In the initial stages of the academy, young players come into contact with the “professional” side of football for the first time. The week to week schedule is made up of regular training sessions under the guidance of highly experienced coaches. It’s especially important to ensure that the pure enjoyment of football does not take a back seat to the the technical side of things. To stay true to this, two-thirds of all training sessions are spent honing technical skills, while one-third is set aside for games to be played. Fundamental skills like ball control and coordination is the main focus. Moreover, the development of the players as people is also very important. Attention is placed specifically on taking responsibility for one’s own actions, self-confidence, team spirit and fair play.
The next step
The transition from the initial stages of the academy to the next level see the players move from a small pitch to a larger one. And so the approaches to training have to adapt to this change as well. Around 15 percent of training is allocated for conditioning, 35 percent for technical drills, 25 percent for learning tactical approaches to the game of football with the further 25 percent left over for games that may or may not be intended for putting a particular skill into practice. In order to be ready to make the jump to the highest levels of the academy, each player’s needs have to be cared for extensively. The importance of working on individual player’s strengths and weaknesses grows as a result. The goal is to take as many players as possible and to develop them according to their needs to facilitate the transition from season to season.
The transition to competitive football
The step from the under-15 regional league to the under-17 Bundesliga is a big one, because this transition marks the beginning of competitive football. Since the 2012/2013 season, there has also been a Schalke under-16 team, which was created to try and make the step up a little easier. At this point, the emphasis is shifted from a technical standpoint to a tactical one. The aim is to prepare as many players as possible from the under-15s to the under-17s so that they are able to take the step up to the next age group. Thereafter, playing in the Under-19 Bundesliga aims to get the players ready for the professional game on a technical, but above all tactical level. Complex team tactics take precedence.
The purpose of the under-23 side
Schalke’s under-23 team is the final stage of the development model. it is the link between the under-19s and the first team. Players that play for the under-23s are prepared so that they are ready to be called up to the first team. At the least, training and games should be reflective of professional football.
A further purpose of the under-23 side is, when necessary, to give first-team players some game time. The under-23 level is a critical part of young players’ development. Here they decide whether they want to pursue a career in professional football, or if they’d rather go into the “normal” world of work. Guidance and support for players is all the more important at this level, so advice sessions are readily available.
Exceptional players from the under-19s are also allowed to participate in under-23 or first-team training when given the all clear after internal discussions. Equally, some under-23 players can get a run out in first-team training sessions as well. In order to ensure a seamless transition and to not overwork the players, the under-23s’ coach is in close communication with everyone involved. He is provided with all the information about each individual player. The player database is one such source of information, which is where all the training records of each player are kept.