Ajax Video Review Part I: Heroes of the Future, The Ajax Training Concept (age 7-12)

D381-2I purchased the video set from Ajax titled Heroes of the Future to get a glimpse at Ajax’ storied youth development model.  I will post about different parts of it in a series.

1.  Recognition of Talent

Everyone is born with different hereditary differences and whether a player will develop into a star may be based on genetics.  Here are characteristics they look at:

  • Technical – how a player touches the ball; ball control
  • Tactical – ability to read the game and make decisions; anticipation
  • Mental – discipline, self-knowledge, and the will to win
  • Physical – agility and good acceleration

Characteristics are the traits you inherit – for some, you can do nothing to improve them (like height), but for others you can stretch them (within limits).  Skill is the process of improving your characteristics.

2.  Key Determining Factors

The two factors are (1) the Playing Concept and (2) biological considerations (emphasizing different skills at different ages).

3.  Integrated Approach

The 4 skills are interwoven in soccer training.  Depending on the age, depends on the amount of focus.  For example, Technique is worked on from 7-9 — you must learn to master the ball.

  • Technical – heavier focus from 8-12
  • Tactical – heavier focus from 12-18
  • Physical – throughout

Ajax has their players participate in judo and gymnastics at young ages to compliment physical development of agility and acceleration.  Ajax refers to this as “multi-skills” and they see this as critical in the 7-12 ages for proper development of the motor system.  In other words, playing other sports and doing other activities other than soccer is seen as not only healthy, but as assisting the development of soccer-related physical skills (agility, coordination, speed, strength).

4.  Self Confidence (7-12)

Coaches are critical to players being creative.  Coaches must be careful (1) what they say, (2) when they say it, and (3) how they say it.  Never give negative feedback to players during play, especially at young ages.  Give praise when they do something well.  There is no need to praise all the time as it marginalizes the praise when it is earned. Be specific with your praise.

5.  Age Considerations

While coaches will work on all 4 categories throughout the soccer education, you will work on some more at some ages.  In the young ages, more time should be spent on technical work and Ajax likes the use of repetitions.  For example, repetitions of dribbling sequences.  “The best way to learn is to constantly repeat the same move in the same situation.”  What I get from this is that static dribbling exercises are encouraged.  Everything does not have to be dynamic.

Do not criticize decision-making at the young age (7-12).  That is a tactical approach that is focused on from 12-18.  The “have you made the right choice” question is reserved for the 14-18 ages when training is more focused on teams and less on individual play.  “You mustn’t clutter players’ minds with team tactics too early…too much emphasis on team tactics can be detrimental to a player’s development…that is why in the large part of the program, team tactics are subordinate to individual talent.”

6.  Passing

Ajax is most concerned with the accuracy and speed of the pass as opposed to who the pass is played to.  This is where they advise staying away from criticizing decision-making; rather, design exercises where good decisions are easy to make.

7.  Individual Learning Plan

Each player has his own individual learning plan.  You must discover the specific skills a player has.  One player may have vision but lack speed, or vice-versa.  Here are the questions they pose for each player:

  • What characteristics does he have?  What skills does he have?
  • What skills does he need for his position?
  • In what area should he improve?
  • What is the best way to achieve that?

It is different for every player.  As a coach, you must be honest with the time spent on developing a skill with a player.

I will share information from the other videos one by one.  Very interesting stuff.