Soccer Mindset Academy: A fix for football’s mental health concerns?

As the world deals with the current COVID-19 crisis, the mental wellbeing of people across the globe continues to emerge as a major concern.

Footballing communities around the world are looking at various initiatives to address mental health issues in a difficult time.

In a recent example, Football Victoria CEO Peter Filopoulos detailed his organisation’s plan to tackle possible mental health degradation during this period, through a targeted online campaign for Victorian football participants.

In football, for a long time, mental health has been under-resourced for the majority of players, especially those at a grassroots level.

CEO of Soccer Mindset Academy Yal Bekar, believes his product is a cost-effective resource that can change that perception.

“I got the idea of creating a product that focussed entirely on mindset when I came to the realisation that it was absolutely key to a player’s performance and resilience. And yet most had never even considered their mental wellbeing, let alone been educated on it. I also saw the inequality in terms of paid resources for players,” Bekar told fcbusiness.

“There was then, and still is, a huge gap in what parents, clubs and coaches offer players in the form of mindset tools. We set about to address that four years ago, and now it feels like our time has truly come to shine a light and offer a really accessible way to make a difference in these young players’ lives.”

The academy has developed their own curriculum and tools in consultation with leading experts in a number of fields.

Dr Matt Pain, a sports psychologist in elite sport for over 15 years, including a stint of 10 years managing the English FA’s psychology research, was involved in the process of content development in the product. As was Andy Barton, a leading performance coach in the UK.

In company with the academy’s focus on implementing positive tools for the mental resilience of players, it is their intent to influence change at a junior grassroots level.

In 2019, the Soccer Mindset Academy became sponsors of the Jason Roberts Foundation, a charity created by a former professional footballer which offered participation and playing opportunities to young people who had little chance of accessing coaching.

They donated a specifically created mindset platform to the foundation, whilst also providing 200 players with access to online mindset training.

That same year, in an effort to raise awareness of the importance of mindset for young female players, the organisation sponsored SheKicks magazine and their coverage of the FIFA Women’s World Cup in France.

Yal Bekar thinks a lot more can still be done in regards to showcasing the significance of mental wellbeing in football.

“We are stepping up our efforts to reach players globally by creating a reasonably priced Soccer Mindset Challenge specifically to highlight and educate young players on the importance of mental wellbeing at this challenging time,” he said.

The new Soccer Mindset Challenge is set to launch in May of this year, in the same timeframe as Mental Health Awareness Month.

The aim of the challenge is to increase young players’ awareness of different mindset tools that can be accessed while social distancing during the COVID-19 restrictions.

In a time period where certain players may feel uncomfortable due to the lack of a normal school routine, the company’s app has daily workouts that can be completed at home.

These workouts encourage positive mindset habits and mental wellbeing, whilst also providing structured and educational pieces using different types of football video, audio and practical exercises.

These activities also benefits coaches, clubs and parents at a time when usual activities are unable to occur, improving young players in alternative ways.

How young players respond during this pandemic will have an impact on the way they are in the future.

It is crucial for clubs, parents and relevant stakeholders to provide them with positive tools and techniques to help them out of this period without scheduled competitive football.

While Soccer Mindset Academy may not be the ultimate fix, it provides a template that can be used and adapted for a generation of young players who are trying to deal with the current situation around the world.

Philip Panas is a sports journalist with Soccerscene. He reports widely on football policy and industry matters, drawing on his knowledge and passion of the game. Follow him on Twitter @PhilipPanas

La Liga to release broadcasting innovations documentary

La Liga is set to release a documentary detailing the broadcast innovations it has introduced since the league’s return in June.

The programme is titled ‘BehindTheCameras’ and is a one-off documentary. It will be shown on La Liga’s broadcast partners around the world and focuses on how the Spanish top-flight and the broadcast team were able to create a virtual atmosphere for matches.

A virtual atmosphere became necessary after the league returned without crowds. However, they’ve committed to giving fans the best home experience possible.

The documentary shows how they used virtual stands and crowd audio to improve its television broadcast. The stands displayed to-scale images of fans as well as the home team’s colours and club slogans. The league worked with Norwegian company VIZRT to create this experience.

Crowd audio was also used thanks to EA Sports who had previously recorded audio of fans. New camera angles were also a part of the virtual experience – different cameras and angles were used such as aerial cameras.

“It will focus in particular on how La Liga has offered virtual atmosphere as part of its broadcasts across the last 11 match days. The one-off programme will be aired around the world by La Liga’s international broadcasters,” La Liga said in a statement on Friday.

“Broadcasting a live sporting event with virtual crowd noise has been a veritable challenge for La Liga, a pioneer in this kind of virtualisation, and a step unprecedented among sports leagues around the world.

“With this in mind, La Liga has decided to offer a behind the scenes view of the entire process and show fans the innovation and hard work which underpins the technology.

“The BehindTheCameras documentary will showcase everything that has gone on behind the scenes and feature interviews with those who have played a major role in making it possible, including La Liga’s Audiovisual Director Melcior Soler; Head of TV Production at LaLiga Sergio Sanchez; Match Director at Mediapro Oscar Lago; and wTVision’s Willem van Breukelen.”

This is the second documentary La Liga has produced, following TodayWePlay, which premiered last month. TodayWePlay focused on the creation of the Return to Competition Protocol during the league’s break due to the Coronavirus.

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.”

Premier League achieves record TV numbers

In just the second game back following the Premier League restart, Sky Sports has achieved record TV numbers as fans watch from the comfort of their homes.

Manchester City’s 3-0 victory over Arsenal was the most watched game in the English top flight in three and a half years and showed exactly how fans missed league action – it had been 100 days they’ve had to wait due to the enforced break caused by coronavirus.
Sky Sports in the United Kingdom had a massive ratings success, as City vs Arsenal drew a peak audience of 3.4 million on Sky Sports’ Main Event and Premier League channels, maintaining an average of 3.1 million during the match. This audience figure saw a staggering 94% jump on the 2019/20 average for games televised live on Sky Sports.
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The opening Premier League restart game between Aston Villa and Sheffield United, a 0-0 goalless draw, had a peak audience of 2.7 million and an average of 2.3 million people watching on both Sky Sports channels.

Artificial crowd noise, delivered in both Bundesliga and La Liga broadcasts, has also made its way to the Premier League. For the City vs Arsenal game, 75% of viewers chose to listen to these sounds via Sky Sports Main Event – proving that fans like to have a little bit more atmosphere instead of echoes from players and coaches.
After just one round of matches to kick-off the restart, TV ratings are already booming and are sure to trend upwards as the season nears its conclusion and tantalising match ups are offered. Players are sure to increase their match fitness and sharpness in the coming weeks to ensure there are some quality contests coming up between big six sides and relegation battlers.
Strong TV ratings gives a clear signal that fans are happy for a return to some kind of normality, even though it may not be exactly the same as before with crowds taken out of the equation.
The record figures achieved so far by Sky Sports are an encouraging start for the Premier League – as fans adhere to social distancing guidelines while they wait for a potential return to watch their team live around the grounds.

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