kids football

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.

DavidSilva

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

The Retreat Line Rule

The Retreat Line Rule

I think the Retreat Line Rule that has been introduced to Mini-Soccer (at all age groups up to u10s) is such a good idea, that it’s a shame it wasn’t implemented years ago. For those of you unfamiliar with this rule, it means that from a goal kick, the opposing team must retreat to their own half of the pitch until the ball is played.

It is aimed at encouraging youngsters to play out from the back, as opposed to getting goalkeepers to lump it down the pitch as far as they can. Many teams have taken this approach in years gone by, whether it is to relieve pressure when struggling to progress up the pitch with the ball, or just to take advantage of a big, strong kid who can kick the ball further than anyone else.

Shifting the Problem?

The new ruling is still in its early days yet, with most junior teams only playing a few games so far since the 2013/2014 fixtures began. And I’ve read a mixture of comments from coaches on twitter. One coach commented that it hasn’t actually helped, and all it has done is shift the pressure onto whoever the goalkeeper passes the ball to. Initially I thought this could be a valid point. The goalkeeper takes the goal kick by passing it to a player in their half, who is immediately swarmed by 2 or 3 opposition players charging after the ball. Then, under pressure and at an age where the sight of 3 players charging straight at you can be intimidating, the player panics and just launches the ball away.

However, with a little help, it doesn’t need to pan out this way.

Let Them Play

My Waltham Lions u7s have shown great courage in always trying to calmly play from the back, holding onto the ball themselves or passing to a nearby player in their own half. Even when under pressure and in one game where we suffered a heavy defeat, the boys have stuck with this way they are trying to play. And this isn’t through me, as a coach, shouting at them what to do. Neither I nor any of our parents are shouting the kids to “get rid of it” or “kick it up the pitch”. So the kids themselves are choosing to want to play with the ball, rather than kick it and run after it. Which is great, and what does that tell you about how creativity can be coached out of kids at any age?

Anyway, with a bit of 5v2 practice before the last couple of games, the boys are now becoming very handy at playing from goal kicks. We don’t have the situation mentioned by some people on Twitter because once we’ve played a short goal kick to the defender, the boys have shown they’re quite calm when someone charges at them, choosing either to pass around them, dribble a bit themselves, or (as two of the lads do quite often) just put their foot on the ball, turn to face away from the player and just shield it until they can safely turn to one side to get away. They’re even learning that they can wait for the charging player to get really close to them before they pass, meaning the pass bypasses that player and takes him out of the game.

The key is making sure your own team don’t all charge off up the pitch towards the halfway line themselves. If the goalie passes it up to a player near the half-way line, he’s going to get closed down straight away by an opposition player from the half-way line. There’s no rush. Encourage the goalie it is ok to take a short goal kick and then have at least some of the team stay close enough to offer some help to the player in possession.

Patience and Long-Term Development Focus

All in all, the Retreat Line is a fantastic adjustment to the rules of junior football. Hopefully the masses will take to it and try to change the British culture that a goal kick must be launched long. Hopefully people will show patience to the kids playing the game at such a young age and not give up on them playing it short from the back. Hopefully coaches and parents won’t drain the confidence that some youngsters have to keep hold of the ball and be more creative, even if it is a little more risky. At the end of the day, it is junior football, which is all about fun and development, so who cares if they try something in their own half that doesn’t come off and the other team score? Applaud and praise their bravery, attitude and intentions.

What’s next?

The thing I think could be the next progression in terms of Mini-Soccer rules, is a mandatory centre-circle marked onto the pitch to force a mini retreat for kick offs. Some areas may already have this, but the pitches we’ve used so far don’t, meaning the opposition don’t end up more than a few feet back from the centre-spot and it is easy for them to swarm the 2 taking the kick off as soon as it is taken.

So…..the Retreat Line…..great stuff….better late than never eh!