Adult Football’s Biggest Problem

I get a phone call on Thursday night, “Sorry Simon we have to forfeit the game on Saturday as we can’t raise a side”. The conversation that follows is a discussion between two secretaries of adult football clubs (step 7) who share the frustration of trying to get a side out each week, player commitment & availability is at an all time low.

Almost every club secretary I’ve spoken to this season has complained about this issue, irrespective of whether they’re challenging toward the top of the league or struggling at the bottom.

One secretary said to me, “It’s almost like they’re doing you the favour by playing”. Another said, “They’re not available one weekend and then moan and ask why they’re on the bench when they return the following week”.

I read some information from the FA a few years back that showed the number of players dropping out of the adult game, it was in the region of thousands, maybe tens of thousands, per year and you wonder why that is.

Is football too serious for some? I see 6-a-side leagues cropping up everywhere and they seem to be full of teams. Perhaps players prefer the more relaxed nature of 6-a-side to the more competitive Saturday football.

When I was 18 I would be delighted with 10 minutes in the first team, happy to wait on the bench until given the chance and then desperate to show what I could do in those 10 minutes. These days, players say “I’d rather stay in the reserves and play 90 minutes”, it’s all changed.

When you look at team’s having issues with player availability, volunteers being hard to come by for support behind the scenes and teams folding regularly you realise that adult football at this level has a problem and something needs to change to address it.

Maybe people today have too many options available to them or maybe the idea of being committed and fighting toward something isn’t as valued today as it was in yesteryear.

I don’t know how clubs fix it, or what needs to change to address the situation but all I see next season is more teams struggling, more teams dropping out and leagues getting weaker as a result.


He’s too small

Our Under 9s played yesterday morning and the opposition team had a player who I would say was the best player I’ve seen our team play against in the last 2-3 years. He was small but he was so comfortable on the ball it was unreal, he could twist, turn, read the game, pass the ball with the inside or outside of his foot and he played both wide and as a defender – fantastic player.

I was intrigued so I spoke to their manager, “Your 22’s a fantastic player isn’t he?”, “Yep, but he’s just been released from Reading because he’s too small, silly isn’t it?”. And there we have it, this nonsense that seems to see players dropped because of their physical stature despite clearly having immense technical capabilities, I can’t get my head around it.

A couple of videos I really love

I really like the content and ethos coming out of the Ministry of Football. I first saw their website a few months ago and was impressed with what they’re doing, and I also had an interesting conversation on Twitter with Mark Carter which enlightened me in to a better way of doing an U8 session I’d planned (and very effective it turned out too!).

The first video is a great example of the benefits of Small Sided Games and I’ve already shared it with the other coaches at my club. You can see it below.

The second video, found via their website gives a great demonstration of the type of homework you could give to players at the end of a session. It’s something I’m massively keen to start doing at the end of our sessions and this video provides some great ball work/skills to use.


I hope you find them as interesting as I did and please let me know if you set these types of challenges for kids to take away after your sessions – does it work? Do you get the parents on board?

Two footed tackles

The recent two-footed tackles from Kompany (sent off) and Glen Johnson (not sent off) have caused quite a lot of controversy and discussion this week in football circles with opinion seemingly divided regarding the decision to send off Vincent Kompany during Sunday’s FA Cup fixture versus Man United.

Given it’s a hot topic I felt like using a blog post to get across my opinion, and my opinion is that the referee was correct to send off Kompany on Sunday and Johnson should have been sent off last night.

I accept that tackling is a huge part of the game and I would hate for the physical nature of the game to diminish any further but we must draw a line somewhere and two footed tackles should result in a red card, intended force or not.

Firstly, we need to avoid the potential for there to be judgement to be made when a two-footed tackle is used – whether the player wins the ball or not should not be a deciding factor because you’re then opening it up for players to think they can use two feet to tackle. A two-footed tackle increases the chances of a player being seriously injured.

If I play in the Premiership and I break my leg I get immediate medical attention. I get first aid, I get oxygen, I get my leg seen to immediately and I’m on my way to hospital in a short matter of time. If I play in a local Saturday league (which I do) and someone chances their arm with a two-footed lunge which breaks my leg I’m not likely to get first aid, or oxygen or anything other than an agonising 30-45 minute wait for an ambulance or helicopter to arrive and take me to hospital – time which could seriously impact on my ability to play again.

