Month: March 2014

Lions Impress in Skilful Mother’s Day Display


Waltham Lions u7’s today gave their best performance of the season in my opinion. I may have said that before, but all that shows is that the boys are getting better and better. Playing on a great pitch at Ross Sports Ground against a very sporting and well-managed Clee Community Mariners team, the Lions had a great time showing individual skill and great teamwork.


First of all, let me just say, I’ve no idea how to fit everything I could write about here into something of a reasonable length that people will actually be bothered to read. I can always find something to write about every player every week. Everyone always does positive things, whether it is with the ball or without. But today, EVERYONE played so well that I could have given justifiable reasons for giving the Man of the Match trophy to any one of them. The only baffling thing about the game is that we didn’t win the game. I thought we played some fantastic football in the game. And I don’t mean just for a group of 7 year olds, I mean just fantastic football. I came away from the ground feeling as proud as if we had won though, because I thought we played the better football and all 7 players were fully involved in a great team performance.
I’d decided before the game that I wanted the boys to show off some skills today. Before the game we did some practice of a few skills – some basic ones and some more difficult ones too. You’d be surprised with what kids are capable of doing. We went through the outside hook (Lucas Gill’s favourite), the backheel turn (an Oliver Hendry trick) and what I call the lollypops (also known as scissors/step-overs). I then introduced the “Ronaldo Chop” (see what it is here: and watch it being done in live action here: I was surprised by how many grasped this, or something very close to it, in such a short space of time. I’ll do it again another time but in more detailed steps so they can learn it.


I had a very quick chat with them and said I wanted them to be confident during the game to try any skills or tricks that we’ve learned, or even to make their own up and try them. I re-iterated that it won’t matter if it doesn’t work or we lose the ball, we’ll just get it back. But I don’t want them to be scared of trying things, or have a fear of making mistakes at this young age. I want them to be as creative as possible, and that won’t come by being scared of doing something wrong or trying something new.




Nothing could’ve shown this creative, fearless attitude more than seeing Rhys Racey pulling off some skills as the last defender in the first 10 minutes. In this 1st quarter, Rhys was playing as the defender. He had the ball near the edge of our penalty area in a central area. An opposition player came towards him but instead of panicking and or even passing straight away, Rhys threw in a couple of lollypops then dribbled the ball to one side, before passing to Oliver. I admired the confidence Rhys had in doing this in what an older age group might call a dangerous area of the pitch. Not in this team though – they can do whatever skills they want to on any bit of the pitch they want to. As always, it should be THEIR decision. Rhys later told me he didn’t know why everyone on the side laughed when he did his step-overs here. I told him it was just because it was such a good thing that he did. But hopefully in future to make sure no-one feels embarrassed or confused like that, let’s have a cheer when someone does a skill or trick. It was great, and I don’t think I was confident enough at 7 years old to try that in front of my own goal.


Ethan Lowe played the first 10 minutes in goal and was excellent, as he usually is when he puts on those gloves. As well as the great saves he continuously makes to deny the opposition goals, he’s now adding the ability to rush out of his goal to his game. He’s starting to choose when to come out to meet an oncoming attacker well, and is getting quite comfortable now at becoming a ‘sweeper-keeper’ (coming out of his goal to sweep up anything that’s kicked beyond our defence). Ethan made some great saves and some very brave saves too.


Rhys Racey went in goal for the 2nd quarter and carried on from Ethan. Rhys made some great saves and also used his speed well to rush out to the ball when it was needed. His passing out to players from goal kicks was also excellent, always choosing a player in a good position to pass to.


In those first 2 quarters both teams had chances to score. Clee Community Mariners unfortunately had scored one goal in each quarter, but that gave a scoreline that didn’t reflect how the game had gone. The Lions played some great football to create some of our chances. One move in particular would have been our goal of the season for me, if we had scored from it. Ethan Lowe won the ball in defence, looked up and played a good pass to Leyton Bolton. Leyton turned, looked up and saw Oliver Hendry in space beyond the opposition defender and played the ball through to him perfectly. Oliver was through on goal and shot went just wide of the goal. But that short passage of play was a great, imaginative piece of team play, which we are starting to see more of from their decision-making in the last few weeks. Please note, not once do I shout “pass” at them when they’ve got the ball. They’re making their own decisions, and maybe learned from the game last month when we didn’t choose to pass at all and really struggled. That move was honestly as good, if not better, than any passing move that Grimsby Town or Man United have put together this season, and it deserved a goal. All I could do was stand back, admire and applaud.


Bend Blast it like Beckham


As the Lions continued to play some great football in the 3rd and 4th quarters, they eventually got back into the game with the goals they deserved. The first Lions goal to start the comeback, came in the 3rd quarter from a great free kick by Ben ‘Beckham’ Crolla. A free kick from quite far out was given to the Lions and Ben put the ball down with only one thing in his mind – he was going to shoot. And he hit a great, powerful shot that the goalkeeper couldn’t stop from hitting the back of the net.


