Tips From FC Schalke 04’s Bodo Menze on Youth Development
The German youth development system provides world class training and a pathway to continuing the future of dominance in the game of soccer. FC Schalke’s former, long-time youth academy director Bodo Menze flew to the USA for the 2017 NSCAA Convention and shared his insights on the game with youth soccer coaches hungry for his expertise. Menze has developed many youth players who have made the successful leap into the Bundesliga.
The FC Schalke 04 is often referred to as simply S04. One of the top football clubs in Europe, Schalke 04 came in as the #7 best team in Europe by UEFA‘s 2014 club rankings. As of today, Schalke is ranked #9 in the Bundesliga. And ranked #15 in UEFA for their performances in Europe, and the club is the fourth largest sports club in the world — in terms of membership, with 145,000 members.
Youth Soccer News: Some of the most well-known soccer minds gathered in Los Angeles for the 2017 NSCAA Convention for 5 days of immersion in to the wonderful world of soccer — as well top flight coaching education and extensive networking.
A hot topic at this year’s NSCAA Convention was how to take America’s youth soccer players to the next level.
While FC Schalke 04 is not as well known a name as FC Bayern München, the club is very well known in the top circles of player development and is recognized for honing the skills of Benedikt Höwedes, Julian Draxler, Manuel Neuer and Mesut Özil — all players who known as products of the ‘Knappenschmiede ‘ academy. Developing youths who can play on the German National Team and hope to win World Cups is an achievement few can claim.
What is this system of development?
The youth development academy of the FC Schalke 04 — also known to fans as the Royal Blues — is broken down into two age specific sections: U9s to U15s and U16s to U23s. The transition to the U16s marks the start of competitive level of the sport.
The Knappenschmiede relies on coaches with the highest possible qualifications and expertise in every department.
Bodo Menze, is known as the architect of Schalke’s famous “Knappenschmiede” Youth Academy, has produced a stream of world-class players across Germany and UEFA. Menze came to the USA for the NSCAA Convention last week and hosted both classroom and field sessions highlighting FC Schalke’s development tactics.
Menze was joined by Gerald Asamoah the legendary Schalke striker and German National Team player who is now Club Ambassador.
SoccerToday’s Diane Scavuzzo spoke with Bodo Menze on why his program at FC Schalke 04 has been so successful for developing youth soccer players
Gracious, open-minded and easy to talk to, Bodo Menze is a charming man with legendary credentials.
“It is why I love to be here — to share experiences — but to also take something back with me and to learn from this perspective,” said Menze.
Diane Scavuzzo: Is this the first NSCAA Convention you have attended?
Bodo Menze: Yes. It’s my first NSCAA Convention. I am rather thrilled by it — to meet all the personalities of great football and all the organizations represented here. It’s really surprising for me. It is so huge.
Diane Scavuzzo: What are you most surprised about?
Bodo Menze: The biggest surprise for me is the convention center with all the special points of football. It’s extremely organized as well. The preparation phase for this convention was very good — everything has been excellent including the animations for the on-field sessions.
Diane Scavuzzo: The questions you have received in your sessions — what do you think of the level or knowledge of the American coaches here?
Bodo Menze: I think that the level is rather high. I can learn here as well.
What did surprise me a little bit was the existence of the two systems we are working in – Germany/Europe and America – these are totally different from each other.
Diane Scavuzzo: When you say totally different, what do you mean?
Bodo Menze: For example, in Germany we have a base of young players who are all going in the same direction. A big group of players working on reaching for the higher level. It is one system.
My feeling — without knowing everything from here — is that there are different organizations that work on football. Do they really work together?
How does this benefit the player? For me, it is a question of orientation. It seems to be a little bit easier to understand the development process that transpires in Germany.
Diane Scavuzzo: From your perspective, what does your development program at Schalke do better than anyone else?
Bodo Menze: Nothing.
We do not do anything better. What I would say is there is no secret of success in Germany.
The former president of the federation Gerhard Mayer-Vorfelder – he fought for the new system of obligation of first and second division Bundesliga teams to have obligatory academy programs with certain curriculum structures with highly trained coaches.
