Coaching

Persevering With Long Term Skill Development Over Short Term Success

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Man of the Match

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

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

Up the Lions!!!!!

Lions Impress in Skilful Mother’s Day Display

 

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

 

First of all, let me just say, I’ve no idea how to fit everything I could write about here into something of a reasonable length that people will actually be bothered to read. I can always find something to write about every player every week. Everyone always does positive things, whether it is with the ball or without. But today, EVERYONE played so well that I could have given justifiable reasons for giving the Man of the Match trophy to any one of them. The only baffling thing about the game is that we didn’t win the game. I thought we played some fantastic football in the game. And I don’t mean just for a group of 7 year olds, I mean just fantastic football. I came away from the ground feeling as proud as if we had won though, because I thought we played the better football and all 7 players were fully involved in a great team performance.
I’d decided before the game that I wanted the boys to show off some skills today. Before the game we did some practice of a few skills – some basic ones and some more difficult ones too. You’d be surprised with what kids are capable of doing. We went through the outside hook (Lucas Gill’s favourite), the backheel turn (an Oliver Hendry trick) and what I call the lollypops (also known as scissors/step-overs). I then introduced the “Ronaldo Chop” (see what it is here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xH_6Oc3kGP8 and watch it being done in live action here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hSRRSxGMBNE). I was surprised by how many grasped this, or something very close to it, in such a short space of time. I’ll do it again another time but in more detailed steps so they can learn it.

 

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

 

Confidence

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Bend Blast it like Beckham

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Man of the Match

 

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

 

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

 

Up the Lions!!!

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Great Teamwork Brings Lions Goals

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Skill of the Match

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

Man of the Match

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

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

Up the Lions!!!

Proud Coach Pleased with Lions’ Learning

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Up the Lions!!!

Developing Creative Talent vs being a PlayStation Controller

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Young Lions Show Character to Complete Inspired Comeback

Waltham Lions showed the first signs of the strong characters they may mature into, displaying an incredible “never-give-up” attitude to complete an unlikely comeback against this week’s opponents.

Waltham FC Badge

Having told Leyton Bolton just before kick-off that it was about time he scored again, I was delighted to see him score in the first few minutes of the match. It was a lovely, controlled strike driven in low past the goalkeeper at his near post, despite him being under pressure in front of goal from two defenders. It was his second goal of the season and they’ve both been against the same opposition.

Ethan Lowe showed some good handling skills in goal early on, holding on to shots several times rather than needing to push them away. However he was left exposed a few times when all of his outfield teammates had pushed forward, leaving the opposition with several opportunities where they were one-on-one with Ethan. And despite the opposition getting a couple of goals, Ethan made sure it was only a couple with some fine saves. At one point he showed great bravery diving onto a loose ball in his goalkeeper’s area when two opposition attackers were running in to try and score.

Lucas Jex decided during the 2nd quarter that it was time to unleash one of his unstoppable thunderbolts that leaves goalkeepers only able to stand and wave at the ball as it flies past them. This one was from wide on the left, and flew high into the back of the net, probably nearly breaking it in the process. That sparked the whole team into celebrating together (including Benjamin Harrison running out of goal to join in) which was great to see.

Benjamin Harrison had a good 2nd quarter in goal, making a great double save from point-blank range at one point but being unlucky in that the ball had crossed the line after the second of those shots. Benjamin was making good decisions when taking goal-kicks, choosing to pass the ball short to a nearby player every time rather than kicking it up the pitch.

Ben Crolla was covering every blade of grass on the pitch trying to win the ball for the team and scored for the third match in a row. After a typical run forward he shot across goal and the ball went in the bottom corner. Ben was his usual energetic self (it’s tiring just watching him sometimes) and combined winning the ball with going on runs with the ball himself. He never just smacks the ball up first time when the ball comes to him, always making a decision after a quick look-up to see what’s in front of him.

Lucas Jex was going on several runs of his own down the Lions left side. And if he and Ben Crolla can have a little more confidence in using their left foot, they could use it to work the ball back onto their right foot when they get near the goal, or (eventually) actually shoot with their left foot. This is something we will work on in training and before games though. This is not a criticism of Lucas and Ben, but just me trying to improve them. And while it was evident a few times for those two today because they went on so many runs down the left side, the principle stands for all the players too.

