This weekend, myself and Kieran Lee-Birch had the pleasure of taking our U13 age group (19/20), along with three U12 players playing up, to Coulogne in France, writes Danny Bell, as we took part in an international tournament against teams from Holland, Belgium and of course, France.
We departed on Friday morning from The Venue heading towards Dover. Despite it being early in the morning, the players were very energetic and excited for the trip, gelling well with each other and the new players in the group. We, as coaches, really understand the importance of the social activity within the group when young players travel to tournaments abroad, as we would like them to feel comfortable around others and of course, have fun with their friends off the pitch.
We arrived at the Hotel in Coulogne around 7pm local time and after a full days travelling, we unpacked our bags and checked in to the rooms and went straight out for dinner at the local restaurant.
The boys represented our club really well showing full professionalism and manners when ordering food, attempting the language and acting extremely mature at the dinner table. We were very impressed by this.
After our evening meal, we headed straight back to the hotel for our evening meeting, discussing on and off the pitch expectations for the weekend and then for some chill time in their rooms, with a sharp bedtime due to breakfast being at 7am.
Breakfast consisted of cereal and baguettes, and the players knew that a long day was ahead of them and eating all food was extremely important to them and their energy in matches.
After breakfast, we had some time to relax and see what was around our hotel complex. We took a trip to the local supermarket and by the time we returned, it was very much time to get all bags ready to head to the football pitches for the opening ceremony.
Once we arrived at the pitches, there were 35 other teams waiting for the opening ceremony, which was very well organised and popular. We were handed our fixture schedule and our first game was at 1:30pm. Our group consisted of some tough teams, playing four out of the five fixtures on the same day, with our final group game on Sunday morning.
We competed in every game, making ourselves hard to beat in the 14 minute matches, along with being creative and building through the thirds sticking to our playing style. The matches were shared between the grass pitches and the Astroturf.
Once Saturday’s fixtures were completed, we had dinner at the same place as the games were played. Again, players knew that all meals were important for their bodies to perform on the long days.
After dinner, at around 8pm, we headed back to the hotel where we set up for our evening meeting looking across the lake on the balcony of our hotel. This view was fantastic.
The boys then had 90 minutes chill time in the hotel, before heading to bed ahead of the early breakfast shift at 7am again. They continued to make more friendships with the French players, as they were staying in the same complex also.
Sunday morning’s game at 9am consisted of avoiding defeat to make it through to the last 12 in the competition. The boys competed in every game and ended up winning their final group game, the celebrations were really pleasing to see as they earned this achievement.
We found out shortly after that we now move into a group of three, with the winner of this group of three heading into the semi-final.
The boys handled the pressure extremely well, and even though we were up first, we won both games in the group, resulting in a place in the semi-final. The games were tough, as we learnt very quickly that most of the French sides here in this tournament play very quick, physical football and can really put you under pressure at set pieces throughout the game. You can only imagine the celebrations of the players when the final whistle went in the very evenly matched game to determine who went through.
Our semi-final was against a club we knew very well from other tournaments we have been with different age groups. We knew that across the board, they had some strong age groups. The game was very close, finishing 0-0. The semi-final went straight to penalties, but unfortunately we came out losers in the shootout.
However, it was not all negative, as all of the French locals watching the game gave a huge round of applause for the togetherness of our team, encouraging our teammates after every penalty, especially the penalties that we missed. The players all made each other feel better with lots of support and that made us, as coaches, feel really impressed as the togetherness was fantastic.
We came just short in the 3rd/4th play off place, finishing 4th overall in the tournament. We were extremely proud of the players, especially seeing their faces when collecting the trophy in the closing ceremony.
Kieran and I would like to thank all players for being fantastic and representing the club in such a positive way over the weekend. We would also like to thank the parents that travelled for the great support.