KOCHI: At one of Arsenal Soccer School’s training sessions in Kochi, a seven-year-old boy repeatedly failed to dribble through a maze of cones.
It was a game. The idea was to dribble the ball using the inside and outside of the foot in quick succession and shoot in such a way that the ball curves through and finds the back of a net placed diagonally, some 10 metres away. If it did, that’s a point.
Now, the seven-year-old is up for his next turn, and he is nervous. He dribbled alright, but his shot hit the bar and bounced back. Suddenly, the coach — Rafael Fernandez Martin — collected the ball and guided it into the net at the Sacred Heart College Ground in Thevara.
“The point is mine...,” proclaimed the Spaniard laughing, and added: “You are not stopping. After you finish the last cone, you should stop and balance yourself before shooting the ball,” as he nudged the boy to go for another round.
That was a glimpse of what the coach later said was “the Arsenal way of training” the grassroots-level players — a methodology that relies mostly on using skill-specific, game-like scenarios than rigorous drills to develop technique.
“We are looking to nourish these young boys’ delight in football, not destroy it,” said Martin. The resident coach of Arsenal’s first-ever academy in Kerala is currently monitoring close to 170 kids from across the state at the summer camp that began almost a week ago at SH College Ground.
“The camp has a lot of things to offer the young kids. First of all, we follow a training pattern that is common among all the Arsenal Schools across the world. We focus on developing the technical skill of a youngster through fun-filled games than using laborious drills,” Martin said.
Following the same training methodology employed by Arsenal at its academies, the camp’s each day is split into two one-and-half hour sessions between 6.30 and 9 am.
In every session, the trainees — roughly 80 each — are further broken into small groups of 15 or 20, based on their ages. One coach will be exclusively with a group for the entire duration of the session, with Martin freewheeling across the ground.
“All of it is done in a planned and professional way,” said SH Academy coach K Ravindran, who is assisting the Spanish coach. “Here, every trainee gets to do everything. Each week of the camp is about training a particular aspect of football. It is passing in the first week, ball-possession in the second and goal-scoring in the third. I think it is very efficient,” Ravindran added.
An interesting part of the camp, Martin said, is that up to 40 youngsters from the camp stand a chance to gain free admission to Arsenal’s annual training programme, which will begin next month at its facility attached to The Choice School in Tripunithura.
“At our annual programme, the selected kids will get opportunities to play international inter-academy matches such as the Singa Cup, where international scouts will be monitoring them. If they impress the scouts, they will get a chance to join Arsenal’s schools in England,” Martin said.