Author: Tommy Bryan

Football fan and Coach. Grimsby Town FC until death do us part. Follow me on twitter @TommyBryan84

The Person Under the Coaching Mask

So, the new Academy football season is about to get underway with the games programme kicking off this Sunday.

I look forward to the routine of the regular season settling down and, once this Sunday’s out of the way, being able to make all the games, after family commitments, stag do’s and weddings have meant a very stop-start pre-season period for me with my new age-group.

I’m excited to continue to build relationships and trust with the players in the age group, and I’m as determined as ever to help ensure the group of players I’ll be working with have the best opportunity to both develop themselves as players AND enjoy the game.

FA 4 Corner Model

The FA’s now long-established 4-corner model of considerations for player development will be well-known to most. Technical/tactical, Physical, Psychological and Social aspects all need attention at varying levels and detail at different times. There seems to have been a big sway in the last couple of years towards recognising the importance of the psychological corner and the attention that this area should command. I fully support this and it’s an area I try to pay great attention to. The way I see it, the mind controls everything the body does, so why wouldn’t we have at least as much focus and attention to detail on psychological factors as we do technical or tactical aspects?

In essence, train the mind and be aware of how it works for each individual, because it’s their mind that controls everything they’ll do on a football pitch. I try to pay attention to the language I use and specific ways I word questions, explanations or challenges, with consideration for the potential impact it could have for a young player – or should I say, a young person.

But it’s worth thinking for a moment about the Coach too, isn’t it. If the 4 corner model was being used to evaluate the development of the coach and to consider things that may affect the development or performance of the Coach, what would that look like?

In reality, most Coaches probably leave their personal life outside in the car park before a session and focus on the job in hand. But that doesn’t necessarily mean it isn’t still impacting on the Coach, just as a young players performance in a session or game could be affected (negatively or positively) by psychological factors from outside of football.

At the start of this 2019-20 season, my life has changed massively from this time last year. Last season, I suffered the loss of my Mum in September, and towards the end of the season my marriage came to an end.

My Mum was only 56 and it was an unexpected and fairly sudden thing, just a month after learning of her condition.

I think I only missed one training session around that time, and just got on with it. I’d say I’m of quite strong character, but that doesn’t mean things as massive as that don’t affect me. I’m a calm, laid-back guy and probably don’t give much away in terms of emotion in everyday life, let alone coaching. But it’s there underneath the surface. Did I perceive it to affect my coaching at the time? Honestly, no I didn’t. But maybe others’ perception might’ve been different, I don’t know. It wasn’t something I told anyone, other than the Academy staff. And I’ll always remember the immediate support and thoughtful gift from my close colleagues in the Foundation Phase of the Academy.

At the time my Mum passed, I was about a third of the way into my 12-week UEFA B Licence project. And as anyone who has completed the B-Licence will know, this project is a lot of work. The “12-week” part of it I’m talking about is a period of 12 weeks where you have to document, in detail, all the planning, delivery and reviewing/reflections of 12 weeks of training sessions and matches. This on it’s own was a mass bit of work, and of course that was only part of the whole project.

Anyway, I’d already delayed starting this 12-weeks till the 17/18 season started because I didn’t want to start it in the previous season and end up resuming it with a different set of players after I got a different age group for 18/19. So as I’d already started this log of sessions and games, and done it in such detail as I did all the way through, I didn’t want to have to have a break and then need to start it all over again a few weeks later. So on I went.

It was a really busy season. Coaching 3 evening sessions a week as opposed to the 2 sessions a week I’d had in the previous season. And then the games on Sundays. And on top of that, all the PMA work that comes with reviewing the sessions and games, the 12-weekly reviews for the players, assessment meetings and all the general communications (texts and emails) that at times feel like they’re forever incoming and outgoing.

Fitting all that in, as well as all the UEFA B project work that took months to complete, was difficult at times with a toddler at home and obviously a full-time job. Parents of the players in my age group last season will have got used to receiving emails very late at night, because that was usually when I could squeeze it in on top of everything else.

And in early March, my marriage came to an end as my wife and I decided to separate. This wasn’t a toxic event or a soap-opera style dramatic fall out or anything like that, but it was another pretty major thing going on. Especially with my (now) 2 year old daughter involved in this situation too.

52525558_392087164920804_2527804967509458116_n(1)

Towards the end of the season I finally got all my work done for the UEFA B Licence project, as well as the PowerPoint presentation. A 44,000+ word project, with a presentation to summarise it. It was the best piece of work I’ve done on anything in my life, and in the “Introduction” I dedicated it to my Mum.

By the end of the season I felt exhausted. It was the first time I’d been ready for a break from Coaching since I started in 2012. I was looking forward to it. Being a part-time Academy Coach can feel like much more than just a second, part-time job. It’s more than just a few hours a week on the training pitch. I’d had a lot going on outside of football, and the age group I had last season wasn’t without it’s problems either, so it wasn’t always as straight-forward as just concentrating on the coaching.

