The Lion City Sailors Academy recently demonstrated its commitment to forward-thinking youth development by showcasing its promising talents in the prestigious Puma Youth Champions League (YCL). Drawing inspiration from renowned European academies like the 15-time Dutch champions Feyenoord Rotterdam, the tournament featured various match formats catering to different age groups, from U-10 to U-18. Notably, the Sailors opted to challenge their players further by entering teams composed of players one age group younger than the competition categories, providing invaluable developmental experiences. Despite this challenge, the U-13, U-14, and U-18 teams emerged triumphant, showcasing the efficacy of their approach.

This strategic approach was bolstered by meticulous preparation. Preseason preparations spanned six weeks, focusing on physical and mental conditioning, team bonding, and friendly matches. 

Coach Hamqaamal of the Under-13 team elucidated their structured training regimen: "During a typical training week, the boys engage in technical sessions to hone individual skills for game situations. Additionally, we conduct team training sessions to develop attacking and defending strategies, exploring various options and solutions for weekend matches."

Echoing this systematic approach, Under-18 coach Danilo Tesić underscored the importance of a comprehensive training program for the older players.

"Training is multifaceted," said Tesić.

"It necessitates careful attention to players' subjective feelings, moods, and capabilities. We implemented a preparation regime to ensure optimal player condition for the YCL matches."

Competing against older and physically stronger teams presented significant challenges for players across different age groups. Mohamed Haqeem, an U-13 player competing in the U-14 category, shared his experience of facing stronger and faster opponents. 

"I managed by stepping back and avoiding contact when they were about to get the ball," said Haqeem.

Similarly, U-12 player Mika Syaqeel, competing in the U-13 category, highlighted the physicality of the competition. 

"Most of them are bigger, taller, and faster. I have to be smart with the ball to avoid duels I might lose," Mika noted, showcasing adaptability and strategic thinking amidst challenges.

U-17 player Ewan Seddon, who competed in the U-18 category, stressed the importance of quick play and high quality in overcoming older opponents' physicality. "To overcome that, our team had to play faster and with greater precision," Ewan explained.

He added a reflection on the camaraderie and joy found in the game.

"I learned to cherish every game and every minute on the pitch with my friends."

Moreover, the coaches played a pivotal role in guiding players to develop these crucial qualities. 

"The amount of sacrifices and effort the players and coaches have put in over the 18 weeks since the start of preseason is truly satisfying. I'm proud of everyone for ending the season as champions" said Hamqaamal.

Furthermore, he emphasised the importance of maintaining high standards and a winning mentality: "Training intensity and a winning mindset are crucial. The boys are constantly challenged and placed in a demanding environment, consistently meeting expectations week in and week out."

Participation in the Puma Youth Champions League has not only provided invaluable exposure and experience to the Lion City Sailors Academy players but has also served as a pivotal platform for their development, preparing them for future professional careers. Facing older opponents within the tournament has instilled a winning mentality and resilience in these young athletes. Moreover, the tournament's off-the-pitch experiences have enriched their overall growth and development.

The Lion City Sailors Academy's active participation in the Puma Youth Champions League stands as a testament to its unwavering commitment to nurturing top-tier football talent. The lessons learned from this experience will undoubtedly shape the future success of these young players. As Coach Tesić aptly put it, "We always strive for more, and the future looks bright for these young players."