ACADEMY DIRECTORS ABROAD: LESSONS FROM THE BELGIAN FA

The year-long U.S. Soccer Academy Director Course prepares club leaders to create an elite youth development environment at their club. This month, the course travels to Europe to take an inside look at some of the world's top youth academies. Development Academy Director Jared Micklos reports from Brussels on what the candidates are learning and how they can bring it back to their clubs at home

"Have a Vision"

This was the opening remark from Kris Van Der Haegen, Belgium FA Director of Coach Education. The research and time put in by club and Federation staff was all guided by a vision as the Federation set out to lead the country in player development, from the grassroots to the National Team.

Belgium's vision came from a plan that began in 2000. A plan to bring the country's clubs and the Federation together, to have consistency and to implement best practices for youth development. This idea has been a focus during the first weeks of the U.S. Soccer Academy Director Course and it continued this week as clubs engaged in dialogue, sharing what's worked in their environments.

Hassan Nazari, Academy Director of Dallas Texans, asked an insightful question about their progress: where is the plan now, in 2017? "The plan is not static," Kris stated. The Belgian FA is openly looking at how the game is evolving so that it can create the next generation of top-level players. The current generation helped Belgium reach its first-ever FIFA No. 1 ranking in 2015. As the discussion continued, Kris said the Federation and clubs "must continue finding ways to add to the plan and update."

To achieve this, the FA's entire technical staff (from the U-14 level upwards), the Coaching Education staff and the Development staff come together every two years to reflect and update the vision.

He outlined the planning process in the following steps:

  1. Inspiration
  2. Collaborate and Find Agreement (between clubs and Federation)
  3. Commit (to the plan) and Put It on Paper

Jokingly, he added a fourth step for the group. As you say in America...

  1. Just Do It.

Change isn't easy. He said it took a major switch in coaching mentality.

"Coach education is the beginning of the story…You have to:

Stop thinking about your team and the results.
Start thinking about the individual players."

At the elite youth level in Belgium, there are no tables (results or scores) until the age of 13. It's the same standard for the Development Academy's U-12 level.

"Now they don't think about results…(they're) focused on players' development. As a player, winning is important, but the coach must think about development and winning."

The focus on development at a young age means that players are encouraged to take risks and make their own decisions. The result is the development of players who are masterful one-on-one, both attacking and defending.

The visit included an opportunity to exchange ideas over lunch and a coffee break between Kris and many of the Academy Directors and Technical Advisors. As the group departed, we paused for a quick photo in front of the newly-constructed Federation headquarters and took with us the spirit of their vision for our week ahead: to share ideas and work together.