fbpx

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.”

Q&A with Heidelberg United Technical Director Daniel Girardi

Daniel Girardi is the current technical director at Heidelberg United FC. He has previously worked at various clubs across Australian football, including Adelaide United, where he was a scout and an assistant to then head coach of the youth team Michael Valkanis.

Girardi has transferred the wealth of knowledge he has picked up over the course of his coaching career to spearhead the current youth development program at Heidelberg.

Girardi, alongside other coaches and staff, have implemented a philosophy at the club that focuses on critical areas to develop young footballers.

For example, it’s not enough to just develop a footballer, but rather a ‘total footballer’ that is a good person, friend and member of the community. Alongside having the technical, tactical and physical skills, Girardi believes it is necessary to exhibit good behaviours on a consistent basis.

Training programs are based around emphasising individual development within a team context, whilst coaches working with their different squads are encouraged to collaborate together as a unit to focus on the long-term development of players.

In a wide-ranging interview with Soccerscene, Girardi further explains why the youth development setup at Heidelberg has been successful, his career progression, the importance of a national second division, his own views on coaching standards in Australia and more.

First of all, tell me a little bit about your personal career in football and how you ended up in coaching?

I started playing in Adelaide. Like any junior you go through the ranks of a club, I went through Adelaide Blue Eagles. I went on to play with the senior team, from there I had coaching opportunities but I was very naïve and I didn’t want to take them. My senior coach at the time, Zoran Karadzic, said to me ‘Daniel, to be an even better player you need to understand the little intricate things, things that you don’t see that we need to see as coaches’. So at an early age of 17, he asked me to coach a junior team (under 8’s) so I did that while I was still playing. Then from there I went into further coaching, I became a junior technical director and coached all the way through from juniors to eventually senior head coach.

From there I moved to Adelaide United, Michael Valkanis asked me to come and join the team there. I joined United as a scout, as well as an assistant to the youth team, and that’s where my football mindset and career met as one. I honestly thought to myself ‘you can do this as a full-time job’. In Australia it’s very difficult, but at the same time you can put a program together to make it work. I tried to make it work now in my daily life, but again it’s very difficult. You have to coach early mornings and late at night, but it’s a passion that’s why you do it.

At Adelaide, I got to work with Josep Gombau, Michael Valkanis, Angelo Costanzo, Guillermo Amor and Pau Martí. Between all of them, my acceleration as a coach grew exponentially. Just the understanding, the little things that they can teach you about what to look for in a player, how to run, when they should pass the ball, timing, things like that, where in Australia we are not there yet. It was good for me to understand that the game is very simple but it’s the hardest thing to do. People talk about playing simple, but what does that mean?

There are 6 basic style rules that govern football throughout the world. If I see you, you see me, there’s a line of pass, we pass that ball. If there’s no line of pass, I need to run with the ball in order to find the next line. After that, the third rule being if you can’t find a line of pass and you can’t run with the ball, you need to protect the ball. We never player square – that allows counter attacks. Receiving always with your furthest foot so that you can face forward and no two players should be in the same line.

Would you say that standards and methods in local coaching have improved over the period of time since you began coaching?

That’s a hard question. I think the general understanding has improved. People are watching a lot more football, they understand they need to keep the ball and not give it away. But actually understanding the way you keep the ball is very different. In Europe, from a very young age, positionally, kids know where they are on the pitch. Kids know where they shouldn’t be, they know who they should pass to and when they shouldn’t pass to those players.

In Australia, people just see a pass and they just pass the ball. They are not understanding that if I pass the ball the wrong way to my teammate, not to his furthest foot, I’ve put them under pressure straightaway. If I don’t pass that ball with the right ball speed, I’ve put them under pressure straightway. When a player runs with the ball, does he or she use the furthest foot so their body is between the opposition player and the ball? What is the player’s orientation to the player with the ball and without? What’s their orientation to the defender? So, there’s the little things, I don’t think the level of detail is there in Australia yet.

Tell me a little bit about your current role at Heidelberg and your overall involvement in the current youth set up at the club. How did it come about?