Here’s a little incentive: the first player to score a goal for the Lions with their left foot, will WIN £5 from me.

Lucas Jex went in goal for the 3rd quarter and at times came off his line very well to sweep up loose balls and oncoming attacks. In this quarter Leyton Bolton really showed his quality. Several times when we were attacking 2v1, Leyton had the ball and waited for the defender to start coming towards him, before noticing that left his attacking teammate in a lot of space and passing the ball across to them. Leyton is probably the top passer in the team in the sense that he sees when there is an opportunity to pass better than anyone else. He recognises he can’t dribble with the ball himself every time he gets it, and is more aware than most that football is a team game when we have the ball. He also got in at least one nutmeg on an opponent that I remember, and in time he will learn to shout “megs” as he does this.

Benjamin Harrison was back outfield and getting more involved in the game by this point, getting in some strong tackles and now starting to run with the ball himself.

Ethan Lowe was a commanding presence in defence, not allowing any opposition attackers to get past him, and getting the ball forward to Leyton and Ben Crolla when he could. Ethan was also the one organising the team when we were defending corners, telling his teammates where to be. Ethan and Benjamin Harrison were quick to answer correctly when I asked, between quarters, how many players should be running to the ball to make a tackle at a time – one. And Ethan in particular showed this in defence by recognising he didn’t have to go up the pitch chasing the ball and trying to tackle. Understanding when other players were already closing down the opposition, he hung back and waited to see if the opposition got further up the pitch before making his move, which was usually timed to perfection today. With Ethan not allowing any attackers past him, this limited the opposition to score just the one long-range goal in this quarter.

Before the 4th quarter began, Leyton Bolton lost a game of rock-paper-scissors with Ben Crolla which meant Leyton would wear the green goalkeeper shirt for the last 10 minutes. As he has done previously, Leyton heroically refused to wear Ethan’s Manchester United gloves and was ready to go in goal with bare hands before I found the spare pair in my bag.

The Lions conceded a couple of goals early in the last quarter, one of which took a wicked deflection to take it away from Leyton in goal, to put us 6-3 down. But the boys never gave up. Still playing with smiles on their faces and enjoying playing the game (which is what it’s all about), they started to have a bit more belief as they became more and more dominant in the game. It was wave after wave of attack as the Lions looked for goals to get themselves back in the game.

Benjamin Harrison showed great confidence and skill to dribble past two payers one after the other down the right hand side, and had another run down the left when it took two opposition defenders to run across and stop him. Benjamin had a great 10-minute quarter here and if he can replicate that every time he’s on the pitch, he will be a threat to any team and a goal won’t be far away.

As we poured forward looking for goals, Ethan Lowe did a fantastic job of keeping the door shut at the other end, continuing where he left off in the 3rd quarter by not letting anything or anyone past him. This became even more important a job now, as the rest of the team went forward and the game became very open.

And it was Ben Crolla and Lucas Jex who helped drag the Lions back into the game. I lost count of the number of rampaging runs the two of them went on and they were unlucky not to score more than they did. Sometimes, as mentioned earlier, they ran down the left but couldn’t manoeuvre the ball onto their right foot quick enough to shoot, so ended up taking an awkward snap-shot with their right foot despite the ball being on their left. Other times great goalkeeping from the opposition goalkeeper kept them out.

In the last 5 minutes, the Lions amazingly scored 3 goals. Ben Crolla got his second from close range after his first shot was saved and came back to him. This was Ben’s 9th goal of the season and the second game in a row in which he’s scored twice. Lucas Jex scored twice in the last 5 minutes to complete a hat-trick for the second successive game. This took his goals tally to 14 for the season, but more impressively – 11 goals in his last 5 games. One of these strikes came after a run through the middle and the other was a controlled, low shot from the edge of the goalkeeper’s area that squeezed past the goalkeeper and into the net.