Boosted by this goal, the Lions continued to play football that was very pleasing on the eye. An equaliser came in the 4th quarter. Rhys Racey took a throw-in near the corner flag in the opposition half, and Oliver Hendry somehow wriggled his way through 2 or 3 defenders to find himself in front of goal. He managed to get a shot away despite being under great pressure and although it may have took a slight touch off a defender on its way into the back of the net, it was Oliver’s goal. However, I’d like to put an end to the outrageous rumours that it was a left foot shot from Oliver that scored it (just a reminder that I’ve rolled over the £5 prize for the next player to score a goal with their left foot, after Oliver won the first £5). This one was definitely his right foot, but 10/10 for the effort Matt.


The Lions then roared forward (lions…….roar……..THAT IS COMEDY!!!) in search of another goal but were nearly caught out at the other end. Leyton Bolton, in goal for the 4th quarter, had to be at his agile best to claw away a shot that was heading for the top corner of his goal. This was right at the end of the game and without this save, the result would have been different for sure as there wouldn’t have been time to come back again.


Ethan Lowe was an absolute rock in defence in the 2nd quarter. He tackled any opposition players that were silly enough to go near him. And at one point, I heard one of the opposition coaches say “he’s a great tackler” after yet another of Ethan’s interventions. Ethan made good decisions when tackling in terms of whether it needed a strong tackle to clear the ball, or whether he could just steal the ball from the attacker and keep control of it himself. When he did this, he looked up well and started plenty of our attacks this way, including the great move described earlier. He moved to play further forward later on and was really positive with his play after scoring his first Lions goal last week.


Leyton Bolton did really well today too. He’s always likely to shine in games where the boys decide to pass the ball a bit more, because that’s Leyton’s style anyway, and he isn’t one to get dragged into chasing the ball over the pitch. Today he played 2 or 3 great passes forward through to Oliver and played some good, quick passes across the pitch to Ben Crolla. There was a good variety to his play though, as he still found time to beat a couple of defenders down the right wing before winning a corner. When we have a goal kick he pulls really wide where there is lots of space and he knows he’ll have time when he gets the ball, before he’s closed down. And we can’t forget the save right at the end to deny what looked like a certain goal for Clee Community Mariners.


Benjamin Harrison became a transformed character in today’s game. You could see the confidence he had growing each time he beat a player. And each time he dribbled past a player, he seemed to get on the ball twice as quickly again to dribble past another player. Supporting the idea that the more involved someone is in the game, the more practice they get and the more confident they become. Benjamin was another example of that today. He got on the ball several times in the middle of the pitch and shifted the ball to the side of the defender to take it past him as he was closed down. As I said, the more he did this, the more confident he looked doing it the next time. I also saw Benjamin confidently back-heel the ball to a team-mate and also do one or two nice drag-back turns.


Ben Crolla was also excellent yet again. His tracking back to help out in defence by tackling opposition strikers has been invaluable all season and he was at it again today. His running with the ball was also excellent. In fact for a spell in the 3rd quarter Ben was unstoppable. He was on one great run down the right hand side after winning the ball himself. As he sprinted down the wing he knocked it past a player close to the touchline and would’ve been 1v1 with the last defender, but was hacked down (not maliciously obviously) and halted in his tracks. Watching that run on the side-lines, that was the only thing that was going to stop him to be quite honest. He got up and carried on though, and it wasn’t long before he unleashed his free-kick high into the net. That was Ben’s 12th goal in 20 games, and the third consecutive match he’s scored in.


Oliver Hendry scored for the 4th game in a row (his 14th goal in 12 games) and took up some great positions in forward areas that made him a threat throughout the match. As I’ve said before, Oliver doesn’t get sucked into already crowded areas and chasing the ball. He senses when to hang back or maintain the space he is in. He had another effort at goal today with his left foot (this boy is trying to bankrupt me, one day before payday as well). In all seriousness I’m delighted with how much Oliver is trusting both of his feet, and just striking the ball with whichever foot the ball is best set up to hit it with. He’s been showing a great appetite to learn and is always asking questions in training and before games. When I moved Oliver to a slightly deeper position later on, he was more involved in the build-up of our attacks too, and drove us forward with the ball several times in search of more goals. He also knows he can’t always run with the ball himself, and he often chooses to play a simple pass to a team-mate before running off into space again himself.


Rhys Racey not only showed the confidence in defence and bravery in goal that I’ve already mentioned. He nearly got a goal himself, running down the right before hitting a shot from a very tight angle that only just missed the post. And after playing in goal for 20 minutes during which he only conceded 1 goal, he came back out of goal in the 4th quarter to help us get back into the game, attacking well with Ben Crolla and Oliver Hendry.


Man of the Match


Lucas Gill was like a new player today. The confidence this boy had on the pitch was outstanding and we’d like to see more of the same. Lucas joined Waltham FC later than most of the Lions/Millers players, but in the last few months he’s consistently made great strides. He’s been constantly becoming more and more relaxed with the ball, and comfortable taking his time when in possession. Today, however, he took it to a new level. He showed us twists, turns, quick changes of direction and generally making other players feel dizzy. He seemed to be really enjoying himself as his self-belief grew each time he got the ball. At one stage, an opposition player was trying to come and tackle him, and I felt like I was watching a tennis match at Wimbledon as I kept having to turn my head one way, then the other, then back again, as Lucas used both feet to manoeuvre the ball away from the defenders back and forth. Also impressive was that it usually had an end product too. When they’re older, the boys will learn that any trick or dribble needs to be followed by an end product, whether it is a pass or a shot. Today, every time Lucas dribbled, he finished it off by looking up to see what he could do next. This was usually followed by a good pass to a team-mate. He fully deserved of the Man of the Match trophy today, well done Lucas.


