Jan Van Loon, Arsenal’s Head of Individual Player Development Interview

1) How is performance profiling being used to determine a player's 'coach-ability'?

“Hi Bobby, what would you like to become in the future?”

“A Professional football player Sir,” says Bobby.

“Do you want to become Sanchez or Ozil?”

“Just Bobby Sir,” says Bobby!!

People change constantly whether or not they want to. That said, many people want to change but don’t want to be changed. To create long lasting change it needs to be an emotional process. Without this there is no change just a temporary and ephemeral collection of different actions before reverting back to the old behaviours.

Resistance and anxiety to change is often built up from an early age. People (football players) are always coachable and want to perform better naturally because it is ACTION related. Everybody is responsible for his or her own actions, but the secret it to identify and understand what the drivers are for certain actions – talking/acting/moving/running/jumping/passing/heading... etc

This learning and change is context specific. For football it is the rules of the game and continual nature that means the influence of the coach is limited compared with other sports where there are more time-outs, stop/starts or change possibilities. For these reasons we must be careful when making comparison with other sports.

Football = you have the ball or don't have the ball (KISS = Keep It Simple Stupid)

What variables must we contend with?

Country = history, cultural preferences, playing style
Club = culture, values, playing style, leadership, structure, preference coaching style
Players = age specific, recruitment, development 
Coaches = helping players to transform and perform better
Players/coaches = everybody is different and that's great, get the benefit of all.

What principles must we be aware of?


2) How do you adapt specific individual club DNA coaching to individuals within an English Academy Structure?

Successful missions start with a vision that is not purely a thinking process. A thinking process goes back to the past and will come up with ideas and solutions from previous learning. These are often a series of a successful and unsuccessful past experiences which culminate to dictate and validate strong behaviours and beliefs.
A thinking process will often validate the idea already in place, but without exploring new possibilities.

Successful missions start with a vision and allow an open process to find space for new ideas that challenges the successful or not so successful experiences from the past and the cultural accepted and validated strong behaviours and beliefs.

In my situation:

The best players with the highest potential should get the best opportunities to reach their potential. To achieve this we much first increase opportunities for success by defining what this means for your club/academy and then recruiting the best personnel (Players & Staff) to facilitate this. This necessitates identifying and implementing the best structures, procedures and processes to achieve this.

We strive to continually develop both the players and the staff. This means constantly solving problems by using the full strength and qualities of the individual people. Everybody has an individual development program which is in turn driven by the strength and qualities of the players & staff.

The Arsenal FC Values:

Always moving forward
Act with class
Stronger together

In our individual and group development, every action has to fit those three values. This is a synonomous relationship for positive development, expressed through our language, way of playing, leadership and coaching style.

3) What do you see as the greatest challenges to player development?

The Player is always the ‘Do-er’ in their development. The role of the Club/Academy/Staff is to facilitate this individual development in the context of sport, the country and the club. Within these contexts, there are different people (players & staff), a preferred culture and style. How we adapt to these is also age and player specific – and how each of these fits into the set context.

Our challenge is to simplify this process as much as possible. In reducing the number of variables we create an environment where we are able to learn about the player, their background, their style, their strengths, and critically how to make their strengths world class whilst identifying and working on weaknesses.

4) How do you apply technology and analysis to improve the individual coaching process?

Technology can be incredibly helpful. They enable individual player Facts Sheets (GPS, scores, virtual reality). However, in order to be fully optimised and the potential realise they have to be made context specific and personalised.

When interpreting data and conducting analysis a key factor is to understand how the brain learns and develops when compared to motor skill actions (do nothing is also an action!)

For example, if a player becomes quicker, what is the consequence for his/her technique and insight?
Everybody looks WORLD CLASS on a low pace, everybody can oversee a situation on a low pace. – You learnt to become a better football player by playing football – so you need to always train and analyse performance in the correct context.

Technique training = football training
Tactical training = football training
Physical training = football training
Personality training = football training
FOOTBALL TRAINING = technique, tactical, physical, personality training = TOTAL TRAINING

5) What are the most effective ways to coach instinctive learning and decision making?

The transfer of information from training to a game has to be logical and the awareness of the player has to be challenged in a logical way.

As soon as training is too far from the actual game it becomes harder for players to recognise and implement the decision-making – the learning will be different and therefore no longer useful.

There must be no gaps between learning, decision making performing. The player is always the ‘do-er’ so the learning process must always relate back to them.

Effective expenditure of energy, knowledge and insight into creating effective instinctive learning and decision making would be to create specific scenarios were FOOTBALL TRAINING is always INDIVIDUAL TRAINING.


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