football

Giving Ownership and Responsibility to a Developing Player

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And let them play.

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Hurst’s Tactical Adjustment Takes 3 Points for Town

Grimsby Town took on Wrexham on Saturday afternoon as two of the Vanarama National League’s form sides came head-to-head at Blundell Park. The Mariners welcomed a Wrexham side who had kept 6 clean sheets in a row and featured a few familiar faces in their line-up. Former Town trio Connor Jennings, Simon Helsop and Jamal Fyfield were joined by ex-GTFC loanee Javan Vidal who came on as a second half substitute.

Paul Hurst

The game also saw bosses Paul Hurst and Gary Mills renew acquaintances in opposite dugouts. Hurst has had mixed success against Mills’ teams in recent years. Despite the odd success for Hurst (6-1 away win at Gateshead), Mills has generally had the upper hand. His York side had the better of Scott & Hurst’s Town side 3 times in 2011/12, he got the better of Hurst when Gateshead progressed to the Play-off Final at our expense in 2014, and a 2-2 draw for Gateshead at Blundell Park end any hopes of our title challenge in 2015.

Gary Mills

Mills always has his sides playing 4-3-3 and they usually play good football, building from the back, passing and moving with players comfortable in possession.

Today, Hurst strayed from the usual straight-forward 4-4-2 in a tactical move that helped Town deal with the problems that a side playing 4-3-3 poses for a 4-4-2. The result was Wrexham looking anything like a “Gary Mills team” in terms of style and Town taking all three points after a 1-0 win.

Town v Wrexham 1

Hurst made two changes to his starting line-up, bringing Toto Nsiala in for Shaun Pearson at centre-back and Craig Clay in place of Danny East in midfield. Nsiala was seemingly brought in as the more athletic defender to combat deal with the pace of Wrexham forward Kayden Jackson. Clay’s inclusion allowed Nathan Arnold to switch back to the right of midfield and saw Jon Nolan take up an unusual position on the left side of midfield.

The graphic above shows the starting positions of the Town line-up – with Nolan narrow on that left side. However, if Opta or whoever provides all the stats for Premier League football were to produce heat maps for Conference football, then the average positions of the team would look a lot different to the above.

Mills’ 4-3-3 often leaves Hurst’s 4-4-2 outnumbered in midfield, so Hurst’s plan was for Nolan to drift infield and to create a 3v3 in the middle of the midfield. As he did this, Evan Horwood got forward well to offer the attacking width on that side. This was most evident from James McKeown’s goal kicks, when Horwood would up a very high position ahead of the midfielders. To compensate, Richard Tait’s forays forward from right-back were limited as he needed to sit alongside the centre-backs whilst Horwood pushed forward on the other side.

Nolan not only drifted infield to even the midfield numbers, but he was usually the one midfielder that broke lines and got forward to support the Irish strike pairing of Hoban and Amond.

When Town did lose the ball in the middle third, we were often able to win the ball back quickly in defensive transitions because we already had that three in the middle.

Town v Wrexham 3

This second graphic shows the more realistic positions that the town players took up during the game, and how it lined up against Wrexham’s first half set-up. As well as Tait’s more conservative game today, Disley also generally sat deeper to allow Clay and especially Nolan to support attacking moves.

This approach completely nullified Wrexham’s ability to play out from the back and they invariably hit long balls over the top for the quick forwards to chase. At half time, Gary Mills made a substitution and changed to a back three, and whilst his side put up more of a performance in the second half, they were still unable to really test McKeown in the Town goal as the home side remained more threatening.

The goalmouth scrambles after Wrexham set-pieces in injury time was the first time the Town goal was under threat since Hoban headed off the line late in the first half. Wrexham remained direct in the second half and were now going long to substitute Wes York more often than not but Tait stood his ground well at right back.

The match-winning goal came in just the 7th minute when a Grimsby corner made it to the far post where Nathan Arnold calmly cushion-volleyed down for Craig Disley to smash home from 6 yards. The goal just cemented what was a good start to the game from the Mariners, and they went on to play some good stuff throughout the half. Hoban had a shot blocked after a cut-back from Horwood and Nolan mis-hit a shot after a nice lay-off from Hoban as Town pressed for a second.