In summary it was an excellent match; against a team I’d be happy to arrange friendlies with during the summer. Speaking with their coach beforehand it seems they’re a well-run club set up with the same principles and ideas that Waltham FC is built on. I thought the Lions were actually outstanding today and I don’t think anyone could’ve argued if we had been comfortable winners. If it was a boxing match going to points at the end, we would’ve been the winners. But that’s not the important thing at all. The performance that got us to think that is. I believe that a lot of goals we concede come as a result of a long kick up the pitch or a bit of luck in the ball falling to their player in a good position. But today, we created so many chances with fantastic, creative play. And I’ve never seen so much individual skill from our boys in one game. If we can play that way at u7 level, imagine what we could be like in a few years. I’m excited by today’s performance and hope there’s much more skill to come in the near future, as individuals and as a team. And this isn’t the first time the boys have come back from a losing position either, so well done again for keeping spirits high, enjoying yourselves and not giving up.


Up the Lions!!!

P.S. Ethan said to me as I was getting in my car afterwards “Make sure you do a write-up Tom”, so I don’t think I’m going to get out of writing them anymore.


A Penalty Save, a First Lions Goal, and the £5 Left-Footed Strike

Waltham Lions bravely battled on through a downpour of rain and hailstones in their match today. And there were some great success stories to come from the game that will hopefully make the boys glad that we didn’t follow 2 nearby under 7’s games at the same venue in abandoning the game.

Firstly, Ethan Lowe scored his first goal for the Lions in the opening 10 minutes. He’d made a good start to the game, and made sure his shot was going in by hitting it with power through the goalkeeper’s legs.

Before that, Ben Crolla had put the Lions 1-0 up with an early goal. Taking over possession after a great break forward from Ethan Lowe, Ben carried the ball into the area and fired the ball into the bottom corner to put him on 11 goals from his 19 games.

Another great moment in the game came in the 2nd quarter when Ethan Lowe, now in goal, brilliantly saved a penalty after a Clee Town BJB Lift Trucks player was tripped in the box. Ethan dived to his left, saved the shot and held onto it meaning it didn’t come back to an opposition player to have another shot.

The other highlight of the match came later in the game. A month ago in a blog/report I wrote here, I wanted to encourage all of the boys to practice using both feet and feel confident enough to try and shoot using their left foot. I offered the incentive of a £5 prize for the first player to score a goal with their left foot. Today, exactly 4 weeks after that was written, that £5 prize was won.

Oliver Hendry has been keen to use his left foot a lot in the last few weeks. With 2 of our last 3 training sessions having a main focus of shooting, he’s opted to take plenty of shots with his left foot rather than his right – without me prompting him to. So it’s come as no surprise to me that Oliver is the winner of my crisp five pound note.

That said, I was delighted to see Oliver score with his left foot today. Not just delighted, but really genuinely impressed too. For an under 7s player to be so comfortable to be able to shoot with his ‘unfavourable’ foot is fantastic. And it was no tap-in either. Oliver picked up the ball just inside the opposition half and drive forward into the space ahead of him, in the inside left channel. As he approached the goalkeeper’s area he was still to the left of the goal so it was set up well to shoot with his left foot. But he then made the decision to do exactly that, all by himself. He hit a left footed shot with great technique, striking through the ball with his laces as his standing foot was planted alongside the ball. He drilled the shot low and hard into the bottom right hand corner, as it beat the goalkeeper’s full stretch dive for Oliver’s 13th goal of the season.

Despite conceding a quick flurry of goals in the last 10 minutes when the weather started to affect a few more of the Lions players, there were still further positives for the Lions to take from the game.

Lucas Gill was probably todays top passer, in that he must have made more successful passes to his team mates than anyone else. I shouted plenty of praise Lucas’ way as he made plenty of good passes at good times. What I emphasised to all the boys today before the kick off, was to not be rushed into kicking the ball, look up to see what’s around them and then decide what is the best thing to do. Lucas showed this as much as anyone, often looking up and taking his time before passing to a team mate when an opposition player ran towards him. And when he did pass, he chose well, passing to a player in space. This just highlights what is evident most weeks – Lucas pays great attention really seems to learn from what we do or what I say. The way he shows this by his actions on the pitch makes me confident about his potential development – remember Lucas has only been with us less than a year.

Leyton Bolton showed some of the close control we know he has to go on a few good runs with the ball today. The way he keeps the ball so close to his feet as he dribbles means he can change direction very quickly when he needs to. He went on a run down near the right touchline that carried him half the length of the pitch before he won a corner. Another run in a similar area of the pitch saw him chop and change direction 2 or 3 times as the defender turned and turned, probably losing track of which way Leyton was going.

