With lockdown bringing outdoor training to a halt, LaLiga Football Schools takes football to households with online sessions

Stationed in Madrid since March, LaLiga Football Schools Technical Director Javier Cabrera talks about the online training program which has expanded to 300 students in five weeks, what aspects are covered and the challenges faced.

Tanuj Lakhina May 24, 2020 17:38:51 IST
With lockdown bringing outdoor training to a halt, LaLiga Football Schools takes football to households with online sessions

In March when the lockdown was implemented due to the coronavirus pandemic, it brought all sporting activity — professional or recreational — to a halt. People couldn't go out and stay active, play their favourite sport or ply their trade. The effects were felt at the grassroots level too with training centres across the country shuttered. Even as activity outside homes ceded to exist, bar the essential, it opened doors to innovation. LaLiga Football Schools, run by the Spanish league and their partners India on Track, took the training into the living rooms.

Led by Javier Cabrera, Technical Director of LaLiga Football Schools, they have introduced online training divided into group or individual training sessions. Stationed in Madrid since March, Cabrera discussed the online training program which has expanded to 300 students now in just about five weeks, talking about the aspects that are covered and the challenges faced.

Firstpost (FP): How did the idea for training kids at home come about?

With lockdown bringing outdoor training to a halt LaLiga Football Schools takes football to households with online sessions

Javier Cabrera in training during the LaLiga Football Schools At Home initiative. Image: LaLiga

Javier Cabrera (JC): Once the crisis started with the virus, our priority was not to stop the training programme because we knew that we had to provide some kind of service to the kids that were already with us. We started thinking what we could do and the operations team, especially the marketing team, they proposed the idea to take things online.

The whole process began in mid-March. We started providing this service to our current students that were already with us in our in our centers. We did I think three weeks with them. Once we had the website for LaLiga Football Schools online program, then we made it available for the whole country including outsiders. It's been a month or maybe five weeks since everything is official. Right now we're about to touch 300 registered students. It's been good, it's been very good. We are very proud of where we're getting.

FP: Were these 300 kids part of LaLiga Schools already?

JC: Some of them were but we've received a lot of new registrations from kids that were not part of our program. Good thing coming out of it is that through this program we are able to reach many cities where we were not present before. Earlier we were present in 12-13 cities in India, but with these 300 kids, we have players that are from cities that we have never been there. So at least we have that positive thing. We will try to take advantage of this. In future, we will go back to our training centers but I don't think we are going to stop the online program because it's very, very useful for everyone.

FP: What do these activities, training programs involve?

JC: To answer this, I want to speak about how well we have worked with our coaches earlier. In the first two years, we have worked very hard with our coaches, for them to understand our methodology, and the way we work in our sessions. Due to that it's been very easy for us to create a structure in our online program. We divided the session the same way we do the on-ground session. We always start with a warm up: dynamic stretches that we call joint mobility. Then we always introduce a part which is based on agility and coordination. We always use an agility ladder and if they don't have it, we ask them to put on the floor a couple of T-shirts or socks. And after that, we have technical skills which is around 20-25 minutes of the session.

All kinds of skills that they can do individually because obviously they don't have a partner to play with. We try to get them to do individual skills or play against the wall, they can practice passing and receiving of the ball. Can use those t shirts or whatever as cones that they can also use to do dribbling and turns.

In the final part we have the cooldown. At the end we have a feedback (session) where we speak to the kids about the session and we try to introduce them with some games about LaLiga, or we ask them to bring some homework for next day about LaLiga. So we could ask them to bring information about Atletico Madrid. So they have to bring four or five facts about that club. At the same time, what we're doing is to engage them, make them understand or maybe even increase their knowledge about LaLiga. We also try to give them some nutrition advices.

FP: So what kind of coaches are involved in these training sessions?

JC: We have two kind of programs. We have the group sessions in which the head coach usually is a local coach and we have a minimum three local coaches in each session. One will be leading the session or the skills and others will be giving feedback or giving correction and observations to the others. That would be three Indian coaches. There will always be a Spanish coach as well checking and observing if everything is going well. This could be for 15-20 minutes depending on the schedule because we have a tight schedule. For example, today we have 11 classes. It's very difficult for us to be present in all of them.

On one side we have the group sessions led by local coaches and the Spanish coaches observe. Then we have the one-on-one sessions, which are private sessions. The whole class is led by a Spanish coach. Currently we have 10-12 students that have already been with us for a month, at least, and they get the class directly from me or from the other Spanish technical director. So we have local coaches and two Spanish coaches heading everything.

FP: Were these local coaches there with the school earlier or are there any 'signings'?

