Merry Christmas & Happy New Year

Wishing all the people who read this blog a Merry Christmas & Happy New Year!

Thank you to all of you who’ve taken the time to read this blog and especially to those who’ve given advice or feedback via comments or interaction on twitter, it was very much appreciated.

Here’s to 2011 and more coaching, learning & fun 🙂


2011: Your year to make a difference

I have a number of ambitions for 2011 which I’d like to personally fulfil but I also have an ambition which is directed at others; I want to encourage more people to get involved in grassroots football.

I really want to urge other like-minded people to get involved in coaching at a youth level in this country. I’m looking at those people who’re passionate about football, passionate about the success of our national team and passionate about football development at the grassroots level.

I believe there are many people out there who fit the criteria but for whatever reason they aren’t yet involved in grassroots football. It could be a lack of knowledge of FA Coaching courses, a lack of involvement in a youth side (i.e. via their own children) or it could be an uncertainty regarding the impact they (you) can make.

I hope to be able to inspire people to get involved and make a difference for all the right reasons. I want people to get involved in a local youth side, to take their Level 1 coaching qualification and to ensure our grassroots footballers are being coached by enthusiastic people with the right values and who’re in it for the right reason.

If I can inspire 5 people to get involved in 2011 I think that’ll be great. If you can do the same, even better. I really want to do my bit for the future of the game in this country and as well as practising what I preach I also think there’s room for more qualified coaches at the grassroots.

Of course, there are other improvements which need to be made if we’re to start developing more world-class talent but I’m going to focus on what I can do to play my part.

My view on a youth summer season

I must admit, when I first read this BBC article by Alistair Magowan I wasn’t immediately bought in to Sam Allardyce view that we should move the youth season to the summer months. It feels a bit like another Englishman coming up with another reason why we’re not developing enough players of world-class calibre in this country.

For a long time I’ve felt that we don’t provide the right facilities for young footballers (or any young sportsperson)in this country and I believe we’re well behind the continent when it comes to the availability of these facilities. You only have to go on holiday to any one of a number of European countries to see the volume of really impressive all-weather sports venues dotted around. In England, or in fact Britain, we don’t appear to have invested in these facilities and even where they do exist the cost of hiring them can be outrageously high.

Therefore, as well as not having a high enough number of enthusiastic, qualified coaches who’re bought in to the larger ethos, we don’t have enough top-quality environments for our young players to play on and develop.

However, one point that Eric Harrison makes in the article is a very good one, he states, “If youth football was in summer, players can actually listen to the coaches in pleasurable conditions when they are talking on the pitch”. This is where we also start to see real value being added. On the one hand, there is no point having lots of qualified coaches if we don’t have the facilities for them to deliver their sessions but on the other, there’s no point in having large numbers of qualified coaches if they’re lacking the time to coach, something which is certainly impacted by the colder weather.  The quickest way to address this is to move the youth season to the summer months.

One thing is clear, we need to do whatever we can to maximise the amount of time our young players get to spend with enthusiastic qualified coaches and if that means move the youth season to the summer months then I’m right behind it.

Coaching Day 5: How the plan went

As I’d already mentioned in Monday’s blog, I’d chosen to go along to tonight’s session with a plan in place for what we’d do during the session and I’d also hoped to ask the boys some questions to get them engaged verbally in the training session. So, how did that go?

Having the plan in place was useful and I used two of the three games I had in my plan. The session started as usual with some cross-pitch dribbling mixed in to a game of sharks & minnows – a game which I find is an excellent way to start the session as it allows me to work with one or two individual players. Both weeks now I’ve been able to help one or two boys improve their dribbling skills and I’ve found this really enjoyable, primarily because I find it’s very tangible.

We then moved on to playing ‘Soccer Simon Says’ which was met with one boy shouting “that’s boring!” but I set up a square area and had the boys doing a number of tasks with the ball such as dribbling with either foot, controlling the ball, swapping the ball with another player, sitting on the ball and I also had them throwing it in the air before immediately shouting “Simon says control the ball!”. This is one of those games which I feel only has a small window before the boys get bored but hopefully it continues to work on their ball skills & also on other aspects such as dribbling, awareness, communication & balance.