I was speaking with George Katsakis a couple of years ago and he asked me if I was interested to join the club as technical director. At the time, I said yes I’d definitely be interested. Heidelberg is a big club. Heidelberg in the last five-six years is one of the best clubs in the country, because of the guidance from the board, Steve (president) and George as senior coach. So, I joined knowing that we are trying to develop players for that senior team. That’s what the goal always is.

However, we focus on how we can accelerate their growth in order to get them to the first team quicker, but at the same time make sure they are our juniors. We don’t want to go and continuously buy players, we don’t want to continuously bring players in from other clubs, we want to bring through our own. We want to have a long-term culture of developing Heidelberg boys and girls. Boys and girls that live in the area, that live and breathe wanting to be a part of Heidelberg, of Alexandros, it means something. To have players who start with our MiniRoos and give them every opportunity to progress into the junior setup and then to the seniors. That’s the main goal.

Heidelberg have strong teams at a junior and senior level across men’s and women’s competitions, what do you think is the formula behind this success in developing young talent at the club?

For me, 100%, having the facility continuously upgraded is so important. You need to have pitches, equipment and the club has always been willing to buy all these things. They’ve bought us new goals, new mini-goals, the smart goal system now, trackers, VEO and we’ve established a new collaboration with Oxidate – we are always cutting edge. So, we are trying to build that DNA and at the same time use technology effectively.

Importantly, we have really good coaches. Brian Vanega (U21s) who unfortunately had to leave due to family commitments, Jeff Olver who has come back to help the club, Renato Liberto (U19s), Adrian Mazzarella (U17s), Sinisha Ristevski (U16s), Jim Daglaras (U15s), Kai Maxfield (U14s); these are all coaches who have either got A licenses or B licenses. They all understand that we are trying not just to look at one team, the U17’s or U19’s or whatever. It’s a culture of looking more at the overall picture, the 200 boys and the 200 girls at the club and saying ‘how can we develop them as a group rather than individually?’ Anyone can go and kick a ball but you can’t play football by yourself, there’s 10 other people on the pitch. So, we focus on how we can get all of them up to the level we want them to be at.

What type of programs, initiatives have you introduced in regards to learning opportunities for other coaches at Heidelberg United? What do you provide coaches at the club with?

We provide them with an innovative online session planning and player management system called SoccerPLAY. It’s got hundreds of different sessions and drills that they can use for ideas to create and implement our methodology. Additionally, at any time, we are able to provide feedback to help improve the sessions and the coaches. At the same time, we also do coach to coach sessions and are always looking to improve the program.

We have a new athlete development and high-performance collaboration with Oxidate, headed by Jacob Falla, which is specifically designed to educate the players about football development, physical performance (strength, conditioning, recovery, nutrition) and overall wellbeing. We have a club philosophy which connects all players via the ‘three wheels’, the Skills Phase for our MiniRoos, Growth Phase for our junior NPL teams and Elite Phase involving our seniors. You are trying to build across these wheels to get them into to the top teams at the club. We continually reassess what we are doing across all the different pathways to make the necessary improvements daily, weekly, monthly and yearly.

A snippet of Heidelberg United’s philosophy.

How crucial do you think a national second division is for the progression of youth development in Australian football?

It’s imperative. I’ve actually spoken with James Johnson and his team about it a few times. I think you need more than just a second division; you need a third division. I think that the NPL should be that you go from that league to a third division and so on. The more levels there are, you give more opportunities to the kids in order to develop at the level that they’re at. At the end of the day, we’re not just trying to develop a footballer. We’re trying to develop good boys, good girls, good sons, good daughters, it’s the overall person we are trying to develop…a total footballer.

The women’s side of the game is seeing huge increases in participation numbers and a home Women’s World Cup is on the way in 2023 which will lead to even more playing the game. How important is it capitalise on this and build female youth development standards and produce the next generation of Matildas?

Again, it’s imperative. The girls’ game has gone from A to Z in the last couple of years and it’s only going to continue to grow. The standard of the girls is phenomenal and improving all the time. It’s so important that the football community and country get behind the Women’s World Cup. I’ve coached girls’ teams and their enthusiasm for the game and desire to improve is brilliant. We need to capture that and harness it for both the girls’ and boys’ games to make a better competition for Australian footballers going forward.

