Coaching

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.

Advertisements

Waltham Lions’ Journey from 5v5 to 11v11 Football

Waltham Lions are now coming to the end of our second and final season playing the 5v5 format of Mini-Soccer. During the 2 seasons of 5v5, I’ve generally told the outfield players to play as a defender (one), midfielder (two) or striker (one), but the only real position I’ve been concerned with asking someone to stick to is the defensive role – just to have someone deeper than the other three players. But over the coming summer we’ll be introducing more specific positions.

As we begin the transition to 7-a-side football, you’ll see my philosophy of developing good all-round players with good game intelligence continue, by allowing players to play in different positions. There’s no way of knowing what position an 8-year-old will end up playing when he’s 18. And I could give you plenty of examples of Premier League footballers that play in different positions as professionals to where they played in junior/youth teams. So they need to have an understanding of different roles in the team, not just for when they’ll play in different positions themselves, but also to understand how their team-mates in positions near to them on the pitch might play.

In terms of formations and how I’ll set the Lions up to play, it’ll be with a long-term plan in mind. In the years to come, I’ll give the players the chance to learn and experiment with different formations. But the plan will be geared towards a team playing 4-3-3 once we reach 11-a-side. And I’ll be putting the plans for this in place when we start playing 7v7.
 
Watch the YouTube video below that I’ve uploaded to explain how the Lions will transition from 7v7 to 9v9 and then to 11v11:
 

7v7

When we start playing 7v7 football for the 2015/2016 season as new Under 9’s, we’ll generally (but not always) use a 2-3-1 formation. The two wing-backs and central midfielder will all break forward to attack but will get back to support the defence when we lose the ball. 7v7 - 2-3-1 The two wing-backs and central midfielder will all break forward to attack but will get back to support the defence when we lose the ball.

9v9

After two seasons of playing 7v7, we will then progress to 9v9 when we are Under 11’s. This is the age group where the offside rule comes into play and we use bigger goals than those used in 5v5/7v7. At this point we will keep the basic structure of the team and just add two midfielders.

9v9 - 2-3-2-1

11v11

Then after two seasons of 9v9, we will start playing the full 11-a-side format of football at the Under 13’s age group. When this time comes, all we will need to do is add two attacking wingers to the existing set-up.
11v11 - 4-3-3
 
So each transition to a different format is kept quite simple by adding two players to what we are already doing, rather than switching the whole team set-up around. It’s all designed with the long-term plan in mind, ending up with a fluid and flexible 4-3-3 formation at 11v11. But, as I said earlier, I’m trying to develop intelligent and versatile players fit for the modern yet ever-changing game, so we will learn and practice other formations too.

4-3-3

There are a few reasons I’ve chosen this 4-3-3 and this method of going up through the different formats as the favoured, but not only, way of playing. Firstly, it fits in with my philosophies on coaching and playing the game. Secondly, when compared to the standard British formation of 4-4-2, the 4-3-3 allows much more flexibility and gives the player in possession of the ball more passing options. In the flat 4-4-2, you’ll typically have three straight lines of players. Flat 4-4-2 This can make it difficult to keep controlled possession of the ball and play through the thirds of the pitch, as you’re often just left with options for a backwards, sideways or forward pass (but rarely all three). In the 4-3-3 as shown below, you’ll have five lines of players to be able to play through as you work the ball through the thirds of the pitch. 4-3-3 Layers This helps you move up the pitch in possession. And you can see below how many different angles it creates between team-mates all over the pitch, as opposed to the square and limited right-angle options that the predictable 4-4-2 provides. 4-3-3 Angles These extra layers in this 4-3-3 also make it more difficult for opposition players to find space “between the lines” or “in the pockets of space” as is often spoken about.
 
No doubt when we get to 11v11 at Under 13’s, most teams we play against will play 4-4-2 – just because it’s the traditional way to play in England and it’s what most people grew up with. However the game has moved on. In the same way I want all of my players to be creative and use their imagination, I’ll try and make sure the team as a whole reflects that in the way we set up to play. So there you go, that will be my plan.
 
But as ever in Coaching, you have to be adaptable, and I will remain so. And just before closing, here’s a slideshow of some other formations we’ll go with at some point at 11-a-side:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Thanks for reading.
 
UTL.
 