Having a couple of months off from Coaching after the season finished was a breath of fresh air that came at the right time for me. Not so much the Coaching, but everything else that comes with it. The PMA reporting, the constant texts and emails. If I’m honest, I wandered if I’d come back for pre-season excited to be back or not. I’ve had an awesome summer, used the extra free time really well and made some great memories. I missed the first week of pre-season as I was away in Slovenia on a mate’s stag do, so I came back the following week, batteries recharged, still not really knowing how I’d react to being back.

I enjoyed the first week back, enjoyed meeting the new group of players I’d be working with for the season ahead and was excited by the quality and application of the players in my first 2 sessions back. I’ve loved pre-season, although I’ve missed various training sessions due to being away, and most of the games due to either being away or having my little girl. But I can’t wait for the season ahead.

Newcastle away Aug2017

So, what’s the point of this post? I’m not 100% sure.

It’s not a cry for sympathy – I choose to do this. It’s not a declaration that I have any issues with mental health – I haven’t, and I’m in an especially great place now. And it’s not a criticism of Academy football, anyone at my Club or the players I’ve worked with.

Take it just as something to make people think. To remember that Academy Coaches, particularly the part-time Coaches who do it as a second job, are there throughout the year putting on their Coaching “mask” as they head to the training pitch to do their very best to help to holistically develop a group of kids with different needs, when there could be all sorts of unknowns going on in their own “psychological corner.”

For the Coaches, remember to recharge your own batteries. Have time away from it if you need to. And look after yourself above all else. There’s a big Coaching community out there that could probably relate.

It’s more than just a part-time job.

There’s a person under the metaphorical mask that the Coach puts on for work.

And there’s more to the person than most people will probably know.

Good luck for the 2019/20 season everyone!

Advertisements

Where Are The Goals Coming From For GTFC?

If you’d seen this headline written in late September, after the Mariners had gone five straight games without scoring, you’d be expecting to read a critical and concerned piece about where we were going to find the goals to start winning football matches.

Instead, with Town surging towards the top half of the table as THE form side in League Two, all I’m doing for you is literally answering the question in the headline. A little round up of where Town’s goals have come from so far in the 2018/19 season, as we head into the new year. These figures take into account all league and cup games so far up to and including the last game of the calendar year away at Exeter.

Pontoon Goal

 

Town have played 31 games in all competitions so far (25 in the League plus 6 across 3 cup competitions) and scored 38 goals. That doesn’t sound too great a scoring record, but the side are having no problem finding the net at the moment. The last time Town failed to score was in the away defeat to Cambridge on November 3rd and we finish 2018 having scored 17 in our last 7 games.

Top Goalscorers

It makes sense to start with the actual goalscorers.

Goalscorers

 

Wes Thomas leads the way with 8 goals in all competitions. Wes didn’t score his first goal until his 9th appearance of the season and is now on a run of 6 goals in his last 10 games. On current form, you wouldn’t bet against him hitting 20 goals this season.

Charles Vernam and Elliot Embleton both play key roles supporting Thomas in the final third and they’ve each weighed in with 4 goals. Whilst Mitch Rose-Pen is also on 4.

Academy graduates Harry Clifton and Ahkeem Rose have both scored the first goals of their professional careers this season, as has 22 year old Harry Cardwell.

Assists

Now to look at who is topping the assists chart. Please note that as well as traditional assists, I’ve given assists to players who have won a penalty we’ve scored from, and also where a goal is scored from a rebound, I’ve given an assist to the taker of the original shot.

Assists

Charles Vernam leads the way with assists as a creative force in the Mariners side. Wes Thomas underlines the unselfish role he plays by chipping in with 5 assists so far, while Elliot Embleton and Harry Cardwell are recent climbers in this table.

Key Contributors

Now for a look at which players are contributing to the most goals, with a list of players that have the most goals and assists combined:

GoalsAssists

You’ll have probably guessed some of the names that would be at the top of this list. Wes Thomas leads the way, whilst Charles Vernam’s 6 assists put him in a close second.  Michael Jolley will be hoping Charles’ injury isn’t a lengthy one as it’s clear his end product is improving. Another player whose end product is improving is loanee Elliot Embleton. After a slow start with goals and assists, he’s now bang in form and has added 2 goals and 3 assists to his total in the last month.

Before the game at Exeter on Saturday, 9 of Town’s previous 11 goals had either been scored or assisted by Wes Thomas or Elliot Embleton, showing not only their individual form, but their importance to the team of late.

Thomas perhaps took a few weeks to get fully match-fit after signing late, but has also no doubt benefited from the greater and quicker support he’s now getting when leading the line.

