That’s how the training went – Where worlds collide

After our coaches arrived in Changzhou, it was time to get started! The training sessions with the different age groups began – and Marco Almeida, Dennis Spiegel and Gazmend Xhepa met their Chinese counterparts. Training schedules were drawn up together, the aim being to introduce new incentives into the youth work of Chinese football.

“The team consisted of the Chinese trainer, one interpreter and me,” says Dennis Spiegel. An unfamiliar situation for the coach, who was accustomed to the professional conditions at Hannover 96. “It’s nothing like in Germany, where they have a big team of specialists. There was no goalkeeping coach, assistant coach or fitness coach. You had to do it all yourself – but that also broadened my horizons,” says the trainer, delighted by the exciting experience. “Back to the roots” was the motto, more or less. “For me, it was a matter of starting from scratch again. That was a change, but really great for me.”

Discipline and details

The new collaboration also meant a change for the Chinese coaches; it wasn’t at all easy to bring the two different football philosophies together. “When we arrived, they thought that everyone could practice everything in the same way – because it’s a sport.” Less emphasis was placed on individual circumstances and conditions, more on the pure team structures. “It was part of our work to show them that there is another way.”

Part of that other way was to depart from the idea of a purely competitive sport and to understand football as what it is in the first place: a game. Because it is essential, especially when working with young talent, that not only physical but also technical skills are well developed – while having fun. “The kids are working hard, hard, hard, hard. It’s important to work hard, but that’s not everything. At this age you need to learn how to play,” explains Gazmend Xhepa. “We want to help them become professional players. Sure, then it is important to win – but at this age it is important to play well.”

However, the way the youngsters grasped things quickly proved to be very helpful for new concepts. Dennis Spiegel was impressed: “The Chinese are very, very ambitious, hardworking and disciplined.” Even in team tactics, the children had already gone a long way – only the details were missing. “That’s what we do in Germany: the detailed work at grass roots level. And that is what they need to work on.” The challenge was to find a common ground with the local coaches. “But that also went very well because we were open to nearly everything. So we of course tried to organise and discuss the training methods together.”

A question of mentality

Of course, the collaboration was not free of discussions – no surprise when two different philosophies collide. The coaches were all concerned about the debate over mistakes. “The children were very disciplined and showed a great mental attitude towards football,” praises Gazmend Xhepa, but “their mistake was that they were too focused on winning.” Accordingly, mistakes in training tended to be punished rather than corrected – something the coaches didn’t agree with at all. “In my team the word ‘mistake’ had previously been banned,” says Marco Almeida, “but that was no longer the case after I arrived.” Dennis Spiegel had similar experiences: “I quickly tried to convey the idea that mistakes can also be good. A mistake is not always something bad – it teaches you to do it better the next time. And often the mistake is punishment enough for the team and the player.” It is important to distinguish between adult competitive athletes and junior talent. “Here we have children. They are allowed to make mistakes.”

This new approach was welcomed by the children. And the Chinese coaches also started to change their methods. Marco Almeida sums it up thus: “It was about sharing the knowledge we have. We wanted to show them why we are working like this.”

And with success! Because the training was well received by the children. If you want to find out more, then read the next article, which introduces the young protagonists of the junior talent programme!