Tommy Bryan (Coach)

Why the Grassroots Football Calendar Needs a Revamp

This weekend saw a complete washout of grassroots football in Grimsby and Cleethorpes. Heavy rain in the last week has resulted in unplayable, heavily waterlogged pitches and all of the region’s mini-soccer games scheduled to be played today were postponed.

image

Football being called off is a sign that winter has arrived. We are still in November and there is undoubtedly worse weather still to come during the next few months.

After the prolonged interruptions to the grassroots game in the early part of 2014, where we went the best part of two months without playing a game due to unfit pitches, I wouldn’t bet against a similar scenario this season.

image

So is it time that the Football Association review the grassroots football calendar?

Well, it’s a categorical YES from me. I’ve questioned before why the football season in the UK runs through the winter, when our climate dictates that many games are lost due to the weather. I can understand that the FA would want to keep it aligned to the professional game. But grassroots clubs run by volunteers, with pitches on public grounds, don’t have the money to invest in ground staff and pitch/drainage facilities to ensure games can still be played safely.

Here in North East Lincolnshire, Clubs in the Gradely Sports Junior Football League play games from September until the end of April. That’s a 7-month season when you take out a break for Christmas. Last year, a mixture of waterlogged pitches and frozen pitches meant the Christmas break extended to mid February, when pitches were suitable/safe and games finally started to be played again.

Would it not make more sense to have the season run from March to October instead of the current set-up?

During this period we’d see much less matches postponed because of the weather and opportunities for young players to learn and develop whilst playing would be increased slightly.

This isn’t an argument to say that kids need perfect surfaces to play on. Kids in less developed countries than ours have less quality facilities than us. Whilst I think we do need to improve grassroots facilities in this country at grassroots level, we could point to “beach football” in Brazil and “street football” around the world to suggest that kids don’t always need to play on a carpet-like bit of grass to be able to develop.

But when the UK weather claims so many unsafe and unplayable pitches during our winter period, in the middle of our Mini-Soccer and junior football seasons, it means these kids can’t play at all. And surely we have to question the logic behind the current football calendar at this level of the game.

image

It’s not too late to change it. We don’t need to keep it as it is just because it’s always been that way.

We cannot ignore the grassroots game. No child is born an England international. Every professional football player there’s ever been has started in the grassroots game.

So come on Greg Dyke & co, let’s have a March-October grassroots football season to keep the kids playing.

What do you think?

Three Phrases Not Welcome On The Touchline

FA Respect Line

 

As the Football Development Officer at Waltham FC, here are three remarks or phrases that I would like to ban from the sidelines of our junior football matches:

 

1) “Big kick”

To me, shouting “big kick” implies that you would like the child in possession of the ball to punt the ball forward as far and as hard as he can, with less importance on where the ball actually ends up. Some spectators can be heard praising a big powerful kick even when it goes out of play or to the opposition. In my eyes this is no way to help a young player. It is teaching them that if they aimlessly blast the ball as hard as they can up the pitch, it is a good thing that they will be praised for. If we’re interested in the long-term development of a player, people must not encourage the “big kick”. Instead, we would like the player to be creative, dribble, hold onto the ball, shield the ball or pass to a team-mate. I ask my kids what happens if they boot the ball off the pitch or up to the opposition goalie, and they rightly tell me that they are just giving the ball to the other team. They understand and try to do something with the ball instead. Of course, the player could choose to play a long pass to a team-mate further up the pitch, but there’s a notable difference between that and the “big kick” that some would encourage.

 

2) “Get rid of it”

This can be linked to the first one. Shouting for a young player to get rid of the ball will only instill a feeling of panic in that player. If this is shouted enough at young players, it’s also likely it’d have long-term effects as the player reaches a point where he thinks he needs to get rid of the ball straight away. Perhaps people might only shout “get rid of it” when it looks like the player is closed down by the opposition and there may be a danger of losing the ball. Well the solution here should be to let the child problem-solve. Let them work out how they can overcome the problem. Do they try and dribble past a player, pass, or keep the ball until it is possible to do one of those things? Let them think for themselves and make that decision. Kids are often more creative than adults and so you may be surprised with what they can do. Otherwise, when they’re older and are put under pressure by opposition players, all they’ll know how to do is panic and get rid of it, with no idea of how they can keep the ball.

