During the last years, football has been developing more and more in the physical area. Ajax Youth Development is collaborating with the Athletic Skills Program to maximize this change. This program helps youth players become more athletic and well rounded. Coordinator René Wormhoudt explains the thinking behind this special training program.
What does a handstand, or a summersault, have to do with football training? These are questions that Wormhoudt regularly hears. “There’s a philosophy behind it. These days, football players need to have more and more athletic skills. Not only is this due to the significant number of games that they need to play, but it’s also to help keep injuries at bay. The less athletic a player is, the more susceptible he is to injury. It’s possible to help avoid that situation by training a player to be as athletic as possible.”
Ajax has been working on the Athletic Skills Program for five years. It’s a program designed to develop more athletic, well-rounded young players. The ASP consists of several parts. An Ajax youth player’s training week (F to D pupils) is made up for one third of gymnastics, judo, running and strength training. “Football is getting more powerful, more intense, and unforgiving. A player needs to be able to cope with this for longer and longer”, says Wormhoudt. “It’s all about explosiveness and power. We develop this by offering a training program which is as multi-faceted as possible.”
Under the supervision of a medical staff, Ajax’s youth program has a team of specialists at its disposal, with each one taking responsibility for a part of the ASP, according to his or her area of expertise. For example, time has been set aside for running training. “Football consists, with the exception of a small percentage, of moving without a ball. And even when you have the ball, you’re still moving. If you don’t have an efficient way of running, you’re wasting too much energy. And, in the last phase of a match, that can be critical. Basically, a higher fitness level ensures that you can stay concentrated for longer, and can continue to move well.”
The completeness of the ASP lies not only in the variations in sports, but also in the way they reinforce each other. “Everything is complementary. The jumping we do in athletics, for example, has a very different function than the jumping in gymnastics, such as summersaults or a Fosbury jump. The sports overlap somewhat, but address some areas a bit differently. That’s what makes it all so well-rounded.”
The ASP ensures that an Ajax F pupil youth player gets as broad and varied a training as possible. Later in the training, when the players are further in their development, the program gets more specific, leading to the fine tuning of a specialist. The qualities that make a player special are emphasized from that moment on. Is a player quick? Then we make him quicker. Is a player good at making passes? Then we make that pass even better.”
Wormhoudt expects that the ASP, with its current curriculum, will have a visible impact on Ajax 1’s selection in five years. “By then, the program will have been running for ten years. Several players will have been through the ASP from the time they were F pupils. They will have received the optimal athletic training. This method of complete training will pay off in the long term, both for Ajax, and for the sport in general. I’m convinced of it.”