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When you’re writing something where the aim is that of sharing coaches views – as with the Blueprint According To… series – then the trickiest part is ensuring that there is a variety in the views you present. And the best way to do that is by talking to people who have worked in as diverse conditions as possible.
Guido Seerden certainly fits that bill. A Dutchman who got his coaching badges at his local FA, he’s gone on to work in different countries most notably Saudi Arabia. It is this range of experience – as well as the enthusiasm for his job that shines through in his replies – that makes him the perfect person to share his blueprint.
Blueprint for Football: What attracted you to coaching?
Guido Seerden: It all started when, aged 5, I wanted to play football for a club because I was absolutely addicted to the game. It was a small club and the youth teams were playing in the lower leagues. Therefore, I did not have access to many quality coaches. I can remember that when I was playing for the U13s, I was also doing football camps in the summer to enhance my skills. I wrote almost all the exercises down in a notebook and gave those notes to my U13s coach so that he could use them during the season. It's a shame that I forgot to ask for that notebook back when the season finished but, anyway, I tried to help my coach to put down better sessions.
A few years later, I was playing for the U19s when I was 14 because our U17 team fell apart but we had to merge with another club after that season. The youth teams at the other club were playing at a higher level than I was used to so I was really looking forward for our clubs to merge (the other club was the one that I wanted to play for when I was 5 because my best football mate was playing there but my dad did not let me as that was his rival club, he wanted me to play for the club he used to play for) because playing at a higher level would mean that I could develop myself as a player but, also, I would have access to more quality coaching.
At least that was what I was hoping for. So I started playing in an U17 team again with a better standard of players than I was used to but the coaching had let me down. For example, our coach put down a small sided game and he went home to put his kids to bed and returned when we were almost finished.
Being a captain for a very long time at my former club, I was new that year so therefore not a captain during that season. I got frustrated more and more because I could see that this was not the way to improve the team and my own skills. We got relegated as a result of that and our coach quit, thankfully! So we got a new coach during my second year at the U17s and this coach triggered me to start coaching myself. He never used the exact same exercise twice, all season long! Unbelievable!
I have always been coaching on the pitch, as a captain, to help my teammates and I loved it. So during that season, when I was 16, I started coaching because I wanted to give players the education I have never had.
Another thing that influenced my decision to become a coach was the fact that I tore my ACL when I was 17. It took almost a year for the 'specialists' to find out that it really was my ACL that was causing the problems; I twisted my knee three times during that season. To cut a long story short, 6 years of recovery and after having 4 surgeries in that time, I did not enjoy playing anymore so I quit at the age of 23. Therefore, I focused on the coaching side as I did enjoy that, even when I was injured, and I knew that I would reach a higher level as a coach than as a football player.
BfF: Have you had any mentors in your career?
GS: Yes, I have had a few but not many. It all depends what your definition of a 'mentor' really is. Is it someone that takes you by the hand and guides your through it? Or is it someone you've learned a lot from by watching him coach?
I've only had the latter to be honest. The first one was the U17s coach I have been talking about before; Andries Bemelmans, the one that never used the same exercise twice. It is not that he was a true mentor for me, as we were not coaching a team together, but I looked at the way he coached and the way how he put that many details in one exercise. So I started using some of his exercises (other people might use the word 'drill' but I am just not a fan of that word) and amending those exercises a bit because I was coaching teams at another level. I was happy that I could play for that coach again at reserve team level, after having a dramatic season at the U19s. He still is by far the best coach I have ever had.
The second one is Igor Hameleers. I have met Igor at one of my internships during my first year of my Bachelor study in Sports and Movement. It was during a football camp and apparently I was doing something right because a few weeks later, Igor asked me to join his football school and become one of the coaches. That is how I got involved with Coerver Coaching Belgium and this has now evolved to the Total Soccer Method.
I have been working with Igor for quite some time now. He has taught me more about how to set up sessions with a focus on the technical aspect and how to approach players of different age categories.
I am currently working alongside other Dutch and Belgium coaches and I am surrounded by some knowledgeable people. So it's up to me to make the most of it and to learn as much as possible.
BfF: What is your coaching philosophy?
GS: Do you have a spare few hours? Or maybe days? I will try to keep to it short! For me, it's all about the learning process and if you get that right, results will follow later on. Therefore, focus has to be on individual player development first before focusing on the team.
On senior level, I would work on team development first and then try to work on the individuals on alongside the team periodization.
I am also a strong believer of training as specific as possible and thereby making almost every exercise match specific. I do not really believe in completely unopposed exercises, as that is not game realistic to me. Players will have to execute tactical and technical skills whilst anticipating on the opposition's movement. Therefore the decision making process has to be completed with some kind of opposition. This does not mean that every exercise is executed with 100% opposition, not at all.
I try to set up conditions in which there is decision making based upon an opponent and whereby the goal of the exercise is still fulfilled. For example, if I want the players to get better at passing, I choose a 3 v 1 instead of an unopposed passing 'drill' thereby making it easier for the attacking team as they have an overload of players compared to the defending team. If that goes well, I progress to a 3 v 2, 3 v 3 and I try to play with the rules of the game to challenge the attacking team or to make it easier for them (if needed).