After half-time it was still looking more likely that Town would double their lead, with Hoban guiding a header goalwards that cannoned back off the crossbar, Clay hitting a volley over and Nolan shooting just wide when 1v1 with the goalkeeper after a great first touch from Amond’s reverse ball.

But after Town saw out those final few minutes of injury time (where the referee found 4 minutes to add on I’ll never know) it was Paul Hurst celebrating in the home dugout. After facing criticism at times during his reign of being out-thought by rival managers (even as recently as Cheltenham at home this season), Hurst should be praised for his tactics today.

Gary Mills is a good, experienced Manager and Wrexham will cause other teams problems in the run-in. And Hurst rightly saw this as an important win judging by his reaction after the full time whistle. Yet we can also take confidence from Hurst seemingly winning a battle of tactical minds with a rival Manager. Potentially a good sign with a Play-Off campaign probably coming up in May that’ll hopefully involve 3 games? Time will tell.

Grimsby Town 1-0 Wrexham

Disley ‘7

Att: 4581 (315 away supporters)

 

 

 

How Can We Develop Creative Players?

Every professional football team wants to have creative players.

In today’s world of football, there’s a trend currently for creative little no.10’s. Even the Premier League has followed this evolving trend and style, with Club’s taking note of the success of Barcelona and the Spanish national team between 2008-2012. English clubs have imported no.10’s including David Silva, Juan Mata, Mezut Ozil, Santi Cazorla, Coutinho and Christian Eriksen, even if they aren’t always played in that specific role. Those six have all come to England in recent years as the Premier League evolves.

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In England we don’t typically produce that type of player. But why not? Scoring a goal is the hardest thing to do in football, so why aren’t we producing more of the type of player who can unlock a defence?

We have to start at grassroots football. Kids up and down the country are being shouted at when they’ve got the ball at their feet. Coaches and parents telling them to pass, who to pass to, to run with the ball, to cross, etc etc. And we wonder why we create robots who can’t cope at World Cups against teams that close us down quickly.

We have to allow children playing the game to think for themselves, become adaptable to different situations and able to find solutions on the pitch.

How do we do that? Can we coach creativity?

I don’t think creativity is something you can coach, as such. I’d describe it as something we can help children develop by setting up the right environment. Maybe it depends on your coaching philosophy though because that’s actually partly how I’d describe the role of a coach.

Set up games where children are forced to figure out ways to solve a problem. Games that reflect the real game and situations they may be faced with in a match. Games where they’ll have to make decisions.

Create an environment where kids aren’t scared to try something new, to try a trick/skill or to try that ball through a tight gap that might send a team-mate through on goal. If they’re afraid of taking risks and trying things when they’re young, it’s unlikely they’ll grow out of that. Ask why they have this fear? Do parents moan at them if they try something and it doesn’t come off? Does the Coach criticise them or tell them not to try it again? I often hear Coaches telling kids to “keep it simple”. They could potentially be stifling great creative talents by making them keep it simple and not do extraordinary things they could be capable of.

As a Coach, you’ll need to get the parents of your players to buy into what you’re doing. Even if they’re not an influence during the games, they can be an influence on the player for the rest of the week. So explain and set out to your group of parents what you’ll be doing, how you’re going to achieve it and how they can help you.

Kids are the most creative and imaginative people in the world. They just have it battered out of them by the time they reach adulthood from people telling them they can’t do this and they can’t do that. Football offers a chance to retain some of that imagination that children possess. Or at least it should be able to in the right environment.

Just let kids play the game and you’ll be surprised by how creative they can be. Probably straight away, but then especially over time as a result of practising being able to think, problem-solve and make decisions for themselves.

Praise players for having courage to try things even when they don’t come off. Be positive as a Coach to try and ensure your players are positive.

Allow kids of a young age to dribble and try risky or creative things anywhere on the pitch. Don’t tell them they can’t do it the first time they lose the ball and you concede a goal from it. Who cares if you concede a goal in an u7 match? You’re developing players for when they get to 16/18, not for the sake of winning an u7 match that nobody will remember in 10 years.

