Grassroots

    Davide is 11 years old and has been wearing the Bianconeri jersey since the age of eight. He’s a footballer. A Juventus footballer.

    He trains, has fun with his team-mates and dreams – why not? – of one day becoming a professional footballer, scoring a hatful of goals and winning lots of silverware.

    “Becoming a footballer is only the first half of the silent prayer a child offers up to the sky or the secret wish he confides to his teacher in a primary school essay. The second part is the name of the team he wants to play for,” wrote Andrea Pirlo, one of the players who have made the Old Lady great, in his autobiography. 

    Eleven-year-old Davide comes to Vinovo at least three times a week to experience the sheer joy that – according to the great Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano – you can only achieve with a football at your feet.

    “It’s a great feeling to be at Juventus,” explains the young footballer. “I know I’m lucky as not all kids have the opportunity to be here. Wearing the black and white of Juventus is massive – everyone turns to look at you even when you’re just out and about wearing a Juventus jacket.”

    Our coaches teach us to be a team. You don't win or lose as individuals, but together. I think that's a really important lesson.

    Davide is either dropped off at Juventus Training Center by his parents or picked up by a shuttle bus organised by the club as a way of assisting any youngsters unable to get to Vinovo on their own. He has three afternoon training sessions per week, as well as a match at the weekend.

    “It’s not an easy life but it’s wonderful,” he continues. “I train three times a week and then we have our matches. That has to run alongside my life away from football – my studies and the other courses I do. I’m lucky because my parents help and support me. Plus, I have to say that I love doing what I do. I like being part of a group: my team-mates made me feel very welcome as soon as I arrived.”

    He also gets the chance to take part in some unique experiences: “I love the tournaments, especially the ones abroad. And I’ve had the chance to walk out onto the pitch at Juventus Stadium with my idols – it was an incredible feeling to feel that turf under my feet. I even got to see the first team at the Christmas party! It was fantastic.”

    Juventus is not just the team you’re all familiar with – Massimiliano Allegri’s reigning Italian champions. For a start, there’s the Primavera squad, which recently won the Viareggio Cup for the ninth time in history under the stewardship of former great Fabio Grosso.

    Moving further down the Juventus youth academy categories, at a competitive level we find the two Allievi sides (U16s and U17s) and the two Giovanissimi outfits (U14s and U15s), who play both at a regional level and – in the final phase of their respective championships – at a national level.

    Then comes the unbridled enthusiasm and energy of grassroots football, with around 250 kids born between 2003 and 2009 and a team of technical, medical and administrative staff who work tirelessly to ensure that all the youngsters can develop both as footballers and as men.

    It's a universe unto itself and one that is about to be revealed in its entirety in our third Juventus Special. 

    Estimated reading time: 20 minutes

    HOW IS GRASSROOTS TRAINING ORGANISED?

    The Vinovo training ground is equipped with a plethora of state-of-the-art facilities and equipment. There’s the media building, where the players fulfil media duties after eating, with the JTV studios also located here.

    Of course, there’s the first-team training centre, with technical and medical staff offices as well as dressing rooms fit for the reigning Italian champions.

    The youth academy and grassroots administrative headquarters are also located at Vinovo, with seven people working there every day, while the youth academy dressing rooms sit adjacent. All around are the brilliant green pitches, where the various Bianconeri teams train.

    In total, the grassroots area comprises 18 coaches, three coordination coaches, six goalkeeping coaches, five doctors, 20 physiotherapists and massage therapists and 30 general employees. 

    Since last year, the Juventus youth academy (comprising competitive and grassroots levels) has been bolstered with two new directors, Moreno Zocchi and Stefano Baldini. Zocchi is the new youth academy sporting director, while Baldini is the technical coordinator.

    We caught up with head of academy Stefano Braghin to get the lowdown on the latest developments within the youth academy and learn about the importance of having a figure who can supervise all the technical aspects of the Juventus academy and develop a common methodology for all coaches.

    On a methodological level, Braghin explains that individual objectives are set before each season.

