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UTR! Diaries: Intensity of play and approach to training, games - thatโ€™s the biggest difference between football in Spain and Singapore, says UTR! Scholarship recipient Natasha

Eight promising Singapore youth footballers were awarded the inaugural Unleash The Roar! Overseas Scholarship in August 2023 to further their football development in either Spain or the United States. The talented male and female footballers, who are between the ages of 15 and 17, have been training hard at the IMG Academy in Florida and the ESC LaLiga & NBA in Madrid. In this series, we hear from these athletes on how they are coping with life overseas.

๐’๐ž๐ซ๐ข ๐€๐ฒ๐ฎ ๐๐š๐ญ๐š๐ฌ๐ก๐š ๐๐š๐ฌ๐ณ๐ซ๐ข, 16, ESC LaLiga

Having grown up playing football in Singapore, the first thing that hit me after moving to Spain is how different the approach to the game is here.ย 

Football is serious business in Spain. And once youโ€™re on the pitch, you are expected to give your all - 100 per cent. Nothing less.

My coaches and teammates put in 100 per cent during training and matches and that culture of giving your all is the foundation of what we do here. The intensity of training is much higher in Spain than in Singapore - and we make sure we replicate that same intensity during matches. Photo by Ng Chrong Meng.

It starts from the simple things like being punctual to training and making sure you are properly attired. The coaches demand it and this strict approach helps instil discipline in the team.ย 

From there, it then translates to the work you put in training and matches.

Again, your full attention and effort is demanded, from not just the coaches but also your teammates. Even at training, everyone is fully focused and tries their best. No one is going easy or saving themselves for match-day because you have to fight for your place and earn the right to be in the starting line-up on game day.

Iย remember during the first training, I was really tired as I was not used to the training at such a high intensity. But as time went on, I started to get used to the fast tempo of our training and felt really good about it.

My teammates helped me as well by encouraging me to do better and giving me moral support. For this year, we started to do more technical, tactical and fitness work.

For example, we have a drill in which we have to run box to box in under 20 seconds and we do this for four minutes straight. We do two sets of this in training and do this drill three times a week.

Our coaches constantly remind us that we must train the way we play, so that we can improve faster. My team does possessions really well and this is because we do possession drills during training that help the team improve our understanding of each other. It forces us to think faster of what to do when we have the ball and how to win the ball back when we don't have it.

Since I have been here, there is a clear improvement in my game play and my decision-making ability on the ball. I usually play as a defensive midfielder and I have also improved my ability to switch plays during the match. My fitness has also improved over time as we have to run a lot during trainings.

Knowing how much I have improved over these five months makes me excited of the kind of player I can become at the end of my scholarship in two years.ย 

Playing against quality opposition

During matches, everyone works together and has the same goal: to win. Everyone supports each other and encourages one another. The games are also played much faster compared to Singapore.

One of the things I enjoy the most about Spain is how we get to play quality opposition regularly. We usually take on teams in Spain, but sometimes, we also have the opportunities to compete against teams from other countries. One of the foreign teams that we played against was Sao Paulo from Brazil and we drew 1-1 against them.

We also played against Atletico Madrid before the Christmas break but lost 0-3, which was a learning opportunity for us to improve. I leaned a lot by playing against them as the difference was that they were much faster in pace and also quicker in decision-making.

I scored my first goal in Spain last year - a long-distance goal against Olympia Las Rozas Juvenil. But that was the only goal I scored so far and I hope to get more amazing goals for the team this year.

It was a great feeling to score my first goal - and a greater feeling that it was quite a good goal, a top-corner shot from long range. Photo by Ng Chrong Meng.

Living a dream at ESC LaLiga

I feel blessed to be in a programme that exposes me to high-level football training and competition while also making sure I keep up with my studies.

At ESC LaLiga, both football and studies take equal priority.ย 

A typical day here would start at just after 7am. I would freshen up and go down for breakfast at around 7:50am, as school starts at 8:45am. After breakfast, we would have lessons from 8:45 to 10:15am and training from 10:45am to 12:15pm. We would then have 15 minutes to shower before going back to school at 12:30pm.ย 

Lessons then continue from 12:30 to 3pm and then we have our lunch. Lunch is 50 minutes and we have to be back in school at 3:50pm. Then we will have our last lesson till 4:45 pm when everybody is dismissed.ย 

Life at ESC LaLiga, is perfect for a young footballer like me. Our school, training ground, dormitories, gym are all under one roof and that makes it very conducive to study and train. Photo by Ng Chrong Meng.

After that, on some days we will have a second training after school which is usually at 5 or 6pm. If there are two training sessions in a day, they would make one a gym session and the other a field session. After training, we would have free time to catch up on our homework until 8 pm and then I would go get dinner. After dinner, I would hang around with my friends in the game room and play some foosball sometimes.

I love my team and we have a very close bond. Since I'm living with all of my teammates, I always see them every day. We would talk about how our lives were or things about them and from there we would know each other more. We are all from different countries and have different cultures and backgrounds, so from just hearing each otherโ€™s stories, we are already building connections between us and learning more about each other and our countries. ESC LaLiga also provides activities during the weekend that help the team bond and bring us closer. The highlight so far was a trip to the Atletico Madrid stadium to watch them play a Champions League match.

Video by ๐’๐ž๐ซ๐ข ๐€๐ฒ๐ฎ ๐๐š๐ญ๐š๐ฌ๐ก๐š ๐๐š๐ฌ๐ณ๐ซ๐ข

Excited to be improving everyday

While I am adjusting well to life in Spain, I do of course find myself missing my family and friends. But with Wifi, they are just a video call away.

Other than that, I miss the food in Singapore because I canโ€™t find some of the delicious local food such as my favorite dish, Maggie Goreng, here.

But overall, life at ESC LaLiga has been truly wonderful.ย 

I have improved so much in just five months in Spain. With two more years of the scholarship to go, I am very excited to see just what kind of player I can develop into at the end of my scholarship. Photo by Ng Chrong Meng.

The whole set-up is just so conducive to chase your football dreams and it is up to you how hard you want to work to be better. For me, I found a new love in hitting the gym and actually look forward to going to the gym since it is available every day and we can go there anytime in the day.

Iโ€™m looking forward to being the best version of myself and improving every day.

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