JC: We are using the same strength we had before. Most of them have been with us for two seasons already, some of them six months. That's a priority for us. Because if we hire new coaches now, we would have to show them and teach them the way we work and our coaches have been continuously trained, since they joined and that's crucial for us. That's essential.

FP: Is there a psychological coach as well? I mean, it's a very challenging time for kids also to be in the middle of a lockdown.

JC: Usually, our coaches do that. We have made sure that the head coach of each session is an experienced coach. Parents can ask some things about how to keep them positive or the nutrition advices. So we make sure that the head coaches of those sessions or a Spanish coach is ready to explain these kind of things. On the psychological part we tell them to be active at home, not only with football, not only when they are doing the training sessions, but also the rest. We give them advice on how to be active, not to always be focussing on video games or laptops or iPads or whatever; to try to speak at home just to have a conversation with sibling, your parents.

FP: Is there focus on the nutrition side of things also?

JC: Yes, we try to make them understand that it is good that they are active with our sessions for at least three days a week. But they have to take care of the nutrition part because they are not able to go outside running or walking or whatever, so the rest of the day most probably you are going to be at home sitting on a chair or the sofa. We always give them nutrition advices, we try to make them understand to avoid sugar, aerated drinks etc. They have to be very careful and try to increase the quantity of vegetables and fruits in the diet. We tried to make them understand to have a light dinner — a concept difficult for India.

FP: Is the LaLiga online program available only in India or elsewhere as well?

With lockdown bringing outdoor training to a halt LaLiga Football Schools takes football to households with online sessions

Action from an in-home training session of LaLiga Football Schools. Image: LaLiga

JC: This program exists in other countries also. I think we are doing it in the US, in China, we have it in the rest of football training programs that we have around the world. But the response we are getting in India is big positive. I would say that the biggest online training program by LaLiga is in India right now.

FP: Is there a strategy behind getting these kids that you have right now into sessions also when things get better?

JC: We want to demonstrate that we are able to provide good quality service whether you're at home or the ground. What we want to communicate is that we are ready. We are good, we are good at what we do. Then it's your call if you want to continue with it once we are back on the ground. So it will depend on the parents or the kids if they want to join.

Our priority is always going to be on-ground training, for sure, a 100 percent. But in those cities that we are not present yet, it's a good start. We can continue the online program to see the response from those cities. If we see that we have a very good response, it's a sign for us to go to that city and try to maybe start with a one week camp or something and then start a new centre. The online program is a good support to our main program. It's important to be clear with that. I'm not saying that we are going to focus now on online training programs, not at all. But for now it's going to be a good initiative. And we still don't know when we are going to be able to be back on the ground. So that's why we have to invest in this program because it's the only thing we have right now.

FP: What challenges do you face in online training of these kids?

JC: I'm very, very impressed with how well things are going from every angle. The only thing that we are having some problems with some kids are the connection problems. For example, yesterday we had a private session with a kid that is from from the North East of India. It had to be postponed because of the storm (Cyclone Amphan). Sometimes you are in the middle of a session and out of 20 or 25 kids, you see that two or three of them are having connection problems. And still that's rare so I'm really, really impressed with how well things are going. You cannot also demand too much from the kids because they have very little space. Some of them have maybe three square meters to play or they cannot wear shoes because the floor is slippery, or the balls are not the best. But that's something that you need to understand, that you have to adapt. For me, that's not an issue. You can still go on and have the session.

FP: How do you ensure that each kid gets the attention they sometimes need?

JC: We perfectly see the way that the kid is doing the technical part. We make sure that the camera view is perfect. And then that's why we have a lot of coaches in the group sessions. If the class has above 20 kids, we will have four or five coaches in the session. So we are sure that we divide the focus of our coaches in a way that every single kid gets continued feedback during the session. That's the other thing, that we are very organised. I think that's one of the things that makes a lot of difference. Even if you are in a big group session with 20-25 kids, I understand the parents can say, 'How are they going to manage to make my kid improve?' But we are very well prepared and we have four or five coaches aware of everything that is happening in the session.

FP: Is there a difference between a group session and an individual session in terms of how things are done?

JC: I'm not going to say that a private session by a foreign coach is better than a session with a local coach because as I said before, our coaches are trained by our methods and in our methodology. What the private class is going to give you is individual training, individual corrections. So the Spanish coach is going to be completely focused on your kid for an hour. The coaches in the group sessions, as I said, they are aware of everything but they have to put their attention in multiple places. So, at the end, the improvement should be quicker than in the group sessions. But both programs are really, really good.

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