Embleton’s increase in productivity could be put down to a number of things – a young player learning his trade and improving week-by-week, settling into a new side in new surroundings, but probably quite key has been his switch to a more central attacking role in recent weeks which seems to have brought the best out in him.

Harry Davis might be a surprise name up there with 6 (3 goals & 3 assists). But he’s proved himself to be a threat at set pieces recently as well as establishing himself at centre-back after an earlier spell at full-back.

Jordan Cook is still high on the list with 6, despite limited opportunities recently. Cook hasn’t started a league game since the last time Town lost at home in the League on September 29th.

Special mention must go to Ben Pringle too. He might only have 2 assists to his name so far, but his set piece delivery has been good recently and his crosses have sometimes been flicked on before someone else applies the finishing touch.

Where on the Pitch?

Here’s a quick snapshot of where on the pitch the goals have been scored from so far.

goalsfromwhere

As is most common in football, most goals have come from inside the 18-yard box, with 22 scored from this area. A further 11 have come from inside the 6-yard box. And 5 strikes have come from outside the box. A few of these outside the box were really borderline, but in case you’re wandering which goals were outside the box, they were:

  1. Cook vs Macclesfield
  2. Woolford vs Lincoln
  3. Embleton vs MK Dons (FA Cup)
  4. Embleton vs Tranmere
  5. Thomas vs Port Vale

How the goals are scored

Here’s a quick look at the spread of goals and how they’ve come about.

GoalsHow

You’ll see we’ve got a few from set pieces but this has taken a while to get going. We’ve scored 6 goals from set pieces but aside from one against Notts County in the Checkatrade Trophy in early September, the other 5 have all come in the last 8 games. People will naturally point to Ben Pringle’s introduction into the team (although Embleton’s delivery has also contributed) coinciding with us scoring goals from set plays, but there’s also work being done on the training ground.

How Many Games GTFC Have Scored In

A look at how many times Town have hit the back of the net in different quantities doesn’t reflect current form, but shows the early season struggle the team had in scoring goals.

HowManyGoals

In League and Cup, Town have so far failed to score in close enough to a third of their games. Yet recent weeks has seen us hit 4 and 5 goals in a game. And I repeat the stat I mentioned earlier of 17 goals scored in the last 7 games to show that we are an improving side.

Hope you’ve found some of this remotely interesting.

Thanks for reading.

Up the Town!!!

Playing with a Plan

Michael Jolley made 5 changes to the starting line-up for his first game in charge of Grimsby Town and significantly changed the system too. I was eagerly anticipating the tactical approach that the new man in charge would put in place. He’s known as an intelligent Coach and as a tactically forward-thinking man, and I think he’s shown signs of this after just one game in charge.

Structure

Jolley had spoken in pre-match interviews about wanting to understand and effect the mindset of the players. He’d spoken about giving the players more clarity in terms of a way of playing and a structure with clear responsibilities.

To me, this was evident from the start. Nobody realistically expected the new Manager to transform a team that hadn’t won in 15 games into a reincarnation of Barcelona. But what we did see, was a team that looked like they knew their jobs in different stages of the game.

It should be a given really, yet it hasn’t always been evident previously this season. But there was a clear structure to the team in and out of possession, with an animated Manager on the touchline assisting the players to ensure it was followed. There were several patterns of play, including debutant Easah Suliman receiving the ball from McKeown and building into midfield, switches of play when wing-backs were left 1v1 as a result of other movements I’ll mention soon, and being more patient in building up possession as M.J. was happy to speak about in his post-match interview.

Starting Line-up

Town lined up as follows in what I’d call a 3-4-3 formation, similar to what some Premier League sides have used in the last couple of years:

StartingLineUp

GTFC Starting XI vs Port Vale

It’s a system that the new Manager would have only had a few days to work on and there are clearly things to work on to make it more effective. But some principles of what would make it work were evident before the shape was changed to chase the game.

In Possession

StartingLineUpMovement

In possession, the wing-backs were pushed up high and wide whilst Clifton and Dembele drifted infield to both play as no.10’s trying to receive the ball between the lines of Port Vale’s compact shape.

StartingLineup In Possession

In Possession

The movement of Dembele/Clifton infield allowed us to switch play a fair few times as it left the wing-back on the opposite side of the pitch 1v1 . Unfortunately neither Fox or Davies are known as dribblers so on these occasions possession was either recycled or the delivery into the box came a bit too early and from deep.

The narrower roles of Dembele and Clifton in possession almost, and should have, led to a Town goal just before half time. Because they were infield in possession, if we could win the ball back high and quickly in moments of transition having lost the ball, they were already in prime positions to hurt the opposition. Clifton won the ball with typically energetic pressing midway into Port Vale’s half and it released Dembele down the inside-right channel. The former Nike Academy man cut the ball back but despite Town having bodies arriving in the box, no-one was able to get a clear shot off.

