Heidelberg United: Modernising youth development with SoccerPLAY

At all levels of the game technology is having a profound impact on football. While spectators focus largely on tools like VAR and goal-line technology, coaches and administrators are increasingly turning to sports science and innovation to seek a competitive advantage.

It was searching for this competitive edge that led Chris Theodorou, Football Programs Manager at Heidelberg FC to SoccerPLAY, an online management system which is revolutionising the club’s youth development.

“SoccerPLAY does more than just support coaches, it allows clubs to create a structure and a style. It’s a methodology,” Theodorou says.

SoccerPLAY is currently being used by more than 100 clubs and football federations around the world, including AC Milan and the Dutch Football Association.

The system gives users access to more than 800 exercises and training drills which can use to create training programs, improve specific skills, and track player development.

“The structure is phenomenal. It allows a football department to put together a program that can be accessed on a phone, tablet or computer,” he adds.

“It helps to keep training fresh and there are different formats for each exercise, so it provides coaches with all the tools they need to feel supported,” he adds.

Coaches can also create their own exercises which they can upload onto the system and form training schedules in weekly, fortnightly, or monthly blocks.

“If you fail to prepare, prepare to fail. Sporting organisations love to see their coaches turning up well prepared and with this system they will never run out of ideas,” Theodorou says.

“There are different objectives listed, so a coach or technical director can search specifically to find relevant exercises. From basics like first touch, passing, and movement to more advanced things such as building from the back and possession play, there are different formats of drills for everything.”

Each of SoccerPLAY’s  training exercises comes with a detailed guide on how to execute the drill correctly. This includes information on what equipment is needed, an animation providing an overview of the movements, and a real-life instructional video designed to demonstrate correct technique.

Theodorou highlights the video depicting technique as a particularly valuable tool for Australian coaches.

“The instructional videos are technique-focused because in Europe if you can’t pass, you can’t play. Whereas here in Australia we emphasise going hard and fast,” he says.

As SoccerPLAY is designed to incorporate youth development for all ages, there are exercises that are suitable for players in the under-6 age bracket through to under-19’s.

Many of the drills have variations which provide coaches the option to simplify them or make them more challenging, depending on the age group and skill level of the players.

“You don’t want to give five or six-year-old players too much information, so the drills are simple in order not to overcomplicate things. It’s also recommended that you don’t change what they are doing too often, whereas with older groups you can be more creative,” Theodorou says.

In addition to assisting coaches with an overarching training program, SoccerPLAY allows football departments an unprecedented ability to track individual player development.

“The player tracking is awesome. You can record a player’s results in agility tests, beep tests, sprint tests and so forth then track how they improve over the course of the year. At Heidelberg we aim to do these three or four times over the year to measure their developments,” Theodorou says.

“You can also track how players are performing in matches by uploading statistics and video snippets to their profile. For example, you can upload clips of a player doing something really well or if they’ve made a mistake, then you can show them the footage in order to identify learning opportunities.”

The key to SoccerPLAY’s effectiveness is the calibre of its designers, Dutch football experts Patrick Ladru, Bram Meurs and David Zonneveld. All three have all had distinguished careers within football, specifically youth development and education.

Among their many achievements, Ladru was a youth manager and then scout at AFC Ajax, Meurs played at PSV Eindhoven and now operates as a sports psychologist, and Zonneveld served as a youth coach at FC Volendam and now specialises in motorised learning for children.

“Ladru has worked with Johan Cruyff and the likes, he creates many of the exercises himself. Bram focuses more on the mental components of the system and what sort of actions players need to do off the ball and then there’s David, who specialises in teaching players behaviours and habits,” Theodorou says.

In Australia, SoccerPLAY is just beginning to gain traction with Heidelberg United being one of the first clubs to adopt the system.

As an active user of the program, Theodorou believes Australian football should be more open to stepping away from traditional practices and embracing new ideas.

“This is where FFA and FFV are missing the mark. Our national youth teams are not making World Cups so how are our seniors going to make World Cups in the future?” he says.

“The coaches that have embraced SoccerPLAY here think it’s unbelievable, its designed to be simple and effective.”

Northern NSW Football set to continue its Multicultural Settlement Program

Northern NSW Football

Northern NSW Football (NNSWF) has announced the continuation of its MiniRoos Multicultural Settlement Program into term three.

NNSWF designed the free program to build social inclusion and connections with the community for new migrant families.

It aims to introduce organised football to new migrant girls and boys aged between four and 11-years-old from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds.

Participants and their families will be encouraged to join local summer competitions at the program’s conclusion with the intention to join a local club in 2023. This is to help ensure a more gradual transition to club football for those playing for the first time.

NNSWF Programs Co-ordinator Joe Wright outlined the program had a number of benefits following its successful roll out in term two and was excited to see it continue heading into term three.