 

3) “Pass to Joe”

Telling a kid who to pass to is like doing their maths homework for them that they bring home from school. Every time you instruct a child what to do in what is supposed to be a learning environment, you take away a learning opportunity for the child. You take away the child’s chance to practice decision-making. You take away their ability to reflect on their decision afterwards and think what they might do differently next time. The other thing to consider is that the person giving the instruction could also be giving poor advice or hindering the creativity. It could be poor advice because adults on the side don’t always know the right choice. It could hold a player back because they may hear a shout of “pass to Joe”, when really they are capable of dribbling past 3 players and lashing the ball in the top corner of the net. Finally, an obsession with wanting players to pass the ball could lead to problems at a later age when there is no passing option available, so it’s important, especially at the younger age groups, that the players learn and experiment how they can do something with the ball themselves.

 

Remember – Encourage, don’t instruct

Please remember the Club’s Respect Codes of Conduct that all parents and Coaches are expected to adhere to. Please avoid coaching your child or other children through the game, as it may contradict what the coach is doing, remove learning opportunities for the child or simply reduce the enjoyment of playing if everyone is shouting all the time. I’ve highlighted three phrases we don’t want to hear above, but remember it is just praise and encouragement we want to hear from behind that Respect Line at the side of the pitch. If your child makes it to a professional Football Club’s academy or even just a trial, you won’t be able to tell them what to do then, so allow them that practice now. For anyone that would still like to shout, instruct and control a player, you might find FIFA 15 on the PlayStation more suitable.

 

#LetThemPlay

My New Role, Lions Sponsorship, My Coaching Journey and St George’s Park

I’ve got a few things to write about after the last few weeks, so here goes.

 

Waltham Lions Sponsorship

 

We had come to an agreement with local business “Mumbai Blues” recently whereby they would put some money in towards the cost of the new kit we need for the team. In the couple of months since, I’ve had endless difficulties with communication and getting to where we need to be. I offered the business a way out about 4 weeks ago when I checked with them again whether this was definitely something that they wanted to do, and I was assured it was “200%” something they wanted to do. Since then I still had the same problems of them not sending over the logo needed for the printers, or any method of payment. All my messages where ignored and whenever I called to speak on the phone I was assured it would be sent over in the next half an hour (or something similar).

It got to the point where we needed closure to this one way or the other so we decided we would give them an extra week before we would look elsewhere for sponsorship. Unsurprisingly, we never heard a thing. I’m disappointed in Mumbai Blues and feel like we wasted a lot of time there. And it could’ve really let a group of 7 year olds down had it not been for the generosity of another firm.

The positive end to this story is that we have a new sponsor for the Waltham Lions.

Grimsby Resin Floors (GRF) Ltd, industrial flooring specialists, very quickly offered to sponsor us for the full cost of the new kit after I advertised a plea for a willing business on social networking site Twitter.

I am extremely grateful to Chris Parker of GRF for stepping in to help us. And he had this to say in an email confirming his interest:

“I coached young sides for several years and after reading your blogs, we share certain ideals. I hope you continue to stress the importance of development & improvement above results, a sense of fair play and enjoyment. Although a long time ago I am a Waltham lad too, having been brought up in the village.”

Chris has also asked me to inform him of future fixture venues as he would like to come and watch a few games when possible. I’m delighted that Chris and GRF have agreed to help us with sponsorship and I’m very grateful. I also think it says a lot about Chris that he has not only stepped in at short notice to help us, but also that he’s showing a real interest in us and would like to see the Lions play.

 

GRF

 

Thanks to Chris and GRF from myself, Waltham FC, the Waltham Lions players and their parents.

 

Coaching Journey Continues with another Coaching Course

 

In June, I completed the FA Youth Award Module 1 coaching course. This was a brilliant 4-day course that I would recommend any coach to enrol on. It focused specifically on coaching young players, with considerations of different age groups, physical development and ability. It gave great messages around managing mistakes, allowing decision-making practice, giving freedom and responsibility, increasing self-esteem and managing motivation, amongst other things. Regular readers of my blogs and the parents of my players will hopefully notice that I’m already on the right track in these respects. However, I am always learning and looking to improve, and I found the practical involvement in exercises to emphasise different learning styles very useful and informative. And I took some great points and messages from the course, as well as a bunch of new games provided in the courses reading material.

