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Going Back to my Grass Roots...

When I was asked by two friends, former players and decent coaches themselves, to help with the coaching and development of their talented U14’s team, there was no internal debate as to whether I wanted to or not; it was more an issue of whether I could make it logistically work given the randomness from one week to the next.

I’ve stayed clear of coaching in Sunday football up until this point, mainly due to reservations about dealing with pushy parents, who ultimately want the best for their children (and rightly so), one of the many reasons.

However, having seen the set-up, dedication and detail Andy and Scott put into running their side and developing the talent they have, I knew I wouldn’t be having any issues with how the team was being organised.

I’ve watched plenty of Sunday football from U10’s right up to U18’s and based on what I’ve seen and heard, I’ve concluded that there are some very badly run teams out there. Some of the information I’ve heard being bellowed from the side by so-called ‘coaches’ and contradicted by baying parents, simply made it an environment that I wanted to keep well clear of. I often pitied the boys and girls trying their earnest to impress so many different sets of people, overloading them with unusable and often contradictory information. How did Sunday football come to this?

Has it always been like this?

That Andy and Scott, who have been with the group for several years, identified that at this crucial age, they felt the team needed input from a new voice with fresh ideas, said everything about the depth of thought and consideration they have for the development of their players. I emphasise the point on the age of the group being U14’s, as in my opinion beyond this age, it’s very difficult to lock in some of the fundamental elements that the players will need as they develop and progress into adult football years down the line.

It’s also worth mentioning, and I’ve realised this myself, that my coaching message and any other messages I try and relay, maybe being diluted, undermined and contradicted by other coaches involved in the young players' world. The topic of kids playing too much football for physical reasons is a well-worn and valid one. Parents living through their children will often drive here, there and everywhere several times a week to give their offspring a chance at the big time. I sometimes wonder where the time is found for study, other activities, interests and REST?!!! Are burnout and fatigue are ever considered? (Coming soon: The role of parents looked at in more detail in a future blog)

Development centres, County side, District, School and Sunday teams all run by different coaches with different ideas, principals, codes of conduct and football outlook. With a lack of a consistent message, it’s no surprise that boys outside Academies struggle to develop at the same rate as the boys within them. Yes, there are many factors, but a lack of a consistent message and variable levels of coaching cannot be dismissed as inconsequential. (Next Up: We expand on the problems around player development outside Academies. Blog coming soon)

Sadly, another problem I’ve seen is the many hammerings and lob sided games. I don’t mean a 6-0 or 5-1. I’m talking double figures!!! I’ve never understood who, if anyone, benefits from such games? Certainly not the winning team and without a doubt, not the losing one. What is the cumulative effect on the players in a team who are humiliated weekly Infront of their friends and parents? We all know you learn more in defeat, but what do you take from losing 15-0…..pretty much weekly?!! Something needs to be done to mitigate the chances of these lob sided games occurring. The sooner the better too!

There are no winners!

Training is always a challenge as you want to keep the sessions stimulating and interesting, but there’s also a need for consistency and an element of monotony to cement key techniques and patterns. Getting young players to understand there is a skill to being focused and motivated when faced with monotonous solidifying drills and sessions. I think this is an important lesson for young players to learn.

In short, with our sessions, we aim to be consistent, improve game intelligence, positional understanding, develop touch and technique and develop balanced, principled young people. It’s that simple and all we do revolves around that. Although unbeaten this season, this is a by-product of what we’re trying to accomplish, rather than a goal. Winning for me is secondary to developing players. However, if you’re doing this well, the performances and results should follow.

Now alluding to what was said earlier, we want to instil football habits that will be relevant to the players no matter how long they play for, and what level they progress to. A 10-year-old may be able to dribble and score every time he/she has possession of the ball, but will they be able to still do that at 15, 18, or 23? Most likely not (unless you’re Lionel Messy) so developing all the other aspects they’ll need to supplement the ability they have should be all coaches goal. Embedding understanding and intelligence they will always rely on.

On average players have possession of the ball for less than 3 minutes a game. What are they doing the rest of the time? For me, coaching is as much about what players are doing in possession, as it is about how they’re affecting the game out of it.

Speaking of Messi, of course, he was a child sensation and virtuoso with the ball from the age of 6 or 7. What Barcelona and the coaches that coached him did magnificently was develop a player with an amazing team ethic and understanding, without coaching out of him, the ability they signed him for in the first place! I think this is an important thing to note. Harness talent don’t try to hide it! Lead these types of players to the realisation that if they can utilize their talent at the right times and reserve elements of it at others, the team benefits.

So, a few months in, what are the pluses you may ask?

Well, the main one is seeing the principles and practice you try and instil during the short time you have with the group at training, reflected perfectly on the pitch, against worthy opposition. It may only be fleeting, but when you see what you’ve been preaching, be-it from the team as a whole, a unit in the team, or even an individual player, it makes it all so worthwhile.

As serious as your mission is as a coach, or running your team, don’t forget the ‘F’ word! It’s often forgotten and overlooked amidst the chase for league titles, cups and getting one over the rival team you don’t like….

…and that’s ‘FUN’!!’

Yes, there’s a time to be serious and get down to work. However, the players are not forced to be there and choose, with their parents, to play for your team. Do they want to listen to endless lectures from a coach enjoying the sound of his/her voice? Does the environment they’re brought into have to resemble that of an Eastern European Army team from the ’80s? No and no! Don’t be a tyrant, and never forget amongst everything else, enjoyment must be a key factor.

Would you continue to attend something you had a choice to that you didn’t enjoy? Of course, you wouldn’t, so what’s the difference between you and the young people you engage with every week?

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