Out of Possession

vs Port Vale Out of Possession

Out of Possession

Out of possession, the wing-backs naturally retreated whilst Dembele and Clifton dropped back into midfield positions, giving us more of a 5-4-1 shape (above).

Plan B

With the game progressing and the visitors having had the better of the chances. Jolley showed a pro-active approach to game management by making an early change just 8 minutes into the second half. A centre-back (Suliman) was sacrificed, on came Reece Hall-Johnson, and Town switched to a basic 4-4-2 with Dembele now operating as a standard no.10 (see below).

Substitution1

53rd minute: First Substitution/Formation Change

Further Substitutions

Following James McKeown’s penalty save in the 63rd minute, the former Burnley u23 Coach attempted to capitalise on a momentum shift in the game by sending on striker Harry Cardwell for Mitch Rose a couple of minutes later. The shape of the team didn’t change this time, but it was a more attacking move with two recognised strikers now on the pitch. Dembele and Davies now took up new positions (below).

Substitution2

65th minute: 2nd substitution

Then with 13 minutes left the final substitution was more of a like-for-like with winger Sam Kelly replacing Siriki Dembele. This was Dembele’s first start for a while and he was understandably fatigued and probably a little low on confidence, but he could play an important part in the run-in. Kelly made a few positive contributions on the left and Clifton switched over to the right and did another job in the GTFC Academy graduate’s 3rd position of the 90 minutes.

Substitution3

77th minute: 3rd substitution

Conclusions

Town rescued a point in the 91st minute having shown plenty of heart and a desire to keep going until the last whistle, something Jolley commented on post-match as a major positive regarding the psychology of the players.

They undoubtedly owe a massive amount of credit to Man of the Match James McKeown for keeping the Mariners in the game with a few genuinely top class saves. But the early signs of the new Manager are that he’s setting up a clear way of playing, can adapt and change within a game, and isn’t afraid to make early changes. All 3 substitutes made positive contributions and we arguably got stronger in the game with each change.

With more time now to go to work on the training ground, this will give hope to the Black & White army that we have a Manager who, first and foremost, can work with the players he’s got to ensure League Two survival. If he can do that, I’m confident he could build a decent side longer term.

#AllTownArentWe

Analysis: Luke Summerfield vs Accrington Stanley 30.12.17

Grimsby Town played Accrington Stanley at Blundell Park this afternoon and I put Mariners’ midfielder Luke Summerfield’s passing under the microscope.

Match: Grimsby Town vs Accrington Stanley

Competition: Football League Two

Venue: Blundell Park

Date/Time: 3pm, 30.12.2017

Analysis: Individual Player’s Passing

Subject: Luke Summerfield (played 90 mins)

The pass maps below show Summerfield’s passes in each half of the game. Black arrows show completed passes and red arrows show incomplete passes.

1st Half

Luke Summerfield 1st Half v Acc Stanley

2nd Half

Luke Summerfield 2nd Half v Acc Stanley

That’s for you to see where his passes were made from and where they were played to. Now for some of the numbers:

Luke Summerfield vs Acc Stanley (2)

Pretty good retention rates from Luke throughout the game, even if he might have wanted to get on the ball a bit more. The next few numbers give a bit of an indication as to where his passes went.

Luke Summerfield vs Acc Stanley (3)

Luke was chosen as the Match sponsor’s MOM for the game as he continued his good run of form this season. He also had a few efforts at goal during the game but it’s his accurate and progressive passing that has been part of what’s made Luke stand out so far this season.

With 77% of his passes going forward and a good chunk (41%) getting the ball out wide where there’s often more space, he shows a desire to get the ball moving quickly and with a purpose.

The three occasions he gave the ball away came from a failed cushion-volley back to a throw-in taker, a loose ball that he got to and tried to play into a centre-forward first-time, and an attempt to switch the point of attack by getting it wide which fell just behind the winger.

An overall pass completion rate of 88% sounds quite impressive for a central midfielder in League Two. And had it been a match in which Grimsby enjoyed a bit more possession, the figures may have been even more interesting.

Hopefully some of you found this interesting. Thanks for reading.

 

 

The Rise and Rise of Shaun Pearson

In July 2011, Grimsby Town signed a 22 year old central defender from Conference North side Boston United named Shaun Pearson.

Five and a half years later, Pearson captained the side in his 250th appearance for the Mariners.

537567878

Picture by Getty Images

He’s been on quite a journey so far, yet there could still be much more to add to his story in years to come. So far in his career he’s had promotions from two play-off final victories, a play-off final defeat, three more play-off semi-final defeats, two FA Trophy final defeats and two Lincolnshire Senior Cup wins. He’s played at Wembley 4 times and represented his country at England C level.

And at 27, he’s still probably another couple of years away from hitting his prime as a professional.

