full-time technical advisors and through our training center models they not only know the Academy clubs intimately, they also know about non-Academy clubs. We’ll be looking for coaching, philosophy, history of player development – how many players they’re sending to our training centers and our youth national teams. We also know it takes good facilities – availability and quality, not just for matches but for training. We’ll also look at their funding model. We continue to push for no pay to play at the youth level.
How much progress has been made in alleviating the costs for Academy players?
TONY LEPORE: We’ve seen progress but we still have a long way to go. Sometimes it’s surprising for people to hear there are a number of non-MLS clubs that are providing full scholarships for their players. They have moved away from pay-to-play. The MLS clubs are leading the way, but that’s motivated the others, especially where an MLS club is a neighbor and they want to continue to compete with each other, which is healthy.
There are 24 fully funded clubs now. [Half the clubs cover at least 50 percent of the costs for players.] We’re making progress but this is a big one so we still have a long way to go.
Will there be a national championship for the U-13/14s?
TONY LEPORE: We know that the league needs to be competitive, because that’s part of any good league. But at the same time we know we want to put development ahead of results. We also want to be careful about the showcase model.
Right now, we’re leaning toward not having a national championship because we want to regionalize everything, including their travel.
What’s the main benefit of expanding to the younger age group?
TONY LEPORE: The first thing that comes to mind is training hours. We know that’s where players develop. We’re moving to four times a week, and that’s a big increase in training hours in the top environments.
A lot of the same philosophy we apply to the 15, 16, 17, 18s we wanted to spread to the younger age group, which is more meaningful games — games where they’re held accountable for technical execution, decision-making.
This is a really important age group that needs that calendar cleaned up, and that model cleaned up. And also shifting the focus on development ahead of results. The big benefit will be increased hours in the training environment and more meaningful games in terms of their technical development. …
We also know the best model is where one club takes charge of a player’s development. We want to empower the club.