Purely Academic

Wednesday 17 July 2002

As another pre-season gets under way for Jean Tigana's professional squad, Academy Director Steve Kean is preparing his players for another year of development.

It's been quite a short summer break for the Academy boys, as Fulham's participation in the Intertoto Cup resulted in the precautionary recall of the scholars.

With the first team away at an undisclosed training camp, the Academy left for foreign shores as they made their way to Austria to continue their preparations.

Each year sees the incorporation of several new faces as the third year scholars graduate and a new first year group is taken in. Joining the Academy on a full scholarship means the young players will, for the first time in their lives, be taking full-time training sessions.

With the physical stresses and strains this puts on a young player, Steve Kean explained how his staff are very careful to break the scholars in to their new physical routines.

"We've got a new intake of players who will form our first year scholars and this season's under-17s," explained Kean. "They started a week later than the rest of the Academy and are starting on some very light physical work. We're also introducing them to some light gym work and lots of base technical work.

"None of the under-17s will go to Austria, they'll be staying back with David Burke. David will do technical work with them. We spend hundreds of hours on technical work in the first year.

"The group that has come out to Austria is comprised of the second and third year scholars plus a few young professionals. The idea is that while the professionals are away, the Academy also has their own pre-season camp.

"We're playing two games out here, one was on Monday and the next will be on Sunday. The main focus of the trip is to start playing some matches. After the first match we've got a block of time to do some physical work and up the tempo with our ball work.

"There are some good German teams out here on their pre-season preparations. So we are able to play two good games and get a lot of good physical work done."

Going abroad to a pre-season training camp is fast becoming a tradition in modern football. One attractive aspect of making such a trip is that in removing the players from their day-to-day environment, they should also be removed from any possible distractions or temptations.

But these trips aren't all about physical training and living in line with the requirements of a professional footballer. Kean has always looked to place a strong emphasis on the mental development of a player.

"When you go away to a camp, the players are in an enclosed environment so we can start to get the boys gelling together as a squad," explained Kean.

"Unfortunately for the staff, back home the players go home in the evening. When you get them in a pre-season camp, you can organise events like psychology seminars and team-building exercises.

"We'll do a 'face your fear' seminar with the psychologist who has travelled with us. The players will do things like high rope walking and balancing on high beams. They'll always be harnessed, but we're trying to get them to face up to fears that might give them a knock during their careers so they can bounce back stronger.

"When you look at the elite players like David Beckham, you can see that they're totally focused before the match. We're looking to try and develop those characteristics in our young players.

"Hopefully, they'll develop a good team spirit and learn to look after each other. We try to hammer home the mental side so when it comes to the crunch, our players will have that extra bit that the other guy won't have."