It is worth making sure that Shaun is congratulated for reaching what is a great milestone of 250 appearances for one club, especially in modern day football when players (particularly in the lower leagues) seem to move clubs more frequently than in years gone by. There was a short piece in the Grimsby Telegraph on Monday about Shaun’s achievement but I’ll go into Shaun’s time at GTFC so far in a bit more depth.

He arrived in the summer of 2011 following Town’s first season in the Conference had ended with a disappointing 11th place finish. Rob Scott and Paul Hurst had been appointed Joint Managers at the Club midway through that season and were now able to rebuild the squad to their liking in pre-season. Pearson had played for Scott and Hurst at Boston and they wasted no time in bringing him to Grimsby at the earliest opportunity.

Debut

His Town career didn’t get off the best of starts. After being an unused substitute in the season opener against eventual champions Fleetwood, Pearson made his debut 3 days later in the infamous 5-0 away defeat at Braintree. Have a look at Town’s starting line-up that day:

town-v-braintree-16082011

Shaun was in and out of the team in his first season in full-time football. He made 33 appearances (including sub appearances) as he competed for a place with Darran Kempson, Scott Garner, Charlie I’Anson, for a little while Will Antwi, and from January onwards Ian Miller. By the end of the season, Shaun had established himself in the team as part of the first choice central defensive partnership with Ian Miller. Town finished 11th after flirting with the play-offs with a great middle third to the season, but having a poor last 2 months.

I think the Town fans took to Pearson quite well. His all-action style as a defender who would throw his body in front of shots to prevent a goal, and who would put his head where some wouldn’t put their feet, helped Town’s faithful warm to him.

For the following two seasons Town would be much more consistent and reach the play-offs in successive years only to be knocked out in the semi-finals. Pearson played a big part in this as part of a well organised defensive unit. At times during these seasons Town actually looked like they might challenge for the Conference title and I remember Shaun being obsessed with clean sheets and coming in after games checking to see how many goals other teams had conceded to see if we still had the best defensive record. This competitive mentality is part of what has made Shaun successful.

I think he was seen by fans, in general, as a great conference defender. Not a great deal of pace but a good reader of the game with great bravery as mentioned above. I also think he was, a little unfairly, seen as being poor on the ball. In my opinion this was down to his tall, gangly appearance that doesn’t look as natural on the ball as some others. However I do actually think he was always better on the ball than given credit for.

Yellow Cards

One of the early deficiencies in Shaun’s game was the amount of yellow cards he picked up. He picked up far too many bookings for dissent and spent too much time arguing with referees. He got a massive 16 yellow cards in the 2013-14 season but I believe that year was the turning point for him. His 16th yellow card was in the 1st leg of the play-off semi-final against Gateshead which caused him to be suspended and miss the 2nd leg (which Town lost). The following season he improved on his number of bookings and was only booked 9 times. In Town’s promotion season he was booked just 3 times and so far in League Two he has picked up just four yellow cards.

Pearson had played at Wembley for the first time in his career when Town lost on penalties to Wrexham in the 2013 FA Trophy Final, and was back at Wembley with the Mariners in 2015. Pearson had formed a good partnership with Toto Nsiala all season and stayed in the team despite the late-season signing of Josh Gowling. Unfortunately Town were again defeated at Wembley in a penalty shoot-out.

Loyalty to GTFC

Pearson was now out-of-contract at Grimsby and rumours were circulating that he was about to leave the Club. I think BBC Radio Humberside had reported that he was in talks with Barnsley. Sure enough, Shaun signed a new 2-year deal with Town and had another crack at getting Town promoted to the Football League.

In the 2015-16 season though, he would spend most of the season just deputising for the first choice pairing of Nsiala and Gowling. He did still make 32 appearances, with many of these coming as a substitute or in games where Nsiala was deployed at right-back. Throughout the season, we would never hear of Shaun complaining about lack of starts or asking to move. He was the ultimate professional during this time and performed well whenever he was playing. The season ended with success at last for the Mariners as we triumphed over Forest Green at Wembley to earn promotion to the Football League via the play-offs. Pearson was to come on as a late substitute for the goalscorer of Town’s third goal, Nathan Arnold. It was probably fitting that when the final whistle went to confirm Town’s promotion, Pearson was on the pitch along with Craig Disley and James McKeown, two guys who also started at Braintree in 2011, and who had all been through the heartache in recent years.

The Football League

So on to the Football League. Another step up for Shaun to make after moving from Stamford to Boston, and then Boston to Grimsby. Grimsby had now become a League Two Club and Pearson was now a Football League player. I have to confess, I personally wondered whether there would be a future at GTFC for Shaun Pearson last summer. He had spent most of last season out of the team and I wondered whether his lack of pace/mobility would be more evident at this higher level.