Second Spectrum: The technology behind MLS and Premier League

Second Spectrum are the world leading manufacturer of machines which understand sports and the experts at creating value from tracking data.

Founded in 2013, the industry innovators create tools designed to help teams gain an added advantage over their opponents. Their range of cutting-edge technology in computer vision, machine learning, big data, augmented reality and product design ensure that teams & leagues are assured a substantial return on their investment.

Considered the most advanced player tracking system in the world, Second Spectrum allows for teams and leagues to understand, evaluate, improve and create content about their game by producing fast and accurate location data.

Second Spectrum boast an impressive roster of partnerships, having been the Official Optical Tracking Provider for the English Premier League since 2019, the National Basketball Association (NBA) since 2017 and for Major League Soccer (MLS) since 2020.

Logo Second Spectrum

In addition, Second Spectrum work across several other leagues and with many other clubs across Europe and the US, with over 100 employees stationed across 5 countries in addition to their headquarters in Los Angeles.

In terms of functionality, the platform combines powerful video querying, intuitive visualisations, advanced statistics and customised reports in one simple interface. These come in the form of automated pre-game, post-game, team and player reports, all of which are delivered to users via automated PDF reports sent directly to one’s inbox that can be amended in keeping with the metrics critical to the organisation utilising the platform.

The platform’s video component can ingest an organisation’s existing video sources or can record games using Second Spectrum’s state-of-the-art camera system. Using the system’s unique and unmatched data set of machine-learned video indexing allows the user to search every game and to find any desired action within seconds.

Second Spectrum struck a partnership with Major League Soccer in February, 2020, marking a significant moment for the league going forward.

Prior to the delayed start of the 2020 season, Second Spectrum installed its state-of-the-art optical tracking system in every MLS stadium. By leveraging their cameras and their cloud-based analytics engine, Second Spectrum were able to provide clubs with data on the location of every player, the referees, and the ball twenty-five times per second throughout the season.

In addition, the software can calculate a player’s speed, acceleration, deceleration and shot velocity, as well as advanced statistics like passing probability and expected goals, in almost real time.

“We’re incredibly excited to partner with MLS and its teams. The combination of our new technologies and capabilities with a forward-thinking organization like MLS creates an exciting future of continued growth and innovation together,” Second Spectrum CEO Rajiv Maheswaran said.

The partnership was seen by MLS as a major stride in their progression and evolution as a league, with Senior Vice President of MLS, Chris Schlosser, acknowledging the opportunities afforded by Second Spectrum coming on board.

“MLS’ partnership with Second Spectrum sets a new standard for innovation in player-tracking in soccer,” he said.

“Along with Second Spectrum, MLS will deliver an enhanced new fan experience, bringing innovation to MLS content while providing MLS clubs and technical staff with new tools to enhance player performance.”

All MLS matches, including MLS Cup Playoffs, the MLS Cup, the MLS All-Star Game and the Leagues Cup & Campeones will be covered as a part of the wide-ranging partnership.

In spite of the impact of COVID-19 on industries across the world, Second Spectrum announced an expanded partnership with the English Premier League and sports tech leader in data & AI technology, Stats Perform, in September, 2020.

The renewed association saw Second Spectrum synchronising its tracking data and Stats Perform’s feeds to add new context and tactical information previously not available. Entitled the ‘Insight Feed’, the collaborative effort is considered to be the most comprehensive and robust set of football data available.

The Premier League were delighted to have developed the feed with Second Spectrum & Stats Perform.

“As the world’s most watched sport league we are delighted to partner with two innovative partners in Stats Perform and Second Spectrum, who have combined to produce a new Insights feed that will enhance storytelling and provide a new perspective of the Premier League to all our fans,” they said.

Second Spectrum added to the Premier League’s enthusiasm.

“We are delighted to partner with organizations like Stats Perform and the Premier League to bring state-of-the-art technology to the highest levels of football,” they said.

