I got along to Simone Bombardieri’s U14 Empoli training the other day. Simone is the technical director of Empoli Academy for the U9-U14 age categories as well as the head coach for the U14 age group.
Empoli, along with Atalanta, is regarded as one of the two best academies in Italy. As an indication of it’s importance, Empoli academy graduates have bought in over 30 million euros in transfer fees during the past 4 years. The academy really is the life blood of Empoli FC.
Simone has the important role of overseeing the development of Empoli’s young players through their formative years. It has been wonderful spending time with him these past couple of weeks discussing young player development. The one thing that strikes you immediately with Simone is his humility. Despite having 17 years experience in the Empoli academy system, he is always open to new information and is always looking to better himself as a coach. His view is that the game is always evolving so in order to keep up he too must adapt and be open minded.
Although much of the work at Empoli is now game based and within the context of the game itself, you can see from the video above that Simone still finds room for technical or unopposed work. There is a raging debate in coaching circles at the moment around block (unopposed) or game based exercises, and which is better. There are valid arguments on both sides of the spectrum. But the fact of the matter is, that like life itself, finding the right balance is key. Those touting game like practice use the argument that players in the past learnt to play on the street. This is true. However, it is also true that those same players would spend hours with the ball alone in isolated, unopposed practice. Thus, as coaches, we must make sure we are providing time for both.
Similar to Empoli FC academy, Top Flight spends roughly 10% of every training week in unopposed, technical work. The rest of the time, our players are learning to recognise patterns, ensuring cognitive fidelity by using practices that faithfully represent the real demands of the game.