The New Saints Academy U10s (2018/19) made the trip to the Netherlands recently to participate in the RKSV Halsteren tournament, writes Jason Brindley.
The tournament is an international one, containing outstanding opposition from around the world. We were delighted and honoured to have been considered.
Our U10 squad travelling consisted of George, Louis, Leighton, Seb, Harry, Thomas, Fin, Gruff, Charlie, Cruz and U9 player Gio, to play in the 7v7 tournament.
Our players departed early Wednesday morning, leaving as a team together with the staffing team from Park Hall Stadium, home of the Welsh Premier League Champions. Our U10s are a very tight social group, and that was never more evident. They had so much energy, even in the early hours and the journey from Park Hall to Manchester, Manchester to Amsterdam and finally Amsterdam to Halsteren. The players enthusiasm didn’t drop for a second and was infectious.
We checked into our Accommodation for the next few days, the StayOkay, in Halsteren. StayOkay Bergen op Zoom is located in the midst of extensive green woodlands of the Brabantse Wall Nature Reserve, close to the spectacular climbing forest. It was a beautiful setting.
We went for a walk and to find a place for lunch, with the secret objective of the boys having some food and tiring out before going back and getting some shut-eye. Wishful thinking. We found a petting zoo which contained a kangaroo, and a fun park with obstacles and a trampoline that the boys enjoyed. The boys didn’t tire for a second, somehow.
We headed back to get freshened up, before taking a walk into the local village to stock up on supplies. On the way back, we took a debatable ‘short cut’ through the forest along a walking pathway, it was a really stunning setting. The boys were still so full of life and fun, and I can’t help but smile thinking of it.
We concluded the day watching the Europa League Final, with the game being shown on the big screen in a movie theatre type room. Watching the game alongside us were English Premier League club Burnley, who were staying in the same accommodation. It didn’t take long for these groups to start making friends.
It was also battle of the bragging rights, player vs. Coach, Gruff’s Chelsea team vs Kieran’s Arsenal. The game was still 0-0 when the boys headed for bed at half-time, much to the luck of Kieran, unaware of the second-half that was about to unfold. It was safe to say Kieran was quiet about the game the next day.
It was a really enjoyable first day and a great opportunity for both players and staff, with players to mix and to get to know more about each other.
Thursday morning soon approached and after an early breakfast, we headed down to the grounds where the tournament was taking place. The stadium contained a good grass pitch and behind it, a brand new artificial 3G pitch. Very impressive. We had time for a couple of games of Wembley doubles and a bit of ‘Knocksey Outsey’, before the opening Ceremony and our first game.
It was great to see the teams line-up together for the ceremony. The standard of opposition was frightening. Our first game to open the day was against Turkish Giants Galatasary. Also on the opening day we competed against Halsteren, Cercle Brugge, TUS Koblenz and FC Den Bosch.
Despite going into these games as an unknown, we knew the standard of opposition would be good, but we also backed our players to cause the opposition problems. We told the players to remain true to our playing principles. Play the way we play. Just because we are playing in a foreign tournament, just because it’s competitive, trust yourself and your team mates. We trust you. We trust the process.
The boys were absolutely superb. The pitch was big, playing across a full half pitch, in 7v7 format, so there was lots of space to exploit, but also to protect and cover. With the heat, we feared it may become a factor, but credit to the boys, they worked tirelessly together.
We returned to the hotel after along day of football, myself hoping for some sleep after the long day. However, the boys had different intentions. You know what they wanted to do? That’s right, they wanted to play football. Absolutely incredible. You can’t help but love it really can you. So much energy.
Friday arrived and the final day before travelling home Friday evening. As well as playing our games, we got the chance to watch others, and there was some top quality football on show. PSV, Aberdeen, Feyenoord and Vitesse, amongst others, were very impressive.
Friday was split into another group stage, before finishing competing for final placements. You could see the effect of the long days starting to have a slight impact on the players. Concentration levels dipped to an extent and they became reactive to situations instead of being pro-active and foreseeing situations occurring on the field.
It was a really good learning opportunity and one for the coaches that was so valuable. I personally haven’t worked with the boys that much myself last season, only in a few games and the odd session. However, I could write a page on each player on strengths and areas to focus on or consider, both on and off the field, through the four corner development model.
For us as staff, whatever the outcome, it’s positive for us. Even though we are playing in a tournament, the development of the players is the only result that we are seeking. How we can help and support the player.
We completed the group phase with some thrilling games. The standard of all teams was superb and a great challenge for our players. They stood up to the challenge however and we are very proud of them.
For our final game, we again came up against Galatasaray. It was a very exciting game, with both teams creating good opportunities. After the game their coaching team were full of praise for our players and how we played. They have invited us to attend a tournament they are hosting next season, based at their Academy, which also contains super heavyweights like Juventus and some of the top Spanish teams. This was again on the back of how we played, but also how the boys acted. True professional standards shown throughout.
As the tournament came to a close, we watched a very exciting final finish on penalties, before heading to the airport to return home with our friends from Burnley and Edinburgh. It was another long day but somehow the boys continued to have this amazing energy. Doing a little Britain’s Got Talent show at the airport, where the boys had to perform to each other in front of the ‘judges’, you can’t help but smile and love their cracking little personalities. They are such a fun group.
As we conclude on the past few days, it was one of the best and funnest trips I have had the privilege of being on at my time with The New Saints Academy and there have been some top draw trips in the past. Seeing the way the group have bonded, they were already a tight group but this trip has taken that to another level. There is a real togetherness about them.
The trip has been a huge success. It’s given us staff the chance to bond with the players, getting to know them more as people, their character traits, know further areas of development and things that will improve them. A special mention goes to the coaching team of Kieran, Danny and Liam. We had designated roles and responsibilities before leaving and I think that clarity definitely helped, one voice but with support from different areas. It was a long few days but they were fantastic throughout.
The players remained true to our principles and were brave in play, against top opposition. They made friends with every team, and on the back of this, we have been invited to attend more tournaments. They have grown the awareness of the club. The boys were so well-behaved and fun and we are very proud of them.
As a result of their hard work, we will let them have Saturday off (although I know they would rather be in playing football), before travelling to the amazing Etihad Training Complex on Sunday morning to face Manchester City. What a week of experience at The New Saints FC Academy.