For example, starting with a GK+3 v GK+2 and the last defender is only allowed to enter the pitch when the striker touches the ball. So the other two players are less pressured when they play out from the back.
Even though I am a strong believer of match-like activities, I am not saying that I would not do an unopposed (passing) exercises at all. It's all depending on the age group. For example, if I would be coaching a first team and I would like to work on some patterns of play the day before the game, which means that I got to keep the intensity low in this kind of exercises because the high intensity will be done during the warm up (short, sharp sprints, with a lot of rest) and the small-sided game (short and sharp) on that day. In this case, I would go for an unopposed passing exercise.
So I do have some exceptions to the rule but if I have the opportunity to play with opposition, I will rather do that than letting players dribbling across mannequins. In conclusion, unopposed exercises only improve the technical skills whilst opposed exercises improve the technical skills AND the cognitive, anticipation and decision making skills which are important in a game like football.
Also, I like the guided discovery approach instead of the prescriptive type of coaching. This means that I set up practices in which the players will have to discover how to the deal with the given tasks. For example, if I want the players to get better at changing direction with the ball, I let them start on one side and tell them that they can earn two points by changing direction and score on that same side. I do not tell them how to change direction, they got to figure that out themselves. I might give some examples how to change direction on request but it is up to them which moves to use and I challenge them to use as many moves as they can.
A question that you have to ask yourself in this case is: "How did Johan invented the Cruyff turn? Did he invent it by playing games? Or did someone teach him how to do 'his' turn in an unopposed manner?"
I also challenge the players by asking open-ended divergent questions and let them come up with something new. So instead of telling players what to do, I guide them through it.
BfF: What is the most important attribute of the players in your team?
GS: That would be a high level of responsibility and ownership. The players take matter into their own hands and are the leader of their learning process. How? At first, by letting the players come up with the team rules for the season. For example, let the players come up with a rule of how to deal with players that are late for a session. Why do I use this approach? So that the players will be responsible for each other's behavior and if someone does not act according to their code of conduct, the players will correct each other based on their agreements.
So then you'll have about 16 people correcting each other instead of two coaches running around like sheep shepherds. Secondly, I set up meetings with the players to discuss their personal development plan. I ask the players to evaluate their performance and come up with two or three things that they want to enhance during the upcoming period.
I evaluate the players as well and see whether the things that they want to improve on, correlate with the things of which I think they'll have to improve. This will correlate most of the time but some players need to have some eye opening feedback from coaches or from a video before they realize where they have to improve. So by the time the meeting is finished, the players have set clear goals and have set up a plan how to work towards their goals.
Other people might answer this question with 'technically skilled players', 'tactical intelligent', 'mentally though' or 'physically strong', for example, but those attributes are environment dependent and ever evolving. Those factors depend on the age group that you are working with and the culture of the club, county, country and maybe even the continent you're working in. I am not saying that I do not care about these factors but these attributes will improve as a result of a high level of responsibility and ownership.
BfF: Different players and those of different ages develop differently. How should a coach handle this? And how does a coach stimulate the learning process?
GS: The key is to differentiate; making sure that every player is working on his own level.
Firstly, you've got to know the age specific characteristics before you start working with a specific age group. Secondly, the tactical and technical level of the player is always leading the process but biological age has to be measured as well. The biological age is a key factor in a player's physical and mental development and this has to be taken into account whilst developing the team and individual periodization.
A coach can stimulate this learning process by taking these factors into account and develop a team and individual periodization based upon this. The key facilitator for the learning process is responsibility for the players, like I have said before. The players will have to take matter into their own hands and be and feel responsible for their own learning process. A coach is just like a captain on a ship, he may decide whether to go left or right (to focus on the age specific characteristics) but it's the players that really make the ship tilt.
BfF: You have a Masters in Human and Movement Sciences. Why was it important to get this degree? And has it helped in your coaching?
GS: At the time that I was trying to recover from my ACL reconstruction, I was training 5-6 days a week with a personal trainer. She had a degree in Human and Movement Sciences as well and I trained with her for almost a half a year but it didn't help due to bone issues in my ankle (which we didn't know at that time). That's how I got interested in Human and Movement Sciences as I wanted to know more about the human body to make sure my players did not get injured like I did.
I was training 4 days a week and playing almost three games at the weekend: an U19s game and Futsal on Saturday and then a game with the Reserves on Sunday morning which I could not take any longer than 70 minutes due to the physical activity on the day before.
If I look back now, I think: 'How stupid was that?!' but I could not help myself from playing that much because I was only 17 and totally addicted to the game.
My parents sometimes asked me: 'Aren't you playing too much?' but, as every kid of that age would say, I said: 'No of course not.'. Kids at that age do not like to listen to their parents; true rebels. I know where it went wrong though, except the fact that I did know **** about recovery and I was also delivering the newspaper six days in the week at 6 in the morning because I did not have the time to work after school due to football commitments, there was no coach at my club who had warned me that I was playing too much. Oh wait… right, someone did tell me… after I tore my ACL!