Benjamin Harrison had a good 10 minutes in goal where I think he only conceded 1 or 2 goals. And when he came outfield he got stuck into some good tackles but found it difficult in the poor weather.

Rhys Racey was part of the good start the Lions made, covering the defensive area of the pitch well and recovering well to prevent Clee Town players attacking our goal by tackling well. As he did last week, he broke forward into space well when there was an opportunity to do so after winning the ball. Rhys then found it tough-going in the weather but then seemed to be refreshed when he came back on for the last 5 minutes, attacking well with Oliver Hendry and almost getting a goal.

Ben Crolla buzzed about the pitch winning tackles and nearly added to his goal with a second, only to lose the chance to shoot as he pondered which foot to shoot with. I’m not bothered one bit by this and it’ll actually be a good learning point for Ben. He apologised for not scoring here later (which he has absolutely no need to, obviously), saying he was thinking which foot to use to shoot. My thinking is that if he was thinking about this later on, he remembers it and it will be in his mind the next time he has to make a similar decision – which should help make his decision the next time.

Oliver Hendry, as well as scoring his brilliant left-footed goal, was one of our main threats when attacking. He wasn’t at all bothered by the weather and even agreed with me that it was “lovely weather”. His runs towards goal were strong and confident. And in between those were some good passes that showed patience, and recognition that someone else was in a better position to have the ball than he was. I’m proud of how well Oliver has taken to using both feet and he now tells me he is “both footed”.

Ethan Lowe, in addition to his goal and penalty save, was performing heroics in goal in the 2nd, 3rd and 4th quarters. On any normal day, some of the saves he made would have been classed as brilliant saves. Today, with the ground and the ball being wet and slippery, the way Ethan continued to save countless shots peppered at his goal was amazing. What was yet more unbelievable was that more often than not, he held onto the ball and kept it within his grasp, rather than needing to parry it out or push it wide. Ethan was also alert enough to come off his goal line to tackle some attackers that were running towards goal. I still maintain that I’ve not seen a better goalkeeper at under 7 level this season than Ethan, and I was chuffed for him to score his first goal today too. Fully deserving of the Man of the Match award today.

Since it only took a month for someone to score a left-footed goal, I’m going to keep it going for the next one too. So the next Lions player to score using their left foot will also win £5 from me. In my eyes it is vital that the boys practice with both feet. It is much easier to read what a player is going to do, and therefore easier to defend against a player who can only use one foot. And so many senior players miss out on chances to score because they won’t or can’t shoot with either foot. By getting our boys to practice and become more and more comfortable using both feet, they’ll give themselves more options and be more flexible in what they can do. See Adam Lallana and Ross Barkley for examples of great, young, creative English players who can use both feet. I don’t care if one of them has a left footed shot from right in front of goal and misses doing it either. Now is the time for developing and learning from mistakes/choices.

I also avoid using the terms “weak foot” and “wrong foot”. Using the term weak foot could psychologically impact on the boys seeing one foot as ‘weaker’ than the other. This could affect their belief in using it or ability to improve it. I don’t like the term ‘wrong foot’ because there is no set ‘wrong foot’. The correct foot to use is the one that the situation dictates is the most suitable at that time. And again, using that term with the kids could have negative psychological effects.

Keep up the good work Lions.
And let’s hope for slightly better weather next week.

Great Teamwork Brings Lions Goals

Waltham Lions capped a good weekend of football with yet another exciting match. After most of the Lions attended Grimsby Town’s 3-1 win over Wrexham at Blundell Park together yesterday, now it was their turn to put their boots on. They did so against an Immingham Pilgrims Town team, who also contributed to the entertaining match, away at Oasis Lowerfield.

Ethan Lowe played the first two quarters of the game in goal and as usual, showed great handling skills in difficult windy conditions. Ethan only conceded one goal in these 20 minutes, which he should be proud of. He not only made some great saves, but showed great bravery diving onto loose balls when Immingham players were attacking. He was also quick to react and gather any balls that he had initially parried away or blocked.

Rhys Racey, so often an attacking player for the Lions this season, asked to play as the defender again after doing so well in that role last week. Rhys again did well in covering at the back, sweeping up most of what made it past the other 3 outfield players. I was also impressed with what he managed to do when he won the ball for us. He became more composed and unrushed as the game progressed. There was plenty of variations in how he decided to start the Lions’ attacks too. He played plenty of passes to our players in more advanced positions, as well as choosing to run with the ball himself when he saw the opportunity to. His decision making was quite good in that when he did run with the ball out of defence, it was a good time to do it with plenty of space in front of him.

The Lions had started the game well and despite conceding a goal in the first few minutes, were looking comfortable on the ball and having some good attacks. We followed on from last week in the way the boys looked up to see what options they had when they got the ball. Other than a few tackles, I can’t remember seeing any first time kicks that were hit without any thought or direction. There was always a touch to control followed by a look up. Perhaps this has been encouraged by what we learned in the game 2 weeks ago. Also perhaps helped by the game before the match, which I often like to use because of its multiple benefits, where the player on the ball needs to look up (around 360°) and make a decision.

