Recently a number of the academy management team conducted a weekend visit to Ajax to observe their academy philosophy in action.
The aim of the visit was to develop their own practice and gain an insight into the academy that has a long tradition of producing footballers able to play at the highest level.
A recent study conducted by the International Centre for Sports Studies in Switzerland confirmed Ajax’s position as the European club producing most players playing in the highest tier of Europe’s top 31 leagues.
The Academy staff were met at Amsterdam Airport on their arrival from Bristol and taken directly to the Sport Park De Toekomst, home of the Ajax Academy.
On arrival they were met by academy staff and given a quick introduction to the academy structure before a tour of the facilities.
The academy features an impressive 9 full size pitches including a show pitch within a mini stadium setting, a smaller training pitch, a performance playground, an indoor pitch, a school, a performance gym, office areas and an impressive collection of changing rooms, social areas and restaurant.
The performance playground was used for both structured sessions and as an area for players to play games before and after training or matches. This area included football tennis courts, mini pitches, a bounce wall and basketball areas.
They then had the opportunity to observe the Under-19s training in preparation for a match on the Saturday before a workshop on playing the Ajax way with international director Eddie Van Scheik and former play Sonny Silooy. This was a great insight into the philosophy and training methods designed to support playing the Ajax way and its impact was to become clear on the Saturday as the Bristol Rovers coaches watched a number of Ajax teams in action. The day finished watching evening training sessions including the Under-16s preparing for their match the following day.
The first game of the Saturday gave them an opportunity to watch the Under-9s in action against PSV Eindhoven before briefly observing the Under-11s against Utrecht and also the Under-23s train before a lunch time presentation on the Academy recruitment strategy.
After lunch it was straight back to watching games as the Under-16s hosted Voleendam before enjoying the final game of the day in the academy on the show pitch as the Under-19s hosted Heerenveen. After a quick dinner the team made their way back to the Amsterdam Arena to see the first team in action against PEC Zwolle, featuring a number of their academy graduates.
It was a fantastic opportunity to witness first-hand how a top European academy approach player development.
Their philosophy was clear to see throughout all of their teams and their training methods clearly supported this. Their facilities, staff and dedication to developing players was a pleasure to observe and it was all gelled together with an incredibly relaxed and positive environment for the players to develop.
There were some great lessons to be learned and these will be taken forward within our academy in line with our own philosophy and encouragingly there were also a number of similarities in our two programmes.
Academy Head of Coaching Paul Hughes commented on the visit to say “This visit was a great exercise in the professional development of our own Academy team.
"We have all undoubtedly learned some valuable lessons from this and have been inspired to continue in our determined efforts to produce the best people and footballers for Bristol Rovers that we possibly can.
"Whilst we are proud of the great efforts by all in our Academy we will always seek to push forwards and find any gains we can in enhancing our programme and subsequently the opportunity for our players to excel in their development”