Talking about proactive vs reactive coaching, you got an example of reactive coaching behavior right there. So there was no one who protected me from getting hurt because I was in no way going to play less, unless my coach told me to. So I wanted to know more about the physical and mental side of the game as I was already working on the technical and tactical side, as a coach. I needed to have more in-depth knowledge about the human body in relation to physical activity. Hence, this degree has helped me a lot in my coaching especially as I spent a whole season in Liverpool, working on my research internship at Liverpool John Moores University (LJMU). LJMU has a bachelor study in Science and Football and that was the reason I wanted to go there.
During the last season, I was working as a fitness coach at Tranmere Rovers FC First Team, for a half a year whilst working on my research about 'the role of feedback within the use of key practice activities in English professional youth football'. So that was the ideal combination of practice and theory. So I have learned a lot about the theory and application of the key performance indicators in football: Technical, Tactical, Physical and Mental. I needed to know about these indicators to understand the game of football and to become a good coach.
For me, this degree was the quickest way into professional football as I knew that it might have been a long, long road if I had to rely on my coaching career solely (as I am not a former pro footballer) but now I am able to put science into practice and vice versa.
BfF: You're currently in Saudi Arabia. What exactly is your role?
GS: I am the head coach of the U9s and U10s but I am also assisting the sessions of the U11-U14 whenever needed. The U9 and U10 are the youngest age groups starting at the academy and I got to make sure that we select quick learners with a basic (or more than basic) level of football skills. On the other hand, the best football players at a young age are not always the best football players at an older age. Therefore, it is important that we select players that learn quickly as that seems to be an indicator of talent.
BfF: What are the main differences - if any - between European kids and those you're currently coaching?
GS: At first I would say that the level of physical development is maybe less than in Europe. This is due to the fact that the kids do not have physical education in the schools and I think that they play less on the streets due to the hot environment (it's still 33 degrees in November). You might say that this is an ideal temperature to play outside but I do not think that this is actually happening. That's why we are training 4-5 times a week but we're not only putting focus on the football skills but also implementing multi-skill sessions, in which we try to enhance the players' overall movement and try to prevent early specialization.
Secondly, the players are more emotionally involved in the game. I can remember times when I was coaching in the Netherlands that I really had to encourage some players to win the ball back and 'fight' for it, but over here, I really need to slow the players down in order to not make a foul. That's one of the reasons why I introduced tennis balls within my sessions. Before a 1 v 1 starts, the defender has to pick up two tennis balls and carry them whilst defending so he is not able to pull the attacker's t-shirt. The players love it and this gives me the opportunity to focus on the players' agility as well.
In third place, I would say that we are two years behind of Europe in terms of football development. As I said before, the players will enter the academy at an age of 8 whilst the most clubs in Europe are starting at an age of 6. Therefore, I am still working on the fundamentals at the moment but hoping to progress with the U10s to 'small sided teamwork' in the second half of the season but it will depend on the players' progression.
I think I will have to split that group up in terms of learning process because I have a group of early/normal mature players and a group of late mature players. The latter group is mainly born in the last part of the year and therefore a little bit behind the early/normal mature group in terms of physical and mental development. Therefore I got to make a within group differentiation, in order to make sure that the players are working on their individual goals.
On another note, amateur clubs are less organized than in European countries. So that's also a reason why the kids that enter the academy do not always have a high level of basic skills compared to an European kid at an age of 8.
At fourth, the players have a different eating pattern than the kinds in the EU. Over here, they get up at 6 in the morning , pray, go to school till one or two in the afternoon. Maybe eat and then come to the academy at three. They will train from four till half past six and then they will have food at the club's restaurant but I have noticed that the kids do not like veggies and we really need to teach them how to eat properly. I have had a few U10s starting a session without having any lunch. Thankfully we have got a doctor who is checking upon the players' eating habits every time they eat at the club. So it is improving but there is still a long way to go.
And finally, sometimes I have to put more effort into the players' understanding of the exercise to make sure that they know where to go to after they finish at one station but that may be a result of the language barrier. I cannot really have a dialogue with the players because either I do not speak their language well enough or they do not speak English well enough but you learn quickly whilst coaching the younger ones as they sometimes forget that you do not speak their language and then they still try to tell you a story. So I am learning fast.
BfF: What do you want to achieve in order to be satisfied with your coaching career?
GS: I will be satisfied with my coaching career if the players that I used to coach will say that they have become a better player because they have learned a lot from me. Of course, you cannot please everybody but I hope that the majority of the players will remember me because I have stimulated their development and performance.
I haven't figured out what my next step will be and I have learned that it's hard to really plan a next step, sometimes it just happens. Anyway, it's all about player development at a youth team level, women's football has a strong social characteristic and men's senior football is more about man management. I am not quite sure where I want to end up (yet) as every category has its charm and I enjoy working with every one of them but hopefully it will result in a job as a men's First team (head) coach with a solid background in Sport Science.