It’s an “old-school” view that players shouldn’t do any tricks or anything risky in their own half. Why not? Has this stance helped us develop players capable of winning a World Cup in the last 50-odd years? With u7-u8 mini-soccer now being a 5v5 format, there are constantly 1v1 and 1v2 opportunities for kids all over the pitch. Let them try to solve those problems without anyone trying to tell them what to do. They’ll learn as they get older to only risk the ball if there’s cover behind them.

“The person that never made a mistake never tried anything new.”

This quote is as relevant in football as it is in life. Kids will make mistakes. Adults make mistakes too. But don’t expect the same sort of decision-making from kids as you would from adults. We learn from mistakes so be positive about it. You can always speak with the player later. Ask them what they could have done differently, what else they might have chosen to do instead or how they could tweak what they did to ensure it’d work next time.

But just let them play. As said above, they’ll probably surprise you with what they’re capable of and what they come up with if they’re left to it. Don’t stifle their natural instinctive imagination. And in training, have games so they can  develop and channel that imagination into football creativity but again, don’t instruct them on what they have to do.

As always, the message is simple – #letthemplay

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!

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?

My Coaching Philosophy And The Environment I’m Trying To Create

Introduction

As a coach at a junior, community football club, my coaching philosophy will always underpin any time spent with the players. What I have done below is outline what my coaching philosophy is, before describing the culture I’m trying to create. I’ve done this by discussing all the aspects of the environment the players will be around at the club. I’ve described my plans and priorities for each aspect and explained how we can create a fun, pressure-free learning environment. The reason I’ve done this is because I recognise the need for all parties involved in the players’ development to a) be aware of what I’m trying to do and how I’m trying to do it, and b) to help create this culture at the club.

Coaching Philosophy

My philosophy throughout the years ahead of coaching for Waltham Football Club will be centred around developing creative, imaginative, confident, skilful and intelligent players whilst making sure all training sessions and matches are safe, fun and enjoyable for the players.

The Players

All players will be encouraged to make their own decisions and make their own mistakes in an attempt to provide solutions to the problems they’ll be faced with on the football pitch. Being free to make these decisions themselves will help to develop their intelligence and understanding of the game, as well as helping them to enjoy playing the game with more freedom and less pressure.

We will also help to develop the players as people, ensuring they can all be disciplined, play the game in a sporting manner, win and lose gracefully, be confident individuals, and finally, show respect to their team-mates, opposition, coaches and officials.

Ultimately though, the first aim is always for the players to have fun. We’re all involved with football because it is fun, so we intend to keep it that way whether the players are aged six or sixteen. Without this aim being achieved, the aims around developing players become pointless, as does taking part in playing the game in the first place.

The Coaches

As coaches, we are here to set up the environment for the players to have fun and to learn. We look after the health and well-being of the players as well as helping them on their journey of development. I say “help them on their journey”, because the aim is for us to give the players the knowledge so they can learn and develop themselves, through the practices and games we put on in training sessions rather than just telling them what to do because it may achieve a short-term result.

We’ll use various methods to ask questions and guide players to learn from what they’ve done or are doing, and to provoke their imagination into thinking of ways to problem-solve. Players will always be encouraged to be positive and to not be afraid of trying new or imaginative things.

Training

As said above, training sessions will be set-up to be enjoyable and safe sessions. In line with the FA‘s coaching structure, all sessions are planned so that each part of the session works to improve/work on 4 areas – physical, psychological, technical and social.

They are also planned with a modern view of creating situations for the player to make decisions and carry out a desired technique/skill. There is still a place for them at times, but you won’t see many training drills with one player taking his turn whilst the rest wait in line. I used to find training exercises like that to be boring for most of my childhood, and they mean players spend too much time during a session stood still in a queue waiting for their turn. There are games and activities we can set up that will work on a technique, for example passing or running with the ball, sometimes without the players realising it, instead of the military-like ‘drills’ that you and I probably experienced in our childhoods that were overly repetitive.

