“Off the Pitch with Active” is a program of interviews with people involved in junior sport in some capacity for the benefits of children’s development. I am hoping that these interviews will help parents and players gain more knowledge to develop to their best possible potential.
Sport is a critical part of growing up. Participating in team sport from an early age assist in good mental wellbeing. Endorphins are released during exercise and this makes people feel more positive. Serotonin is released when liked and when we feel significant and dopamine is released through feeling of achievements. The chemical reactions in our body when playing sport develop confidence in school and all other aspects of life.
In this program Active Illustrated share experiences and wisdom from ex-players and educators related to the topic of junior sport.
By Ken Willner, Adelaide August 2017
In part 1 Football is not rocket science Part 1, André Meyer, Director of PM Academy and UNISA Technical Director talked about his journey from a child in Germany being selected into the German national football selective system to, in later years, playing in Australia. He was also technical director in the professional league in Indonesia.
Let’s jump into part 2…..
The final part of my interview with Andre Meyer I start off with asking Andre about his way of coaching at PM academy where he has developed several hundred kids over the years. Is there a different style of coaching today, compared to when you were in the youth?
André: When it comes to attitude and characteristics as a coach everyone is different. Some are quieter, some are louder. I am probably one of the louder coaches.
Active: I did notice that when I took photos of your U16 team earlier this season [Laughter].
André: I am a very active coach and I put a lot of energy into it. Because I do this full time I prepare myself and I go out there with a very high motivation. I am very disciplined and for me football players are not there just to play football. It is a way of growing up. We use sport in our society to make our kids more balanced and ready for the community.
The statistic and the scientific studies has revealed that children can achieve things better and can deal with failures better when they grow up with sports. Because they are coming into a system where they analyses more.
For example; they say things like “today I had a bad game, I didn’t play well,” so they judge their own performance.
Some people think it’s all about winning but it is not! I care about seeing the 8 years old boy 10 years later has become a good human being, and that is the experience I have.
I can name Nicholas Bucco (ADL City), Tony Sacco (ADL CTY), Craig Goodwin and Osama Malik (Adelaide Utd), Bennie Caruccio. Boys like that I had since they were very young. You meet them today and they are amazing human beings. Regardless of their status in their football.
Because I am disciplined and tough, I must also be fair. The fairness comes with educating the kids. There is a little rumour going around when you are one of Andre’s favourite player you have the hardest time in your life and that is the truth.
The last things kids want to be is my favourite. Many parents think that their kids are very special. The State system put kids into “Skillaroos” and kids tend to become a little bit egocentric. I am the opposite. I believe when they come into an Excellence or an Elite program you need to set them up to fail. The chance of becoming a professional football player is one in a million.
You can say that of 500 kids going through the system in the next 5 to 10 years, if you are lucky you may produce a couple of players out of that. What about the other 498 kids, what are they going to be doing. Are they going out there to be failed human beings in life because they got promised so much when they were young? REALLY?
It is statistically clear that the ones who failed, the ones who were rejected and the ones who were never put on the fast track because they were not so fantastic, were the ones who became professional footballers.
Bearing this in mind, it is very important when you coach, you separate between fun and a kick around and serious development. It’s fine in the community club and a local club who wants to do that; but that community club should also have an Elite program. There are always kids who want to do more and clubs must also provide for those.
When you come into a system where you are with Adelaide City, Campbelltown City or Metro Stars, all the top clubs; you need to be serious from U11 and U12. These clubs can only have semi to professional footballers involved in coaching. You cannot conduct any trainings with parents or people who has not played the game on a high standard.
The skill development phase between 10 and 14 is the most important part. I can make 12 unskilled players pass the ball to each other but individual skill is very, very difficult. During this time of development you can’t put a 50 to 60 year old there. No disrespect, I am 50 but I am very fit. You need to be fit you need to be tested and proactive. But only proactive coaches can participate in this development phase.
You need to be able to run and play and show, not only to tell.
Children need heroes and idols, that’s why parents are looking for academies when the boys turn 12, 13 or 14. They are searching everywhere to go to the Cassio’s and Carrusca’s and everybody else because they (parents) cannot teach them anything any longer. The kids don’t listen to them anymore.
I also feel it is very hard to tell the ex. professional football player who made money from playing, “that you should be following the national curriculum.”
That is why we have stories like Caravella and Cassio in the newspaper and the first thing they always do is to say that we don’t get any help and no one is endorsing us and FFA doesn’t like us. It’s a problem that must be dealt with by a technical director of the Football Federation.
