Now they're hoping that can translate into boosting their development in the Flames' youth ranks.
Brandon's Assistant Director of Coaching John Clare took the players, all under 13, to the Frans VanBalkom Soccer School of Excellence in Sittard, Holland. There they trained and played against five different teams, each progressively more difficult as they went on.
According to Clare, by the time they got to the fourth game against German club Bayer Leverkusen's under-11 squad, it was evident how good youth soccer was in central Europe.
“They gave us a clinic,” Clare said. “They showed us how to play some soccer. We lost 2-1, but it was still the toughest of all the games we played.”
As much as the players learned, Clare said he may have learned more about coaching from the sessions at the Academy. Most, if not all, youth academy coaches in Europe are former players, all working with professional licenses after gaining certification.
“Their development is tremendous,” Clare said. “Everything was very structured, their coaches from U-11 up are professionals, and you have to have your (coaching) license. Here, we're training kids and we're giving them a lesson but we don't have professional coaches.”
Clare added that the facilities clubs used for their youth training was also leagues ahead of the U.S., with locker rooms, showers, recreation rooms all on site for players and coaches to use. That difference was not lost on player Ian McCauley.
“You get trained well, very well,” McCauley said. “You get [treated] like a professional.”
In addition to the matches and training the players experienced, they also got the opportunity to watch professional matches, travelling to watch FC Köln host Bundesliga champions Wolfsburg in the opening match of the season. The following day, the group went to watch Roda JC face NEC Nijmegen in the Dutch Eredivise.
“It was the first time the kids had seen an atmosphere, you know, one side cheering, the other side cheering teams of that caliber,” Clare said. “[In Cologne] it was 48,000 people, everything in red, the atmosphere was tremendous, and the kids, they’re eyes were just big.”
Player Chris Thatcher said walking up the steps and emerging into Cologne’s RheinEnergie Stadion was unlike anything he had experienced.
“It’s just amazing,” Thatcher said. “Everyone was loud, my eardrums were starting to burst.”
Clare believes that players and coaches could gain significantly by undergoing a similar experience.
“If [coaches and players] would go and spend some time watching what they do, how they train, looking at the different levels, it would give them a little more insight as to where they need to be to,” Clare said. “For me, I walked off the last field and I thought, ‘You know, I’m a pretty decent coach, I’ve got my ‘B’ license and I’m working on my ‘A’ license.’ I walked off the field and I felt like this big, these guys are miles ahead of us.”