The Feyenoord Academy, or Varkenoord as it is known in Holland as one of the premier developmental environments in the country. With famed graduates such as Robin Van Persie, Royston Drenthe, Jordie Clasie & Leroy Fer (to name a few) the club has won the Rinus Michels Award for best academy in the country multiple times.

Player Development Project was interested to know more about just what goes on at Feyenoord so we caught up with foundation phase coach and brain behaviour and learning researcher, Glenn van der Kraan.

Glenn is a young man forming a strong reputation in player development with Feyenoord. So how did he start his football journey? Glenn explains, “I played football from the age of 4 or 5. I’ve got two older brothers as well and we played for our village football club. When I was 13 I started coaching youth teams at the village club and my brother was coaching the U19s at the same club.” He continues, “Football was very much part of our family, my father was a sports journalist so we were always watching or talking football and I was brought up on the game.”

Having had a taste of coaching at a very young age, Glenn began his qualifications whilst still at school, explaining, “When I got to the age of 16 I started to do my first qualifications in coaching and really enjoyed the courses. I got my first UEFA badge at 18 just as I finished college. From there, I decided I would stop playing football at about 19 and went off to University in Brussells.”

So although Glenn is involved now works for Feyenoord his journey began at Anderlecht, a club he describes as, “one of the best academies in the world who have always produced talent.” Ironically it was whilst at Anderlecht that Stanley Brard, Head of Academy at Feyenoord saw Glenn coaching and offered him the chance to work at the Rotterdam club. He explains, “I had moved back to Holland because I wanted to continue my study there but stayed involved at Anderlecht. Luckily for me I took an Anderlecht team in a tournament against Feyenoord and Stanley saw me coaching in French with a Belgian accent and some Dutch and thought, ‘what the hell is this?”’ He continues, “We had a conversation and he invited me to work with Feyenoord. Working with someone like Stanley has been phenomenal, he has been a huge influence in my development as a coach.”

Glenn’s research around human behaviour caught our attention so we were interested to understand more about his work and how Feyenoord are implementing it. Glenn explains, “I studied human movement sciences but my focus was on talent development. I started reading several books about the brain during my study and this really captured my attention. I did some research in collaboration with the University of Amsterdam and University of Tilburg working alongside neuroscientists who specialised in research on the brain and intelligence and I wanted to apply this to the football pitch.”

So what elements of football did Glenn focus on? He elaborates, “The focus of my research was on decision making on the pitch. Firstly, I wanted to look at what attributes a young, talented football player has that would allow them to make it in to the first team above other players in an academy environment. Research around the pre-frontal lobe (the front side of the brain) has certain executive functions. This means they have certain executive skills that are better developed than other players. For example, an executive function or skill could be flexible thinking, coping with feedback, handling pressure or stress and short-term memory. Of course all of these things apply in football, particularly around decision making, thinking under stress and dealing with your coach. The conclusion of this research was that players with better developed executive functioning skills in these areas have a better chance of succeeding as a football player.”

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Dave Wright
Dave Wright
Dave Wright is a Co-founder of Player Development Project & academy coach based in London.
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