skills.lab: Oliver, could you briefly explain to our readers what the ÖFB’s Projekt12 is?
Lederer: In a nutshell, Projekt12 is a joint project of the Austrian Football Association (ÖFB) and the football academies to promote, support and accompany Austria’s most talented players in an intensive manner. From my point of view, an important part of this is the cooperation with skills.lab. If we were to discuss all facets of Projekt12 in detail, it would probably go beyond the scope of this interview (laughs).
skills.lab: What criteria are used to select the Projekt12 players?
Lederer: The five most talented players of each year group are sought. The players are nominated jointly by the talent coaches, academy directors and the respective national coaches. In the run-up to the selection, the players are observed over a longer period of time and there is a lively exchange among all those involved. Ideally, those players who will then be accompanied on their way to the professional level and almost throughout their entire national team career are already selected at the U15 level.
skills.lab: As U16 national coach, you accompany the development of Austria’s top talents. What is particularly important when dealing with players of this age?
Lederer: We are dealing with absolutely great talents. At the same time, we have to be aware that there are still a lot of development opportunities at this age. We are dealing with players in their sensitive phase. While some players are still in their adolescence, other players have already completed their adolescence. There are sometimes significant differences here – and not only in the area of sports motor skills. This fact also often makes an objective comparison of players difficult and it is a particular challenge to draw the right conclusions from performance tests. This is where the ÖFB’s partnership with skills.lab comes in very handy. In the skills.lab Arena, the physical differences between players don’t play such a big role, and players who are not yet that far advanced in their physical development can perform just as well as players who are already physically very advanced.
skills.lab: What impact have the past 13 months of the Corona pandemic had on the development of your players?
Lederer: Here you have to say that we are in an absolutely privileged situation. We all fall within the professional sports regulations and were able to pursue our sport more or less unchanged – of course under strict conditions and taking into account the prevention concept. The players were able to train and were also personally supervised. Of course, the situation was a very difficult one, especially at the beginning of the pandemic, when play was suspended. At the same time, however, the restriction on playing allowed us to really get to grips with each player intensively. We were able to work specifically on eliminating certain individual weaknesses, which is often not possible to this extent in normal day-to-day operations.
skills.lab: Your players will soon be taking assessments in the skills.lab Arena. What conclusions do you expect to draw from these assessments for your work?
Lederer: For us, the assessments in the skills.lab Arena are a unique opportunity to get to the heart of the players. The test battery, which was developed by Roland Goriupp (Head of Sports at skills.lab) and his team, is very “close to football”. For the first time, the focus is not on how well a player performs in the area of athletics from a sports science perspective. Rather, the focus is on the basic technical skills as well as the cognitive skills of each player. I am convinced that we will be able to draw very valuable conclusions here for the selection of the Projekt12 players. At the end of the day, we want the best football players, and in my opinion, there is no alternative to working with skills.lab, because nowhere else can individual skills be tested as well – and according to the latest scientific findings – as in the skills.lab Arena.
skills.lab: Technology has become our constant companion in every aspect of life. How does technology change the work of a trainer?
Lederer: Many things are already taken for granted today – video analysis, monitoring of the individual training load and much more. Refusing to embrace technology here is simply not an alternative, and basically no longer even possible. Through the cooperation with skills.lab, we have the opportunity to check the performance of the players even more precisely. When dealing with technologies of all kinds, the particular challenge is not to lose sight of the player – and thus the human being – in the process. If we can do that, then technologies like the skills.lab Arena are an absolutely supportive tool.
skills.lab: How can an assessment and training system like the skills.lab Arena support you in your daily work?
Lederer: In my role as U16 national coach, this question is a little more difficult to answer because we don’t deal with the players on a daily basis and unfortunately can’t come to the skills.lab with them every day either (laughs). For club coaches, working in the Arena is, from my point of view, very beneficial, especially in the area of individual training. It is unbelievable what opportunities arise here. In addition, the skills.lab Arena can also be a significant factor in the area of “return-to-play” after injuries by generating individual comparison values to better define the supposedly right time to return to team training or match action.
skills.lab: What do the buzzwords “contemporary training design” mean to you?
Lederer: The most important thing for me is that we stay with the player and thus with the human being itself. And that we try not to lose this focus at a time when we are being bombarded with a flood of information. It is damn difficult for any coach to correctly select all the information that’s out there and draw the right conclusions from it for each player. This didactic reduction – what reaches the player and what of it leads to the player understanding the game better – is the special challenge. We have to avoid becoming information giants on the one hand, but knowledge dwarfs on the other, because we simply don’t have the possibilities and the time to deepen all this knowledge. The player must remain in the foreground. That is the decisive criterion.
skills.lab: When do you consider Projekt12 to be successful?
Lederer: I can really only speak for myself here and not for everyone involved in Projekt12. I would like to see Projekt12 continue to grow and for the project to remain open to new possibilities at all times. The cooperation between the Austrian Football Association (ÖFB) and skills.lab shows that this path has already been taken successfully. Presumably, the skills.lab Arena will not be the same in five years as it is today. The same also applies to Projekt12, where we have to ensure that we continue to develop. I see it as an important further step that we have found the opportunity here in skills.lab to support the development of players in the area of technical and cognitive skills, perhaps more consistently than ever before.
skills.lab: Last but not least – on your Instagram channel you use the hashtag #derwegistdasspiel – what does this hashtag mean to you?
Lederer: As can be easily surmised, the hashtag is derived from the German phrase “Der Weg ist das Ziel” (“The way is the goal”). The background is that we very often deal with the definition of goals that we want to achieve. The question I personally ask myself is what happens when you reach a goal. That’s why the game in its infinity is the goal for me. This is basically about giving the game back to the players, as Max Doller, one of my co-coaches, so aptly put it. And that’s our path. Why did we start playing football in the first place? Most would say because we just like to play football and score goals. There is hardly anything that triggers greater joy in a person than a ball. Even at a young age, you see this huge joy in handling a ball, regardless of whether the kids will ever pursue a particular goal or career in football. Let them play. That’s basically our mission as a coaching team, and we are dedicated to it with full passion and the greatest possible enthusiasm.
skills.lab: Thank you very much for the interview!
Oliver Lederer (43) is a former professional football player (Rapid Wien, Admira Wacker, among others) and current coach of the Austrian U16 national team. He is active in the Austrian Football Association in the area of coach education and training as a department head and acts, among other things, as a course leader in the UEFA Elite Junior A diploma training.