All in all it was a fantastic, entertaining game, with both sides playing their part and showing lots of skill. There was some great individual play from the Lions all throughout the match, but we perhaps looked a bit rusty when it came to playing together as a team up until that last quarter. That’s understandable after this was only the 2nd match since before Christmas, but when it seemed to click in the 4th quarter, there was less getting in each other’s way and more thinking behind what they were doing, as we dominated long spells of that last 10 minutes. Hopefully if we can get back to playing matches every week now, they’ll get back in the swing of things and get more and more familiar with the concepts of team play again.

Man of the Match for the Lions today went to Leyton Bolton, who got himself a goal, but also showed more than most during the game that it’s important to be aware of where your teammates are. He must have comfortably made more passes than anyone else on the pitch whilst also not losing his ability to dribble and beat players with his close control in tight areas. But all 5 players were fantastic, well done. Also a special thanks to Adam Bolton for refereeing the match and allowing me to concentrate on my job as coach.

Up the Lions!!!

Waltham Lions Roar Back Into Action

Waltham Lions u7s played their first match of 2014 today after the disappointment of 3 successive Sundays of postponed games. A reshuffle of the teams grouped together also saw a new opponent, in the shape of Clee Town BJB Lift Trucks.

WalthamFC-Logo

The game was end-to-end, and was an entertaining match full of skill, great goals, and a great sporting approach from the players, parents and coaches of both teams.

Leyton Bolton had spells as a midfielder, striker and goalkeeper during the game. Leyton showed the brilliantly close ball control, even in tight areas, that we’ve become used to seeing from him. This allows him to twist and turn, changing direction to leave defenders feeling dizzy. Leyton also has an awareness of what’s around him, and an appreciation of ‘space’ that is far beyond what I would expect of a player at this age group. He is often pulling away from the crowd and staying in space, and is aware, when he has the ball, of who else is around him. He has the confidence with the ball at his feet to wait for the defender to come and close him down, before dragging the ball away from them or bursting past them. He showed this today with several skilful runs with the ball.

Lucas Gill continued on from his form before Christmas – continuing to show a growing understanding and what I would call an increasing level of ‘game intelligence’. When playing as a midfielder he recognised when a team-mate was chasing the ball down, meaning he didn’t have to. And when playing as the defender, he read the game well to intercept any danger and make well-timed tackles. Lucas is still visibly growing in confidence and is more and more involved in games each week.

Rhys Racey played as the striker, the goalkeeper and a midfielder at different times today. Rhys is always a danger to the opposition when we are attacking, and is now starting to show good signs of positioning himself well when we attack. Today, he was consistently getting into positions in the middle (near the goal) rather than being drawn closer to the ball when we attacked down the flanks. This usually left him in space shouting for the ball, as opposition defenders were drawn out of the middle to try and tackle our dribbling attackers. The passes didn’t always come, but I’m pleased he is positioning himself like this and thinking (whether he realises he is or not) where he needs to be. Rhys also made a memorable save when in goal, using his feet to save low down to his right when it looked like a certain goal going past him.

Ethan Lowe played parts of today’s game as the defender, the striker and lastly as the goalkeeper. Ethan’s enthusiasm to play football is fantastic, and I think rubs off on the other players. He’s been desperate to play a match again and I think he was there with his Dad at sunrise this morning having a kickabout, waiting for the rest of us to arrive. Hopefully Ethan will think it was worth the wait though, as he had a very good game today. Firstly as the defender, he “destroyed” any attack that went near him and showed great instincts to spot any danger and get across to cut it out. As the striker, he almost got the chance he’s been waiting for to stick one in the onion bag. Some confident running with the ball and strong tackling almost got him into several shooting positions. But he did create one of our goals in the 2nd half. It is also encouraging to see Ethan showing signs of good leadership qualities. He’s always telling people which players to mark when we’re defending corners. And today in open play he was telling people where to be and letting them know what he was doing. During his 10 minute stint in goal, Ethan showed great goalkeeping technique using both hands and diving on the ball. You can really tell he’s had proper goalkeeper training. His short distribution from goal kicks also helps us start attacks from deep before the opposition close us down from the retreat line.

