Let Our Kids Dribble

I’m going to start this post by sharing a couple of videos I’ve recently seen being shared around the coaching community on Twitter.

This first link is to a video of Barcelona’s Lionel Messi, with some clips of him as a 9 year old:

Some great individual skill shown by the young Messi, but nothing so outstanding that you couldn’t see play like that in your local park.

To show there is ability like that in the UK, here’s a link to a video of an 8 year old young footballer in the Chelsea set-up:

Messi, and others like him, didnt learn to dribble like that by having his coach making him pass it all the time at age 9.

We don’t need young kids, especially those under 10, to be passing it about like an professional adults team.

I wouldn’t go as far as to tell them not to pass, obviously, but young kids should be encouraged to keep the ball for themselves and be brave enough to take risks.

Help your kids to love the ball and give them the confidence to be able to keep it.

Kids at this young age are naturally more selfish anyway, so they’ll naturally want to keep the ball to themselves. Why should we fight this early-years instinct?

If they’re naturally going to want to dribble and keep the ball, let’s embrace this as Coaches/parents. Let them love having the ball. Let them practice the art of dribbling during the years when they’ll want to do it anyway.

Most teams in the u7-u10 age groups I’ve seen play in the last few years seem to want their kids to pass the ball every time they get it. We must remember that the whole “pass and move” idea is one that originated from, and really applies to, the adult game.

Kids under 10 don’t need to be told to get rid of the ball and pass it as soon as they get it. It’ll soon become a robotic reaction if that’s all they’re taught to do. First of all, LET THEM PLAY, don’t tell them what to do in the first place. Second of all, allow them to practice dribbling in games if they want to. In later years they’ll share the ball by passing it as they mature and their head comes up through being comfortable with the ball. And then it’s all about decision-making. But don’t force them to miss out on being able to dribble in these early years and mastering how to control and manipulate the ball.

Don’t criticise kids who try a dribble and lose the ball. Too much of that and you’ll put them off it forever and restrict their creative ability. If anything, guide them on choosing when to dribble and help give them the tools to make sure they are more successful dribblers.

Love the ball and don’t be afraid to keep it to yourself kids!

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Waltham Lions’ Journey from 5v5 to 11v11 Football

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

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

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

7v7

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

9v9

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

9v9 - 2-3-2-1

11v11

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

4-3-3

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

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Thanks for reading.
 
UTL.
 
Tommy Bryan (Coach)

Why the Grassroots Football Calendar Needs a Revamp

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What do you think?

Three Phrases Not Welcome On The Touchline

FA Respect Line

 

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

 

1) “Big kick”

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

 

2) “Get rid of it”

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

 

3) “Pass to Joe”

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

 

Remember – Encourage, don’t instruct

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

 

#LetThemPlay

Grimsby Town Predictions for the 2014/15 Vanarama Conference Season

Here are some of my thoughts and predictions on the coming season for Grimsby Town and the Vanarama Conference 2014/15 season.

League Winners: Gateshead/Barnet

Gary Mills’ Gateshead went close last season after ending our own promotion challenge. And I expect them to be serious challengers this year. My alternative tip is Barnet. Martin Allen has made some good signings to add to the decent squad they already had. John Akinde and Charlie Macdonald up front looks a potent strike-force and I believe Bees Manager Allen has the mentality needed to be successful in this league.

Where Town will finish: 3rd

I think Town are set-up to remain consistent with previous years and achieve a place in the play-offs. We’ve made good additions in wide areas and we remain solid in central defence, but the lack of a prolific goalscorer will prevent the Mariners from winning the title.

Town’s Top Scorer: Ross Hannah

I would have been tempted to go for John-Paul Pittman but concerns over his fitness leave me unsure as to how many sustained runs in the starting eleven he will get over the season. He looks to be a real threat with his pace and power, and what possibly gives him an edge on Hamnah is that he looks to be able to create a chance for himself. Hannah is more reliant on service in the 18 yard box, but our improved quality/depth in wide areas should see him get plenty of chances to better his goals tally of last season.

Town’s Key Player: Lenell John-Lewis

I’ve gone for “The Shop” because as a regular in Hurst’s starting XI, if he can improve his goals record it could make all the difference this season. Most fans recognise the good work he does for the team. And the sensible amongst us will realise teams don’t often have 2 out-and-out goalscorers in their front two. In the past we’ve had the likes of Steve Livingstone, who never scored more than 10 goals in a season but played important role for the team and was widely adored by fans. Anyway, if John-Lewis can improve on his 6 league goals of last season, and get to 10-12, it could prove valuable in Town’s promotion push.