Ben Crolla played the second quarter as the defender. He positioned himself well and met any oncoming Immingham attackers with the strength and bravery you’d expect of someone twice Ben’s size. He didn’t let anyone get past him during these 10 minutes, and often passed forward to Leyton or Oliver very well.

Jay Crichton was involved in the game a lot, making some good tackles against players much bigger than him, and played one pass in particular as we broke forward on a counter attack. Jay had the presence of mind to know that an opponent was running towards him and also that Oliver was ahead of him to his right. As the defender got close, Jay passed the ball to his right, perfectly into Oliver’s stride as he ran forward towards goal.

Benjamin Harrison was also busy making tackles everywhere. And he also continues to see more and more of the ball as the weeks go by. This will have a bit of a snowball effect for Benjamin as the more touches he gets of the ball, the more confidence he’ll get with it and the more he’ll have to make decisions – and then learn from the decisions he makes. I also get the sense that he’s really getting used to playing football in matches now, if only by the way he now just jumps up and gets on with it if he’s been barged, knocked over or kicked.

As we moved into the 3rd quarter, Ethan came out of goal after a solid 20 minutes. Jay took a turn to go in goal, and Leyton played as the defender. The boys continued much the same as in the previous 2 quarters really. The game was often end-to-end, with good breaks forward from both teams. And the Lions, whilst playing well throughout the whole game, became more of a threat to the opposition goal in the last 2 quarters.

The first Lions goal came when Ethan Lowe won the ball on the half way line and ran with the ball down the right. He sailed past one defender’s challenged and continued his charge down the right. As he got near the goal area, two Immingham players came towards him from the middle of the pitch, leaving Ben Crolla free in front of goal. As the two defenders came to tackle him, Ethan was strong in the tackle and then managed to pass it to his left to Ben Crolla who was waiting in space in the middle. As the ball rolled across the ground to Ben, he hit it first time with power and accuracy into the top left corner, with the ball crashing in off the post into the back of the net. The goalkeeper wouldn’t have saved that if he had 6 arms. That was Ben’s 10th goal this season. And it kept up his recent scoring form, with 7 of his 10 goals coming in the last 8 matches. It was a great team goal and was exactly what the Lions deserved.

Leyton Bolton was showing great composure as the defender, making sure that he didn’t have to actually make many tackles. He seemed to read where the Immingham attacks were going and time his interceptions when somebody running with the ball took a big touch ahead of them, giving him the chance to step in and steal possession. A few times, rather than a tackle, Leyton stole the ball by playing a first time pass out to the left where Rhys Racey or Lucas Gill. Another time I saw Leyton step in and take the ball off an oncoming player by clipping the ball to his left and up in the air. Only by 6 inches or so, but it was enough so that the opposition player couldn’t get the ball as Leyton took it away from him.

Rhys Racey played further forward and showed good skill with a backheel turn after chasing back to win the ball.

After creating the first Lions goal, Ethan Lowe grew in confidence and he had another good run that was only stopped when he was tripped by an opposition player after dribbling past them.

Lucas Gill was involved in some of the Lions’ good passing. He nearly had a chance to score after forcing an opposition player back near his goal. The defender and goalkeeper seemed to leave the ball for each other right in front of goal and it looked like Lucas might have been able to sneak in and take advantage of the confusion. But the Immingham goalkeeper quickly realised Lucas was there and rushed out to grab the ball. Lucas’ first touch was almost always to control the ball and you can clearly see him looking up thinking what to do with the ball. He also had a positive run towards goal but unfortunately a defender got back to stop him before he got close enough to goal for a shot.

In the final quarter, as they have done in previous games, the Lions stepped up another gear to get back into the game. They got the goal they were chasing when Rhys Racey stepped out of defence after spotting an opportunity to intercept the ball in the middle of the pitch. He took the ball and ran into the space down the right side. As he was about to be met with a tackle from an Immingham player, he passed to his left straight to the feet of Oliver Hendry. Oliver cushioned the ball in front of him with his first touch and then hit a shot straight into the bottom corner and into the net for his 12th goal of the season.

The Lions were unlucky not to score more in this last quarter. Ben Crolla attacked well down the left with several runs of his own. Oliver Hendry nearly got his 2nd goal after good work to carry the ball out of our half by Ben Crolla. Ben passed down the line to Oliver who took it on, going past one defender but not quite managing to stick it in the onion bag again with his shot. Ethan Lowe took over from Rhys as the defender mid-way through the quarter and didn’t let much get past him. On one occasion he made a great recovery to chase back and win the ball with a great sliding tackle when it looked certain that the Immingham player would score.

Skill of the Match

The Skill of the Match was an amazingly confident bit of play in the 1st quarter. Rhys Racey was running forward at speed with the ball and was midway through the opposition half. As he approached the last defender, he knocked the ball past the defender one way, and ran around the him the other way, collecting the ball beyond the defender before the he had chance to work out what had just happened. It actually nearly led to a goal too, but the goalkeeper rushed out to Rhys and forced him wide enough so that he couldn’t get a clear shot at goal. As I said, he showed great confidence to try this skill, and did it at a time that was perfect to do it. As it’s not something you can try anywhere on the pitch, from a standing start, or if there’s players behind the defender.