    “At the heart of any youth academy is not so much the teams or the results they achieve as the young footballers themselves. Our objective is to bring them through to the first team and put them at the disposal of the club. This means the teams are helping the players rather than the players helping the teams, which happens more at senior level.”

    Indeed, the objectives are mainly technical in nature at the lower levels, but as time passes they become increasingly tactical as the youth academy staff try to add an extra level of knowledge to the young players’ footballing brains with every passing season. The ultimate goal is of course to help them become professional footballers. 

    From an ideological perspective, the main objective is to build a sense of overall togetherness, from the youngest junior to the most experienced Primavera player. It’s a sentiment echoed by Primavera and academy development and technical coordination manager Stefano Baldini.

    “The cornerstones of our philosophy are exchange, dialogue, progressivity and linearity. These run through all the various categories and objectives,” he explains, discussing how a club goes about defining a common methodology in practice.

    A meeting is held on the first Thursday of every month so that all the interested parties can have both a general discussion and also analyse a specific topic together.

    For example, the parties talk to the medical staff about the ins and outs of the training sessions to prevent and deal with injuries; to the psychological team to ensure that the youngsters’ personalities are developing as well as their technical abilities; to the media department to define shared guidelines and so on.

    As well as this, there are three further meetings held every month (one a week) according to the wishes of the technical coordination team, which “sets the topics and moderates the meetings,” says Baldini.

    “We speak about all manner of things: the physical load on the players, the philosophy behind a certain interpretation of a position, the right type of activities for a six-year-old child to do or when it’s appropriate to introduce specific strength activities.”

    On the more immediate side of things, all of the various teams get together every Friday to discuss the players, plan for the following week and check on the youngsters’ conditioning ahead of the weekend. As part of this meeting, each coach describes their week’s training to the others.

    “That’s how you build up a methodology. Everyone plays a part in constructing it. It’s not a case of each individual area having their own method – there’s just one Juventus way.”

    The Juve Method

    The young Bianconeri spend an hour and 45 minutes together in each training session, learning key values such as humility, respect and sacrifice – including in situations where they simply exchange views without the ball being involved.

    There are three pitches set aside for them in Vinovo as well as an indoor pitch, a synthetic surface and an enclosed area.

    This is where the Juventus training and playing philosophy is put into practice on a daily basis. The Juve Method.

    “Juventus aims to simultaneously develop the boys' technical skills and their characters and personalities,” Juventus U17 coach Felice Tufano explains.

    We want to control the game and impose our play while at the same time helping the boys to develop.

    Felice Tufano

    This takes place on a daily basis in the offices, meeting rooms, dressing rooms and restaurants of Vinovo.

    The constant daily dialogue between the various components of the technical team ultimately results in the construction of a shared footballing philosophy: to dominate ball possession in a way that is purposeful rather than sterile, driven by technically gifted players and with a real onus on attacking play.

    “The road is long, but we’re sure that the work we’re doing will bring continuous improvements and reap a multitude of rewards – day after day, month after month,” Tufano says.

    Alessandro Calcia, one of our grassroots coaches, gives us a concrete example of what the Juve Method means.

    COACHES AND TRAINING SESSIONS

    The footballers aren’t the only ones maturing at Vinovo: the coaches and trainers working there every day are also invested in the development process.

    “We have to show the youngsters love, try to create a welcoming atmosphere and take care of them as people, both during work hours and during their free time,” explains Giovanni Valenti, one of the 18 coaches and trainers in charge of a Juventus youth team (the Esordienti 2003 cohort in his case).

    “We might listen to music and chat in the dressing rooms, but when we talk about who’s playing or what our plan is going to be out on the pitch, we become serious. I try to spend as much time with the lads as possible.

    "Today, for example, I’ll spend an hour and a half playing cards and having fun with them after lunch,” he explains, sat in the Vinovo restaurant, underlining the importance of helping the kids develop as people and instilling key values within them – as well as educating them as footballers.