Key Summer Signing: Scott Brown

The central midfield area has been seen as the area needing improvement for years by GTFC fans. Scott Kerr was a very tactically intelligent player and comfortable on the ball last season. But with his declining fitness we probably signed him a few years too late. Brown looks like a player in a similar mould to Kerr, only much fitter and busier in the middle of the park. In the little I’ve seen of him so far, he looks very mobile, keen to get on the ball and use it well. He’s linked well with other clever players that are clearly on his wavelength, namely Scott Nielson, so I think he’s capable of living up to the fans’ expectations.

Town’s Most Carded Player: Shaun Pearson

Easy choice this one. Shaun Pearson as a regular first choice player should play all the games he is available for. He likes a tackle but unfortunately it is his mouth that gets him the most unnecessary bookings by way of dissent to the referee. Pearson is an excellent defender and we need him available as much possible. So I’m really hoping his suspension that caused him to sit out the decisive 2nd leg of the play-off semi-final has made him realise it is the silly bookings for dissent towards officials that cost him the chance to influence that important game. If Shaun can eradicate this part of his behaviour on the pitch, he could be a future Captain of the club because he already has the leadership qualities required.

Young Player to make an Impact: Paul Walker

The young right back appears physically ready to be thrown in at the deep end already. He didn’t look out of place in his appearances last season and right-back is again an area where we don’t have an outstanding player for the position so he has every chance of breaking through. His determined style rampaging up and down the right will win him plenty of fans no doubt.

Assist King: Jack Mackreth

I expect the pacey new right winger to make fools of many a left back in the Conference this season. His pace and direct running should get him into plenty of dangerous positions and then it will be down to him to pick out the head of John-Lewis, Hannah lurking in front of goal, or Disley arriving late in the box.

Do you agree or disagree with any of these predictions? It’d be good to hear some thoughts – leave a comment below to share your thoughts.

Will Connell be a Success on Return to Blundell Park?

So Grimsby Town have brought former striker Alan Connell back to the club on a “short-term” deal. But will he have the same impact as his previous spell at the Club?

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In the 2010/11 season (Town’s first in the Conference) Connell was an ever-present in the side, scoring 25 league goals in 46 games. He scored more in that one season at Blundell Park than he did in the three seasons that followed combined – scoring 19 league goals during spells at Swindon, Bradford and Northampton over that period.

Of course, it is worth noting that he scored all of those 19 goals at a higher level (League Two) and also played just over a dozen times at League One level (without scoring) last season. In fact, Connell’s season at Grimsby was the only prolific goalscoring season of his career. So it isn’t really fair to say his goalscoring dried up after his spell at GTFC – it just reverted to what it was previously.

So is the Conference just the level that Connell thrives at? Or is Grimsby Town just the club where it all seems to click for him? Many players in the past have scored goals and been too good for what is now the Championship, but haven’t quite been good enough or scored goals in the Premier League (see Darren Huckerby). So similarly, there is every chance that Connell is at a level in the Conference where he can easily excel, as opposed to League Two where he finds goals harder to come by.

Another thing to point out, and a sign of the times perhaps, is that despite just a 3 year gap between his spells at GTFC, there is not a single player left at the club that was here during his first spell. This lessens the notion that he could fit straight in, although the other side of that is that the team, and indeed the squad, is a much stronger proposition than what he was part of here previously.

Connell, now 31, reportedly knew he wanted to leave the club half-way through his 1st spell and solitary season with us. And he signed for Northampton in January 2014 when he had a straight choice between the Cobblers or the Mariners. Northampton avoided relegation but Connell’s record of 0 goals in 16 appearances contributed to his release at the end of the season. His wish to leave relatively early into his previous spell with us coupled with his rejection of us last season leads me to believe that this “short-term” deal will remain exactly that. He was still without a club 24 hours before the Football League and Conference seasons kick off and this, I suspect, is seen by Connell as a chance to put himself in the shop window to try and earn a longer contract elsewhere. That maybe wouldn’t be a terrible thing for GTFC either. If he hits the ground running, hits the net with regularity, atttacts interest and moves on, then he would’ve helped us out during a striker shortage and hopefully helped us get points on the board in the process.

If I were Alan Connell, I’d have been asking to come back with a longer-term deal to the only club where he’s scored goals consistently.

As it is, it’s a short-term arrangement – probably just a rolling monthly or weekly contract – and I suspect that’s all Alan envisages it ever becoming. Maybe a bit of success here, supporter backing, or a lack of interest elsewhere could change his mind. But for me, there’s every chance he could be a success again while he’s here. His ability on the ball and knack of creating goals out of nothing will hopefully be evident again. And as we struggled to break down teams that sat back against us last season, Connell’s long-range shooting skills could be worth its weight in points.

Good luck back in the black & white Alan.

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

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

 

Waltham Lions Sponsorship

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

GRF

 

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

 

Coaching Journey Continues with another Coaching Course

 

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

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

 

Visit to St George’s Park

 

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

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

 

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Louth Old Boys Tournament/Festival Abandoned

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

 

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

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My New Role at Waltham Football Club

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Thanks for reading.