I’m delighted to say that in the months that have passed since, I have been proved wrong, and then some. Pearson was on the bench for the opening game against Morecambe. He played at Derby in the cup a few days later and had Darren Bent in his pocket but was then out of the starting line-up for the next couple of league games. Then he got back in the team for the home game with Leyton Orient and despite a slip that couldn’t be helped leading to an Orient goal, Pearson had a solid game. He deservedly stayed in the team for several weeks before being strangely dropped by Paul Hurst after the EFL Trophy game against Leicester City u23’s. Pearson had gone in goal during this game after McKeown had been sent off so it seemed strange to see him out of the team in the next game after he’d previously been in good form.

He spent the next 3 games out of the team before Hurst left for Shrewsbury. Then caretaker boss Dave Moore kept Gowling and Danny Collins as the central defensive pairing for his 2 games in charge. Marcus Bignot came in and also kept faith with Gowling and Collins for his first 5 league games, before Pearson made an unexpected start away at Doncaster in December. Shaun has been in the team ever since.

In his current run of 12 straight starts, Town’s number 5 has been in contention for Man of the Match on several occasions, has barely put a foot wrong and has been dominant against League Two forwards he’s faced. He has looked comfortable in both a back three and a back four, and ensured his name is probably one of the first on the teamsheet at the moment for Manager Marcus Bignot.

Remember that line-up for his first appearance in black and white?

Compare that to the team he led out as captain on his 250th Town appearance:

town-v-mansfield-18022017

Individual Development

Shaun’s development as a player over his five and a half years at GTFC is plain to see. Comparing the two line-ups of his 1st and 250th games, and the company he now finds himself in tells you a bit about how far Shaun has come. For starters he’s playing alongside a former Welsh international with around 150 Premier League appearances to his name.

In terms of his own game, he’s no longer just seen as a brave defender who’ll throw his body in front of shots and head the ball out of dangerous areas where boots are flying in.

His reading of the game has improved year on year. Very rarely do you see him having to make last-ditch tackles, because he doesn’t get into a position where he needs to.

His ability on the ball is an area he has always been improving. As I said earlier, I think he was better on the ball to begin with than he appeared to some, but there’s still no doubt this is an area of Shaun’s game that has made great strides. In a recent game against Notts County, he had his manager comparing him to Franz Beckenbauer after the way he brought the ball out of defence and pinged long range passes out to the wing-backs. Against Luton, he left a defender for dead in the opposition penalty area after a quick stepover. But that wasn’t the first time we’ve seen skilful moves like that from him. At Alfreton away a few years back he set up a goal after a bit of skill and again away at Southport. But his general ability on the ball and composure in travelling with the ball out of defence is helping him look more than at home in the Football League.

He’s also much more disciplined in terms of keeping his name out of the referees book these days. As touched on earlier, he was seeing far too many yellow cards in his early days at GTFC, but rarely now do you see him back-chatting referees and getting needless bookings for dissent.

Finally, has he also developed physically too? It does seem like Shaun is maybe a bit sharper now, slightly quicker and fitter than he may have been, certainly after his step up from part-time football with Boston.

Shaun “GTFC” Pearson

On top of his great service to Town on the pitch, and his great personal development, Shaun has also done more than most for the Club off the pitch. He helps out with the FITC and the GTFC Academy and is always seen doing bits in the community. This only adds weight to the thought that Shaun Pearson is writing himself into GTFC history and on his way to becoming a Club legend.

He’s only 27 and I’m sure there’s more to come from him – both as an individual and for him to achieve more success with the Club. See you in another 250 appearances Shaun!

“THERE’S ONLY ONE SHAUN PEARSON”

#gtfc

Giving Ownership and Responsibility to a Developing Player

I’ve just done a Futsal session with my under 10’s tonight and it was very much a “player-led” session for most of it. I’m a believer in giving responsibility and ownership to kids but tonight was the most I’ve had the players lead the session and it was definitely the most rewarding in terms of outcomes in the “psychological” and “social” corners.walthammarinersfutsaltourn04022017

I gave them ownership of most aspects of the session and gave them the responsibility of organising and adjusting the practices.

For starters, I told them to set up their own arrival activity. The boys took some cones and the futsal balls and away they went. I watched as some of them discussed it, before they set up some small channels to play 1v1 line-ball and got on with it.

As the last few players arrived, they came in the sports hall and asked me what we were doing. I just told them that the players had set this up so ask them. Soon enough, everyone was taking part in these 1v1 line-ball battles. With each pair choosing a slightly different shape or size channel for their game.

Coincidentally this allowed me to see who had remembered what we did in the 1v1 defending session I did just 2/3 days ago, so we just carried this on for the first part of the session. I coached a few players on their defending and offered a few reminders, before eventually stopping them. Just a brief 20-second stoppage to ask them to think about whether they want to change any rules of their game or the area they were using.

