Anouschka Bernhard on talent development

FIFA, 11 Jul 2023


Ex-Germany defender Anouschka Bernhard won 47 caps and a European Championship with her country before moving into coaching. In this interview, she gives an outline of her varied coaching career and some fascinating insights into her philosophy, as well as explaining how Germany's national talent development system works.

Part 1 - Germany's youth system
Part 2 - Training young players

Part 1 - Germany's youth system

Bernhard's coaching career
After outlining what prompted her to move into coaching, Bernhard gives a brief summary of her career on the touchline. Success did not come immediately, but she went on to manage a wide variety of youth and senior teams in Germany and the United States. This breadth of experience accelerated her development and has made her more effective in her current role.

Bernhard's current role
Bernhard is currently in charge of talent development at all levels of the women's game in Schleswig-Holstein, one of Germany's 16 Federal States.  Specifically, that means she is in overall charge of the northern region's four Landesauswahlen, or regional XIs (one each at U12, U14, U16 and U19 level). She is also involved in training aspiring coaches looking to obtain their C and B-Licences.

How Germany's talent development system works
Germany's extensive network of established clubs allows youngsters to complete the first stage of their development close to home. Promising players are then invited to regional development centres, with the best being selected for regional sides and then for national youth teams. The best female players are invited to train with boys, creating diversity that leads to better results.

Why girls should train with boys
Having girls train with boys creates an additional challenge for female players and can accelerate their development. At the same time, though, girls should also have right to play with and against other girls. This is the rationale behind the principle of Zweitspielrecht, or "the right to play twice", a concept that is fundamental to the German youth development system.

Other factors to consider
Germany has a strong youth development system, but there are still major weaknesses to be addressed. The lack of female role models for young players is a key issue, as is the lack of a clear pathway for talented young women to progress from their clubs to the senior national side. Bernhard believes that raising the profile of the women's game would do much to alleviate these problems.

Part 2 - Training young players

What a good youth training session looks like
According to Bernhard, you can judge how good a training session was from the number of players who want to take part in the next one. Exactly what goes into a successful training session varies depending on the ages and abilities of the players involved, but football is a game, and it needs to be fun. 

Adapting training to different age groups
As young players move through the age groups, the focus of their training changes. Some girls at U12 level have only been playing football for three years, so it's no surprise their training sessions emphasise the importance of technical skills. By the time they reach the U19s, on the other hand, the focus shifts towards tactics and the finer points of team play. 

How to train girls from U12 to U15 level
Bernhard is keen to ensure that young players get plenty of experience of the kinds of situations they will find in games, because if a player has never been in a given situation in training, they won't be able to react to that situation in a game. At the same time, she stresses the importance of developing basic athleticism, and not making players specialise too much, too soon.

The importance of doing your homework 
As a coach at regional rather than club level, Bernhard is limited in the support she can give, but she does provide individual "homework" to help players address their weaknesses and, just as importantly, to hone their strengths into powerful weapons. Players destined for the very top will invest in doing these exercises, thus elevating their performance above that of enthusiastic amateurs. 

Learning to take responsibility
Bernhard expects her players to take responsibility for themselves, rather than simply responding to instructions from their coaches. The best players don't need to be told to look after their bodies, and will train on their own initiative to maximise their performance on the pitch.

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