Man of the Match

The Man of the Match award went to Oliver Hendry today. After providing us with some “BT Sport commentary” (his words, not mine) during the Town match yesterday with his fake microphone made from sweets wrappers, Oliver let his boots do his talking today. He was a constant threat to the opposition and played with his head too. By that I mean he didn’t just go chasing the ball all the time, choosing to hold back in space and anticipate where the ball might go. When we had the ball, he tended to get into space and often pulled wide (where there usually is more space). This helped him score his goal. He could’ve been drawn to the ball as Rhys’ dribbled forward, but by doing that he could’ve got in Rhys’ way or ended up in a position where Rhys couldn’t have passed the ball to him. Oliver maintained a line of vision between himself and the Rhys, with no defender in the way, which enabled Rhys to pass him the ball. Then his first touch was great, pushing it forward out of his feet ready to hit the shot. It was a good job he scored too, he promised that if I left him on for the full last 10 minutes he would score a goal. He was unlucky not to score a second, and also showed a good mixture of passing and dribbling with the ball himself.

Well done the Lions again for giving us some great entertainment and putting in a great performance. If we’d have had a bit more time (not helped by having to fetch the ball from behind the goal all the time) I’m sure we would have scored again the way we were playing by the end. The last couple of weeks has seen the boys play well as a team, demonstrated by our two goals today being what I would call great “team goals” rather than individual goals. We still want to see individual play too, but at the moment there is a much better balance between going on solo runs and recognising others might be in a better position. But as I always refer back to, the more the players make decisions themselves and have to ‘problem-solve’ on the pitch, the more they’ll learn from the decisions they make and make better decisions as time goes on.

Up the Lions!!!

Proud Coach Pleased with Lions’ Learning

Waltham Lions looked like a team transformed from the week before, in this week’s game against Grimsby Borough Juniors. After what the boys learned from the game last week, I was delighted with how they used that and put it into the game this week.

Last week we learned that although I like the boys to be creative and dribble the ball themselves, that is not always possible and sometimes it is better to pass to a team-mate. I asked the boys before the game what we learned last week and they all showed with their answers that they remembered. I stressed though, that I don’t want them to just pass all the time. I give them the responsibility of deciding what is best at the time. I just asked them to control the ball and then look up so they can see what’s around them and then make that decision.

I honestly couldn’t have been much happier with the Lions performance today. Despite the loss, I think anyone watching would agree that we were the team playing the better football to work the ball upfield and create chances. We were putting moves together at times of 3/4 passes, to work the ball across the pitch away from crowded areas, or forward to enable someone to take on a shot.

This was evident from the first 10-minute quarter of the game. Ethan ‘safe-hands’ Lowe was in goal displaying some great handling skills and also passing the ball out very well. Further forward, Rhys Racey began as the pivotal last man, with Oliver Hendry, Lucas Gill and Lucas Jex ahead of him.

Rhys Racey, playing the position he’s played in the least so far this season, was brilliant as a defender. He used his speed several times to catch up with opposition attackers and read their attacks well to cover across the pitch to get to loose balls before anyone else. What was more impressive though, was that after winning the ball for us, Rhys took his time to look up, wasn’t rushed or panicked, and then played passes well to Lucas or Oliver. On one occasion Rhys kept the ball in play in our left-back area, looked up, waited for the opposition player to come towards him and then passed it down the line to Lucas Jex. Lucas then passed it across the pitch to Oliver who was in space on the right, who ran towards goal to shoot just wide. But that showed the difference to last week when generally, the boys were trying to do everything on their own.

Lucas Gill was a whisker away from getting his 1st goal for the Lions, as his shot from the penalty spot drew a good save from the Borough ‘keeper. At one point we were defending a corner and I had to laugh at how I saw Lucas marking the player he was marking. He was ‘goal-side’, facing the corner-taker, and was watching the shadow on the ground in front of him to see where the player behind him was moving from side to side to try and avoid Lucas blocking the ball getting to him. I say that I laughed, but I was really impressed too at something that was actually really, really clever.

Ethan Lowe showed in the 1st two quarters why I’ve not seen a better goalkeeper in Under 7’s football this season. A mixture of some really professional-looking handling as well as acting as a ‘sweeper-keeper’ by rushing out of his goal to stop some attackers before they even got chance to shoot. He also passes the ball out from goal-kicks and when he has the ball, in line with what my philosophy is on how this team will play in years to come. I’m pleased that Ethan chooses to do this himself as well, as opposed to a lot of the teams we play against, whose goalkeepers just boot the ball up and seem to waste the fact that there’s a retreat line rule.

By this point, Ben Crolla and Benjamin Harrison had come on and were involved in the action, chasing opposition players and winning plenty of tackles. Rhys Racey had joined them in the forward positions and those 3 linked well with Lucas Jex who had now dropped back to play as the pivot at the back. Lucas is always calm on the ball and today was no different. As I’m sure I’ve written before, Lucas is fouled more than anyone I’ve seen play at this level, and this unfortuantely led to him having to come off midway through this quarter. He’ll have to get used to being kicked. It’s always skillful players to have the confidence to invite defenders in to steal the ball before gliding past them, that are the most likely to get kicked by the opposition. I try to tell him to take being kicked (fouled) as a compliment, as weird as that sounds.