I stood back and watched again to see what they would do, if anything. Some wanted to make their area bigger, some smaller. I didn’t mind what they did as long as they could tell me why they did it. One group made it wider as they wanted to keep the game flowing as their ball previously went out of the area in their narrower channel. Another group made it smaller (a lot smaller) and when I asked why, they said it was to make it more challenging. I liked that making it more challenging was their aim, but I queried who it was more challenging for by asking “is it more challenging for the defender?”. At this point I think I could actually see the cogs turning in his brain again. Making him think was the aim. They carried on for a bit and then changed it again.

After the boys picked up all the cones they had used (only 4 cones for each pair) I gave them a vague brief on what they were to do next.

“There’s 9 of you. Split yourselves into 2 groups. Here’s 4 cones for one group and 4 cones for the other group. Both groups make yourselves an area to play a rondo, one will be 3v1, the other 4v1. Go.”

After they split themselves into 2 groups I watched who was leading the discussions or communicating their ideas or suggestions. The group of five set up their square to play a 4v1 within. As they were about to start it, one of them suggested that instead of the 4 all standing in the corners of the square, they should each stand on one side of the square each, so that they wouldn’t have a cone getting in their way. They also decided that they would play quick-fire rondo with only first time passes allowed.

The other group setting up for a 3v1 had a similarly sized small area and didn’t limit themselves in terms of number of touches. After a while I asked this group if they wanted to change anything about their game. They decided to make their area bigger. The gist of their reasoning ( I can’t remember the words they used) was that because they only had 3 on the possession team, they usually had to have one player making a move to one side to ensure 2 options for the player with the ball – so could do with the extra split second on the ball a bigger area would give them.

I asked if this group wanted to add any challenges into it. After one of them suggested 1-touch each, I gave them the option of playing 1-touch each or having the challenge to play 1-touch when possible. They recognised their smaller number and decided to play with the challenge to play 1-touch rather than the condition to. Very good. This also gave me a few moments to coach. A couple of them tried to play a first time pass when it wasn’t really possible to and the ball went astray. I asked one of them what he could’ve done differently. “I should have taken a second touch” he said. Good, I thought, as long as he understands why. So when prompted to elaborate, he re-enacted the movement he had to do to try and pass it as the ball came to him quickly at an awkward height and between his knees, and said he couldn’t pass it like that so should’ve controlled it first. Always ask why so you can check their understanding, and make sure they’re not just giving an answer because they think that’s the answer you want to hear.

The 5-player group changed the rules of their 4v1 rondo to now include a player in the middle with the defending player. So 3 players on the edge of their square playing into their team-mate in the middle who was closely marked by the defending player. Interestingly they hadn’t made the area any bigger to allow for this, but they coped with the small area brilliantly with some good, sharp passing and movements.

After a quick drinks break I said we’d play a favourite of theirs – “Keep it on the Court”.

I’d already put the cones down for the area we’d be using for this at the start of the session so just gave 4 of them bibs to put on. I asked the team of 5 to discuss how they would make their one-man advantage count. And I told them that if they don’t win I would ask them afterwards what they haven’t done. They had a little chat amongst themselves as I went to prompt a discussion on the other side. I heard one of them say they would make the pitch big, so I knew they were thinking along the right lines.

Similarly, I challenged the team of 4 to think how they could try and beat the non-bibs bearing in mind they were a man short. After they picked a formation for this small game I heard something I liked. One of them said “we’ll just let their deepest player have the ball and not mark him.” Brilliant thinking and understanding. High-five for the lad.

After the game of “Keep it on the Court”, which the team of 5 just shaded, I had some more ways to engage their brains. We were just going to play a game of Futsal now but I’d written on the whiteboard in the sports hall a challenge for each team. The orange’s would earn 5 points for a goal if they won possession in the opposition half and then went on to score. The green’s (team of 4) would earn 10 points if they won possession in their own half and then attacked and scored in that move. I placed a greater reward for the 4-man team because a) it’d help them as they were a man down, and b) at u10 its instinctive to go and win the ball immediately so I thought theirs it would be a greater challenge.

I told them to go off in their teams and discuss how they would set up and what tactics they might play to try and achieve their challenge. And then we started. The 4-man greens dropped deep to allow their opposition to come forward into their half before trying to win the ball and break. The oranges sent bodies forward to win the ball high up, but couldn’t manage it. They scored 5 goals but all after either attacking from their own half, or after playing it in from a kick-in inside the opposition half. So only single point scoring goals. The green’s had scored two single-point scoring goals. Then in the last minute before we were moving on, the green’s retreated into their own half, allowed an orange player to travel over the half-way line and then pressed. They won the ball and broke forward 2v1 to score a 10-pointer to win 12-2 with the last kick. Their own tactics and thinking had won it for them. Very pleased with the outcome of that.