Ben Crolla had spells both as a midfielder and as the defender today, and scored a brace for the second time this season. He scored his first goal within a minute of the game. After Clee Town had scored in the first 30 seconds, we restarted with a kick-off and Ben took it upon himself to dribble right through the middle of the Clee team and slotted past a helpless goalkeeper in a frantic first 60 seconds of the match. Ben was his usual tenacious self but what also impressed me today was his confidence to just run with the ball himself. He went on plenty of mazy dribbles, especially in the 1st quarter. Ben played the 4th quarter as the defender, and played this role the best he has done to date. He stayed disciplined and maintained his position as our deepest player, allowing him to see the danger in front of him and easily cut out attacks that came his way. He scored again in the 2nd half. After Ethan Lowe won the ball and dribbled towards goal, the last defender came towards him and as he knocked it to his right, Ben ran onto the ball, evaded the challenge of the defender to go through 1-on-1 with the goalkeeper and score his 7th goal of the season.

Lucas Jex is continuing to get better and better as the season goes on. He rattled in a hat-trick today to make it 8 goals in his last 4 appearances. The opposition today couldn’t handle Lucas when he had the ball at his feet, whether he was flying past them or tying them in knots with his drag-back turns. He has a composure on the ball much like Leyton Bolton, and is confident enough to tempt the defender in to make a tackle, knowing he can skip round or past them at the last moment. This ability to be calm and have confidence in their own skill is something I will try to instil in the rest of the team over time. Lucas seems to have a knack of making you think he’s about to be tackled, only to quickly skip past another player when on one of his now-trademark solo runs. It was from one of these runs that he scored his first goal, beating 2 or 3 players in running over half the length of the pitch before unleashing a shot that was too hot to handle for the opposition goalkeeper as it went past him. In between the 3rd and 4th quarters I asked Lucas to continue going on his great runs with the ball, but to also try to look up as well, so he can decide if the best thing to do is carry on dribbling or to pass the ball to someone in a good position. I told him that I wasn’t going to make that decision for him or tell him what to do – that he would have to decide for himself. So I was delighted to see a great move early in the 4th quarter when Lucas beat a couple of players down the right wing, looked up to see Rhys Racey taking up a great position in the middle of the goal area, and swung over a low cross to him. Rhys’ first time shot went just an inch wide of the post, but it was a fantastic move and Lucas had clearly taken on what I had said, but still made the decision to pass himself. His 2nd and 3rd goals were almost identical. Both were long-range shots from the inside-right channel, so accurate (just inside the post nestling in the side-netting) and so powerful that even James McKeown wouldn’t have stood a chance of saving them if he had been in goal.

Today’s Man of the Match award went to Benjamin Harrison. As I said when handing the trophy out, this was by far Benjamin’s best game since we began playing matches. He was far more involved today than he has been previously, getting more touches of the ball in the process. As well as his usual eagerness to chase after players and win the ball back for the team, I was also pleased to see Benjamin having the confidence to run with the ball today. He seemed to either have an idea of what he wanted to do before the ball came to him or just made quicker decisions today. Either way, it was great to see. In training, Benjamin can sometimes be one of the better players at running with the ball at speed. So it was good to see him less concerned about the opposition trying to stop him today, and just getting on with his own thing by transmitting some of what he shows in training to what is a different match environment. He was also fearless in winning tackles today, often appearing like a man-on-a-mission to get the ball back for his team.

So a massive well done to all the Lions players for today. Thanks for giving us all a great game to watch as always. When you consider this was our first match in 7 weeks, it was a great performance that got better as the game wore on. Apart from a couple of minutes at one stage where we started getting in each other’s way, we also worked really well as a team too.

Up the Lions!!!

Lions Sign Off for Christmas in Style

Waltham Lions U7s played their final game before Christmas on Sunday and made sure it was one to remember. Playing our 14th match of the season, completing the first part of the season having played every team twice.

Pre-Match Session

As usual, all pre-match training and warm up stuff is with the ball. We’re not here to do athletics training. Let’s have a ball involved. After a few weeks when a lot of our training sessions have been based around some different “turns”, mainly the “outside hook”, “stop turn” and the “drag-back”, the mini-training session before the match gave the players the chance to show some of those without being asked to. To begin with, we did a 4-gate game with 3 blockers, and the player on the ball in the middle trying to dribble through the open gate as the blockers move between gates. A great game to get the player in the middle making decisions as well as executing moves. Always having to look around and think where he needs to go based on where the blockers are and where the empty gate is. And as they turn to change direction quickly, they’re automatically using some of the turning techniques we’ve been practising, as well as some from their own imagination. And as the coach I’m not telling them where to run or when to change direction, mainly staying quiet but adding the odd “where do you need to go now?” or “where’s the empty gate now?” prompt as the blockers move around to cover different gates. The boys were all brilliant at this when it was their turn with the ball in the middle.

