How Nic De Jong is going global to help Brisbane City
2019 will be Nic’s second season at City and he will be charged with taking on the SAP Under 12 team and NPL Under 13’s, two key age groups that are classed as bridging age groups, where players move from the nine-a-side to the 11-a-side game.
The continuity of having Nic work across the two groups will be invaluable, and for Nic, immensely rewarding.
“For me, that transition space is really interesting, because you can make such an impact on those kids moving from 9-a-side to 11-a-side.
“Seeing those guys move from a skills acquisition phase into this development phase where they being to realise, ‘it’s not just about my skills anymore, it’s about space and movement and understanding roles and positions’, it is one of my favourite parts of the game.”
“It’s changing every day,” Nic continued.
“If you compare it to the 15’s, it’s still interesting, but you can get set into your ways with them, which you can’t do with the 13’s.”
Changing from small sided games to full, 11-a-side involves complementary skills, but it is not the same, and Nic relishes the opportunity to help the young players transition into their new environment.
“The interesting part of it all is that now the boys need to work out, ‘ok now this is what a small space is like, when and where do I make my movements on a big field now.’”
“The good youth development coaches can help them understand space and where they need to be, and guide them towards learning that.”
Nic has always considered himself a student of the game, and his continuing push for ongoing professional development has helped him make valuable contacts around the world.
“For the last couple of years I’ve been heading to Japan,” Nic said.
“I’m so interested in their footballing culture, they work in a completely different way and they understand the game in a completely different style because they are so isolated, like us, so they’ve had to develop their own philosophies on how to play,” Nic said.
“It’s a really attractive way in which they play, ideas that are so unique that we can bring to us because we have so many unique ideas here that we can give them.
“Over the years I’ve struck up a partnership with Cerezo Osaka where I’ve taken some under 12 players over there to play in some really intense competitions.
“This year [German side] Hoffenheim were at the same competition. They were top quality teams, and their coaches were just as good.”
“You can always tell the quality of a coach when they can stand silently on the bench and watch their team annihilate you, and you’re there pulling your hair out!
“We had many conversations over dinners, we shared some ideas, philosophies and they’d seen my boys and had said ‘hey how have you developed those guys, what practices have you been using’.
“They are so interested in Australian football because it’s new, it’s raw.
“I told them a few things and they asked would I be interested in coming over and showing us, showing our region what you’ve been doing.”
Pushing the boundaries
That opportunity lead to Nic travelling to Hoffenheim in October, thanks to funds from the Brisbane City sponsor group, where he was able to witness the Hoffenheim revolution first-hand.
Hoffenheim, as a club, are something of a set of revolutionaries.
Years of middling far below even Germany’s Regionaliga, plumbing the depths of the Kreigkasse A, the ninth tier of German football abruptly ended when Dietmar Hopp (owner of software giant SAP) invested his millions into the tiny village club that he played for as a junior.
The club’s meteoric rise has lead them to the Champions League and dates with Manchester City, amongst others.
Their tiny catchment area (Hoffenheim is a village of around 4,000 people in the Sinsheim area of south west Germany) and relative inexperience at the top level has meant that the club’s hierarchy is open to any and all suggestions as to how to improve and push new boundaries.
That, in tern, has lead to an amenable group eager to learn and exchange ideas, to Nic’s benefit.
“I spent a month there and stayed with the Academy and saw what they were doing in terms of their development, their ideas from their under 8’s up to their under 19’s – they are in the Champions League now so they have developed and moved so quickly themselves, and this is probably why, because they are getting the best possible stuff every year.
“They are open to new ideas too, I think it was unbelievable because they don’t… in a way that Spain develops coaches to create creativity or awareness, they do the most German thing imaginable and make a machine to do that.”
The machine Nic is referring to is the Footbonaut – a room designed to help players improve their spatial awareness and touch – as seen in the video below – or read more here.
Needless to say, Nic was a fan.
“I played for about four hours on it, because it was amazing, I couldn’t get enough of it!” Nic said.
“They had some other cool stuff there too, like VR. They’re really pushing the boundaries.”
“They are pushing for the next level, they want to be the next ‘it’ club. They want to defy the odds.”
They are certainly doing that, and in the right way.
Nic saw first hand the impact that Mr Hopp has had on the entire town: “He’s built parks and all these beautiful things for the people, and said to the club, here’s the cash and they’ve gone from regional football to the Bundesliga and the Champions League really quickly.”
A common goal
Rapid development and growth, including thinking outside of the box is something Nic believes the two clubs have in common.
“I think these two clubs, and I’ve seen many clubs, are a good comparison. They are shooting through as quickly as we are. Maybe even a bit quicker,” Nic said.
“But looking at the overall picture, we’ve got everything here.”
“We’ve got top coaches, we’ve got really good players and we’re investing a lot of time and effort into those players.
“In SAP they’re training four nights a week, so they’re getting all this time with amazing coaches who are then going to develop them as really good players and really great people, so we’ve got this beautiful thing happening.
Nic thinks the future is very bright for the junior players are Brisbane City, as well as for the club as a whole.
“If the A-League happens, then these boys are going to go into that program as a really holistic player, and I think a lot of clubs at that A-League level are going to sit up and take notice.
“That’s what Hoffenheim do to. They’ve got this great youth program and when they get to 19 and 20, the players are already involved.
“Something I want to work on in the future is building this connection with Hoffenheim so I can say to kids, ‘do you want to go and visit Hoffenheim’, because if one or two of them are interested and get picked up, then that’s a success for us.
“At the moment, [Brisbane City] are a developing club because we want the best football in this country, but there is going to be a point where we say ‘right, hang on, we’re not going to develop them for anyone else, it’s going to be us at the top.’
“That’s the aim for us. It’s an exciting time that’s for sure.”