The game also brought a moment of magic that was also a product of what we’d done in training yesterday and again before today’s game. It was another example to show that something had been learned, and it’s these things that please me as a coach. As part of some shooting practice, I’d been showing the boys how they can set themselves up for a shot by pushing the ball forward but at an angle, with the outside of their foot. This gets the ball out of their feet and sets it up on the side they want to be able to shoot from (the right for most of them) as well as giving them a short run-up before they hit the shot. Most were grasping this well in training on Saturday and were beginning to master it before the game today.

The moment came in the 2nd quarter when Rhys Racey had the ball in the middle of the pitch, half way between the half-way line and the opposition goal area. As a defender closed him down from straight ahead of him, Rhys used the outside of his right foot to nudge the ball past the oncoming defender but also at an angle in line towards the corner. As the ball rolled towards the right corner of the penalty area, Rhys caught the ball sweet with his laces to drill a powerful shot straight through the goalkeeper’s legs and into the back of the net.

Rhys took the green jersey to play as the goalkeeper for the last 2 quarters and also made some good saves. But he got the Man of the Match award this week primarily for playing a great disciplined game as the defender, for adapting his game as a dribbler to play as a team and pass the ball as much as anyone on the pitch when the time was right, and for showing the technique to set himself up for his goal by doing what we’d worked on before the game.

Lucas Gill played the 3rd quarter and half of the 4th quarter as the pivot/defender of the team. He will get to play further forward more and more, but his reluctance to aimlessly boot the ball up means he often helps us build attacks from the back as he waits for someone to pass to. He continues to show more and more composure with the ball, happy to take his time. And I like how there always seems to be a thought behind what he does.

Ethan Lowe had come out of goal to play as one of the forwards for the 3rd quarter. And his determined style of play saw him win lots of strong tackles. He also attacked well, learning control the ball when it comes to him and take his time, rather than just hitting it forward.

Ben Crolla has generally shown his ability in running with the ball in recent weeks. But today I was really pleased with how he made decisions and chose to pass to his team-mates in good positions, showing he’d also taken on what we’d discussed before the game and the previous week. I lost count of the successful passes Ben made, and needless to say he was as ferocious as ever in tackling and winning the ball back for the Lions. I don’t want Ben to lose his ability to run with the ball himself. He’s great at changing direction really quickly and accelerating away. But if he can add looking up and passing to the tricks up his sleeve, he’ll be able to make better decisions, as I’m delighted to say he did today.

Oliver Hendry showed a good awareness of what was going on around the pitch – often choosing to hang back from the crowd and pull out into space. This worked to great effect many times, as we showed we could play as a team and pass the ball, we were able to work it out to Oliver on one of the flanks. He won the ball plenty of times chasing back, and made confident runs forward with the ball when he had the chance to. He scored a goal with a right foot volley in the last quarter as the Lions fought their way back into the game. Good work by Ben Crolla attacking on the right resulted in the ball springing up in the air after a blocked shot, and Oliver swung his right boot to volley the ball while it was in mid-air into the far corner of the net, leaving the goalie no chance.

Benjamin Harrison again had a few good runs with the ball. Once running a long way down the left wing before winning a throw in. And another when he dribbled past an oncoming defender on the right. He used a nice stop turn to turn around 180° at one point, which is a trick he likes to use. I’m encouraged by the last few games when Benjamin has “skilled” (as the kids say these days) quite a few players. I hope he’ll continue to do this, become more and more confident, and hopefully get himself into shooting positions where he can show some of the good shots like he was putting past goalkeepers in training on Saturday.

The Lions got another goal back in the last quarter when an opposition player kicked into his own net for an own goal. It came about after Oliver Hendry set Lucas Jex off on a run down the left. As Lucas flew past one defender and then turned to cross the ball. The cross was intercepted but the clearance from the defender went the wrong way and past his goalkeeper.

I don’t think anyone could disagree with me saying that the score didn’t reflect the pattern of the game. And I hope all the people watching connected with Waltham Lions was as pleased with the way they played as I was. I think they deserve plenty of praise for putting the learning into practice and playing together like that. The other key thing for me, as always, is that the players make the decisions themselves. Yes we had spoke before the game about passing a bit more than last week. But I always stress it is down to them to look up and decide whether they should run with it themseves or pass. We don’t shout direct instructions like that from the sidelines. Unlike one of the opposition spectators who I was stood close to for a while today, who kept telling their players exactly what to do, who to pass to and when to do it, we let our players make those decisions (click here to see last week’s write-up on creative talent over PlayStation controlling kids through a game). Would they give their child all the answers to his maths homework from school i wonder? What’s the difference? I’m sure in years to come our players will be good, intelligent, decision-makers on the pitch as a result of the responsibility we leave to them. For that, as always, I thank the watching parents for their help in creating that environment in which the boys’ learning will thrive.