Match Days

The key thing to note about matches on a Sunday is that they are just an extension of the training session earlier in the week. It is another learning opportunity. Another environment to make decisions, experience playing in different positions and to make mistakes they can learn from.

My priorities on a match-day are as follows (starting with the most important and working down):

  1. Safety of the players
  2. Enjoyment of the players
  3. Sporting behaviour of the players
  4. Performance/development of the players
  5. The result

The score is of very little importance to me. Providing the team is not suffering morale-sapping 15-0 defeats where we don’t get much of the ball, or pointless, easy 15-0 wins that don’t allow the players to learn or improve, then the main focus (after the safety and social factors) is how the team plays. If points #1, #2 and #3 are all achieved, then it helps to achieve point #4. And if we’re regularly reaching point #4, and developing over the weeks/months/years, then point #5 will eventually come naturally as a result. And only if we achieve the first 4 priorities, will I see it as a positive thing to win the match.

In terms of football development, the long-term development of the player will always be prioritised over winning. You won’t hear me shouting from the touchlines telling a player what to do during a match. If I do that, what is the player learning? It may get a short-term result, maybe by helping to score a goal or win a match. But I would rather develop the player than win a single uncompetitive match at Mini-Soccer level. I may help with advising of positions on the pitch and may remind players to try and look up so that they can see their options, but there won’t be any shouting and screaming, yelling to pass or to shoot etc. When a child is sat at school in a Maths lesson, a teacher wouldn’t stand near them and shout at them “twelve, twelve, the answer is twelve.” The child would be taught to understand why and how to work out the sum, rather than just memorise an answer. This way, in future, they can apply similar logic to solve similar problems. On the football pitch, a problem might be that they are in a situation where they are 1v1 with a defender, or even outnumbered 1v2. So instead of telling them what to do, we’ll let them make their own decision. Whether they dribble, pass, shoot or keep hold of the ball, it’ll be their decision. Over time, they will learn to make more informed, better decisions as a result.

It’s their game, so we intend to let them play it.

Parents

Parents or guardians of the players, along with coaches and players, have the FA’s RESPECT code to adhere to. It is an easy thing to do to get wrapped up in the excitement of seeing children play football and allow the natural adults competitive side to take over. But we have to remember that the children play for enjoyment. They play to have fun playing the game and to play with their mates. After the game they are more likely to be talking about a tackle they made or a run they went on where they beat 3 players, rather than getting upset over a defeat.

In addition to this, we would like to ask that all parents/guardians are positive on the side-lines during games. Encouragement for the players would be fantastic, as long as it doesn’t stray into telling them exactly what to do when they’ve got the ball. I’ve used one analogy already but another good one is if the child had a hobby of playing piano. Would a parent paying for piano lessons for their child stand behind their child shouting “C, D, D flat, E sharp, E, D D” at the top of their voice telling them what to do. I would think probably not. So why do some people do it with football. Maybe it’s because some of us have an unreasonably high expectation of what the children can do. Maybe it’s that competitive nature that adults have. But remember their age. They are not adults so will not play like adults. Constantly shouting at them will be unnerving for them and may take away some of the enjoyment they have of playing if it continues over a long period of time.

I’ve spoken about allowing the players to make their own decisions and allowing them to make mistakes so that they can learn (from mistakes and from positive choices). So as parents and coaches we can praise a decision they make if it looks like they’ve made the right choice, regardless of how well the execution of it is carried out. We can praise the bravery in attempting a dribble rather than just kicking the ball up the pitch. And we can praise hard work and effort.

It is also important that parents/guardians mirror the coaches in making the enjoyment and development the main issue, rather than results. To be effective, this must apply when both winning and losing. If we lose, emphasise how much fun the child had, how enjoyable it was and how well they played. If we win, try to do the same, highlighting the way they (team and/or individual) played rather than the stand-alone fact that they won.

Coaching Focus

The coaching focus for the first couple of years of the Mini-Soccer age groups will be around ball mastery. Controlling the ball and becoming confident and adept at making the ball do what they want it to do. It is not natural for players of this young age to pass the ball around the team, so it will not be forced on them. We will introduce concepts of when they might want to try and pass the ball, or the selection of who to try and pass to, but not until a later age will we go through it in more detail. But for the first few years of Mini-Soccer, controlling the ball and dribbling with the ball to score a goal will be the main areas we will look at.

