No other Polish club has educated so many Polish representatives in a decade and has earned as much on their students as Lech Poznań. It is enough to mention such names as Karol Linetty, Tomasz Kędziora, Robert Gumny, Kamil Jóźwiak, Jan Bednarek, Jakub Moder. Their way to professional football was paved by not only a considered and well-organized training system, but also excellent physical preparation. It plays an increasingly important role in the “Kolejorz” Academy, as it is one of the main factors that facilitate the transition to the first team, further development and competition on an increasingly higher level.
The first football academy in Poland
The year 2012 was of key importance for “Kolejorz” and his students. In the presence of the representatives of the Ministry of Sport and Recreation, the Governor of Wielkopolski Region and the management board of the Polish Football Association, the first football academy in the country was established in Wronki. It had a clear goal from the beginning: to educate the best footballers, and at the same time people who would be an example for others. Education was planned on several levels, not only sports, but also mental and social. Everything under the guidance of professional coaching staff, who took care of the greatest talents in the country.
It is evident that nearly nine years later the grassroots work turned out to be a bull’s eye. The former students joined the first team, youth teams and the national team. Next to Zagłębie Lubin, Lech can boast the best training base in the country today: eight pitches – two full-size grass pitches, one full-size pitch with artificial turf, four smaller grass pitches and one sports playground. After the merger with Amika Wronki, the academy additionally took over the main stadium, training pitches, Olympic Hotel, boarding school and other pitches in Popowo, three kilometers away. But that’s not all, as the Research and Development Center is under construction. The investment, worth PLN 40 million, is another important step in the club’s development and proof of how much the approach to working with young people is changing. The club will also include Skills.lab simulator, an advanced training system for the development and assessment of individual skills.
From the very beginning, motor preparation was one of the most important elements of its training. “We don’t separate it from the rest of the activities and we don’t just implement them so that the players have good physical performance. We consider the training system as a whole, and the staff of individual teams constantly cooperate with each other,” explains Karol Kikut, the current strength and conditioning coach of the first team, who worked for many years in the Wronki part of the academy. The key elements are a consistent vision and collaboration at all levels. “Of course, it is the first coach who sets the goals and directions, but the methods, intensity, nature of each microcycle, or even the specificity of training measures, are consulted in a larger group.”
How to shape a player
As in the best football academies in Europe, selection and creation of the right conditions for development are crucial in the early stages of training. That is why, until the age of 15, young players train in Poznań, and the most talented ones go to Wronki, less than 50 km away, for further training stages. Three youth teams train here on a daily basis – younger and older juniors, as well as a reserve team. “Their staff is also in close contact, but due to the age of the players, the nature of the work in each team varies. It is different for the team under 15, 17 or 18 than for the senior reserve team. But each of these stages is very important for the player’s development,” explains Karol Kikut. “For example, with younger juniors we focus on the correct movement pattern, more in terms of proper body strengthening. Depending on the adaptation of a given player, the loads are increased. In addition, we always modify the difficulty of the training measures so that the player can develop.
At the last stage, when the players are close to entering the first team, i.e. around the age of 17, profiling is very important. After all, defenders, midfielders and strikers do different work on the pitch. The wingers should repeat sprints and recover quickly, the central midfielder must be physically well-prepared, run from one penalty area to the next, center-backs should be strong and have good acceleration. “At the junior level, however, full individualization is difficult due to many factors, such as school or non-court activities. That is why we divide the players into several groups in which we can differentiate the load ” says the coach Kikut. “Likewise, when we see a player has some difficulties or problems with certain areas in terms of locomotion. Then we try to stimulate him in an additional way after training”.
The system helps
It is very difficult to form motor skills in players who are constantly growing, developing and maturing. Therefore, coaches who work with youth face completely different problems – no less than those who work with seniors at the highest level. In a team under 13, the biological age of the players can be completely different. Although they are all the same age, some may physically be 13, others 11, and some 15 years old. It is important not to exclude late maturing players. Regular motor tests help with this.
“We examine the level at which the player is coping with a given area, on this basis we can qualify him to work harder or to continue at the current level. We perform such tests four times a season. In this way, we evaluate both the level of training and the effectiveness of training plans and measures,” explains Kikut, who has been working with the first “blue-and-white” team since 2019. Thanks to experience at various levels of training and professional football, he perfectly understands how difficult it is for a player to jump to a higher category.
In the life of every young player, the transition to seniors is associated with numerous difficulties and physical preparation is not one of them. “This leap is easy to bridge, it just takes some time and extra work. The young player starts to compete with the older opponent, who is better trained, more experienced, and thus quickly adapts to greater physical requirements” emphasizes Kikut. “It seems to me that the earlier stage is a bigger challenge, when players from other clubs come to the U-15 or U-17 team and they have to adapt quickly to the challenges of functioning in a new group. This is when they get used to increasing loads. ”
It is very important that the player going through the next levels of development can act in a similar way for himself. It is about a certain continuity in activities, and this, according to coach Kikut, remains until the first team. “Especially since the employment of coach Dariusz Żuraw, the way of working in the academy is similar to that of the first team. At least when it comes to the main assumptions. The next step we would like to take is an objective assessment of the loads applied in the academy and adjusting them to those that will be encountered in the first team. The GPS system will certainly make this task easier.”
Another extremely important stage in the development of young players are the reserves that form Lech’s pillar. This is where the most outstanding players play, and after promotion to the second league, the range between the two senior teams has decreased significantly. “It created the necessity to collide with stronger teams, because there is a big difference between them and the third league. However, the promotion to the national level itself did not become a determinant of our work in terms of motor preparation. It is all about the player’s development, which is monitored over the years” emphasizes Kikut. “From year to year, we modify our activities in such a way as to ensure its effective development, and the resulting goal is to be a derivative of well-performed everyday work”.
And it is in the context of monitoring individual players the Sonda Sports GPS system turns out to be an invaluable tool of the Lech Poznań Academy and Kolejorz reserves, with which both teams were equipped in 2019. “It gave us a great opportunity to create a database of information about each player. We are also examining the differences in the volume and intensity of training between the academy teams and the first team” adds Kikut. “In the long term, this data will allow us to optimize all activities, and the information obtained in this way will help in planning work for the next seasons, so that the transition from junior to adult football will be smoother, despite increasing demands.
The same is emphasized by the training director of the Lech Poznań Academy, Rafał Ulatowski. “It is a very helpful tool in the context of load monitoring, and we do not forget that players biologically grow at different rates, becoming adults. We want them to train in a way that does not disturb their physical development. That is why we use a track-link system, which gives us a lot of knowledge about when to relieve a given player a bit, and when to intensify his daily activities”.