This moved on to another game where the player receiving the ball from my pass had a defender behind them, yet they had to somehow get to dribble through one of the gates which were behind them and about 10 yards apart. Again, encouraging the player to turn, but also giving them things to think about. Questions I asked before and during this exercise where: “How will you decide which way to turn?”, “what might you do if the defender comes up on your left to try and tackle you?” and “How are you going to know where the defender is?” The answers the kids gave to these where spot on. Telling me that they need to look to see where the defender is, and that if the defender comes around one side they would try to turn the other way. Yet again, the kids coming up with their own answers to the problems they’ll need to solve in this game but also on the pitch. And you can tell by the way they are on the pitch that learning this way is helping them remember what to do and how to make decisions during games without any of us (myself and the parents) shouting any instructions of what to do from the sidelines. This game worked quite well too, considering it is the first time we have attempted it, and I’m sure would run better after one or two more goes.

Following on from last week, we had a reminder in the 2v2 attack vs defence practice right before the game of how many players should be running to tackle the opposition player with the ball, and what the other players on our team could be doing. But as usual, I wasn’t telling them, but asking them to tell me. If they’re telling me, they’re showing themselves (as well as me) that they know the answer, and as I said earlier, I think that’s helping them problem-solve on the pitch all on their own.

The Game

Onto the game itself, and the Lions were down to a bare 5 players with Oliver Hendry and Jay Crichton unable to deputise for Ethan Lowe and Benjamin Harrison who are suffering with Man Flu. Our thoughts and prayers are with you boys, hoping you recover soon from what is a horrific version of the common cold that ladies suffer from.

I personally think that with us down to 5 players, and also missing Ethan who likes to go in goal for at least a quarter or two of the match usually, it made all the players pull together that little bit more. Before we started we spoke about how everyone would need to take a turn in goal, and there were volunteers for every quarter, including boys that went in goal last week, and boys that never normally volunteer themselves for a stint between the sticks. I think this set the tone for what would be a great display of team-work during the game too. Lucas Jex, Lucas Gill, Rhys Racey and Leyton Bolton all took their turn in goal, and Ben Crolla had a full game outfield after playing the 4th quarter of last week’s game in goal himself. We also had a different player in each quarter playing in the role of defender, with Lucas J, Ben, Leyton and Lucas G all being very disciplined and putting the team first by holding a position behind the rest of the team.

The ‘Defender’ = The ‘First Attacker’ 

Short ball from Goal Kick

The Short Goal Kick

When going through the line up with the players I always stress that the role of the defender is always to be our first attacker, in the sense that they control where our attacks will go. This is because we take advantage of the retreat line rule and play out from goal-kicks as well as I’ve seen from any other side this season (and that includes a couple of older age group games). I ask the defender to start just outside the GK area from our goal kicks, and our GK nearly always makes the simply decision to pass to this defender, who is then in charge of whether we attack by passing to his left, right, down the middle if possible, or if he holds onto the ball and dribbles. I know being the defender won’t be seen as the glamorous position that kids will all want to play, but I hope that by giving it this responsibility and importance, it is something that they’ll enjoy more as they realise this. Also, as a result of the way we play out from goal kicks, the defender often goes through spells of having more touches than anyone on the pitch.

In the picture above Leyton Bolton plays an easy short ball out to Ben Crolla, who can turn and decide how we’ll attack by the time the opposition have closed him down from the half-way line. I would say in at least 75% of the games we have played so far, the other team we’ve been playing against have either actively encouraged their goalkeeper to “give it a big kick” (a phrase I think should be banned from the touchlines), or the goalkeeper has chosen to himself. I’m delighted that after we worked on it before games for several weeks a few months ago, I now don’t have to ask them to set up and play out this way. The players are brave enough to keep doing it even in games where we’ve lost the ball doing it, or played against teams that have beaten us by a big score. And they’re probably realising that we stand a better chance of keeping the ball amongst our players if we do this, rather than hitting it as far as possible when the accuracy of the kick will be compromised and it could go to either team.

