Madrid: A learning experience
FRISCO, Texas – The FC Dallas Academy teams’ recent trip to Madrid was a whirlwind of action. After playing eight games, taking part in three training sessions, attending two Real Madrid first team games, taking tours of two historic Spanish cities and sitting through two international flights in an eight day time-span, the FCD U-18s and U-16s certainly got a taste of what life can be like for a professional athlete.
And according to FC Dallas Youth Director of Coaching Chris Hayden, that was the point.
“What we’re doing is preparing players for a time when they’re playing at a higher level, hopefully professional soccer,” said Hayden the day before leaving for the trip. “We feel like this opportunity will prepare them for some moment later when they have to step into a big game.”
The players did, in fact, see their fair share of big moments while on the trip. Take, for example, regular U-18 midfielder Jesse Estrada, who played with the U-16s in their match against Atletico Madrid (the U-16s traveled with two fewer players than the U-18s). After trailing Atletico 1-0 for the majority of the match, Estrada found the back of the net in the 90th minute to dodge the loss for his team.
The trip was Estrada’s first time to leave the United States.
“It [the international competition] helped me a lot,” said Estrada. “I never knew that young players like the ones we saw here were so good. It really helped me and now I’m even more dedicated to getting better as a player.”
Last week’s trip also represented U-16 forward Erick Chapa’s first time abroad. In the second game of the trip, Chapa tallied four times to help earn a 6-0 victory for FC Dallas.
“I learned more than I could have ever learned from just playing in Dallas,” Chapa said. “Chris [Hayden] said before we came that we’d learn more than we thought we would and that’s exactly what I did. I learned more than I even thought I could.”
But the experience benefitted more than just FCD’s Academy players. FC Dallas Home Grown players Jonathan Top, Bryan Leyva and Victor Ulloa all joined the trip from the first team as well. Top and Leyva both had previous experience playing abroad, but for Ulloa the trip represented his first European experience.
“Now I know what it feels like to play an international friendly on foreign soil,” said Ulloa. “For me, I had never played in an international friendly at their place. It’s tough to travel all the way over here and play, but it helps us grow as soccer players.”
And the learning experience didn’t stop with the players. FC Dallas Youth coaches were also able to refine their skills in terms of developing and interacting with players.
One such coach was Phil Gomez, who coaches multiple FC Dallas teams at the U-10 level. Recognizing the educational value of the trip, Gomez paid his own way to join the group in Spain and was able to observe youth training sessions at Real Madrid as young as the U-9 level.
Gomez said that although the Spanish systems don’t focus their players on playing competitive games until about two years later than in the States, the actual focus of training sessions between the two systems are really quite similar.
“There aren’t many differences between what they do here and what we are doing now with the younger age groups,” Gomez said. “FCD focuses on technical development at the younger ages and they do the same here in Spain.”
Both the U-18 and U-16 coaches broke out their Flip Cams and recorded the professional team warm-up sessions prior to kickoff of the two Real Madrid matches they attended. U-18 head coach Francisco Molina said there is a definite value in observing how different teams prepare themselves for games around the world.
“We want to make it interesting for our players,” said Molina. “You can’t just do the same warm-up every day, day-in and day-out.
“You look at Real Madrid and they have eight coaches warming up their team and with us sometimes it’s one or maybe two people, so if you take a little bit from two or three different teams and add it to your warm-up, it works out better.”
Chris Hayden, who is also the head coach of the U-16s, said that coaches can also improve themselves by taking advantage of trips like this as a chance to bond with their players.
“As coaches, every day that we work in a team environment you learn a little bit more about how to handle the individual player,” said Hayden. “I know that a year from now –10 years from now – if I’m still coaching, I’ll be a better coach at that point than I am today, just from experiences like this.”