Persevering With Long Term Skill Development Over Short Term Success


Waltham Lions again showed some good individual skill today, in a game where the goalkeepers of both sides were often the stars of the show.

The Lions played with the usual freedom that allows the boys to learn by playing – making choices and mistakes on their own. I mention this most weeks in these write-ups, but I see it as a hugely important thing that these boys aren’t being shouted at from the side to “pass it”, “shoot”, “pass to xxxx” or “run with it” when they’ve got the ball. It will benefit the boys in years to come in ways that will only become clear in a few years time. And judging from our games this season, our players already have far more experience of decision-making on the pitch than most.

We could choose to shout and tell them what to do. It would probably work in the short term, and maybe bring more wins. But it wouldn’t achieve much in the long term. It wouldn’t help their development half as much as the way we’re doing things now. And I’m surprised at the number of teams we’ve come up against this season whose coaches are playing the kids’ game for them, rather than letting them play it themselves (see my piece on ‘Being a PlayStation Controller’ from a few weeks back).

Today the Lions played well. Not as good of an all-round performance as last week, but we came up against a team today who, it seemed to me, were set up to win the game rather than use it as a development opportunity. It wasn’t a pretty sight seeing their goalkeeper have the ball in his hands, them putting 3 players deep in our half and in our penalty area, and the goalie (who had a strong kick) then boot it right up the pitch to them.

I appreciate that in senior football there is more than one way to win a football match. Tactics will come into play and different patterns of play can be worked on and practised. But I can’t help but feel that an under 7s team purposefully playing this way (I can only assume under instruction to do so) is seeing them miss out on a weekly opportunity to develop technical ability and learn how to play through the pitch and work the ball into shooting positions.

That approach is not for me, and I hope our parents are on board with my prioritising of enjoyment and development over the “immediate success” of winning a match. To be honest, apart from the games against Discoveries GB and Clee Town Pattesons in 2013 (before the red/blue groups were re-arranged), no-one has comfortably beaten us anyway and we’ve generally always played well and been well in the games we’ve lost.

With Lucas Jex away on international duty, Ethan Lowe nursing a broken finger suffered in his great goalkeeper training session on Saturday and Jay Crichton at a family rave, the Lions were down to 6 players for this game.

Leyton Bolton started in goal, and along with the Discoveries Colts ‘keeper, was one of the best players on the pitch for that 1st quarter. Making several great saves with his feet and some great athletic dives to save with his hands, Leyton limited the opposition to scoring just once in the first 10 minutes.

At the other end, Oliver Hendry was unlucky not to score as he went through on goal, but his attempt on his left foot went just wide. The opposition goalkeeper also thwarted attempts from Oliver, Rhys Racey and Ben Crolla.

There was a lovely move in this quarter when Ben Crolla broke down the right, ghosted past a defender and as another one came towards him, he crossed the ball into the middle. The cross landed straight at the feet of Oliver Hendry who struck a shot with good technique, planting his standing foot next to the ball, getting his knee over the ball and hitting the target, although the ‘keeper was there again to push it out. It didn’t result in a goal but that was the best move of the match in the first half – Ben doing what he does best winning the ball and bursting forward with pace, putting a great cross in, and Oliver lurking in space away from the crowd and hitting a good shot matched in quality by the save.

Lucas Gill showed his confident trickery on the ball again, weaving left, then right, then back again to turn a defender inside out. On one occasion he eventually got crowded out and tackled after a few quick changes of direction. When I later asked Lucas to try and look up after doing a skill to see what he can do next, he told me that he did, and he didn’t see anyone who he could pass to. For me that was a fantastic sign. Not that he looked up. Not that he was looking for who he could pass to. The huge positive I took from that was that because there was no-one available to pass to, he was happy to hold onto the ball himself. If he takes that approach, I couldn’t care less if he loses the ball sometimes. I won’t be coaching that calm and relaxed nature on the ball out of him. Some kids start with that way of playing but have it coached out of them by adults wanting them to “get the ball forward” or not wanting them to take risks. Another occasion in the 1st quarter saw Lucas shielding the ball with his body brilliantly. We’ve done some work on this before, when I ask the boys to protect their ball by using their body as a shield if I approach them in a free-dribbling area. Lucas often always grasps this concept well, so it wasn’t surprising to see him being the one to show us the best example of this during a match against competitive opposition. As Lucas chased a loose ball and got their first, an opposition player came towards him from one side. Lucas had the ball under control and turned away to one side, leaving this player behind him, unable to even try and tackle him. Then when this same opposition player chased aftet Lucas and went to run around him to try and get to the ball, Lucas must have seen him coming by looking over his shoulder, as he then turned away in the other direction, keeping the other player behind him and with no chance of being able to take the ball from him.