As I told the players afterwards, one of the things that was very pleasing about this game was the variety in the great goals that we scored. But also that we almost scored a few more that would’ve been contenders for goal of the season if they’d gone in. It was an absolutely brilliant, stylish and entertaining performance that was exciting to watch. Leyton Bolton was as calm as ever on the ball, and why wouldn’t he be when the ball is never more than an inch away from his foot. Leyton was again showing he has an eye for a pass which is beyond what should be expected at his age, threading balls down the line for Lucas Jex to run onto and playing cross-field balls to Ben Crolla. Leyton nearly got a goal himself when a rebound fell to him just inside the area, but his shot was saved brilliantly by the opposition goalkeeper. He had a good 10 minutes as the defender, making some good tackles and also patiently started the attacking moves after collecting the ball short from our goalkeeper. Leyton also had a few good dribbles of his own, as he continues to keep the ball away from the defender whilst protecting the ball and keep it under control.

Lucas Gill continued his progress, not only winning more tackles than I’ve ever seen from him, but now being more composed when he gets the ball. One thing I love that Lucas is doing at the moment, is controlling the ball, then looking up to see the defender in front of him, and waiting for the defender to make a move so he can try and go round him – almost teasing the defender and then going to dribble. There were several times on Sunday when Lucas ran with the ball and either had a shot or passed to a teammate, when a few months ago he may have lashed the ball away first time. Hopefully now any nerves or panic when under pressure are disappearing as his confidence is clearly growing for all to see. This is hardly surprising though, as Lucas is an excellent trainer and takes in everything I say to him.

Lucas Gill dribbles towards goal

Lucas Gill dribbles towards goal

Ben Crolla gave the kind of all-action display that he’s become known for over the last few months. Managing to somehow be wherever the ball was loose, constantly winning the ball for the team and chasing back to stop several opposition counter-attacks. Ben scored a great individual goal by running down the inside left channel, weaving through and around one or two players before cutting back onto his right foot to smash it past the keeper for our first goal of the game. He almost repeated this when he ran from the left side of the half-way line, diagonally to the right-hand edge of the goalkeeper’s area to shoot, but this one just hit the side-netting. Ben definitely had his shooting boots on, and he unleashed an unstoppable shot from about 15 yards out with great technique, as straight as an arrow, which unfortunately cannoned back off the post.

Ben Crolla in possession

Ben Crolla in possession

Ben also played a huge part in what was my favourite goal of the game. After tackling and winning the ball (he’s only small but does he ever lose a tackle?) just inside the opposition half, he ran forward and found himself 1v1 with another defender. The good thing for the Lions was that this move had now become a 2v1 in our favour, as Lucas Jex had ran up alongside Ben. And as the defender made a move to go in for the tackle on Ben, he unselfishly slipped the ball to his left to put his teammate one-on-one with the goalkeeper. What Lucas Jex did really well to help create this opportunity, is stay away from Ben rather than crowd him out by running towards the ball. If he’d done that, Ben may not have been able to pass to him. Lucas got into space and maintained that space, whilst keeping a line for the pass as opposed to getting stuck behind the defender which would’ve made a pass impossible. And once the ball was played to him and he was bearing down on goal straight through the middle, he slotted it in the bottom corner for his second goal of the game. Lucas was, as he usually is, the most fouled player on the pitch. Not because the opposition were dirty or unsporting, but because he’s capable of gliding past players, often nudging the ball past them as they’re going in for the tackle, showing his quick feet. Other times it is just his composure to stop the ball dead and shield the ball, keeping his body between defender and ball. I think some parents may panic when they see Lucas do this, but I’m happy for him to do this no matter where he is on the pitch. His confidence on the ball is brilliant and I intend to nurture that confidence and help him use it to do creative, imaginative things with the ball, as well as encouraging others to do the same. The ball is not a hot potato, we don’t need to get rid of it or pass it as soon as we get it every time. Lucas also hit a David Beckham-like free kick from just outside the goalkeepers area, which flew in off the post for his first goal of the game.