    And while the youngsters develop, implementing the principles taught to them by their teachers (school, family, coaches), the grassroots coaches are engaged in constant dialogue among themselves and with their own coordinators.

    As well as the general meetings on Thursdays and Fridays we mentioned earlier, once a week each coach supports another colleague during a training session. The importance of this strategy – which allows the coaches to enhance their technical and professional understanding – is explained by Fabio Ulderici, the coach of the Pulcini 2006 side.

    Training sessions and matches are recorded and watched back so that coaches can analyse the players’ individual development from a young age. As the years pass, more and more sessions are recorded, with the number increasing from three or four for the Pulcini 2007 side to over 40 for the U17s.

    The use of technology in training sessions is a key part of proceedings at Vinovo, even for the youngest footballers.

    “We introduce the Training Check while the players are still very young,” Giovanni Valenti continues. “We might do 15 minutes on analytical technology and 30 minutes on situation technology, then from the U15s we start using GPS to monitor the sessions.”

    A footballing education

    It’s not just about football at Vinovo, whether it's at grassroots or a competitive level.

    For the oldest boys (U15s to the Primavera), the training ground also houses J-College, the sports secondary currently teaching over 100 Bianconeri youngsters. It’s situated right next to the restaurant, where all players and employees – bar the first-team squad – meet for lunch.

    Established in collaboration with the Giovanni Agnelli Foundation and the International School of Europe (ISE), J-College’s aim is to combine the young players’ sporting activity with their general education. Innovative teaching methods include the use of new technologies such as tablets, eBook readers and notebooks, while J-College is preparing to host its first final exams this year.

    The team coaches participate in class council meetings, guaranteeing a constructive link between the classroom and the football field. 

    Juventus Training Center canteen, situated opposite J-College

    In 2009, the “Formazione Juventus” programme was introduced. Coordinated by a team of psychologists who sit within the medical department and are overseen by Dr Claudio Cortese, a professor in the Psychology Department at the University of Turin, the project’s aim is to help the youngsters develop the skills outlined by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

    The programme sees participation from all boys born between 2002 and 2007, with girls involved in the women’s football set-up and the athletes of J-College also taking part.

    Meetings are held one afternoon a week between October and May, with each meeting consisting of four sessions. These have the dual objective of enabling the youngsters to demonstrate their talent to the full and helping them learn something of significance that will stand them in good stead if they later go into the work environment.

    “The more mature and informed the lads are, the better they can fulfil their role within the club and on the pitch,” explains Dr Cortese.

    Two topics are chosen for each year, with the meetings then scheduled accordingly (52 this year: two for each team, with the youngsters divided up into groups of six to ten people).

    The initial objective is to promote awareness, followed by the development of skills relating to areas such as the idea of a team, respect for your opponents, managing your emotions and dealing with stress, anxiety and tension from an early age.

    A final cycle of meetings is organised alongside the medical team and focuses on instilling good habits in terms of welfare, including addiction prevention (smoking, alcohol, smartphones, internet) and injuries (physiology and prevention), to “start to help the youngsters build up a more correct image of themselves as sportspeople, something that will serve them well throughout their future career”.

    “Being at Juventus – even if it’s just for one year – gives you something for life,” continues Dr Cortese. “You don’t get this type of sporting experience anywhere else, because you’re also taught skills that last a lifetime.

    "There are always going to be youngsters who don’t make the grade from a footballing perspective, but nonetheless they all know that they’ve had a unique experience that their peers won’t have received.

    "Over the course of their time with the Bianconeri – be it short or long – they’ll build up a base understanding of rules, manners and skills which will help them make the most of their talent should they go on to become professional footballers, or at the very least will be invaluable to their future careers away from the pitch.”

    We're a tool in the educational pact between Juve, the families and youngsters themselves.

    Professor Claudio Cortese

    Few youngsters manage to make it as professional footballers, and even fewer go on to enjoy careers of the calibre of the likes of Claudio Marchisio and Sebastian Giovinco, so a large portion of the kids currently involved in Juventus' grassroots area will not reach the heights everyone so hopes they can.