“The Multicultural Settlement Program is a great way for participants and their families to be involved with football in a fun, safe and inclusive football environment,” Wright said in a statement released by NNSWF,” he said via Northern NSW Football.

“This will help with their transition into club football where they can make new friends from a variety of backgrounds. Our goal is to transition 200 players from the program into club football.

“By helping them transition into a football club we hope it will help integrate them into the wider community even further and build that connection.

“The program is a great way for kids to be introduced to organised football in Australia because it uses game-based training to create a fun and safe environment where kids can meet new friends and find their passion for football.”

The program will run for eight weeks and be held at Jesmond and a new hub at Coffs Harbour, with each hub hosting manual registration days.

The Coffs Harbour hub will be delivered in partnership with RISE. Rise have been working with newly arrived members of the Coffs Harbour community for the last two and a half years. They are a not-for-profit organisation that have delivered football programs for boys and girls aged between five and 18-years-old.

Existing coaches at RISE will deliver the program in collaboration with NNSWF staff as part of the partnership.

The program features one-hour sessions run after school hours, with coaches and equipment provided. Coaches will also be from CALD backgrounds.

Each participant will receive a MiniRoos pack including a football, backpack and lunchbox at the end of the program.

For more information on when the program will run, click here.

How Raven Controls are evolving event safety management standards

Raven Controls

Developed by resilience experts, Raven Controls is a digital management system which provides powerful real-time situational awareness that aims to ensure reassurance for all stakeholders and venue management involved in an event.

Event safety management standards have undoubtedly shifted overtime due in no small part to the changing nature of how live events are attended and consumed. Football has no doubt seen a major change in the behaviour of fans over the past few decades with specific standards of compliance needing to be adhered to, especially at multinational tournaments such as the World Cup and EUROS.

The reality of event safety management standards is that often improvements are driven in response to major disasters such as the Heysel Stadium disaster in 1985 and the Hillsborough disaster in 1989. Both of these were massive catalysts for changing safety management standards and influenced global recognition of the need to make improvements.

The approach from then on was dominated by a European approach which aimed at preventing and managing violence – as was dictated by the European Convention on Spectator Violence and Misbehaviour at Sports Events. 2016 saw The Council of Europe Convention on Integral Safety, Security and Service Approach at Football introduced to add to the work that has been done since the adoption of the European Convention on Spectator Violence in 1985. The new convention advocated for cooperation between all public and private stakeholders involved in making events welcoming, safe and secure.

In a contemporary sporting landscape, Raven Controls is well positioned to suit the modern demands of event safety and security management and also meet the challenges created by the integrated approach being demanded by the new European Convention.

Raven Controls’ method of digital information logging (which is based on integrated emergency management principles) precisely highlights information flow and supports real-time notification alerts and subsequent escalation processes. Moreover, in terms of accountable decision-making, Raven Controls assures that policy decisions are recorded in real-time highlighting the justification and rationale for critical decisions.

Customers who utilise Raven Controls are assured not just a safe and successful event, but a comprehensive variety of accessible tools designed to assist in the smooth running of live events. It includes features such as the in-control dashboard which provides real-time critical information that is readily usable and can identify what is happening in an instant; Digital Logging to intuitively capture essential information; Checklists to provide staff with clarity; and instant notification alerts.

In addition, the Inter-Account Working component allows agencies and event stakeholders to maximise interoperability through Raven’s multi-agency situational awareness, whilst Raven Eye allows fans seeking to report issues happening during the event to get into contact with Raven through instant SMS messaging. Finally, Raven Mobile provides a guide to an event’s operations team through a remote setup aimed to provide consistency and staff reassurance.

The UEFA EURO 2020 tournament saw Raven Controls playing a central part in the coordination and communication aspects of the month-long event. Raven successfully coordinated real-time shared situational awareness across the 51 matches and 11 host cities and stadiums at EURO 2020, all the while streaming directly to the UEFA command centre in Switzerland.

Raven Controls consistently displayed a capability for capturing integral information and providing a direct link from the stadium and host city to UEFA HQ. The software available to Raven Controls at the time ensured that many policies, protocols and procedures in place were able to be effectively met and complied with.

Major tournaments such as EURO 2020 often offer a challenging adjustment period for newly-implemented technologies, however Raven’s intuitive and user-friendly system benefitted the intricacies and complexities of the tournament. Considering the tournament unfolded over 11 different countries – which subsequently included a variety of cultures, languages and customs – Raven Controls were able to consistently ensure that UEFA’s digitally embedded checklists were adhered to and that information was accurately reported and communicated.

In a live footballing event setting, Raven Controls no doubt provides a guarantee of maintaining consistent safety standards and assurance for venue management and workers. It will be fascinating to see if the technology is included as part of the organisation of the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar later this year.

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