Lucas Jex find space for a Lions throw-in

Lucas Jex finds space for a Lions throw-in

Rhys Racey was also at his threatening best and was at the heart of many Lions attacks. At one moment in the first half he picked up the ball on the left around the half-way line, and had a player 5-6 yards ahead of him. Rhys showed his blistering pace as he gave the defender a 5 yard head-start when he knocked the ball forward to his right, sat down for a Mars Bar and some Ribena, then got back up and still beat the defender to the ball. It was a bit reminiscent of Michael Owen against Argentina at France ’98, only the keeper stayed stood up and strong (as opposed to the Argentina ‘keeper at that World Cup) and Rhys’ shot went just the wrong side of the post into the side-netting. In the 3rd quarter Rhys did manage to score, to give himself a great record for the season of 14 goals in 14 games. The ball fell to Rhys in the area and he smashed it into the back of the net before the ‘keeper knew it was past him. Rhys also hit a first-time volley as a ball came down from high above him, this was from a long way out and as it flew through the air, some of the parents may have heard me say, quite excitedly I must admit, “OH MY GOD!!!” as I thought it was going in the top corner. If it had, it would’ve been one of the best goals I’ve ever seen. And not just in junior football. Unfortunately it went only just wide of the post as it flew past everyone in the air.

Rhys Racey determined to get to the ball first

Rhys Racey determined to get to the ball first

Proud

I couldn’t have been prouder of the boys for not only all playing well individually, but also for playing together and functioning well as a team. Again we had one player chasing the ball to tackle at a time, no crowding around the ball making it easy for the opposition to pass around us. We had a great blend of passing and dribbling that made it a performance of real quality, as well as excitement. We scored some great goals and were lucky enough to have an own goal also go in our favour, although the few seconds of silence on the pitch as no-one seemed to know what had just happened was quite funny, until Rhys ran away celebrating as if he had scored it himself (sign of a true goalscorer I suppose). In the final 2 quarters I don’t think our goalkeepers had much to do, and that was due to the teamwork of the guys in front of them, with the defenders also playing their part in recognising when and where there was danger, and going to cut it out.

This was probably the best the Lions have played over a full 40 minute game so far. We have had spells where we have been pure class, often for 2 or 3 quarters of a game. But it is often the odd quarter when we concede a few goals that lose us a game when it comes to the score. But I’ve been happy that I know we’ve been playing better football than many teams, even in defeat. And that long term that will benefit us and it will get to a point where we will cope against the physically bigger teams and won’t be afraid when 2 or 3 bigger lads are charging at us to get the ball. So I hope the boys and also the parents haven’t made too much of a big deal of us losing games, or not winning as many as they would no doubt have liked. And whilst anyone reading this who knows me will know that winning isn’t high on my list of priorities in u7 football, I don’t mind admitting I was delighted for the boys to win the last game before Xmas after going quite a while without a win.

Tommy’s Highlights

  1. Tottenham Hotspur fan Leyton Bolton refusing to wear Ben’s goalkeeper gloves because they were Man Utd goalie gloves. He was quite happy to go bare-handed until I remembered I had some spare Sondico gloves in my bag. Leyton – respect to you!
  2. Lucas Gill’s header after the ball came down from about 10 feet up in the air. Probably the first intentional header like that we’ve had from our u7s. Brave lad!
  3. Goal celebrations. From Rhys Racey’s knee slide to Lucas Jex’s funny wacko Jacko dance. Apologies to Lucas’ mum for reminding him to do it, but he spent 10 minutes before the game telling me what he was going to do when he scored, only to forget it when he actually scored, so I thought…well, he might as well do it.

Up the Lions! See you at the Waltham FC Christmas party next Sunday.

More Progress from Waltham Lions u7s

After another entertaining Waltham Lions u7s game yesterday, I’m really pleased to see some of the clear progress the players are making. Not just individually, but also in beginning to play as a team.

Closing Down

For the last few weeks I’ve tried to ask the boys not to all run after the ball at the same time, when the opposition have the ball. I’ve explained why in as simple terms as I can, but we’ve not quite got there with it.  Yesterday however, was a different story. I got the players to explain to me before the game why it’s important that we don’t all run to the ball. And after mentioning it in recent weeks and a little more in the 2v2 practices before the game, they were answering correctly, showing that they understand it; “if we all run to the ball it is easier for the other team to pass around us to their other players and they could score.”