Despite the score not going in the Lions favour, it is maybe worth pointing out that we did in fact win the 2nd and 4th quarters. Only a flurry of goals from the opposition in the 3rd quarter, and a couple in the 1st, gave the scoreline its unfair and unrealistic slant.

Well done the Lions. Couldn’t have been a prouder Coach today. Excellent performance and a great sporting attitude shown as always that makes us proud to watch you.

Up the Lions!!!

Developing Creative Talent vs being a PlayStation Controller

As opposed to the recent write-ups on the Waltham Lions matches, this is more of a collection of my thoughts after today’s game – on what we can learn, how too many teams are restricting their players’ learning, and what I’m doing to make sure my players will be a step ahead when it comes to creativity in years to come.

The Lions didn’t score a goal today, for only the second time in this, their first season playing football matches. We conceded a few goals to long range shots and a couple from mazy runs from a particularly skilful player from Clee Community.

The long rampaging runs we saw last week from Lucas Jex and Ben Crolla were today stopped by a group of good, strong tacklers in the opposition we faced. Rhys Racey, also one who often uses great acceleration to get himself clear of defenders, was also often crowded out by defenders who timed their tackles well.

Coming off the pitch at the end, I was clear in my mind that there was a clear learning point to take from this game. But before I went ahead and just told the boys what I thought, I put it to them first to tell me what they thought. I asked them – what was the main thing from the game that we could’ve done better to help ourselves do better? Straight away, Ethan Lowe and Rhys Racey answered together “passing”. Nail on the head boys, excellent.

Now, I am not a coach who will drill into the players that they need to pass the ball all the time. As you might have read in my coaching philosophy (click here to read) I don’t believe great passing teams are made by the players being drilled to get the ball and then just pass it. This would set a ‘hot-potato’ habit in which the players would become used to having to get rid of the ball as soon as they get it. In turn, the players would then become fearful of holding onto the ball themselves and have no idea how to keep the ball themselves when they’re closed down by the opposition and an obvious pass isn’t available. This has been the problem with most English players in the last couple of decades, even the best. Opposition know they can close them down and they will either boot it aimlessly long up-field, or have to turn around and pass back to the goalkeeper who will then boot it long.

The other important point to make is that this is an Under 7’s team. These boys are at an age where it is natural to be selfish on the pitch. They’re not really expected to see the game as the ‘team-game’ that it is, and that adults may want them to see it as straight away. It’s important to remember that, and keep it in mind when considering our expectations of them.

7 year olds will play like 7 year olds, not 20 year olds.

Back to the point. Two of the players had recognised that we could have done more passing, and that would’ve helped us. I stopped the conversation there as more suggestions started to come in. I told them I was glad that they had come to that opinion themselves. I said that what I thought the game should’ve taught us, was that we can’t always do it on our own. By that I meant that where in other games, some players had been able to run half the length of the pitch and score at the end of it, today we just couldn’t do that. It showed that sometimes, it is better to pass the ball to a team-mate.

I won’t be telling anyone not to run with the ball as much, or that we should try and pass it all the time. I’d still be happy for boys at this age to try and dribble as much as they can. But hopefully some of the boys, after today, will think to look up and decide if it is better to pass or continue to dribble themselves. That decision will always be their own in a team I am coaching. My aim is to develop intelligent, creative players with good decision-making. So I don’t give any direct instructions to the players in the game on what to do. I’ll usually try to tell them to take their time or relax on the ball, but no-one should be shouting “pass to x”, “take him on”, “run with it”, or “shoot”. These are all decisions the player should be making.

Dennis Bergkamp: “Behind every action there must be a thought

We’re not on the sidelines with PlayStation controllers and we’re not the ones controlling the players on the pitch. We’ve played against a lot of teams this season were the opposition coaches and/or parents are “PlayStation-ing” their kids through the game. This is surely the equivalent of doing their school homework for them. It will get results in the short term, but what will they learn from it and what good will it do them in the long run. The answer is they will learn nothing from it, other than maybe to wait for instruction from coach/parent on what to do when the ball comes to them. A player that’s been drilled and shouted at to do something in a certain situation, will resort to repeating that action when in a similar situation, almost robotically. Our players, free to make their own decisions, will allow their creative mind to let them solve whatever problem they have on the pitch and the opposition won’t be able to predict what they’re going to do so easily.

I’m proud that as far as I can hear, we don’t have vocal parents shouting instructions as they commentate. And I hope it stays that way even on days like today when the team might not be having as successful a day as they might have wished. Because in football, just as in life, people learn from mistakes. The more mistakes we make at this young age, the more we will learn. Even without my input as a Coach, the boys would still learn. I’m just there to try and guide it in the right way and pose questions/challenges that will get them thinking. I may still be relatively new to coaching, but I believe in the philosophy that underpins how I coach, and I’m confident that in years to come these boys will be able to play great football without me having to say a word during the game.

The Lions still did great today and enjoyed their game, so I’m a happy coach. And a game that hasn’t gone particularly as we would like can provide us with several learning points, which is a positive for me. I’ll finish with a question that you probably know the answer to:

Do you think Maradona, Messi, Ronaldinho, Zidane, Iniesta and Ronaldo had people telling them what to do when they had the ball as kids?