Image: Player Development - The Residential Academy

Player Development - The Residential Academy

Posted by Marketing, 2nd May 2017

GIS’ business consultant and former D1 College Player, Stewart Abrahart recently visited the GIS European Residential Academy program in Verona, Italy. Here are some of his insights into the experiences of that time there, looking after our Elite players.

Waking up to a fresh espresso or a Paluani Chocolate Croissant are sensations that became so familiar while in Verona Italy. My journey starts back when I was a lot younger, filled with youthfulness and opportunity.

I too, was once an aspiring young football player. Back in the days when ODP, Disney All-Stars and Region League were all ‘higher standard’ football programs that I was a part of.

But seeing the experience these boys have at Chievo Verona takes me back to the days when football was played without a care in the world, with nothing but aspiration and dreams. Back when simple things such as the fresh smell of grass, or the touch of a round-shaped ball, were taken for granted. Back when opportunities, such as the Chievo Verona Residential Camp, didn’t exist – the epitome of a true elite experience.

Spending 10 days here has brought me back to my playing days, but has also given me an appreciation for the opportunity these boys have. Truly, this is a worldwide Residential Academy, with boys coming from Australia, Canada, Hawaii, California, and the Northeast US. GIS is offering a remarkably unique experience for all aspiring kids.

I’m actually not “too” old (just 24 years young)! But when it comes to football and regressing to the memories of the past, I’m all too old! Seeing these boys with so much time ahead of them makes me wish I could jump into their shoes and run out there with them for their latest training session.

Only a year ago I was playing Division 1 soccer at UAB, yet it seems a lifetime has passed since those days. Maybe because I miss the sport, maybe because I miss the feeling of going out to practice with friends or maybe because I miss getting pumped up for a big match! Whatever it is, whatever that feeling was that gave me such a buzz, I miss it.

The ‘Chievo Verona Experience’ really opens the doors to techniques that have been honed for years, techniques that have been cultivated for decades. One might not notice this ‘Italian way’ unless you’ve had the unique experience of playing in different countries and having been able to learn and study their methods.

When I was 17 I was offered a 1-year contract at Sheffield Wednesday, after doing a 2-week trial. At the time I was already fully committed to UAB, a highly regarded Division 1 program in Alabama. It was one of the toughest decisions of my life, which culminated with me deciding to play in college; the good news is there is no correct way to do it, and the Chievo Residential Program gives kids the opportunity to choose between the college game and the professional one, or at least prepares you for both.

As well as giving the boys an opportunity to learn a new language, live in a different country and gain valuable life experience, it also allows them to continue their studies. The boys wake up, go to practice, eat loads of pasta, get to see the city, and talk Italian to their peers, just to name a few of the benefits. If I only had a program that offered half of those when I was the same age, (14-17), I would have jumped at the opportunity!

Unfortunately for me, my career slowed due to injuries in college, and I didn’t get the opportunity to chase my professional dream. But coming to Italy really showed me the difference in techniques between the English, Germans, Italians, and all the other superpowers us “football-heads” have become so accustomed to.

It wasn’t until I was on the pitch with an Italian when I realized the natural way their foot caresses the ball with every touch, almost as if every touch is telling the ball, “it’s okay, I’ll take care of you.” I was amazed by the assuredness on the ball, as well as their ability to turn and change directions so naturally. They have an incredible ability to make every touch a deceptive one – giving the opponent a sense of dizziness when trying to follow their next move (I experienced this first hand).

One weekend the boys got the Primavera (Chievo’s U23s), to play with us in a ‘pick-up’ match. Another exciting opportunity the Chievo Residential Academy provides is that you are living alongside some of the next generation of professionals, some being as young as 16. But boy, was I in for a surprise! These kids were so incredibly deceptive. Now I know why it’s so hard to guard players like Messi. Deceptiveness can be taught, and it has been cultivated right here in Chievo. Every single player at this Academy must have this ability. It is taught, developed and then practiced until it becomes flawless.

Without digressing anymore, the experience was as much an eye-opener for myself as it has been for these boys. Gaining an insiders perspective to a Serie A club, that has been producing players for years, is an invaluable one.

Whatever your goal, whether it is playing professional football, playing in college, or gaining valuable life experience, all of this can be accomplished here at Chievo Verona.

Coming from one recently retired athlete to the many young players out there pursuing their dreams, do whatever it takes to get you closer to your goal. Hindsight is a great thing, and being able to provide it for others is even better. Pursue your dreams, work hard in school, enjoy yourself, and everything else will fall into place.

From one retired athlete to the next professional one.

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