There are many reasons why 1.FSV Mainz 05, working in tandem with Justin and Jason Rose, came to Colorado Springs to train and play two preseason matches. The quality of facilities in the city and the high altitude made the area enticing, and of course the rising German club wants to build its brand in the United States, a huge sports market in which the Bundesliga and its clubs are making serious efforts to establish their identity.
But one of the major incentives for Rose to bring Mainz to Colorado Springs was to bring German football coaching to American youth. Not that American youth are devoid of coaching by any means, with so many youth clubs and state soccer associations throughout the country led by people who know the game well. But coaching is also about learning new things, new training techniques and new ways to teach youngster so that they can reach their potential as athletes and adults.
So five youth coaches from Mainz’ youth academy travelled with the club’s coaches and players specifically to teach young American players. And from all accounts, they have been doing a fine job.
On Wednesday, I spent time observing the coaches interact with the youngsters who signed up for the Colorado Cup training camp. It was cool. The Mainz coaches spoke English well (although several enthusiastic cries of “Ja, Ja” slipped in), and the ratio of young athletes to coaches was such that players got a lot of individual and small group attention, with the coaches instructing out each child’ by name and emphasizing teamwork. The instructions from the coaches were positive, and constructive criticism was focused on the group, not any one individual child.
I spoke to several parents who were watching the training, and all were quite thrilled with the quality of instruction being given in an upbeat atmosphere. The individual attention the children, boys and girls from elementary school age to high school teens, was remarked upon frequently, in contrast to other camps their children attended.
And the kids were having fun, too. I heard lots of laughter and positive interaction between the children of different ages as they played 3×3 drills, where Mainz youth coaches emphasized not only technical skills but vision, looking for the open teammate even with an opponent bearing down on you. I talked to several children, and all were smiling that type of genuine smile that children specialize in Meeting the Mainz professional players afterwards and getting selfies and autographs was a thrill for them, too.
After the training session was over, I had the pleasure of speaking with Benjamin Canbolat, who coaches the U13 players at Mainz academy in Germany. Canbolat has been coaching youth for twelve years, and previously worked for Kickers Offenbach. His Mainz U13 squad consists of 20 children and the emphasis is on individual technical skills at the age, much more than fitness. Education is also a priority at the Mainz Academy, where there are about 230 youth players, mostly Germans but also kids from Turkey, France and other countries.
Canbolat was generally impressed with the technical skills displayed by the youth camp players. What young players often lack is vision, seeing the opportunity and seizing it. Positioning is also another area in which youngsters take a while to understand, not simply lining up in a certain position, of course, but moving with the flow of the game in tune with teammates.
From my perspective, although we Americans are growing in the beautiful game, we still have much to learn. These campers were light years ahead of what I was taught as a youngster back in the stone age of soccer in America, the 1960s, where even in a city like St. Louis, where the game was enthusiastically played since before World War I, youth training emphasized running, running and more running, with some passing drills and a bit of technical training regarding trapping the ball, etc. We played the 2-3-5 formation then, long disregarded. The kids at camp all had skills that I couldn’t have dreamed of fifty years ago — and although we as Americans need to grow our youth training more, we have grown so much.
But German footballing culture has learned from American training techniques, fitness monitoring and other aspects of sports science, too, to their benefit. Much of the credit for the acceptance of American know how goes to current USMNT Coach Jurgen Klinsmann, a controversial choice to lead the German national team more than a decade ago. Klinsmann withstood a great deal of criticism from German pundits, former players and coaches when he took over the German national team prior to the 2006 World Cup and brought in what he learned from American sports into German football. The former strikers’ vision, and his self-belief, transformed the Germans into an international football power once again. Learning crosses the Atlantic Ocean from both directions — exactly the exchange that the is the Rose brothers reason for bringing German football to Colorado.
The parents I spoke with expressed their hopes that more area parents, and even those out-of-state, will enroll their children in future training camps with Mainz. Talks are already underway for a 2017 Colorado Cup that will benefit not only the Bundesliga players but also the youth players who get involved. We can all look forward to that.
Glad to report that Universidad de Guadalajara’s Leones Negros brought a group of young players to Colorado Springs for training and the Colorado Cup match with Mainz. Cool.