Earlier this month members of the Rovers Academy travelled to Holland to take part in an annual tournament that featured some of the most recognisable names in European football.
Academy Manager, Jonathan Henderson, explains how the tournament benefitted the player’s development by exposing them to a different style of opposition over the course of the four-day tour.
“This is the second year that we have taken the boys to Holland, with the competition taking a slightly different shape this year.
We took a mix of our U13, U14 and U15 players, as European youth football is based on year of birth, as opposed to our system where we base age categories depending on the school year. The players were mixed into two separate sides, so that added another learning element as the players had to get used to playing with teammates who they perhaps wouldn’t have known as well as their regular team-mates before setting off on the tour.”
The tournament allowed the squads to face tough opposition from sides across Belgium and Holland in conditions that were unfamiliar to them, with games geared towards producing results to progress in the competition.
"There were some good teams in this year's tournament, featuring some well-known sides from European football, so it made for an interesting experience.”
“Something that we are really conscious of is the fact that our games programme in this country and get a little repetitive for the players, with the various age categories playing opposing teams sometimes four times in a season.”
"We are keen to get the players as much variety as we can in terms of opposition. Locally when we do that we try to arrange games against Category One or Category Two clubs but to get a chance for the players to go out and experience a different culture and then to go out and face a completely new style of teams is invaluable to their progression."
"We were out in Holland for four days in total. On the first day, we organised a social activity for the players and arranged a visit to the Amsterdam Arena, so the boys could see what to expect at the very elite level of the game. In the afternoon, we played Dutch side Willem II and it was an interesting game, as they were technically excellent and they were competitive. Even though we lost both games, it was a good learning experience for the players."
"The second day of the tour was when the tournament element kicked in. The sides included a mix of local Dutch amateur sides and professional clubs from across the region. We came up against Feyenoord and FC Groningen and Royal Antwerp from Belgium."
"The sides we faced were very much technically driven and focused on a possession approach to the game, which is a similar logic that we try to teach our players to play. When we came up against the amateur sides, we found them to be more physical, so it was a good contrast throughout the tournament."
"The pleasing aspect for me was how the players approached the competitive element of the competition. In several matches, the players had to react to the pressure of winning the game, whereas typically they are more used to the pressure being very much driven towards how they play and not so much towards the result."
"Overall, the U13's won their first three games beating Royal Antwerp and Feyenoord, but lost in what was effectively the semi-final against Groningen where the winner of the game would have topped the group to progress to the final. The games included a sin-bin element for players who received a yellow card, so that added a learning experience for the players to ensure that they could balance their emotional responses during a game and it was something we didn’t do particularly well in that match as we found ourselves down to 9 players at one point in the game which was punished by the opposition who scored both their goals during the period where players down.
"The U15's finished second in their group and didn't concede a goal throughout the group stage of the competition. They ended up drawing two games and winning two fixtures and in the final game they needed a win to progress to the final but ended up drawing the game 0-0, but it was good for the players to experience that pressure of having to achieve a result in a game and it was good to witness how the players reacted when placed under pressure to get a positive result. As a result of the group position, they progressed to the play-off final against Royal Antwerp who were the runners up of the other group and in an entertaining game won on penalties – again another experience that they aren’t exposed to under normal circumstances.”
"The games actually only make up a small part of the time of the tour, so there was a social element of the players spending time with each other. Also, for many of the younger players, it was their first experience of being away from home, so that unfamiliar environment of being in a hotel for four days and being in control of their own preparations for games is vital in their development as younger players."