I am still ready to take an assessment for the FA Level Two Award in Coaching Football course, and I await a re-arranged date for a Lincolnshire FA assessment after the previous weekend was postponed due to lack of numbers.

 

Visit to St George’s Park

 

On the 5th of July I visited St George’s Park with Waltham Red Stars Coach James Brown. I was looking forward to this for a long time and wasn’t disappointed. I was there for a coaches conference hosted by Lincolnshire FA at the new home of English Football development at Burton, Staffordshire. The Continued Professional Development (CPD) event consisted of a tour of St. George’s Park, lunch, and a 2 hour training session delivered by FA Regional Tutor Julie Chipchase on one of the pitches at the facility – the Michael Owen Pitch to be precise. The session topic was ‘Finishing’ and it was fascinating to take part in and observe the session and games put on and how they were delivered.
The whole facility is excellent. It was great to hear the level of care and detailed attention that goes into improving, adjusting and maintaining the pitches there. It was strange to be told that the indoor 3G pitch is watered and the make-up and constant minor adjustments to the Wembley replica pitch (the facilities main show pitch) is unbelievable. It was also quite staggering to hear that only 110 of the 330 acres owned at the site are actually being used at the moment, so there’s plenty of room for developments. I look forward to visiting the place again, either for a coaching course, CPD event or maybe one day with the Waltham Lions.

Here is a slideshow of pictures I took during my visit:

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

Louth Old Boys Tournament/Festival Abandoned

Waltham Lions were at the 2014 Louth Old Boys 5-a-side Tournament (uncompetitive festival at our u7 age group) last weekend. Unfortunately it was called off after a couple of matches due to the torrential rain and the u7s pitches becoming waterlogged. On the positive side, we scored some good goals in those 2 games and were playing really well. Both-footed Oliver Hendry scored from what looked like an impossible angle and then later with a left-footed strike. Rhys Racey and Lucas Jex also scored for the Lions, with Ethan Lowe showing some surprisingly great handling bearing in mind how wet and slippery the conditions were. Benjamin Harrison got some good tackles in and Leyton Bolton (when he wasn’t AWOL for the start of the second game) showed his usual intelligent touches.

 

Here’s a small slideshow of pictures of me and some of the boys from the day, enjoying the day despite the horrible conditions:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

 

My New Role at Waltham Football Club

 

Finally, I can proudly tell you that I have taken on more involvement/responsibility at the Football Club in the last couple of months.

Firstly, I was asked if I wanted to join the Club Committee. I was proud to be asked, happily accepted the invitation and have enjoyed being part of the discussions in the last two committee meetings.

Secondly, I was told by the committee that they wanted to support my continuing coaching education and would like me to have a role at the club which could feed through a lot of the messages, knowledge and information back into the club, with the other coaches and in turn, the players at the club, benefitting from this. With this in mind, I have begun a role at the club as Football Development Officer.

This will be explained in more detail at the Club’s AGM later this summer. But I will be developing a football development plan for the club, working towards ensuring all teams within the club are consistent with the same club philosophy, help to develop coach education and ensure that the club maintain a player-centred coaching approach. As I said though, more to come on this later. But I’m very excited about this role and hope to be able to make a difference.

The first thing I am looking to do is have each player at the Club go through a Player Feedback Questionnaire. After permission is granted from parents to do this, the Players will give their opinion on different things around a few key areas – Training, Matches, the Coach as well as football in general. I have already drawn up the forms so as soon as I have printed off a huge batch of them I will look to start this process.

Something else I have already been putting together is a template for a Player Development Review. This would be something for me to monitor and record each players’ development in aspects of all four corners of the FA’s Long-Term Player Development Model (Technical, Physical, Psychological and Social). It’d be something I would do at the end of every season, and possibly mid-season as well.

 

Thanks for reading.

 

Lions Show No Signs of Rustiness in Summer Friendly

Waltham Lions played their first game together for two months on Saturday, in a friendly match in Immingham. And to be completely honest I was blown away by how they not only did not look rusty or slow to get back into the groove, but the boys actually played the best I have seen us play to date.

