Two reasons have prompted Athletic Club to implement an equally risky and ambitious initiative which consists of providing education to most of its cadet players -those that play for the Basque League team- all in one school; concretely at La Salle School in Deusto (Bilbao).
The first motivation to adopt the cited measure, the inevitable necessity to increase the workout loads in the formation process of future elite players and, the second, equally as important and hand to hand with the concepts that refer to high performance, the necessity to have greater control over the player’s life, which results in more requirements and implies, also, that education not be foreign to sports training.
“We have to increase the workload in the training process of future elite players”.
In order to learn about the genesis of the project, its pros, its cons, the present reality and an initial balance from all approaches, we have spoken with Luis Solar, Lezama’s Head Coordinator; Mr. Koldo Asua, Head Talent Scout; Ms. Maria Ruiz de Oña, Head Psychologist and Mr. Juan Jose Otegi, La Salle Director. Each one in its own field is quite optimistic about the step taken. They all value the response by parents and players as positive, leaving it quite clear that sacrifice and high performance are two concepts that go hand in hand and that all those implicated must adapt, and in fact they are doing so, to the new situation.
How was the agreement with La Salle reached?
The process has not been easy, states Luis Solar, “we have previously made several attempts. For example, Txema Noriega tried it last season with the Colegio Trueba, but it wasn’t possible. This time, a confluence of interests took place, they approached us and we had that necessity. In their favour, we must also say that they have magnificent facilities with a gymnasium and sports centre and that just a few minutes from the school we have the municipal ground Etxe Zuri, managed by Bilbao Kirolak and where our players train in the mornings four days a week, for a total of eight sessions, and which our coaches and physiologists consider sufficient; however, there’s always the possibility, if necessary, of completing ten sessions”.
An ambitious project for the medium to long term
This season’s is only the origin of a more ambitious project that we wish to complete in two or three years, depending on the evolution of the current experience and that would include a total of 60 players, divided in three teams. “It could be completed next year, but perhaps in three years time, it all depends on the balance we make of this experience. Today’s cadets would become first year juniors and would study first year of High School and new cadets would enter in fourth of ESO. A year later we would complete the cycle with the second year juniors in second year of high school, the cadets in first year of high school and a third group of cadets in fourth of ESO”, affirms Solar.
To sum up, the players are left at the doors to the university; it’s a “decisive step” because the whole student life revolves around the sport and it is Athletic Club who covers the costs of education of its soccer players.
The above mentioned implies that the project will have to be supplemented with optimal human resource management, since more teams will be joining, an increase in services will logically be necessary.
The necessary adaptation
Ms. Maria Ruiz de Oña, the Club’s psychologist, recognizes that on the short term a period of change is being lived and, therefore, of adaptation for everyone: ‘The players themselves get to know each other in a different place giving way to another type of relationship, new habits, and “closer contact”.
The success of this experience, for the most part, depends “on those of us who are responsible for managing and improving the period of adaptation. We have to help the player and the student”.
We are talking about sacrifice and demands, but one of the most positive aspects, points out Ruiz de Oña, “is that you are offering the player another school, other experiences, other classmates and friends”.
A novel experience that will not be as much to materialize: “On the longer term they will be diluted in normality. We cannot forget that since they are part of Athletic they are going to be on everyone’s viewpoint and that could influence in a double sense: greater opening up or greater obstinacy”. Athletic enters the scene, which is not a trivial issue, considering the social roots and the media importance our organization has in Bizkaia.
Learning versus high performance?
To make learning and high performance compatible is a job of awareness, “a change in beliefs is needed”, points out Maria Ruiz de Oña.
A job expanded in time, since it goes back to 1996. It’s been over a decade that the so-called study halls started working in Lezama, and we began to promote the possibility of combining books and trainings. There’s a mistaken idea that, once they reach the junior category, the players of an elite club such as Athletic already have a guaranteed future in the world of soccer, at least when it comes to economics. We pursue and encourage that if a player is to abandon his studies, he do so as late in time as possible.
Investigations on similar experiences, that is, athletes in schools, indicate -points out Ruiz de Oña-, “there’s an increase in sports performance, family relationships improve, academic output is optimized and is an enriching experience overall. It’s possible to improve, more or less, on some of the above mentioned aspects, but never worsen”.
“Sports performance increases, family relationships improve, academic output is optimized and it’s an overall enriching experience”
A day in class and on the fields
The normal day for our players begins at eight in the morning, as opposed to nine for the rest of students. After an hour of class, comes time for the first training session, breakfast and leisure time or recovery of study hours.
Before noon the study rate coincides with that of the rest of students, just as it does after lunch, however at five in the afternoon the academic responsibilities for the cadets continue for an additional hour, three days a week, with the 30 instruction hours on the horizon. All this before taking the bus that will take to Lezama where they will train four times per week during the evening.
Of the 20 players the squad has, 16 are currently studying at the school and another will most probably do so next season. All in all, during the week there are 17 players participating in the morning session and in many cases 18. All twenty players, of course, do so in the evening session held in Lezama.
Below is a typical weekly calendar to which we must add the usual evening training sessions in Lezama:
Subjects from a language standpoint
With regards to the linguistic distribution by subject and hours, it would be as follows for the 30 weekly instruction hours:
In Euskara, 14 hours, distributed as follows: Mathematics 3 hours, Social Sciences 3 hours, Euskara 4 hours, Tutorial 1 hour and Chemistry 3 hours.
In Spanish, 13 hours, distributed as follows: Spanish 3 hours, Ethics 1 hour, Religion 2 hours, Technology 3 hours, Physical Education (substituted by soccer) 2 hours and Applied Physiology 2 hours. Mr. Solar points out that, as instructed by Athletic, the following are included as part of the elective subjects: Soccer, Anatomy, Physiology or Applied Physiology, depending on the grade.
“Every week, there are 14 hours in Euskara, 13 in Spanish and 3 in English”
There are 3 hours of English weekly.
As Mr. Juan Jose Otegi points out, ‘despite it all, it has been an important challenge for us. We had to offer a suitable proposal to parents that would reconcile the different linguistic models. At La Salle, we have a powerful Model B. Besides, our student’s median grade in the selectivity exam is 7.88, while the median grade for those who access the University is 7.38’.
A new group
“In the end, a new group was formed -in a new environment, which for now has warmly welcomed the idea with satisfaction; them as well as their parents”, points out Koldo Asua. Another question arises: How have they been welcomed? Otegi acknowledges that “rather well, with the normal initial surprise and peculiarity due to the fact that the group has a different timetable. A series of expectations is generated and what’s most important is that they are able to integrate in the group with the rest of students because they bear an academic life in addition to soccer. It is the boys who must adapt to La Salle, like they had to do at their own schools. It is an important effort for them because it forces them to organize themselves and they have to be aware that it is hard, that it is an extra effort with out-of-the-way class schedules in order to complete the 30 weekly hours and recover study times and exams during the hours that for others are leisure or rest time”.
“Parents -he continues- are satisfied; after all it’s an option that they have chosen. The La Salle parents did ask in the beginning, but simply with an informative spirit ‘. Every fifteen days there are control meetings evaluate the players’ progress.
“For them it’s an important effort because it forces them to organize themselves and be aware that it is difficult, and that it is an additional effort”.
At one point the possibility to create a special class for Athletic’s cadets was considered. However, once the pros and cons were analysed it was decided that ‘it was much better that they be fused with the rest; it’s more interactive and we cannot create a ghetto and leave the boys out of a natural environment’.
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