And the Technical Director of the Federation needs to be the most approachable person of all. He needs to be one of the nicest guys in the world and he needs to be the guy who embraces and welcome any former semi or full professional football player…ANY.
That is the point why we may be struggling. The next thing we must fix is the running of the regime. People sit 5 to 10 years in the job. It’s incredible that we have CEO’s and directors sitting for absolute YEAAARS! FOR YEAARRS!
Active: So, no refreshed personnel at the top?
André: No! they don’t even do this in clubs. Tell me any coach except Arséne Wenger and Sir Ferguson who stayed in their clubs for 25 years
Active: I think the average life of a coach in EPL is about 6 months these days.
André: Even Klopp had 5 years in Dortmund. We have Football Directors in this city and country that has been there for a decade. It’s a problem.
Active: I can understand that. Can I switch the conversation a little? Where does UNISA and PM Professional Academy fit in?
André: PM was introduced to UNISA because we were looking for a partner to build a youth development system. I made a proposal and wrote a program. I introduced it to the board of UNISA Sports. Who had no secondary thoughts. Obviously, they are very educated people and they don’t have interest in only one sport. They are looking at general picture and it was approved in less than 3 months.
UNISA is very good facility to work with because everything is on an educational pathway. They make decisions purely on that and we build the teams.
Active: So, you got U10, U12, U14 & U16.
André: We didn’t take the in between groups. We stick with the main age groups because we wanted to make sure the numbers were low so we could focus on the right development. We kept the numbers of the teams low to achieve maximum game time. Because game time is the secret of junior development. Without that it doesn’t matter which coach you are, or if you did win the World Cup, you will never be able to develop a child if he doesn’t play the game; he needs minutes lots of minutes, lots of time on the ball.
Again this is another conflict compared to the European countries. They are not better than us. They don’t have 4 legs and 3 arms, they just play more. They have more minutes on the ball.
Active: That is interesting, let’s say you are looking at age groups of 12 to 14, are kids from Americas, Africa, Europe the US or anywhere in the world different from Australian kids?
André: On a physical and athletic background, you need to consider that every country has its differences. For example, if you look at Mexican’s characteristics, they are small and fast. If you go to Scandinavia you are not going to find any player under 6” or 6.1”. So characteristics will always be different which is why the World Cup is so beautiful to watch. Country’s like Iceland makes a difference.
We don’t have to play like the Spanish, we don’t have to play like the English. Australia is obviously non-identified. We have not identified who we are. Are we the Aussies with the go-getters? To be honest the English population in this country is far lower than the Mediterranean’s, Croatian’s and the Balkans. We have in our population, more Balkans, Mediterranean’s, Italians and Greeks we should understand that. We do have a European culture. Very much so.
But we like to follow the Dutch system. They have been going after it as it has been the holy bible. Have a check in their (Dutch) trophy cabinet. It’s dusty. They do things right in the very early development. They always develop very good technical players but don’t forget Holland have a massive culture of football. But when it comes to the system of dealing with more masses and dealing with the broad span of football, they are not the country we should be looking at.
We should be looking at countries like Germany and Spain. We should look at countries that has an enormous influx of juniors. In Australia we have a pyramid system. Its incredible silly. And it’s very biased at the end. We don’t have this in Europe. We have an open system. The catchment in the 15 to 18 year olds we are losing more football players than any other country in the world.
We don’t like to say that, but it is a fact.
Active: Why do we lose them?
André: Because we built a pyramid system. We say by the time you are 16 and don’t play with Adelaide United, Youth Team or NPL you are gone. What a lot of rubbish, it’s like good footballers don’t make good coaches. It’s a myth. How can a former professional footballer not make a good youth coach? I am talking top level all the time.
Active: I have noticed many coaches have consistent technical abilities but the way they communicate differs from coach to coach.
André: Football is a confidence game, you can make or break a player. Many times some players experience that they are not liked by their coach while others are. That conflict you will always have. It is very hard to get away from that, unless you run a very discipline regime and they don’t want to be your friend.
I make it hard and if the kids become better and better, like superior in their age group I work them harder.
Active: You are always going to have many different kids in a team, some are mentally much stronger and some more sensitive. How do you approach that?
André: Confidence; we have several examples of boys in UNISA who didn’t make other teams. Yes! As we are a new club you get the kids that has been rejected from 3 or 4 clubs before us. And I take them. I pump them up and today many of them surprised us. They have become really good players. I had a parent came up to me and said, “my son would have given up soccer because he didn’t make any team”. He didn’t even make a JSL U12 second team. He didn’t make the JSL B team. He is now playing U12 JPL side and he has been best on ground the last 3 matches. He is starting every game. You need to be a footballer if you are going to coach.