After this we moved on to a game of 4v4 using two goals. Interesting game. A couple of the boys didn’t like the sound of it initially (they just wanted a game) and a couple of the boys needed one or two reminders of which goals they were attacking (I gave each team two goals to score in and two goals to defend) but once the game got going you could see it challenging them to look at where the spare goal was, both when attacking and defending. After about ten minutes of play one team started getting ahead in the game so I adopted the rules (progressed) and had them making sure each player touched it before they could score. This resulted in them needing to think about where their team mates were and had them passing the ball more frequently – something I believe is important at this age because it’s quite clear that as players they’re incredibly selfish when it comes to possession of the football!

I missed my opportunity for Q&A but I did speak to a couple of the players after the 4v4 game and asked them what they thought had been important to do in the game, to which the responses came “passing”, “pass it” and “look for the goal” (positive). I then asked them (they’re two of the better players) to take that passing in to the match we then played and they seemed to take this on.

In talking to the players I’ve found again tonight, as with previous weeks, that it’s easier to communicate to them on a 1-2-1 level than it is with them as a group. I find I get their full attention on a 1-2-1 level whereas they’re easily disrupted when together as a group, especially if one or two of them decide to play up. Something to work on perhaps.

I’ve enjoyed tonight’s session again, I balance the enjoyment and successes of the small improvements I see the players making along with the things which I’m still grasping, such as the need to set sessions up more quickly! We’ve got a two-week break now so it gives me a chance to do some more reading and come back in the new year ready to start working with the boys again. I’m also hoping to do some other coaching via a local school in the new year so that should be something else to look forward to as well!

Planning the next session

I’m hoping to add a bit of structure to our session tomorrow night, rather than the ad-hoc approach I’ve taken so far. I’ve downloaded a coaching session plan and have written in the names of the games I’d like to play and I’ve also added next to them some of the key areas or objectives for each game, i.e. awareness, dribbling, control, decision making etc.

The success of the plan will depend on numbers but if we have a reasonably good turn-out then I should have a minimum of 6 in my group which should be sufficient for the games I’m hoping to use – these being, ‘Soccer Simon Says’, ‘Nutmeg soccer’ & a game of 3v3 or 4v4, possibly with 4 goals (thanks to for the ideas).

What I also want to do in Wednesday’s session is start engaging the kids in what we’re doing by asking them questions. I asked for some advice on twitter last night and had some excellent feedback; the best of which means I shall be keeping the questions simple and will use the exercise to understand what kind of information I get back from U7 boys & girls. I’ve used the session plan to help me prepare a couple of questions in advance.

My preparation for the session on Wednesday is two-fold; 1. As ever, I hope it gives me the best possible opportunity to ensure the session is fun yet challenging for the kids and 2. I’m trying to ensure I get in to the right habits as a very new coach and I think planning the session & engaging the kids with questions are absolutely the right things to be doing.

We also have selection boxes to give the kids as instructed by the club committee (chocolates – morals!?) but the kids need to earn them so we’re currently trying to think of what we could challenge them with in order to “win” the chocs. I’m thinking of setting a challenge for a number of successful passes in the match we’ll have at the end. Any other ideas (if you’ve done this before) would be welcome 🙂

I’ll be back as always to report on how this went.

Coaching Day 4: Success & Challenges

I had a really enjoyable session with the U7s tonight, with 12 of them braving the conditions to come along. I saw evidence of some very small, yet tangible success with one or two of the kids and I also had some challenges which of course are all part of the learning process.

I felt the session was positive because we spent 90% of the session with the boys working on their ball skills, primarily through dribbling & control. At the start of the session we had the boys dribbling from one side of the pitch to the other. I chose to work with a couple of the boys and challenged them to use both feet to dribble with (moving the ball from right foot to left, then back to right) as a way of keeping the ball closer to them and then, as we progressed in to a game of sharks v minnows, I worked with one of the boys and had him working on one particular skill in order to dribble round me.

Following this we split the boys in to two groups with Phil & I both taking one group. I had the boys with me taking part in a basic game where they’d dribble through cones before taking a shot, this then progressed by changing angles, changing feet and improving the pace at which they went through the cones. I also had them then playing a 1-2 with me before shooting; I used this to work on their communication (they wouldn’t get the ball back without calling my name and asking for it) and also challenged some of the boys who were scoring regularly by changing their feet and also giving them bouncing balls to control and hit.