With the recent success of Spain’s national football team, and FC Barcelona of La Liga, there has been a focus in the UK of getting teams to pass the ball. Sometimes obsessively. This is understandable in a way, because of the way the Spanish teams pass the ball around and keep possession so dominantly. But the reason these Spanish players are able to keep the ball so well, is because, first and foremost, they are all so comfortable on the ball. They are happy to receive the ball in tight spaces and are happy to keep hold of it themselves (using a trick or just twisting and turning away) when an opponent comes to try and tackle them. In the UK there has always been a worrying trend to get young players to get rid of the ball, and to get it as far up the pitch as quickly as possible. This isn’t helping anyone and has partly led to the English national team being so predictable in that most of the players panic under pressure, aren’t comfortable using both feet, aren’t confident enough to retain the ball when under pressure and opponents know the player will look to get rid of the ball as soon as he is closed down.

What I want to do is develop players that are confident and able enough to keep the ball themselves if they choose to. Players that can dribble with the ball to beat players, are brave enough to try things with the ball and that don’t panic when someone comes to tackle them. I’ve read quotes from Barcelona midfielder Xavi, who says he goes out on the pitch and is desperate to touch the ball at least 100 times in every match, and feels lost if he doesn’t.  Compare this to the UK where kids, and even adults, are shamefully urged to “get it forward” and “get rid of it” as soon as they get the ball.

Then, when it comes to familiarising the players with the concept that they need to work as a team to be successful (maybe at around U10), we will introduce a range of work on passing and team play, as well as further enhancing the ball control/dribbling. At this point, the players will be more equipped to make decisions when it comes to deciding whether to pass or keep the ball themselves, with a growing level of maturity to make these decisions. Obviously some players will reach the realisation that they need each other to be successful earlier than this, and others may take longer, but we will not coach out of any player, the ability or strength of running with the ball. A Brazilian player said recently before an England-Brazil fixture that England are easy to play against as they don’t have anyone who can dribble the ball. And he was right. Joe Cole could have been England’s best dribbler since Paul Gascoigne, but he had it coached out of him by successive managers and the English culture that doesn’t want to take risks to be creative. Time will tell if the FA are on the right track to improving this area of coaching, but Waltham FC will be encouraging creativity and the use of players’ own imagination.

One last area to cover is a topic that I’ve seen/heard discussed recently: fitness-related training. I can categorically state that I don’t plan on having any type of fitness training as part of any training sessions. Aside from the fact that the players are of Mini-Soccer age groups and do not need fitness drills, they are running around for an hour and a half as it is (obviously minus necessary drinks/rest breaks), so if that isn’t enough of a work out, then I don’t know what is. Secondly, players come to the club to play football. If they wanted to do loads of pointless running, their parents would take them to the local athletics club. You can get enough physical work out of a football training session using the football related games, so I don’t plan on doing any work solely on fitness even at the older age groups. Yes, we do warm-up activities (even these often include ball-work), but these will be short games using colours/numbers or tag-style games that help with the children’s agility, balance and co-ordination. Not the boring, repetitive straight line running drills you see at some clubs.

That is all. Thanks very much for taking the time to read this. And remember….

…..LET THEM PLAY.

Tom Bryan, Coach, Waltham FC

Bravery and Belief The Missing Ingredients For Fulham

Fulham have earned a lot of plaudits for their performances in recent weeks. Two matches in particular stand out when The Cottagers played well against higher-placed opposition but only came away with one point out of a possible six from the two games. The games I refer to are the 1-0 defeat against Manchester United and the 1-1 draw with Chelsea. With more belief in their own ability and bravery to take the game to their opponents, Fulham could well have come away with anything up to six points from these two games.