Diane Scavuzzo: When I interviewed German World Cup Champion Paul Breitner a couple of years ago, he said soccer players are not athletes, they are artists …
Bodo Menze: I am not sure if this correct. Today’s youth players in Germany are very athletic — every club has an athletic coach besides a football coach. The game has developed to a much more athletic sport than ever before.
Diane Scavuzzo: With more than twenty years as the director of the youth academy, what changes have you seen in the game? Do you think that the speed of soccer is much faster?
Bodo Menze: Yes, absolutely. And the first touch is even more important than in years past.
Diane Scavuzzo: Is the game of soccer played faster in Germany than in the USA?
Bodo Menze: No. I would say that there is no difference there. Perhaps there is a difference in continuity of formation. Perhaps maybe there is difference of the patience of the parents or coaches.
Diane Scavuzzo: Do you think German parents are more patient?
Bodo Menze: They used to be. The big difference is that all our players in our academy do not pay anything. It is quite different in America. The parents have to pay …
Diane Scavuzzo: Except in the highest level of academies. For example, parents do not have to pay if their child is selected to play in an MLS Development Academy.
Does a ten-year-old have to pay in Germany?
Bodo Menze: No. We begin our academy at the age of 9.
In my view, this is the right moment to begin a tough player’s career in football.
In our FC Schalke 04 Academy, we have 11 teams from U9 through U23.
The transition phase is very essential in my eyes. Consistency is important.
The transition phase is discussed in Europe — I am Vice-Chairman of the European Club Association (ECA) as well. We have a lot of discussions in the academies of Europe of what is the best way for the transition youth players.
Diane Scavuzzo: What do you think is the biggest mistake most youth soccer coaches make?
Bodo Menze: I think the biggest mistake is to be impatient.
Very often, youth soccer coaches put too much pressure on the youth player.
The freedom for the kids to play soccer freely — and with creativity — is taken away in a structure that is overloaded with content and time.
Diane Scavuzzo: Do you believe soccer players need to be creative?
Bodo Menze: I think that for sure, especially if they want to reach the World Class level then they absolutely have to be creative.
Diane Scavuzzo: For a striker to be successful on the soccer pitch, what do you think they need?
Bodo Menze: He or she needs the capability to not overthink things. If the striker overthinks a situation for too long, and if they have several plans, and compares the plans within seconds and asks themselves what he or she should do – it’s already too late.
It is better for a striker to not reflect or think too much, but to be there and feel the situation and have the right solution.
Diane Scavuzzo: After your playing career in Europe, when did you become a coach?
Bodo Menze: I am now in my 32nd year in youth football. I have built up the FC Schalke 04 academy with a lot of people. The goal was to bring big continuity, an emphasis on patience if possible, and a focus on excellent coaches with UEFA licensing together to develop a world class soccer academy.
To keep great coaches and players for a rather long time, I think you must be loyal to them.
Manuel Neuer, he was with Schalke for 20 years. He came as a four-year-old boy and he left at the age of 24/25.
Diane Scavuzzo: What does a goalkeeper need to know to be successful?
Bodo Menze: A goalie needs courage, athletic, but on the other side he must be agile and should be well educated. In my eyes, Neuer is the best goalkeeper in the world.
Diane Scavuzzo: Why?
Bodo Menze: Neuer is the completest goalkeeper I ever saw.
Neuer has perfect timing, super reflexes on the line, marvellous in space, calm and self-confident as no other one, Neuer makes game very fast with fantastic quick decisions and super precise passes by throw by hand and pass by foot.
Neuer has a silence to wait in the last moment and it is fantastic to follow. Where other goalkeepers get nervous, Neuer has the self-confidence to stay quiet — which is enormous.
Diane Scavuzzo: How important is confidence for a youth soccer player?
Bodo Menze: Confidence is very important. A coach has a lot to do with a players confidence and their success in the game,
Diane Scavuzzo: Do you think most youth soccer coaches understand how powerful they are for helping or hurting a player’s confidence?