I must have said, and written, quite a few times now over the last year, that the previous game had been the best performance from our boys so far. I’d hate for this to start to be a statement that begins to lose its meaning or have less impact despite saying it several times. I am always positive with comments and feedback to players, individually and as a team. But it is always 100% honesty too. And when I say I’ve not seen us play this well before, I always mean it and genuinely think it. The fact that I’ve said it quite a few times now only highlights the progress the boys are making and the clear improvements they’re showing.

During last season, the Lions were sometimes slow-starters in games and only got going in the 3rd and 4th quarters. There was no danger of that in this match though, we were great from start to finish.

Oliver Hendry scored a brilliant hat-trick, including another goal with his left foot. Oliver was a constant threat to the opposition and they must have been relieved whenever he came off the pitch for his turn to rest. When he gets a sight of goal and sees a route to get there with the ball, I don’t think a double-decker bus would get in his way. Two of his goals came after picking the ball up and dribbling towards goal before finishing well in the box. The other came with his left foot to smash in a loose ball in the area. Again, it’s very pleasing to see Oliver have a go with his left foot without hesitation, just choosing to use the best foot to use in any given situation, rather than forcing it onto either side. It wasn’t his only shot with his left peg either. He hit one earlier that only just went wide of the target. And after chatting to him after the game, I know he understands why it’s important to be able to use both feet.

Benjamin Harrison also had a good game. Benjamin got on the ball a lot and carried it forward well. He continues to instinctively perform the drag-back turn well when under pressure from the opposition, showing good awareness of when to use this turn and how he can use the different parts of his foot to manoeuver the ball. Benjamin also got an assist for one of the goals, taking a corner and passing it short to the unmarked Lucas Jex on the corner of the box before Lucas shot into the top corner.

Ethan Lowe played 20 minutes as the defender and was a big reason why we were on top of the game for long periods. Ethan must have only let Immingham attackers past him 2 or 3 times, and on those occasions he got back to steal the ball away from them – as if they had the nerve to go past him in the first place, eh. Whenever the opposition attacked, Ethan timed his tackles well and stepped in whenever there was a slightly heavier touch from the attacker. I seem to think he had some involvement in one of Oliver’s goals, but Ethan was definitely the creator of Ben Crolla’s late goal. Ethan drove forward on the right and laid the ball inside to his cousin and team-mate when the time was right.

That final goal was a great team goal really. The opposition kicked the ball into our half of the pitch but Oliver Hendry beat their attacker to the ball. Oliver used his head and passed down the line to Ethan. Ethan had space in front of him but Ben Crolla was by his side. With a defender 10-15 yards ahead of them, it resembled the 2v1 practice game we often do before matches. In the same way the practice is a great exercise of a player’s decision-making, this was a good example of Ethan’s decision-making on the ball. First he carried the ball forward when there was space to attack. Then as the defender came to close him down, he slid the ball through to Ben Crolla who ran onto the ball and went into challenge the goalkeeper as he came out to try and clear it. And the ball ended up in the back of the net.

As well as that goal, Ben Crolla had another action-filled performance. After having a bit of an ankle injury that weighed him down a little bit during a couple of tournaments in May, Ben was fully fit and firing on all cylinders here. As well as getting around the pitch with great energy as usual, Ben also showed us some skills of his own. At one point, Ben turned his man in the middle of the pitch and then turned back again the other way with a nice back-heel turn. As the defender at one stage, he was as solid as Ethan in not letting anyone past him with the ball. And he also controlled where we attacked very well, passing to whoever was in a good position after receiving the ball short from the goalkeeper.

Lucas Jex played with his usual swagger and scored a token Jexy-bomb, as described earlier. Quick thinking between Lucas and Benjamin Harrison worked a short corner to the corner of the goalkeeper’s area. Lucas got his head up and had one thing on his mind – dispatch the Jexy-Bomb. Off it went, from his right foot to the top corner of the net. He then followed this up with the Daniel Sturridge celebration (seen here as done by the Liverpool and England striker: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UAdL1M0QtLY). Lucas had earlier gone close with what would have been another wonder goal. After receiving the ball in our “right-back” area of the pitch, he beat 3 players on his way down the right flank, ghosting past them as if they weren’t there. He ended up near the goalkeeper’s area and hit a shot that the Immingham goalkeeper managed to save. Lucas got into space, usually on one of the flanks, and ensured we could patiently play our way up the field from goal kicks.

