While the return of the Bundesliga last weekend was an exciting time for football fans around the world, for some of the Charlton academy youngsters, it was an excellent learning opportunity.
Players from the club’s successful U18s side were asked to watch Borussia Dortmund’s game against Schalke and study the style of play of the two teams.
Academy Manager Steve Avory explained: ‘We’ve been doing Zoom calls with players and they are a great way of maintaining contact with the players. As staff we have to try and be creative around stimulating and challenging the lads during this stay at home period.
"A couple of weeks ago I said to the U18s: ‘The Bundesliga is starting this week and I believe Borussia Dortmund are the first team on against Schalke. I want you to look at that game’. So I asked Adam Lawrence [Academy Head of Coaching] to set a task of observation and analysis around that game.
"They reported back the following Friday on a Zoom call, all coming in as one group, but with various tasks in groups of four around that game. An example would be one group to analyse Dortmund in possession, another four to analyse Dortmund out of possession and then groups who had similarly observed Schalke. We will look to keep this going over the coming weeks, as football starts to come back.
“All the way through I’ve been pleased with the contact we’ve had with the players. Initially, when staff were not on furlough, it would have been the lead phase coaches that were keeping in touch with players, but since staff have been furloughed, Adam Lawrence has kept in touch with the schoolboys (aged 9-16) through Zoom calls. I’ve been more involved with the U18s, making sure we have contact with them at least once a week. Initially Jason Euell was in touch with the U23s, but now it is the remaining staff of myself, Adam, Joe Francis [Academy Head of Education] and Danny Campbell [Academy Head of Sports Science/Medicine] who maintain the weekly catch up with the lads.
"Apart from discussion and our questions to the players around football and their physical conditioning, we are conscious of a lifeskill focus and Joe Francis in particular has emphasised this with his questioning and supply of information around topics like home cooking, reading, DIY around the house, offering family and neighbourly assistance where it may be needed. It is important for the players to be aware of others and not just themselves, but equally developing their domestic skill set and alternative interests."
For Avory a big focus for him has been with the U18s and he explained the differing circumstances of a players' home environment and therefore a need to appreciate the practicalities and challenges for players in terms of home practice.
He said: “We’ve divided the Zoom calls so we don’t just have them all on the same call, e.g. split into defenders, midfielders and forwards. We get them to talk about their physical programme and the technical programme. That does differ from player to player, some will live close to a park and are able to do the physical and technical work with an abundance of space, some have even been able to utilise goalposts still up in the park. One player has taken his own goal net, has his footballs as most of them do and away he goes with doing appropriate technical work. Others do not have that easy access to a park space, so it might have to be garden practice and that is more limiting. Through videos that have been sent in I’ve seen good creativity around their resources, such as playing up against a wall, tree or creating a rebound board, also utilising family for partner practice."