Bodo Menze: They should. Youth soccer coaches should know that they have a big influence on all that happens for young players.
I would say their influence is the biggest — in comparison to a teacher in school who has to give notes to the parents. I am also a parent, my kids are now 31 and 27 and I know all the difficult age of 13/14 when players do not always hear what the parents tell them — but the coach still has an influence.
Coaches should notice of their influence over players and be aware of it.
Diane Scavuzzo: Technical ability, tactical ability, soccer IQ, coach-ability – what do you think is the most important?
Bodo Menze: Personality and education are most important in my eyes.
Sometimes I wish the players would not get such a huge sum of money in a contract at the age of 19 when he has never learned to deal with money in his life.
Even the parents do not know what to do. This is the moment where the dangerous agents arrive and take the parents and the player, and make decisions which are very good for agent but not always in the best interest of the player.
Diane Scavuzzo: How important is it for a soccer player to learn how to deal with failure?
Bodo Menze: It is extremely important to learn how to deal with failure in the younger years — it is critical to learn how to win and to lose — and how to handle the loss.
Also, to learn from the loss in order to create a better opportunity for success in the future — if the opponent gives the chance. To do it better next time.
There are days when the opponent is too strong and you have to accept it. This is to be taught as well.
I know that wins are normal, but it is the losses that kill me. I tell all of the coaches, do not always take a loss personally because you will die from of it.
Player development tip: In the younger years, it is important not to play games against teams that are always weaker. It is not worth it to win a game 12 to 0.
Diane Scavuzzo: What does it take to win?
Bodo Menze: It takes a winning mentality to win.
Every Monday morning in our city in Germany, you can look in the eyes of the people – you can see if they are happy or not — and you know if our team won or lost.
This is a big responsibility. That is why I think it is very crucial that all our players in Schalke have this identification and understand this responsibility we share.
Diane Scavuzzo: Is there any moment in your career that you could go back and change?
Bodo Menze: No. I am very thankful that I have had this career. Coming to Schalke was a big adventure for me. The club was relegated in the 80’s three times and in October 1990, I smelled that they will be successful.
When I was born, I lived across from the first stadium of Schalke. I was electrified. My uncle carried the flag in the stadium’s opening ceremony. I am totally Royal Blue — I always knew I would come back home to Schalke.
Diane Scavuzzo: How would you describe your club in comparison to a rival like Borussia Dortmund?
Bodo Menze: It’s the same club, same people, same tradition, but 35 kilometers East.
It’s the same, and if you look at the history of both clubs you will understand that they traveled a very parallel pathway. I remember in 1997, the win of Dortmund’s UEFA Champions League win and the win of our UEFA Cup – we are always together. It’s very interesting to follow. Not everyone knows this, but I do.
Diane Scavuzzo: What does America do wrong in youth soccer?
Bodo Menze: I do not want to say anything is done wrong because everything is fine when I look at the books and the programs.
Diane Scavuzzo: Do you think America will ever win a World Cup?
Bodo Menze: I’m sure they can be able to win, why not? I think there is a wonderful progress in the development of American football (soccer).
There are three American boys at the Schalke Academy. They are now in the right situation because they have chosen the correct academy with an experienced coach and functioning club. That is why I have hope.
I am not naive enough to say that a 12-year-old boy who has a big talent today will reach the Bundesliga when he turns twenty. My experience tells me, even a 19-year-old who is talented and has had good education and program – even this talented player needs the lucky moment and confidence from a coach. Also he must have his lucky moment when he gets into the match — to have positive actions for all to see. And if not, I know the journalists in Europe will kill him.
Want to know more about this German soccer club? FC Schalke is …
FC Schalke is one of the most popular teams in Europe with a passionate fan base that spans the world. Based in the Ruhr area — about 25 miles from Dusseldorf — the club’s nickname “Die Knappen” stems from the old German word for “miners” because in the early days many players were from the coalmines of Gelsenkirchen.
FC Schalke plays in top international soccer competition with fans often cheering for the team in the UEFA Champions League and Europa League competitions.
Editor’s Note: Article Updated on 1.21.17