A couple of our staff members had the unique opportunity to visit Celtic FC in Scotland March 13-19. It was truly an experience of a lifetime for both Cesar Sanchez and JJ Ruane. Celtic FC shared many insights about how they create their young footballers, both young men and women from the U9 ages all the way through their professional teams.
Starting on Thursday morning, Cesar and JJ landed in Paradise, the nickname given to Celtic Park. Celtic Park is one of the largest stadiums in Scotland seating about 70,000 people. Inside Celtic Park is the trophy room, locker rooms, a clubhouse for their supporters, and a club house for the players. Starting at 8 AM on Thursday morning, Chris McCart (Head of the Celtic FC Academy) presented on the overall goals of the Celtic FC Academy. The Celtic FC Academy starts the professional track for players as young as 9 all the way up to the U17 squad. McCart presented on what they look for in their Academy players, the style that the Manager (Brendan Rogers) instills throughout Celtic FC from the professional team all the way down to the U9s, and McCart gave us a look at their structure at Celtic FC.
Thursday carried on with other presenters discussing the Junior Academy (U9-U13) and the scouting process Celtic FC uses throughout Scotland. The highlight of the day was the Q and A session with Celtic FC Manager, Brendan Rogers. Coaching delegates were able to ask questions and the Manager answered in a no holds barred approach. "Being in the same room with Brendan Rogers and hearing him speak on tactics, the American youth game, and motivation for coaching is something I will never forget," said JJ Ruane.
To close out the day, we were able to listen to Martin Miller talk about the Academy journey. Before the end of the day, we took the last hour to watch the Junior Academy train. U11-U13 players braved the 25 degree weather and rain to introduce Coach Cesar and JJ to their Celtic turns (a short session of high speed dribbling fakes, feints, and turns) and then a training session where every player shook our hand goodbye before our departure.
Day 2 was another early one. We visited St. Ninnian's where the U9-U15 Academy players attend school. Many of the Academy players attend school here as it affords them the unique opportunity to train and to learn in the same place. A typical schedule for these boys goes something like this:
After the final training, Academy players go home to their families. Some players travel from 90 minutes away to attend St. Ninnian's while others are so far away; Celtic FC has set up host families for players to stay with during the week. It is one of the most captivating experiences for a young player in all of Europe. Some of the young players got cleaned up, ate breakfast, then came into a room to give us a presentation about their experience and do a question and answer session.
Day 3 was full of more presentations including preparation of the Celtic FC goalkeepers. They start identifying their GKs at 8 years old. Other presentations included Celtic FC football periodization, preparation of the Celtic FC Women's team, and how the U17's prepare for Junior Champions League. "It was awesome to see video of U17 players playing against Anderlecht and Paris Saint Germain and seeing how they prepare for their matches plus the scouting reports. It was quite eye opening about how much preparation goes into a single match," commented JJ Ruane.
The evening ended with the Celtic FC Convention coaches watching game preparation of the U17 squad. Though it was a short session, you could see the details that went into every coaching point and player.
Saturday and Sunday featured an opportunity to watch Celtic FC in action. On Saturday, Cesar and JJ were able to watch the U11 and U15 boys teams play against Aberdeen (another Academy team in Scotland). Both coaches had these takeaways from the games:
Watching the youth games were one of the highlights of the trip. You could see that some of the things the players try to do at Celtic SC is in line with what Celtic FC is already doing. This was refreshing and rewarding to know that we are on the right track.
Sunday featured a professional game between Celtic FC at Motherwell. Motherwell stadium sits about 13,000. It is right in the middle of the town of Motherwell. Supporters wore their gold and green for Motherwell. JJ and Cesar were fortunate enough to watch from an enclosed box and saw a great match. The environment was completely different than anything in the US. There were 8,000 people at the game, but you would have thought there were 80,000. The match ended 0-0 and Celtic FC remained top of the table in the Scottish Premier League.
Overall, the coaches both agreed that this was better than any coaching course or seminar in the US. The people at Celtic FC were humble, opened their doors, and laid their plans out for everyone to see. We are fortunate to be named after a club that was founded for the good of their community just as we were. If you have questions or comments about the trip, don't be afraid to ask Coach Cesar or JJ.