In the 2nd quarter, we were denied by some more very good goalkeeping from the Colts ‘keeper. The best attempt coming from a powerful Rhys Racey shot that the goalkeeper unbelievably managed to tip up onto the crossbar before it went up and out for a corner. I’m still not sure how that didn’t go in.

We saw the best bit of individual skill in the whole match during this 2nd quarter. And I couldn’t be happier that it was a skill I only introduced to them 7 days ago. I mentioned it in my write-up last week and included some links to youtube clips of it (see last week’s write-up here). It was of course the Ronaldo Chop. Cristiano Ronaldo does this all the time as a way to change direction in the blink of an eye. Before the game today I tried to break it down into a few steps to help them grasp it. And in the 1v1 practices of it in the warm-up, Leyton Bolton looked like he had mastered it. I said to him I wanted to see him do it in the match if a chance to do it comes up. And did it? He was running with the ball down the right. A defender ran towards him and he chopped it behind his left foot, to his left, taking the ball infield and wrong-footing the defender who was running in the other direction. Awesome!

Oliver Hendry took a turn in goal in goal for this 2nd quarter and probably surprised himself with some really good goalkeeping. He came out of his goal to kick the ball away from oncoming attackers a couple of times, and his passes out from his area were excellent, always clearly picking out a player who was in a bit of space.

In the 3rd quarter the Lions got back into the game with a goal that Benjamin Harrison and Lucas Gill had a hand in making. Benjamin Harrison won a good tackle on the half way line and the ball fell into Lucas Gill’s path. Lucas recognised space in front of him and was positive in moving forward into the space with the ball. As a defender came towards him he took a touch inside away from the player. And as a second defender came towards him he saw Oliver Hendry in space (again) and saw a clear line where he could get the ball to him. He poked it through before being confronted with a tackle and Oliver continued his scoring streak (this the 5th game in a row he’s found the net) by ruthlessly smashing it in the bottom corner after taking a good first touch to get the ball out in front of him.

Rhys Racey had to be alert in goal as Leyton was often left outnumbered on his own in defence. But he made good saves when called upon. And Leyton also read the game really well to intercept some of the passes that the Colts players played forward or across the pitch.

In the 4th quarter the Lions got another goal. Oliver Hendry slotting away his 16th goal of the season after another Benjamin Harrison tackle in the middle of the pitch allowed Oliver to get on the ball and drive forward into space towards goal and get a shot off.

Ben Crolla did his best to carry on his own scoring run, having a good run down the left before shooting just wide. And his usual energetic bursts forward with the ball were as forceful in the last few minutes as they were in the first few minutes. Ben asked me if he could play as the defender for the 2nd quarter, which he did. That’s pleasing too as he’ll learn and understand the game from different points of view. This will help develop his overall game understanding, so it was good to see him keen to learn in this way.

Despite Rhys Racey making some good saves as he stayed in goal for another quarter, him and Lucas Gill were left on their own defending at times. This helped the opposition score 3 goals in this quarter to give the scoreline a bit of a slanted look to it. The game was a lot closer than the 3-goal margin might suggest, and with 2 players often in front of our goal, Lucas was up against it trying to stop one of them from shooting. One of their late goals went in off a player’s thigh, and another was a tap-in after Rhys had made a great save to parry out the first shot, only for the ball to land at the feet of one of the Colts attackers.

Man of the Match

Man of the Match today went to Leyton Bolton; not just for his Ronaldo Chop skill in the 2nd quarter, but a good comtribution to the game to compliment that. He almost got on the scoresheet himself when Ben Crolla laid the ball across to him, but Leyton cut across the ball a little as it came across from the side and his shot span just wide. He had some other confident runs with the ball too, holding onto the ball when he thought that was the best option, and passing to a team-mate when he could see someone in space. Seeing people in space is a strength of Leyton’s. He has a good awareness of what’s around him on the pitch as he consistently looks up to assess his options quickly. It’s difficult to make a good decision on what to do if you haven’t looked up to judge what the best option is, and Leyton always gives himself the best chance of making a good decision by looking up/around first.

All in all, we had some good skill again which I was delighted with and played really well in patches. The performance didn’t quite hit the heights of last weeks consistency over the 40 minutes, but I think it was a strange/new experience playing against a team drilled in where to position themselves to score a goal, and especially from the goalkeeper kicks. So despite not winning I continue to be pleased with the way we try and play, which will pay dividends in years to come (especially by the time we move up to 7-a-side games, when the opposition won’t be able to get the ball past all our boys with powerful play/strong kicks as easily.

Up the Lions!!!!!


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