When I discussed my upcoming trip with friends and other coaches, the most common question I got was "Why the Czech Republic?" instead of soccer clubs in Germany or Holland or England. There answer is two fold. First, is entirely personal. My family immigrated from Bohemia, now the western Czech Republic over 100 years ago. They immigrated at the height of assimilationist tendencies in the United States, and if the success of my family is any indicator, they assimilated well. Sadly, however, the culture was lost to the point that I have almost no familiarity with the Czech culture or history. So, in one respect, this trip is a personal journey that I have wanted to make for a long time. However, there are sound soccer reasons. The Czech Republic has around 10,000,000 people, 300,000 registered players, and a professional league that is sound, but not mentioned in the same breath with Western European leagues. Yet, at the time of my trip the Czech National team was ranked second in the world by FIFA, following an undefeated qualifying performance for EURO 2000. That's second behind Brazil. Ahead of England, Germany, France, Italy, Argentina, Mexico . . . should I continue? Clearly, the Czech FA and the development programs run by the clubs there are doing something right. My hope in making this trip was to learn what the trainers working with the future professionals emphasize. Are there recurring themes in the training, in the styles of play? Most importantly, I hoped to take some of the ideas i saw and incorporate it into my training, and hopefully help develop my players more completely. I have always said that coaching education is more than license classes. It is a continuing process of exposing yourself to new ideas and challenging yourself to question your assumptions and beliefs. By watching other coaches work, you have the opportunity to reifne your own approach and provide your players with a better soccer experience. In publishing my journal, I hope you can benefit from some of the things I observed. Please forgive the personal asides and observations included herein. I couldn't help myself!
The trip has started, way too early for my tastes. I woke up around 4:30 a.m. in Austin to get checked in for my 6:30 a.m. flight on Continental to Newark. In Newark, I am to transfer to Czech Airlines for the non-stop to Prague. To start with, I find out that all the flight numbers have been changed since my purchase, as well as the flight schedule. I now arrive in Newark a few minutes earlier and leave about 45 minutes later. This makes a scheduled 6 ½ hour layover in Newark.
Let me go on record as saying Newark is quite possible the worst airport in the U.S. I used to give that honor to DFW, but at least DFW has decent services. Everything in Newark is under construction. The international departure terminal has the strangest security ever. Not only do you have to have a ticket to get on the concourse, there are all sorts of rules about when you can go on the concourse with your ticket.
Apparently these rules are too complex for the brilliant minds contracted to keep us safe, because I get three different answers, each progressively later, as I wait for the opportunity to go sit in the boarding area. This wouldnt be terrible except that there are no shops in the main terminal and there are no chairs either.
Finally I get to the boarding area and the flight is late. Oh well, I think, this is the start of a huge misadventure. But what a pleasant surprise. The service on CSA was as good as I have ever had. Their international coach service exceeds most domestic first class by far. I was also lucky that I was able to reserve a seat in the exit row. I was able to stretch out and relax and even got about 5 hours of sleep (timed with Czech nighttime) which put me way ahead in beating jet lag. I think the Melatonin has helped. The hardest thing was avoiding caffeine all day long. Finally about 6:30 a.m. Prague time, I gave in and had a cup of coffee. This was a big help, and I rationalized it by saying that if I were up at this time, Id damn well be drinking coffee.
Arrival in Prague was on time and Czech customs is the easiest I have ever seen. What they do behind the scenes I have no clue; but the passport entry and customs check was a breeze. All my luggage arrived, there were no long lines and I cruised right through. I was even able to exchange about $200 in the airport at a 33:1 rate.
Things just got better from there. Roman Vlk, the Director of Youth Teams at F.K. Teplice met me at the airport. He had his 16 year old daughter, Katka, with him, and she speaks almost perfect English. That was important, because Mr. Vlk speaks a little English and my Czech is weak to say the least. She translated for us on the way back to Teplice and then went on to school.
I arrived at the hotel and checked in. The Hotel Prince DeLigne (picture) is a 4 star hotel in Teplice. My room is a single with telephone and satellite television. It overlooks a square with a statue and an old church, along with the Teplice Museum and several shops. After a shower and a change of clothes, I met Mr. Vlk and we traveled to Decin to observe a match between 1985 players.
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©2000 Scott Placek