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. The candidates and staff visited one of Belgium's most-successful clubs, Club Brugge, to dive in to its elite youth development system. Development Academy Director Jared Micklos shares what they learned about the importance of the individual.

Next stop: three days at Club Brugge in Bruges, Belgium. An opportunity to take the ideas shared at the Belgium FA and see how they implemented at the youth academy of an elite Belgian club.

Pascal De Maesschalck, Club Brugge Academy Director, shared how his club operates- "always short lines"- a short line of communication from Academy staff to the first team staff, and short lines of communication between staff and players within the club.

To accomplish this goal, the academy and other club departments meet weekly with the Brugge's CEO. In the same vein, Pascal meets with the Academy coaches every week. "It is important to create environments where everyone knows what to do; and it needs to be clear," he said.

This 'communication and connection' example is important for the Academy Director Course candidates as one of its main objectives is "Developing an academy policy that is aligned to the club policy."

One core aspect of both Academy and club policy at Club Brugge is its focus on the individual.

  • Stijn Claeys designs the weekly regimen for players, typically nine sessions per week that include physical, individual and team training. Just one third of the training is with the team, while two thirds of their training for youth players is individual. Claeys shared that frequent communication is essential. "Talking with players is the most important part of their development."

  • The performance coach, Dieter Deprez, talked about the Club Brugge-created tracking system called "Club Lab" that evaluates individual players' perceived exertion and builds an overall wellness report. It was created with the first team in mind, but most elements are used all the way down to the U-13 level, creating a knowledge bank for the coaches to discuss and providing the information needed to better communicate with individual players.

  • Pascal asked the group to think about their roles at their clubs, as he believes academies have a "pedagogical responsibility to create an environment where every player can express themselves at 100% capacity." Step 1: bring the right player into the club. Step 2: provide an environment to push players. Both require the right frequency and type of communication.

This focus on the individual is more than just verbal communication with the player. It is part of Brugge's overall strategy across the board, and it requires a true commitment.

It begins with the community. Club Brugge holds talent days for local clubs, U-7 through U-13, to establish communication between Brugge and the local clubs. Local clubs benefit from the opportunities provided and the talent days create a desired pathway for some young players to make the transition to Club Brugge, where they can continue their development and possibly earn a first team spot. The club has created lines of communication with schools-"short lines"-to create more training opportunities during the day, when the club has the opportunity to focus on the player's individual needs.

It's clear that Club Brugge prioritizes individual development, and the club provided the proof that these principles are put into practice. Towards the end of our visit, a familiar face came through the meeting room door: former Real Colorado Development Academy product, Ethan Horvath. Ethan is currently the starting goalkeeper at Club Brugge, currently the leader in Belgium's First Division. He shared his experience coming to and playing at Brugge, summing up what we heard and saw regarding development of the individual.

"When I first arrived, it was all about developing." He moved to Club Brugge after playing with FC Molde (Norway) and credited his continuing individual work with the performance staff and first-team goalkeeper coach as a continuous driver in his development. He spoke about training day in and day out and his desire to gain the confidence of his teammates

"You have to have the best playing with the best. It's expected," Horvath said. "The starting spot is not given to you…Thankfully my work paid off and I am the No. 1 and we are first at moment."