    “From time to time I remind them that their Juventus jerseys have only been lent to them. The key idea here is that the collective helps the individual to improve by bringing out the best in each person, with the idea of football as a team sport central to everything we do.

    "Even the youngest kids need to be able to interact with their fellow players – and at the same time they need to be aware that what they’re experiencing is a dream that could come to an end at any time. Indeed, as time passes, fewer and fewer lads manage to make the step up,” explains Valenti.

    Once they have started training with the Bianconeri, the youngsters are evaluated on the basis of four key criteria: technical, physical, mental and emotional. Without just one of these elements, the lads are unlikely to be able to progress sufficiently, explains technical coordinator Stefano Baldini.

    “How do we go about it then? First and foremost, we guarantee the same opportunities for all, offering them something truly excellent. We then teach them the idea that they all play a part in everything that happens to everyone else.

    "To paraphrase coach Meo Sacchetti: 'I didn’t have a great deal of talent, if not that of hard work and passion, but I can say that I helped those around me to improve.’ You could say that the biggest task for every one of them is not just to play a decisive role in their own development, but also to ensure that their team-mates improve too.”

    Indeed, Meo Sacchetti – the legendary former basketball player and Italian title-winning coach with Sassari – played a key role in one of the training sessions organised at Vinovo for youngsters and coaches alike. 

    It was just one of many such sessions organised by the youth academy technical coordination team, some of which see participation from Massimiliano Allegri and his own coaching staff.

    “We’re separated from the first team by a door which may as well not even be there given the huge amount of mutual respect there is between us,” continues Baldini.

    “Some of the people that work for the first team also have responsibilities here, starting from Aldo Dolcetti on the technical side of things and continuing with Roberto Sassi (fitness), Claudio Filippi (goalkeepers) and Duccio Ferrari (strength), for example. There’s daily contact between the two areas.”

    The role of parents

    At the crux of the educational ethos behind the project is the fundamental belief that we’re not just dealing with footballers, but young lads who carry their issues, tension, anxiety and joy with them every time they take to the field of play. The role of their families is therefore crucial: it’s vital that they are aware of everything we do here at Juve, right down to the style of play we try to promote.

    “The parents need to understand just how complex what we’re asking of their children is so that our overall objective remains constant, with all the parents strong enough and willing to sustain a coherent message.

    "If attention were to become focused on other aspects, the message would become jumbled up. For example, if we’re asking the youngsters to make use of all areas of the pitch and take risks, while back at home their parents are advising their children to take as few risks as possible, the upshot is that the child is going to get confused,” continues Baldini.

    It is for this reason that the grassroots area opens its doors to the parents – after all, both are key influences in the youngsters’ educations. This year, for example, two of three planned meetings with parents have already taken place: one general get-together at Juventus Stadium and one here at Vinovo split up by group. There are also a number of private meetings throughout the season.

    Children moving up from the Giovanissimi Regionali (U14) to the Giovanissimi Nazionali (U15) squads have some important decisions to make. For example, the club may offer them the chance to study at J-College, so it is important that there is interaction and dialogue with the parents so that all parties can evaluate everything that it entails.

    On top of this, the Juventus team works every single day to prepare the children for autonomy and independence once their experience with the Bianconeri comes to an end. Indeed, Baldini does not believe that all lads in the Primavera squad have just three objectives in their lives (Serie A, Coppa Italia and passing their exams).

    Bianconeri girls

    This year, the Juventus grassroots area has been bolstered by two girls’ teams (mixed Pulcini and Esordienti, U12s) for a total of 20 young ladies whose pink Adidas training tops have been an ever-present at Vinovo since September. 

    The first part of the season was used to organise friendly matches. The 20 players were then divided into two groups according to their age and physique. One group, comprising girls born in 2003 and 2004, play nine-a-side football, while the other group – of girls born in 2004, 2005 and 2006 – play seven-a-side. These teams then joined girls' leagues in the spring.

