Park the drones: practice what you preach in training


“There’s really no great secret. From time to time I bring friends along to watch us train. We invite them here and they think they are going to discover some great secrets and what they see is four cones, and exercises that concentrate in retention and touch of the ball – nothing else, really”. – Gerard Pique.


“For a young player, technique is more important than speed, strength or physique. Thierry already had great balance and co-ordination, but some bad footballing habits. So we worked on his technique for three years.” – Christian Damiano, one of Thierry Henry’s coaches at Clairefontaine’s


“Everything’s been strategically periodized. We haven’t played much soccer. We’ve been in the gym. We’ve been running.” – Carmelina Moscato


“The Girls Elite REX staff recently set up a drone camera at their training sessions, which allows Canada Soccer REX director and U-17 head coach Bev Priestman to watch live from home.

“She keeps a heavy hand in what we’re doing to make sure they’re developing as she’d want them to,” Humphries said.” –


Keep these quotes in mind as you read the rest of this.

When you watch the sort-of documentary, Rise, a film about the Canadian Women’s National Team, it shows them as they progress from coming last in the 2011 World Cup through to getting a bronze medal at the Olympics and then their focused preparations for this World Cup. Throughout the film you get glimpses of the lengths that the team has gone to prepare. Loads of off-field gym work, fitness testing, ensuring proper sleep, ensuring the team bonded well and outlining how communication flowed between players and coaches to ensure harmony. A few times, without much explanation but seemingly as a tool to teach them to focus and/or stay calm, it showed players hooked up to a laptop running BrainPaint.

It was made clear several times by Herdman that the team’s style of play needed to improve if they were to be contenders at the World Cup. “The end goal in 2015 and 2016 is getting on the podium. We’ve gotta take our game forward. And to do that we’re gonna have to go backwards. We’re gonna try some new things. We’re gonna try some new players and hopefully (in the 2015 World Cup Final) we will play a brand of football that people will go, ‘Wow, this is fantastic.’ I’m just asking the country to be patient…when we’re here (in BC Place) in 2015, that’s when it matters.”

The country was patient because the reality is that interest in the team dips massively between Olympics and World Cups. They had the luxury to try to re-invent themselves in a three year down cycle when expectations were almost non-existent because there’s barely anyone tracking how they do in things like the (untelevised) Cyprus Cup or tournaments in China that draw crowds, at best, in the hundreds.

Herdman went so far as to tell his team they were going to try to play like FC Barcelona and gave each of them a Barcelona player to model themselves on. At some point two things must have become apparent to Herdman. Not enough of his current players were going to transition to their Barcelona persona in time for the World Cup and there were not enough young players coming through that were good enough technically to replace them.

What we’ll probably never be able to ascertain is whether there was enough of a commitment by Herdman and his staff to improve technical skills to the point where they could play a possession based game against the best women’s team in the world or was there too much time spent on fitness, GPS monitors, relaxation exercises…

Herdman had realized they simply had not been able to transition to playing anything like Barcelona. So the messaging changed. The goal now was to be the fittest, most tactically organized and connected team in the tournament. That’s pretty much a direct quote from Herdman.

I’ve often defended John Herdman and agreed that he had to try to move the team from a style of play that would see it languish off the pace the best were setting and get them moving towards the French and Japanese national teams. I still contend that he’s been let down by the fact that we don’t have enough 17-23 year olds coming through the system that can play this way and evolve into key national team players. He’s been here for less than four years. Our development programs are not sufficient and that can’t be pinned on him when he’s had to qualify for an Olympics, go to the Olympics and play, as host, in a World Cup since he’s been here.

But we clearly all know now that our women’s team is nowhere near as good technically as the top countries in the world and every day that is spent focusing on anything other than being on the field improving technical play and decision making is a waste of valuable time. The players don’t need gimmicks, things that ‘may’ slightly improve an ability of secondary or tertiary importance in their game. We don’t have that luxury at this point. We need players who want to be flawless with a ball at their feet and we need coaches who are willing and able to facilitate that.

That’s not an anti-technology rant from an old-school coach running around saying, “It was good enough for us in the 80’s, it’s good enough for them now.” There’s a role for technology. It’s to supplement and complement. It should not be a shiny bauble that is the focus of preparation. Herdman pitched the “four corners” philosophy of needing to attend to players in four areas.

Screen Shot 2015-07-20 at 2.36.38 PM

Techncial/Tactical, Physical, Social/Emotional and Psychological/Mental. I’d be interested to know how this was interpreted by the Canadian Women’s National team staff. We’ve seen and heard lots of reference to being the most “connected” team at the tournament (social/emotional and psychological/mental) and we’ve seen and heard lots to do with the gym workouts, fitness tracking and desire to be the fittest team at the tournament (physical).

But if you want to transform your team to being something like Barcelona, 80% of your effort has to be in developing technical skills. Plain and simple.Our issue was not fitness and if we were so connected why are stories leaking to the press about player unrest regarding playing time? If you can’t receive a ball under pressure and pass to a teammate, NONE OF THE OTHER STUFF MATTERS.

Park the drone, disconnect the GPS gear, stop working on your quads in the gym. Get a ball and stay on the field until you’re better. I hope that’s the overwhelming emphasis of the CSA’s REX programs. That’s what we need in general in this country and that’s what the women’s national team needs specifically. And that’s what they do in Barcelona.


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5 Responses to Park the drones: practice what you preach in training

  1. Jengeh says:

    For what it’s worth Gregor, I totally agree with you. You know I’ve worn out my welcome to some fellow Twitterati partially from incessant insistence on this subject (and a couple of others)about how important technical training (and game IQ practices) is at this 12-15 age group. And certainly with no criticism intended, I’m particularly sensitive to this type of training because I have one up there.

