mini soccer

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

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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!

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

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!