Leyton Bolton played using his brain as usual. He was reading the game and intercepting the ball plenty of times. And when he had the ball he used it well. Looking up to see players in space and playing good passes. In one great passage of play late in the game, Leyton got back to defend and tackled Immingham’s strongest player, turned to start us off on an attack and despite being pulled back (fouled) by the opposition player he still managed to play a great ball forward to Lucas.

Lucas Gill had a good game and again showed good understanding of the game. He was reading the game well and only going to close the ball down when no-one else was. Then, when I asked him to play as a striker late-on, he offered a good option for a pass every time we attacked. He didn’t always get the ball passed to him but I’m happy to see him understanding how to make himself available for a pass. On the ball, he carried the ball forward well and contributed well to us playing the ball out from the back throughout the match.

Rhys Racey had an absolutely solid game, playing mostly as the goalkeeper today, at his own request. He was quick to come off his line when he needed to – rushing out to meet and tackle oncoming attackers on the occasions that anyone got through one-on-one with him. His shot stopping was good and he was safe in that he pushed the ball away from goal when he couldn’t hold onto it. His decision-making and passing from goal-kicks was fantastic as well – playing it simple to the defender, who we know will always have 2 or 3 options from the way we set up.

All in all it was a great morning. As always it was a joy to watch the boys play. But the quality on show was brilliant. Technical ability-wise, I don’t think we saw anyone last season play as good football against us as we put together in long periods here. And as usual, part of the satisfaction comes from knowing that the boys are playing on their own and everything they do on the pitch is their own choice.

Every decision the children make is a learning opportunity, and I’m proud that we (me as the coach and all the parents watching) don’t take any of these learning opportunities away from the boys by telling them what to do. Of course, we give encouragement and praise, but we don’t tell them when to pass, when to shoot, who to pass to, or when to run with the ball. I personally believe we are probably already seeing the benefits of leaving them to play and learn for themselves.

I have to say thanks and well done to the parents for helping me create this playing environment, because it would be easy to want to shout such specific instructions all the time. That way would probably give more immediate results and maybe would’ve got us more wins last season. But my priority is the long-term development of these young players, not treating games as a match on FIFA 14 on the PlayStation controlling their every move so we can win. When it comes to development of players’ psychological ability, our boys will be well-ahead of children in other teams who aren’t being allowed to make their own decisions and problem-solve on the pitch.

I’ll finish just by saying how excited I am to see the team start playing every Sunday again so we can stand back and admire their fantastic football.

Up the Lions.

Combined Millers/Lions Team Impress at 5-a-side Festival

Waltham FC sent an under 7s team made up of a mixture of Waltham Lions and Waltham Millers players for the 2014 Bottesford Town Tournament. At the u7 age group, it is still uncompetitive so the boys got to play 8-minute matches against all the other nine teams at our age group to take part.

Throughout the day, the Waltham team played some great football against some very good teams from well-established clubs from North Lincolnshire and from closer to home too.

The short matches and the very small goals meant there was a distinct lack of goals in all of the u7 matches on the day, but it is important that this doesn’t mask the fact that we played some lovely football. The goals were, at most, half the width and half the height of the goals we are used to using. Most of the games ended goalless but this didn’t get our boys down though. Rule number one at Waltham FC is that the players have fun, and they had a great time – during the games and playing about in the sunshine in-between games.

From a coaches point of view, I didn’t see any other team play any football as good as what I saw from our boys at times over the day. We faced some good individuals who had great dribbling ability and one team caused us problems by having their goalkeeper punt the ball from his goal area to ours every time he had the ball in his hands. We worked our openings well by playing some lovely passing moves across the pitch and by playing the ball our short from the goalkeeper whether it was a goal kick of rolling it out from the goalies hands. I felt that in every match we played, apart from one, we were the better team and played the game in the opposition half more than our own. I think the one game in which we were on the back foot for the most part was against Appleby Frodingham, who have a small skilful lad who is great on the ball, and a great big defender twice the size of most of our players.

We had loads of chances throughout the day but only managed to put one of them away. It was a great goal though. Thomas Healey broke forward with the ball and with Rhys Racey by his side, they had a 2v1 advantage with only one defender between them and the goal. Thomas showed great decision-making in not only choosing to pass to Rhys as he was in a better position, but also in the timing of his pass. He cleverly waited until the defender came right up to him before slotting the ball to Rhys alongside him. That took the defender out of the game and Rhys was one-on-one with the goalkeeper. He took it forward at an angle and then shot into the far corner of the net for a perfectly controlled finish.