I have played players who maybe underdogs, they maybe not mentioned every time, but they play every week. People are thinking “why are they playing every week?” This is because he works his ass off. He works more than everybody else. He puts his body on the line and he shows character.
In my academy I had a kid that was un-coachable. He was better than anyone in his age group however he had a very bad attitude. I also had one walk off a U13 game in the middle of the match without warning because he had a bad game.
His father said, “now you know why I am bringing him to you,” I think the player hated me for good couple years and he didn’t want to come to my training but his father made him come.
Active: Another point I would like to ask you for your opinion; every kid is different but for someone who has the aspiration to play as a professional player, I wouldn’t think you should force the kids to train? It may work with a few but not most.
André: Most of the time they walk away. It doesn’t matter what you think your son was when he was 10-15. There will come a time when hormones will play a part. When he will turn around to question his parents and say, “what do you know dad?”
Active: [Laughter] I got a 16 year old son..
André: Conflict will happen, then it is a matter how much good work you did before the hormones started to play up. Everyone will get to that point.
Active: So what is your general advice to parents? Let’s say they have a son or daughter wanting to strive for something special?
André: Show disinterest, care more about the siblings that suffers because one is getting all the attention and are driven to all the different trainings and venues. Take care of your other children.
If your son/daughter is meant to be; he/she will find a way to train harder.
You need to go out in the park after school for 1, ½ hour by yourself. Play against a wall and practice touches. Let them show you that they have their own inspiration. I never ring my academy players and ask them if they want train. They always ring me. Even at night time before bed time they call me asking if training is on the following day.
Active: So, you mean they should have their own driver and you should never push them to go to training?
André: At the right moment give them the support. When you see they gone over the barrier, when they are having a hard time. Then you give them support. Say “I see you are working so hard and it is not happening to you right now but hey- I support you.” But only when it happens.
Rejection in football is very common. It is even more common than in jobs. The coach may like you, but 3 months later he leaves and the next coach comes along and he does not like you. You are done! So, rejection is one issue you must learn to deal with.
People who have worked hard, people who got a few punches in the gut, they will go through that. This is a part of what I think we are lacking in Elite training. It is very important that we stop using the word elite. Take the word elite out. Stop Skillaroos! Keep FFSA, they have a good coach but life should be hard. You should work them so hard so you want them to quit.
Because there are 100 guys lining up and they never quit, we are missing that. We keep carrying on. It’s no good. Because really there is no communication, there are no real reports, there is really no feedback. There is not really anything happening because they don’t want to put themselves out.
That’s why they don’t talk but actions speak louder than words and that’s the issue. Better go out there and say, “listen guys none of you are going to make it. The chances of anyone of you in this group right now making it professional are that slim that it’s better your Dad plays lottery on a Friday, and he probably has a better chance to win on a Saturday”.
You need to go into that program including everybody, that’s where it starts. But I’m going to give you all the opportunities and I going to go out there and when you are down I pick you up, and when you are up I put you down. That is what the important part, and that’s where they are lacking.
Your son is a goalkeeper, isn’t he? I have seen a kid in 1860 Munich, he was fifteen years old goal keeper and when he took his top off, he was
black and blue all over his body… seriously. They did a jump exercise on the artificial turf … oh my god! He was airborne and landing, shot after shot he jumped up, then bottom corner, then back again, balls kept pumping, two coaches pumping him for forty-five minutes, it was unbelievable, and he does that every day.
Active: Was that in Munich?
André: Yes, its serious stuff. You are not competing against Australians, you are not competing against Spanish kids in Barcelona, you are competing against kids who come from secondary countries, third world countries, they are hungry. That’s what you are competing against. It’s unbelievable hard.
I took that road, and I didn’t make it. To make the German National Team, oh my god, how hard is that. To make the Joeys under Seventeen its possible. To make the Germany under Seventeens is impossible. The choice of thousands, hundreds of thousands, around you. We have ninety million people in Germany alone. We have three hundred million just in the travel area of three to four hours. We have more Turks in Germany then living in Turkey and they are unbelievable footballers, they are unbelievable power houses. By the time they are twelve they look like sixteen and this is what we are competing against.
Active: It has been fascinating listening to you, I could do this all day but we need to end. Thank you for your time sharing your ideas and experiences with Off the Pitch with Active
André: Thank you it was a pleasure.
To contact André Meyer click here PMProfessionalfootball
Off the pitch with Active is a creation of Active Illustrated.
Interviewer: Ken Willner
Photos provided by Active Illustrated and André Meyer
©Active Illustrated 2017
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