After these games we finished with a 5 minute game where I asked the boys to try to pass it as much as possible, a couple of them tried to do this where possible which was good to see. My one major success game during the game as I saw the boy who I’d earlier worked with on dribbling perform the skill I’d shown him – this was fantastic! Appreciate it’s only once, but to see him use it, and it work, was a real motivator and it’ll be interesting to see if he remembers it next week 🙂

The game itself had its challenges as one of the kids had been desperate to go in goal for our team but he wasn’t very good which meant our team conceded a few very soft goals. Not particularly a problem but the other players kept asking for him to be replaced as he was “rubbish” but I didn’t want to move him so I had to try to keep them focussed on scoring goals at the other end!

My other challenge is thinking quickly on my feet to think of new games to play – I think I’ve been reading about so many different games from so many various websites that it’s clouding my brain. I’m going to try to focus on the Level 1 games, embed them in my head, and then look around at others…or maybe I’ll just take a folder with them all in!

Bit of a brain dump, but that was “day 4”.


Wikipedia, “Tiki-taka is a style of play in association football, characterised by short passing and movement, working the ball through various channels, and maintaining possession.” Below, is an excellent demonstration which would be a great example to any young player.

Barcelona reach purist perfection

Barcelona 5 – 0 Real Madrid. The score line was equally as emphatic as the dominance Barcelona held over Real Madrid in El Clasico at the Camp Nou on Monday night. Mourinho, of course, claimed it wasn’t an embarrassment for Madrid but the rest of the world saw the win for what it really was.

The performance and the result had adulation flying in Barca’s direction from all corners of the world, and what must be most pleasing for everyone connected with the Catalan club is the fact that this came from a team built almost entirely from home-grown talent.

Real Madrid’s squad cost around double that of Barca’s, so at around £140m Barca have still spent considerably to ensure they sign some of the best players in the world but Madrid, unlike Chelsea, have failed to turn their investment in to trophies.

Barcelona’s youth development program is now rated as the number 1 youth academy in world football and when you look at the player’s who’re coming through, combined with the football they play,  it’s easy to see why. What I like about the Barca academy is the ethos that lives within La Masia – 433 is the default formation which is combined with three pillars of player development:

  • Player technique (control, balance etc)
  • Positional awareness and movement (total football)
  • One-touch passing

Combine these together and you begin to see why the Barcelona first team have been so successful in recent years. However, great credit should be shown to Guardiola because it still takes great management to ensure that the whole is equal to the sum of the parts – that is, just because you have great players doesn’t necessarily mean success and trophies.

Barcelona’s performance in El Clasico was as good a performance as I have seen from a club in my 20 years of watching football and although I have seen great performances from various teams in the past, they haven’t represented the type of “purist perfection” that Barcelona’s performance simply  was.

I take great inspiration from Barcelona, the way they develop players and the way they go about their football. It makes me want to develop young players in the same way, concentrating on technique, awareness and one-touch play. I want to develop players who go on to be good players, players who are comfortable on the ball and players who are proper footballers  and Barca motivate me to do this.

Coaching Day 3: U7s in the snow

Training for our U7s went ahead tonight despite the cold weather conditions we’re currently experiencing in the UK, although it did mean we had depleted numbers. Despite these lower numbers the session was still positive though – as it provided us with a good chance to see a selection of the kids play in an environment where they had much more time on the ball than they otherwise might.

There were only 5 kids who turned up, so we played a simple game of 5 v 2 (the 2 of us being adults – appreciate this isn’t recommended, but I digress…) on the all weather pitch. At first, it seemed this may just be an activity in keeping the kids warm & entertained for an hour but it soon became evident that there was good coaching opportunities to be had.

• The lower numbers meant each of the kids had more time on the ball
• Having more time on the ball gave them more time to think about decisions
• We could position ourselves defensively to provide them with either easy or more challenging decisions
• We could talk, frequently, to each player to ask them about their position, or what they were going to do next
• We saw how good some of the players were when they had more time on the ball

If I compare this with a larger game it’s immediately obvious that the kids enthusiasm, which leads to the “shoal of fish” problem, can cause the game to be played at such a pace that it makes it hard to engage with the players, to challenge them as individuals and to observe them in a situation where they have more time to think about their next decision. That is – I’ve thoroughly enjoyed being able to work very closely with the 5 who turned up tonight and we saw a marked improvement in their decision making and the amount of passing they performed over the 1 hour session.

Tonight has been interesting. It’s shown me at first hand the value in small sided games, and the opportunities they provide for developing young players. I’ve been told about the value, but it’s always better to experience and to understand than to be told. I also have a much better view of those 5 players – what their strengths & weaknesses are, and that’ll help me to help them develop.

Another enjoyable night of coaching.