Old Trafford

In both matches, Fulham played with their 4-2-3-1 formation. Although the three attack-minded midfielders were so deep it practically made it a 4-5-1 set-up that began both games. At Old Trafford against United, there is still a certain fear that exists amongst visiting teams that prevents them from really believing they can get a result at the biggest club ground in England. I wouldn’t say Fulham had too much of this fear as such, more a lack of belief in their own ability to take the game to United without allowing the champions to take control of the game. Fulham played some nice football in the first half and were unlucky to go in at half time a goal down after Wayne Rooney struck three minutes before the interval. Dembele and Dempsey in particular had caused the United midfield problems with their movement and Pogrebnyak ensured it wasn’t an easy night for Ferdinand and Evans despite not having many chances himself. In the second half, United began to dominate possession but without really threatening to add to their one goal advantage. But Fulham still didn’t throw caution to the wind against a United side clearly not at the races.

It wasn’t until Martin Jol sent on captain Danny Murphy with just under 20 minutes to go that Fulham began to play higher up the pitch and get more bodies forward in support of the previously isolated Pogrebnyak. In the dying minutes, United were hanging on against a side that suddenly had the belief that they could get something out of the game. And a Michael Carrick tackle on Danny Murphy as the former Liverpool midfielder surged into the penalty area failed to make contact with the ball and was wrongly ignored by referee Michael Oliver. That was a huge let-off for United. The closing stages must have left Fulham fans thinking if they had gone for it a little earlier in the game, that United were there for the taking and their side could have managed to rescue at least a point.

The visit of Chelsea

For Chelsea’s visit to Craven Cottage, Fulham were missing Pavel Pogrebnyak. Clint Dempsey played the lone striker role just a few days after becoming the club’s highest scorer in a single Premier League season. Fulham again started the game very cautiously, having good spells of possession but not really testing Petr Cech in the Chelsea goal or getting their attacking midfielders high enough up the pitch to do any real damage to their West London neighbours. As at Old Trafford just a few weeks previously, Fulham found themselves on the wrong end of a questionable penalty decision. Despite replays suggesting he might have been wrong to do so, referee Mark Clattenburg awarded Chelsea a penalty which Frank Lampard tucked away just before half-time.

As the second half progressed Fulham still seemed reluctant to come out of their shell and let their talented attacking players – Dembele, Frei and Duff – push further upfield and have a little freedom to roam and find space. Again, Fulham showed themselves to be very comfortable on the ball and not afraid to keep possession when put under pressure. In the final 15 minutes, however, the home side seemed to consciously begin to attack Chelsea. Perhaps finally sensing that this is not a great Chelsea side and that they possess enough ability in their own ranks to go toe-to-toe against anyone when they are on form, especially at Craven Cottage. Riise began bombing forward from left full-back, as he had become famous for earlier in his career at Liverpool, and Damien Duff played ten yards further forward and pinned Ryan Bertrand back for the first time in the match. The crowd could sense an equaliser was on the cards and after a run of corners were Chelsea were uncharacteristically poor at dealing with, Dempsey managed to head home for his 16th goal of the season. By this time Martin Jol had sent on Orlando Sa to add a physical presence to Fulham’s attack – further evidence of Fulham’s growing belief during the game. Fulham were still the better side in the closing stages and were looking more likely to find a winning goal. As Chelsea brought Drogba on and moved Torres to the right hand side, Ivanovic was left exposed several times, no longer receiving the support that Ramires had offered him for the first 83 minutes. This was an avenue Fulham exploited as they pushed for a winner but they eventually had to settle for a point as it finished 1-1.

What might have been

This is not intended as a criticism of Fulham or their manager Martin Jol. The Dutchman is building a good team that plays football the right way and is still in transition from the Mark Hughes team he inherited. The change in the forward line of Zamora and Johnson in front of a midfield four has been changed for the continental-style 4-2-3-1. A change which isn’t always successful straight away. Fulham now appear to be getting to grips with it and are showing they can match the ‘bigger’ clubs in the league on their day. But if Fulham had been a little braver in believing in the talent in their team, they could have come away from Old Trafford with at least a point and could easily have beaten Chelsea. Maybe next season, as Jol’s players become more and more comfortable with their formation, the manager himself will believe in his team a little more and be brave enough to take the game to the opponents in games like these.