    “It’s a great feeling for them. They’re wearing a jersey with real weight behind it – given the club’s history and tradition it’s one of the most important jerseys in the world. This is further heightened when you consider that they’re the first group of female players in the club’s history. They’re really emotionally engaged with it all,” reveals Daniele Diana, their coach.

    The only differences with the men’s training stem from the fact that the girls have slightly less stamina and strength in general – not just in terms of kicking the ball, but also as regards covering the distance on the pitch. On the face of it the exercises they do are the same, but for the girls they are “a little more intense, with a slightly shorter duration”.

    “Families participate at all levels, accompanying the girls to the ground and waiting while they train. We have a very good relationship with them: we try to get the parents involved as much as possible, each party maintaining their own role,” continues Diana, who runs the sessions on a pitch in the city.

    “Our footballing values are the same for all. We want to mould young boys and girls, educating them on the pitch and away from it and helping them understand how many sacrifices adults make to enable them to practise the sport they love on a regular basis and with the best facilities so that one day it might become a lot more than just a passion.”

    Juventus are laying solid foundations for the future with their excellent work at academy level.

    Antonio Cabrini Interview with Il Corriere dello Sport, 15/1/16
    AWAY FROM VINOVO – BIANCONERI ACADEMIES

    Another of the new developments introduced for the 2015/16 season was the club’s first-hand management of the activities of Juventus Soccer Schools in Turin and elsewhere in Italy and the world. It means the club has taken control of the sporting side of the project, as well as its commercial elements.

    Indeed, if we’re going to shine a light on Juventus' grassroots activities we can’t not talk about the 15,000 youngsters currently involved in Bianconeri educational and football projects in 80 cities across the world.

    Claudio Gabetta – the Juventus technical expert who last year coached the U15s side – is tasked with exporting the Technical Coordination Centre’s football methodology to the Juventus-affiliated Soccer Schools scattered around the globe.

     “The idea of exporting what we do internally here at Vinovo to the rest of the world is met with great positivity,” reveals Gabetta, whose official title is Soccer Schools Technical Coordination Manager. Along with his colleagues, Gabetta acts as a bridge between the Juventus coaches and the other technical coordinators.

    His work ranges from setting out sporting objectives and helping external coaches to apply the Juventus methodology to developing training sessions and offering advice on the most appropriate ways of working.

    Operating in Turin are Sisport – Juventus’ partner on the logistical and organisational side of project – and the Juventus Soccer School project itself. Open to boys and girls between the ages of five and 13, the project’s aim is to help youngsters develop on and off the field by adhering to methodologies and techniques designed and guaranteed by Juventus. The Juventus Soccer School in Turin has over 80 team groups ranging from the Piccoli Amici category right through to the Esordienti. There are a further ten schools around Piedmont, plus 11 more besides in other parts of Italy. 

    We provide energy for the youngsters and work for their development without expecting anything in return. We give them energy so that they can glow, not vice versa. It's essential to understand that all areas of their development are important. We'd like them to leave here with distinctive, recognisable traits. We've begun a journey that will bring success over time.

    Claudio Gabetta

    “We’ve carried out many visits to the various schools for exchanges and we’re now working on selection policies. We’ve also brought the coaches here to Vinovo,” explains Gabetta.

    Indeed, in recent months over 100 coaches currently working at Soccer Schools in Italy and abroad have visited Vinovo to get a first-hand look at the Juventus youth academy facilities and observe training sessions. There are both practical and theoretical aspects to the visit, with the coaches able to engage in invaluable technical debates with the Vinovo staff. 

    “We’re looking to make sure these Soccer Schools realise the importance of the opportunity they have and give them the possibility to participate in and learn something unique. It’s all the more profound given that it is a shared experience. When you see them play it’s obvious that they’re implementing our methodology – we have progressively taken a bigger and bigger role in constructing their training sessions,” says Gabetta.

    “Placing importance on building play from the back is one of our distinguishing features: we teach the kids to be brave and show personality, implementing a philosophy in which they look to impose themselves and control the game.”

    Present and future
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