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

Advertisements

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.

image

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.

image

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.

image

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

Why Chelsea Need To End Reign Of Player Power

When Andre Villas-Boas took over as Chelsea Manager in June 2011, he probably didn’t envisage the club’s dressing room being his biggest problem during his first season in English football. A dressing room filled with international footballers and seasoned professionals would surely have been an attraction for any potential Chelsea manager following the ruthless sacking of Carlo Ancelotti. The unfortunate truth is that ever since Jose Mourinho left the club in 2007, ‘player power’ has grown to the extent that it is now too powerful at a club where it is clear to see that senior players have an influence on the rich Russian who writes the cheques.

Only the players within the club will know how it has developed to the stage that it is now at. It appears the Chelsea players, as a collective, became victims of their own success under Mourinho. The success they enjoyed on the pitch under his leadership became a new level of expectancy that had to be replicated and surpassed on a yearly basis. Since Mourinho departed, the Chelsea players have been the architects of their own downfall, seemingly clinging to the idea that the only way they can be that successful again is to do it ‘the Mourinho way’.

The Exceptions Explained

‘Player power’ at Chelsea saw an end to Felipe Scolari’s attempts at transforming the team into a more fluid, attack-minded team and the same problem seems to be rearing its ugly head again this season as Villas-Boas attempts to rebuild the side by altering its character, mentality and style. The only managers to have enjoyed any success since ‘The Special One’ are Guus Hiddink and Carlo Ancelotti. Hiddink lead the club to FA Cup glory in 2009, and Ancelotti lead The Blues to a domestic League and Cup double in 2010. But when you look back, the changes these managers made to the set-up of the team were minimal. Hiddink was only ever intended to be in charge for a short time following Scolari’s short reign and so just used the system best suited to the squad of players he inherited – which was Mourinho’s 4-3-3 system with generally the same game plan. Ancelotti’s Chelsea generally also played a 4-3-3, with Anelka forced to operate from a wider starting position, although the Italian would often use the narrow diamond midfield in a 4-4-2 that he had success at Milan with. But the temperament and approach to games of his Chelsea team consisted of the same deep defensive line, a strong spine of the team that didn’t venture out of position and counter-attacking style that typified Mourinho’s Chelsea. So the influential Chelsea players were ‘on board’ with the Italian.

Change of Style

Scolari looked to play a quicker, shorter passing style and be much more open in terms of fluidity and movement. Unfortunately he was trying to do it with what was still predominantly the Mourinho squad. A squad full of players with different capabilities and attributes compared to the Brazil and Portugal national sides that he had previously managed. Ultimately he wasn’t afforded the time needed to implement such drastic changes successfully and rumours of player revolts and key players being unhappy with the Brazilian’s plan lead to his dismissal.

http://www.chelseatalk.co.uk/

Villas-Boas is now attempting something similar all over again. He wants his team to defend higher up the pitch, press the opposition, move the ball quicker and be better in possession. As with most managers post-Mourinho, he has not had the funds to buy enough players to implement this successfully immediately. He does, however, have first-hand experience of the squad having previously worked as Mourinho’s assistant at the club. I’m sure he would love to have the same £120million transfer budget that was afforded to Claudio Ranieri in 2003 to be able to transform the squad. Unfortunately for the Portuguese, Mr Abramovich doesn’t appear to want to throw such huge sums of money around in transfer fees in support of a Manager any more (not counting the 2011 transfers of Luiz and Torres which did not appear to be signings that the manager at the time had asked for). This forces Villas-Boas, as it did Scolari before him, to do it gradually over time, possibly having to take one step backwards in order to later make larger strides forward.

Players Resisting Change?

http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/thereporters/mihirbose/2008/05/final_proves_premier_league_cl.html

Reports of a row between players and manager in the wake of a recent defeat at Everton and the ever-growing rumours of unhappy players and the manager ‘losing the dressing room’ all suggest that ‘player-power’ at Chelsea could be about to see to another manager trying to bring change being sacked before being given a fair opportunity to do it. Maybe questions should be asked why this ‘player power’ tries to resist change. Is it because the slower-paced players such as Terry, Lampard, Mikel, Ivanovic and an ageing Drogba fear that such a change in style will result in them being shown the door? They would struggle to get a salary equal to their current contracts elsewhere after all. Or is that too cynical a suggestion? Either way, Abramovich paid FC Porto £13million in the summer to acquire his services. The least he should do now is back him, both publicly and in a meeting with the key Chelsea players who have come to believe that they are bigger than any manager of the club.

A Stronger Abramovich Needed?

Abramovich needs to be stronger. He is unquestionably a hugely successful man having amassed the personal fortune he has in business. So there is no suggestion he is a pushover or easily swayed by others. But there should be serious questions asked of him why he has previously expressed a desire for Chelsea to play a more expansive and entertaining game, yet sacked the first manager he employed to execute that and is in danger of allowing the second attempt to become an equally short affair.

The Russian billionaire should tell the Chelsea players in no uncertain terms that Villas-Boas is there for the long haul, and that they can work hard to adapt and play the way he wants them to play, or be replaced. To reinforce that support I believe he should then provide substantial funds for Villas-Boas to go out and buy a few players of similar ilk to Juan Mata in the summer.

The bottom line for me is that no group of players should ever become more important, or believe that they’re more of an indispensable commodity, than the manager. It simply isn’t a recipe for success and until Chelsea sort out their internal problems and inevitably begin to replace some of the ‘old guard’, they will struggle to move forward to the level Abramovich demands.

Written February 20th, 2012.