PSV Eindhoven has been one of my favourite clients for some time now. In an ongoing project for the club’s magazine, I’m documenting the youth squads at their academy. Here’s some of my favourite images from the series, along with some of my experiences shooting these future superstars and my dream of shooting similar images with the world’s best athletes for brands.
My biggest dream
One of my biggest passions in shooting sports photography is showing the work and dedication that athletes put into every single day. I would absolutely love to document the day to day work of top athletes, capturing appealing images with a cinematic quality during their training sessions, many trips abroad and other aspects of their lifestyle. Probably my major dream would be to follow around the biggest sports teams or individual athletes in the world, showing the person behind the legend and doing justice to their hard work. I feel that this approach could really allow brands to showcase the lifestyles and dedication of their sponsored athletes. When PSV Eindhoven asked me to do basically just that with their youth squads, I couldn’t be more excited.
The PSV youth academy is situated in a forest on the border of Eindhoven and also hosts the first team’s training pitches and headquarters. It’s a lovely peaceful complex where visitors are welcome to watch their heros train, drink a cup of coffee and score some autographs. The total grounds area is called De Herdgang and has always had a reputation for being an open and warm place to come. At the same time this is where some major stars were born and raised and some of the most promising young players in the country train.
PSV wanted to shed some light on its unique youth academy by doing a series of articles in their club magazine and asked me to shoot the photos for these stories. Each edition of the ongoing series would focus on one team, event or specific subject, giving readers a very inclusive behind the scenes look at De Herdgang. I can’t give the club enough praise for opening up access to their teams for me like this, in my opinion this is quite unique and the approach resonates with me so much as I explained above.
Getting to grips with the unprecedented access to the PSV youth squads
So far, we’ve shot a very diverse range of subjects for the series. For the first edition, I was embedded with the under 17 squad, who were playing a home game that day. Along with the writer for the article, I was granted access to the team’s changing room. Now of course this is a slightly precarious situation that came up with the other teams as well: these are underage kids getting dressed. I therefore made it a habit to clearly communicate I would absolutely not be shooting anything not suitable for publication. It feels great to have the club trust me with this delicate subject matter.
During warm up I joined the team on the pitch, spending the actual game sitting besides the dugout watching the expressions of the substitutes and coaches. In hindsight I think this entry for the series was mostly about getting to grips with the unprecedented access I was given here, and seeing how I could use it to capture the best photos I could. While shooting the next editions of this series I was far better able to use this access to shoot the photos I wanted to shoot.
Mini professionals playing in a stadium
For the next edition of this series, I travelled with the under 12 youth squad, who were playing an away game in Maastricht that morning. I rode along in one of the club’s vans that are used for travel outside of Eindhoven. It was nice to be able to spend some time with the kids away from the pitch and connect a bit beforehand. It was also during that ride that I shot the photo below, which is still a favourite of mine from the entire project. For me, this kid is thinking about the game, but the distant yet focused gaze can also refer to his dreams for the future.
It was freezing cold on the pitch that day, with the game actually being played in the pro team MVV’s stadium. It was kind of funny to see these youngsters play in a proper stadium like nothing was going on. One thing that never ceases to capture my amazement when photographing young players, is that they seem to have two different identities. One minute, they’re like children fooling around and basically just acting their age. Then the next moment, when the game starts, they’re mini professionals, coaching each other and displaying an incredible focus. It’s amazing to see how PSV trains these kids to take responsibility and be a professional on the pitch. At the same time I don’t feel that the youth squads aren’t allowed the freedom to be kids when they have to, in my opinion there seems to be a healthy balance of the two.
Shooting the tiniest youth squads
PSV Eindhoven is enrolled in a special program with some other Dutch and Belgian teams called FUNdament (loosely translated as FUNdation). The main idea here is that the pitches the kids play on are small, teams are small so players each have a lot of ball possession, and most importantly the kids’ shirts don’t have the team logo on them. Not playing in the official team jersey helps alleviate some pressure from the youngsters and keeps them with both feet on the ground. In addition, this makes earning the right to play in the official team shirt once they make it to the next squad even more of an accomplishment and reward.
In this particular series I focused on how tiny these players were. Some of them are still incredible dreamers, while others are like little Messis, trying to pass 6 defenders and not being aware of their teammates around them. Of course the club teaches these kids to pass the ball to their teammates, but the sheer love of dribbling and passing opponents sometimes takes over.
When the shoes came off…
For one of the most recent editions of this series, I was embedded with a team that was doing their training session. It was fascinating to see how many playful elements their trainer managed to include in this session, and the kids seemed to thrive in this. Probably the most hilarious moment came when the kids begged their coach to allow them to play their favourite game at the end of the session as a reward for their hard work: shoeless football. I didn’t quite understand the exact rules of this game, but it came down to scoring a goal in pairs and then celebrating in an extreme manner by the corner flag.
These kids also invented some very crude form of goal line technology, which in this particular instance may not have been quite as impartial as you’d want such a system to be. What was unique about this edition for the project was that I went along with the team to their classroom. To enable the kids to train as often as possible and not waste time and energy travelling to school, they walk from De Herdgang to a special classroom at an international school complex right next to the training grounds. In here, they watch a live video of a teacher in an actual classroom in a school somewhere else in Eindhoven.
Dream: documenting the lives of top athletes for brands
As I mentioned at the start of this article, this approach to documenting the lives of athletes, shooting cinematic images of their dedication to the sport, resonates with me incredibly much. It is my dream to be able to work with the best athletes in the world, documenting their life for the world to see. I realise that the world of top sports may be slightly conservative in allowing photographers full access to the athletes, but I think that with the right and respectful approach photographers should be able to shoot their photos without disrupting the athletes’ focus. I can’t wait for the next opportunity to shoot photos in this style to come along and am working hard to get in touch with the best brands and athletes. Ideally I would shoot these photos for a brand, following around their sponsored athletes. If you’re a brand or athlete or you know some people I should talk to about shooting photos in this style, be sure to drop me a line!