Professional Development Phase Lead Coach Mark Bonner reports on Cambridge United U18s Scholar's recent victory in France and the need to create self-starters.
Getting Things Done
“Get it done”. That was the message of the week. Often our tour programme presents us with the opportunity to go toe to toe with some of Europe’s big guns, it provides us with the best of everything, it is the efficient German tournaments, the slick and huge operations of the Danish, or the high quality tournaments of the Dutch. Easter weekend saw us take the short trip to France to revisit a tournament in La Madeleine, near Lille, which we have successfully participated in for a number of years.
The tournament is small. A ten team tournament consisting of two five team groups, with sides from France, Hungary, Russia and Serbia. It was an opportunity to bring the youth team for next season together to a tournament where we expected to win. That wouldn’t be easy, but it was an expectation.
As it turned out, we were champions, with six wins from six. Our 100% record in the group stages saw us play Brussels in the semi-final and the Hungarians in the final. Overall the games were comfortable but frustrating. The tournament was stop start with some poor refereeing, and opposition who wanted to slow the game down and make it hard for us to score, resorting to physicality at times.
This was a good test mentally to remain disciplined. The players had to cope under a different pressure and deal with the stresses of the challenge. It was good to create a “just get the job done” attitude and try to do it with some quality.
We spoke about professional football winning demands and how winning looks sometimes. We talked at length on the second night in a team meeting about winning behaviours, self-starters and champion mind-sets. The boys responded in the right way and handled some frustrating situations well, it was far from perfect, but they were committed to the task and I was pleased with their maturity overall.
Game 1 v Gyor Won 3-1 (Worman 3)
Game 2 v Douai Won 3-0 (Bell-Toxtle, Neal 2)
Game 3 v Vermelles Won 3-0 (Tate-Hyde, Worman, Emmins)
Game 4 v Krakow Won 1-0 (Worman)
Semi Final v Brussels Won 3-1 (Worman 2, Neal)
Final v Gyor Won 1-0 (Neal)
Here are some of the player’s thoughts:
“The experience was good for our team, considering the majority of us will be playing together next year and haven't had much game time together this season. The tournament standard was not the best that we have participated in but a few teams proved to be a tough test. Going into next season I think it was important that we did the best we could, which was to win the tournament and we managed to do that which will hopefully help us have a winning mentality next season.” Ben Worman
“France was very beneficial for both my tactical and mental development of the game. Due to playing all games at centre back, I needed to recognise how to play a role against different formations and try to organise and manage the team during the game. I think we knew we were the best team at the tournament, therefore we needed to have a good attitude on and off the pitch towards all games to not let our standards drop. I think the team played well in certain games, although on some occasions didn't reach our optimum level of performance, not only to win but to win with quality throughout.” Sam Squire
“As an individual this was my first tour for the club so I was very happy to come back as winners. The tour was a good experience as I learnt a lot about different situations. To start, we knew we were the biggest team in the tournament and were probably favourites at the start, so it was a new experience to deal with the pressure of having to win which I haven't really had before. There were different types of teams that we came up against so we had to adjust how we played differently. If we came up against a team who weren't so good then they would sit off us, so we would have to try and break them down, as they had a lot of men behind the ball. There were physical teams who just wanted to go long and kick us about. The team we faced in the semi-finals always wanted a fight as they got aggressive and continued to stop play so we couldn't keep the game flowing. We had to learn to be strong so we wouldn't get bullied and not get to frustrated when the game is always stopped. I don't think we did this as well as we could of.” Josh Emmins
“Going on this tour I didn't know what to expect as I had never really heard of any of the teams that were there. However, I learnt that you can't think it's going to be easy as we found out in some of our games. I think we were too confident in one game as we saw their warm up and thought it was an easy win, but it took us until the second half to get the first goal. It was a good experience being on a tour where there are no big teams and you don't know what to expect and it's a new test as you have to adapt to how they play quickly.” Joe Neal
“The weekend was a good bonding experience with the younger players. Winning the tournament puts us in a good place for next year in the long-term as it brought us closer together as a group and gives us confidence. Hopefully next year can be a successful one.” Fernando Bell-Toxtle
“The experience to France was fun with the boys and spending time together as a new team was good. At the tournament on paper we were the better team but two out of three teams gave us a few problems, where we dealt with the pressure well, by winning the tournament without losing and only conceding two goals. It's gives us a good starting platform for the beginning of next season.” Harry Darling
The boys showed good quality, patience and emotional control on the final day with two good results and performances when they were most required. All tournaments create challenges and this was no different. To have passed the test is pleasing, and if the lads can really learn to be self-starters and to get the most out of themselves on the bad days, or when things transpire against them, they will be better equipped for a career in professional football.
Mark Bonner is sponsored by Wendy Twinn.