Lastly, I had a game scenario written on the board for them:

“2 minutes left in the FA Cup Final. Green’s are 2-0 up but have one player less. What are your priorities 1) when you have possession, and 2) out of possession.”

I sent them away in their teams to quickly discuss how they were going to approach it. The green’s decided to have 2 defenders and 1 player ahead of them, and would try and just keep the ball. The orange’s straight away said they were going with 1 defender and 3 attackers and would play quickly, trying to get the ball off them as quickly as possible. We played 2 minutes and despite the orange team having chances, the green’s played to their plan well and eventually scored to make it 3-0 in the last 5 seconds.

I was really pleased with some of the stuff that came out of the session. I’d placed a bigger focus on the psychological and social corners of development and was delighted with the thinking behind everything they did and the logic used when explaining to me why they’d done something.

I thought that, as well as the players enjoying being given responsibility and ownership of their own development, they also got plenty out of it too. And mixing that in with my prompts and questions in future will be a good combination.

It was by no means a perfect session. It didn’t have a single topic/theme running through the session like I run my Saturday “football” sessions. And thinking about it later I could’ve given more ownership to them by getting them to pick the teams for the game (one for next time maybe). But overall I think there’s huge benefit to be gained from taking a step back and letting players lead elements of the session like that. Even if you need to give a bit of guidance and just ask the right questions to get the answers you’re looking for. But always make sure they can explain why, and that they’re not just answering with what they think is the right answer.

Give it a try. Let your players lead. Give them ownership and responsibility.

And let them play.

An England Friendly with a Difference

Tuesday evening’s international friendly between England and Spain wasn’t the average England friendly. It was interesting, at times entertaining, and we could actually learn something from the game.

Gareth Southgate set his side up with a tactical plan that was working to perfection for 80 minutes. We got back into defensive shape when Spain had the spells of possession that you’d expect from them despite it not being their strongest XI. And on set triggers, the team pressed. When one player went to press an opponent, he was backed up with everyone behind him squeezing up and the front 4 looking to win it high up the pitch. We broke forward very well with the pace of Sterling, Vardy and Lingard complimenting the skill of Lallana.

Lallana

Liverpool’s Adam Lallana is fast becoming England’s best player. He added to a string of recent good performances for his country with an influential first half until injury forced his withdrawal. England missed his skill, vision and creativity in the second half as his influence on this England team grows. 

Playing out from the back

Southgate clearly wants his England team to play out from the back. At times Scotland forced errors when we tried to play out so Spain and their high press was a good test for a way of playing that is alien to England defenders of years gone by. I actually commend the new England for this and love to see John Stones calm under pressure. The problem is, there aren’t many others in the defensive third of the pitch on Stones’ level in possession. Cahill always looks panicked on the ball, Henderson is quite one dimensional and as much as I rate Dier, he’s no Busquets. When  Jagielka came on he made no effort to make angles to receive the ball and was hoping for someone to launch it long. Jagielka is not an international class defender anyway though so that’s not likely to be an issue going forward. 

The midfield need to work harder and have to want to get on the ball more than they do. A lot of the time Stones has the ball and looks for a pass into midfield. Dier would come short but he’s followed by a Spanish forward. He should then be looking to rotate out of that space for someone like Henderson to move into and receive the ball on the half-turn. And only Stones really sprints into a position to receive after the ball’s gone back to the goalkeeper. Several times in the game saw Cahill and Stones make a long pass back to the goalkeeper because they’re incapable of opening up and playing a simple pass with their left foot. I think we can learn to play out from the back, but we need some better technical players in the right areas.

Competing with the best

This game, along with the friendly away to Germany earlier in the year, gives at least a hint that this England side could be capable of doing OK against good opposition in major tournaments. The worry now is whether we can reach the stage in tournaments where we’ll get to play the traditionally bigger nations. Because recently it’s the smaller countries (Iceland) or the teams who just “park the bus” (Slovakia, Slovenia, Russia) who we struggle against. This is because even poor teams can now be well-organised and we have just ran out of ideas against these types of teams.

The Rooney Conundrum 

What this England performance showed is the effectiveness of pace and energy in the final third. Could England have pressed quickly with Rooney in the side? Possibly not. Could England have counter attacked so quickly and effectively with Rooney in the side. Definitely not. I maintain the view that there isn’t a place for Rooney in the current England side. He is not a midfielder. If he is to play it must be as a #9 or a #10. I’d say as the #9 really, because he doesn’t have the dynamism or spark to play as a #10 anymore. But with him as the focal point of the attack we wouldn’t break forward at pace like we did at times against Spain.

All in all, England actually looked and played like they had a tactical plan. Credit to Southgate for that. If we want to play out from the back we need better technical players in defence and midfield. Maybe the promising England youth sides will provide these players. And while Rooney is looking more like a bit-part player, Adam Lallana is emerging as the key talent.