“We are excited to show how together we can both improve our understanding of the intricacies of the game and simultaneously move the game forward with the best data and insights that the sport deserves.”

You can find more about Second Spectrum via the link here.

Signify technology lights up sporting clubs safely 

Signify is the world leader in lighting innovation for professionals, customers and lighting for the Internet of Things. 

Signify is the world leader in lighting innovation, providing their service for professionals, customers and lighting for the Internet of Things. 

Holding a strong presence worldwide, Signify can be found in over 70 countries, featuring approximately 38,000 employees.  

Their energy efficient lighting products, systems and services gives customers a more superior quality of light, which makes theirs and other people’s lives safer and more comfortable, leading onto businesses becoming more productive and cities more liveable. 

As parts of the world still continue to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, Signify can help reduce the risk of viruses and bacteria spreading, especially in large indoor gatherings. It’s their Ultraviolet-C disinfection lighting that has been implemented for the first time at a UK professional sporting club. 

This technology can be found at The Stoop, home to English Gallagher Premiership Rugby Union Club Harlequins. The possibilities as endless for Signify, who can expand to the top four tiers of English football as more clubs can come on board. 

As a case study for how UV-C can be implemented at any team, Signify’s UV-C partner Powercor installed 11 UV-C disinfection upper air units in the Honours Bar of The Stoop. 

In an area that is normally reserved for Season Ticket Members, that section is currently utilised by the home team as their player’s dressing room. As the players are currently the ones to benefit from safety features due to restrictions in the UK, it is thought that once the fans do return to sporting venues, they will be within a more hygienic and safer atmosphere which will become the way forward. 

“Signify is a highly trusted partner and a leader in their field,” Harlequins Chief Executive Officer Laurie Dalrymple said. 

“We are proud to be the first professional sports team in the UK to use UV-C disinfection lighting technology, and we expect to see it widely utilised in future across the sports and events industry.”

Signify have added another layer of analysis for medical purposes as doctors look at ways to manage their players.

Signify’s UV-C disinfection lighting adds an additional layer of protection to the stringent testing and operational processes we have in place to protect the squad,” Harlequins’ Head of Medical Mike Lancaster said. 

“From a medical perspective, I am very satisfied with the way the technology has been tested in depth and fully proven.” 

UV-C is the proven disinfection method that prevents the spread of diseases by disinfecting air, water and surfaces. It breaks down the DNA or RNA of microorganisms to make viruses and bacteria become harmless. Laboratory testing showed that the virus could be clamped down in as little as nine seconds.  

Signify’s partner Powercor have already installed 11 units for Harlequins that are suspended by brackets 800mm from the ceiling. The high position, combined with the luminaires’ design, allows the system to disinfect air as it circulates in the room, even when there are people present. 

Applicable to all sports and venues, this is just the start of the reach that Signify can have with sporting organisations. 

“As a long-term partner of Signify, we are very pleased to extend our professional expertise to UV-C disinfection lighting, which will become increasingly important to our customers in the years ahead,” Powercor Managing Director Richard Grace said. 

“We are proud to play our part in getting the Quins safely to the pitch and creating hygienic spaces for supporters to enjoy the legendary atmosphere of The Stoop once it is considered safe to re-open.” 

Natural convection moves the disinfected air back into the lower part of the room. Shielding and optics in the luminaire’s design will additionally prevent accidental exposure to UV-C radiation.

“Harlequins have a long history at the pinnacle of English rugby. Top athletes work hard to keep their health at an absolute peak, which extends to managing the risks we all now face in crowded public places,” Andy Gowen said, Director Public and Sports Lighting at Signify in the UK & Ireland. 

“We’re very proud to support the Club’s objective to offer players and supporters the very best protection.”

Signify has led the way for UV technology, where they’ve added plenty of innovation and expertise related to UV-C lighting. The way that this lighting is designed, installed and use is treated with care so that safety requirements are made and improves hygiene in a climate where it has never been more important. 

To find out more on Signify and what they can offer sport clubs, you can find it here. 

© 2020 Soccerscene Industry News. All Rights reserved. Reproduction is prohibited.

Most Popular Topics

Editor Picks