  2. Neil says:

    Only part I agree with is

    “I still contend that he’s been let down by the fact that we don’t have enough 17-23 year olds coming through the system that can play this way and evolve into key national team players. He’s been here for less than four years. Our development programs are not sufficient and that can’t be pinned on him when he’s had to qualify for an Olympics, go to the Olympics and play, as host, in a World Cup since he’s been here.”

    I see your view being too simplistic and old school. You ignore the huge gains the UEFA countries have made in putting females in a development model similar to the males. Also the aspect of high performance development using science and technology is a reality in sports and has been since the early 60’s. Already at that time countries were selecting children athletes who worked their way into government service (communist & socialists) or in semi pro models (western countries) development programs. The so called Four Corner model has been in other sports for decades. I don’t understand why you continue to preach old school methods when the proof is in the pudding so to speak. IMO why Canada falls behind in football can only be looked at the boxes the certification, training and old boys network coaches get put into.

    As I’ve stated many times before it’s hard to compare the Canadian development situation to any other. Basically our NSO and PSO development model doesn’t work for us as our youth clubs are floating out there and not connected to the link other countries have with semi or pro clubs. Other countries have a model that prepares players to be ready for NT development pathways at a much younger age. Their youth structure is a part of a semi or pro model that does the NT job. Yes they have a huge advantage with money, player pool base and football culture…..they are born into it.

    Canada is caught in between the USA NT program that has multiple entry points at U15, then full university scholarships, domestic semi pro league and megabucks CBA for full time NT players every year except when playing in their domestic semi pro league. On the other side is the UEFA model of 28 women’s league which has made major strides in every aspect by offering their players a model similar to the UEFA male development mode. Those nations that don’t fall into the above can be NZ and Aus who have changed their national NT models and both used Herdmans 4 corners for football now.

    The last groups that don’t fit into the above are SA and Asian teams. SA they are born into it and get recruited fast outside of the country to either teams or universities. It was interesting to see how young these team have become now with the exception being Brazil. Japan is unique as they have such a small player pool but they have their cultural work ethic, player funding since their WC win, domestic league and their best players are recruited to UEFA and USA teams.

    Herdman like those before him did the best he could with the experience he bought and the increase in funding the CANWNT got from OTP. OTP since EP days is more involved than the CSA as the majority of the WNT money comes from the OTP in the form of restricted funding. Hence the WNT 4 years plan is help put together with the help of OTP resources then reviewed and approved. That approved OTP plan complements the WNT Head Coach and coaching teams program plan as OTP is writing the check.

    The players did the best they could by adapting to changes in the world game that their coaches brought to them. They did grow over several decades but they like the USA, Japan, Brazil and others have reached their prime. One only has to look at the current player body shape to see that the sport in the hot spots has been professionalized in youth player development model that is mirrored to the male player model in pro clubs.

    Herdman has a tough challenge in the comings years as like those before him he facing the gap of youth clubs floating out there and not being connected to anything like pro development model found elsewhere in the world.

    • Gregor says:

      Ah good, some disagreement. My daughter’s been away at the Pemberton Music Festival so I’ve had waaaay fewer instances of people disagreeing with me recently.

      Re: Science & Technology. As I said, I’m not against it but this team needed fundamentals work more than anything else if the coach is going to publicly state that they are changing to a possession-based style of play and I don’t think they were prepared for how much on-feld work that would take. So the emphasis moved to good old Canadian fitness and the public was fed images of high tech gadgetry and gym workouts via Rise, Sport Chek commercials and player interviews. Does it have a role? Yes. Was the role it was given commensurate with the stated goal of playing “fantastic football” like Barcelona? Clearly no. We were one of the poorest teams in the competition technically.

      Re: gains in the rest of the world. Yes, the rest of the world has improved. There’s leagues in Europe (which several of our players have played in over the years). So? That means we have to accept that there’s no model possible here for us that will keep us competitive? I would contend that the canWNT is very similar to a club in the amount they train and play. A lot of money was put into that program. In fact it could be argued that because they had more time playing together as a unit their preparation gave them a considerable advantage over European players who spent most of their time divided amongst many clubs. I don’t necessarily believe that but it’s not as black and white as you make it out to be. I do believe the French national team that had half their players playing for Olympic Lyonnaise and the other half (pretty much) playing at PSG had a great environment to compete and improve within. But to just write off South American and Asian teams (Japan, by the way is not synonymous with Asia) as being good because ‘they’re born into it’ or they have a ‘cultural work ethic’ is far more simplistic than you’re accusing me of being.

      Our players have access to NWSL as well as European leagues and the NCAA. They have a very well funded national team program compared to many others and that program gave them the opportunity to, as Herdman said in Rise, have something like 500 training sessions together. They should have been better in terms of touch on the ball and decision making than they were so I question how much of the training revolved around technical skills.

      I do agree that the lack of cohesion among youth clubs is a hindrance but the rise of elite leagues in Ontario, Quebec and BC is facilitating scouting of the top players into REX and mitigating that to a fair degree. The problem with REX is that while it’s a CSA program they aren’t paying for it. Hence, the OSA dropping it due to the cost. It exists in BC by the grace of the Whitecaps.

  3. Jengeh says:

    Cultural work ethic??? I thought that work ethic was part of the ‘DNA’ of the Canadian player. By the way again Gregor, for what it’s worth..again, those were some great responses to Neil’s comments.

    Covered some of the responses and questions that I might have attempted in response to some of his comments.

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