The moment Rhys Racey struck to find the back of the net

The moment Rhys Racey struck to find the back of the net

 

Rhys played every position possible over the course of the day, including goalkeeper, and did well in each. As defender he covered well and wasn’t afraid to try a skill to turn out of trouble. And as a striker he showed the acceleration to burst forward and make a goalscoring chance for himself as he has done all year for Waltham Lions.

Thomas Healey not only set up the goal for Rhys, but was an absolute menace for opposition defences all day long. He created several more chances for team-mates by setting them up when he saw they were in good positions ahead of him. He attacked with real purpose and his strong, direct running was exciting to watch.

Thomas Healey gets ready to receive the ball from a throw-in

Thomas Healey gets ready to receive the ball from a throw-in

Ben Crolla gave some all-action displays like we’ve seen from him all season in the blue of the Waltham Lions. However Ben was slowed down later in the day with a niggling injury we think he initially suffered at the Keelby 5-a-side Tournament a couple of weeks ago. It was later found after a trip to the hospital that Ben has sprained his ankle and damaged the ligament. So we wish Ben well and hope he recovers in the next couple of weeks as he rests from playing football. Ben bravely carried on throughout the day before we could see something wasn’t right, so credit to Ben’s attitude in wanting to play. And as the picture below shows, he continues to improve his use of different parts of his feet.

Ben Crolla turns with the outside of his foot

Ben Crolla turns with the outside of his foot

 

Ethan Lowe was the goalkeeper for the day and played all but 2 of the games in goal. Ethan showed some great goalkeeping technique over the day in pushing shots away from danger, holding onto them when he could, and bravely diving on the ball when it was loose in his area. He also kept his concentration in the games where the ball was at the other end of the pitch for long periods, meaning when the opposition did attack against us, he was ready. Ethan can be proud of his record of only conceding 2 goals in the 7 matches he played in goal.

Ethan showing 100% concentration

Ethan showing 100% concentration

Ethan was often helped by Alfie Jackson, who played quite a few of the games as the defender. He played further forward too and is exciting to watch when he picks the ball up deep in our half and drives forward at pace with the ball. In defence, he was always alert to any danger, read the game better than you’d expect from a 7-year old, and showed great composure to take his time on the ball when he won it.

Alfie assessing where any threat might be coming from

Alfie assessing where any threat might be coming from

Declan Goodfellow also played in a variety of positions and showed spatial awareness as good as anyone we saw on the u7s pitches. Dec doesn’t follow the ball and recognises when to hang back in the space and wait. His obvious talent on the ball was shown with some of the close control he showed whilst dribbling. He also played a brilliant first time pass as the ball came to him under pressure, which put one of his team-mates through on goal but we were unable to find the net again.

Dec plays the ball forward as Waltham attack

Dec plays the ball forward as Waltham attack

Lucas Jex showed great determination in his runs forward with the ball as well as his usual confidence and composure in possession. Even when in defence, Lucas is calm and relaxed on the ball, often waiting for the player closing him down to make his move before he decides what to do. Lucas showed a good range of skills and hit some good shots after a few dazzling runs but unfortunately found either the side netting or opposition goalkeepers in good form.

Lucas confidently teases the opposition number 3 to close him down

Lucas confidently teases the opposition number 3 to close him down

 

 

All in all, the Waltham FC boys can be proud of their performances against some very good teams. Had the games gone on for a little bit longer or the goals been of our normal size, we’re confident we would’ve got the goals and some scores to reflect our level of performance. And that is especially impressive given that this was the first time that these 7 boys had played together as one team. Some of the football had me just standing back and applauding it was so good to watch. And we did it with the boys making their own decisions on the pitch, not being “PlayStation” controlled through the game by a coach telling them when to pass, shoot, run, kick, breathe and sneeze as many other teams coaches sadly do.

The boys with their medals

The boys with their medals at the end of a fun day out in the sun

Thanks to Jamie Crolla for taking some great photographs too.

And we look forward to taking two teams again to the Louth Town and North Somercotes 5-a-side festivals in July.

Thanks.