Great answers. And it worked in the game. I don’t remember once seeing an instance where 2/3/4 of our players were chasing down the opposition player with the ball, other than in the final 5 minutes when they were just eager to get the ball back and score one more goal.

Because this aspect of the game went so well, it meant our goalkeeper’s weren’t as busy as they have been for the last few weeks. We didn’t concede as many situations where an opposition player would be one-on-one with our GK, with no-one in our defensive area and opposition players in lots of space. Because of this, I think, regular volunteer goalkeepers Ethan Lowe (a.k.a. The Cat) and Rhys Racey didn’t fancy staying in goal for longer than one of the 10 minutes quarters.

Turns

The other main point we spoke about before the game, was to not be afraid of trying any kind of skills, tricks or turns. We’ve been working on some different ways of ‘turning’ in the last few weeks at training, and while they all had a ball each pre-match, I got them to dribble around within a marked square and freestyle with some of the skills and turns, or try and invent some from their own imagination. Lucas Gill told me he was going to do one turn in particular during the game, which was encouraging and was my cue to gather them round for a quick word. I asked all the players to be confident on the ball (or “nice and relaxed” as Lucas Jex often reminds me that I tell him during the game), to not worry about losing the ball because if we lose it we’ll just all try hard to get it back, and to have a go at doing some of the turns and skills that we’ve been doing in training. We had another minute or two of this freestyle practice in the square while other players told me what they were going to try and do during the game too which was great.

During the game we had Lucas Gill, continuing to grow in confidence, doing a couple of dragback turns when under pressure from two players. I think after the second one we may have lost the ball as he eventually got crowded out by more players, but I was quick to praise what he had just done as not only did he do it well, I want to make sure he isn’t afraid to do it again, and again and again.

Lucas Jex, buzzing with confidence after blasting an absolute rocket into the top corner of the net from about 20 yards out, also had a moment where he was our ‘last man’ chasing back to get a loose ball, when he took two opposition players out of the game with a quick stop turn, which started another one of his mazy runs. He later added a 2nd goal with a clinical finish after mesmerising the defender with some ‘lollypops’.

Leyton Bolton showed his usual George Best-like close control in dribbling past players and also having the awareness to know it is when a good time to pass. He took a few kicks during the game but as I told him afterwards, that will happen when other players just can’t get the ball off him, so to take it as a compliment.

Oliver Hendry, who was asking for goal-line technology after thinking he’d scored a last minute goal, showed his confidence in running with the ball in the lead up to goal-machine Rhys Racey’s 13th goal of the season. Rhys also kept a ‘clean sheet’ during his spell in goal, for a good all-round contribution.

Ben Crolla was heavily involved as ever, having one run from his own half to get into a shooting position where he was unlucky to hit the side-netting. He was also involved in a great passing move with Leyton Bolton which nearly brought a goal.

Ethan Lowe showed he is more than just the best best goalkeeper in Grimsby’s Under 7’s League (and possibly the whole world if you listen to his Waltham Lions teammates) with some good defending at the start of the match, along with carrying out his role as self-appointed on-pitch organiser, telling team-mates to mark players and making sure only one player chased the ball at a time. He then followed this up with some confident play as a striker later on, almost scoring a goal himself.

Success

So after the two main points before the game being avoiding crowding and chasing together, and having a go at some of the turns and ways of dribbling we’ve been working on in training, it was great to see the boys put in a great effort to do both and do them very well too.

 

Learning Environment

 

Only one more game before the Xmas break now,  long may the progress continue.  I can also commend our players and also the watching parents in allowing our boys to make their own decisions and to play in a way that will benefit them in years to come. I could hear shouts of “whack it forward” and “big kick up” from further down the touchline yesterday, and I’m pleased we don’t have that apparent ‘need’ to win in a friendly under 7s match, as we continue to show signs that in a few years we will be playing football in an entertaining way, within an environment where the kids are making their own decisions as opposed to being told who to pass to or what to do.

Up the Lions!