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!!!

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