Secondly, when is there ever a valid need for a two-footed challenge to be used? I accept that players need to leave the floor to challenge but two feet? I don’t think that’s needed and you only ever see a player use it where they’re really struggling to make a tackle, which is where the danger comes in.

We don’t have separate rules for grassroots football & Premiership football but it is for the good of the game and for the safety of players that two-footed tackles must be thoroughly discouraged and punished in the game of football.

FA Youth Development Proposals – Final Recommendations

The FA have recently released their final recommendations for young player development and I think the general consensus is that the proposals are positive and that’s certainly how I view them. I’m still to fully digest the proposals from the FA (there’s quite a bit of detail in there) but from what I’ve seen I think it clearly demonstrates that the FA have done their homework and for this they should take great credit.

My experience of youth football has mainly been limited to what I’ve seen & done so far which is U7 & U8 football but the proposals for these age groups make good sense.

Changing from 7v7 to 5v5 will ensure players are getting slightly more time on the ball, more touches and therefore this will hopefully improve decision making from our players and give them more time with the ball at their feet.

Having a retreat mark is also positive – my first impression when our U7s played their first match last season was that “a large percentage of goals are being scored direct from goal kicks”. The moves to allow a side to play out, even if it means you limit the number of opposition players allowed in an area will breed the right skills & mindset and will avoid some of the embarrassing and un-productive goals which are currently scored in football at this age-group.

To conclude this short post regarding the proposals, I also think it’s great to see the FA directing that football for young players is about development and fun and it allows clubs to get this over to parents and for them to hear it from an authority and from the experts, rather than via a club, local FA or coach.

There’s a lot to digest so I’m sure I’m not alone in needing more time to go over the proposals and the committee at our club will also be discussing during tomorrow’s meeting so I’m sure the proposals will ignite some passionate discussion in there!

Opinion: Did his celebration show a lack of respect?

CelebrationIt’s Saturday morning and our striker’s just scored a goal which completed his hat-trick and put us 5-0 up. To celebrate he cupped his hand behind his ear and ran along the side of the pitch which had both home (our) and away fans along it.

Two minutes later and the final whistle blows, the kids shake hands and their manager walks over to our manager and asks, “Is your striker your son?”. “Yes”, replies our manager. “Well you ought to teach him some respect because that celebration showed a lack of respect”. “He does it every time he scores”, said our manager. At which point their manager grumbled snarled again about the celebration and walked over to his team.

There are a couple of ways I look at this:

  • As a good judge of character and based on the way in which he came across, I think this was just sour grapes because of the score
  • It’s a 7 year old boy enjoying scoring a goal / hat-trick by celebrating as he see’s players do on TV and on computer games
  • However, as a celebration it IS usually one senior players use to wind up opposition fans

Personally I felt the celebration could be taken with a pinch of salt. If I saw an opposition player do it with a great big smile I wouldn’t have a problem with it, he’s 7 years old. The unfortunate matter was that our striker caught what was said and it took the shine off his hat-trick (although I don’t expect this would have lasted long).

What’s your opinion fellow coaches? An opposition manager who needs to see the celebration for what it was or a goal celebration which is a bit over the top at U8 level?

Empty Your Cup

In recent weeks or months I’ve noticed there are pockets of cynicism directed towards the FA’s coaching program and although I guess it’s to be expected I find it a little disappointing. I’m too new to coaching to know what preceded the current program, or in fact, how long this program has been in place but I get the feeling that there’s a population of coaches who perhaps don’t feel that these courses can teach them anything or even worse, that the FA are just looking to make a few quid from these qualifications.

I find it disappointing because I’ve found both the courses I’ve been on hugely enjoyable and I’ve learnt a lot from them. I think getting in to coaching, especially youth coaching, makes you realise how little you actually know and if you want to develop then it’s important you open yourself up to this, although it can be daunting. To put it in Rumsfeld terms, getting involved in coaching has highlighted a whole host of unknown unknowns for me!

I guess when you see the cynicism and add it to the worrying (albeit anecdotal) stories you hear about the views coming out of certain professional academies it makes you realise what a big job this country has on its hands if we’re to develop a set of common values amongst coaches at all levels. One can’t help but wonder if it’ll actually take a gradual evolution to remove this obsession with winning, the preference of big physical athletes over smaller players with better technical ability and the use of drills in youth football.

In the mean time, I’ll continue to promote the value I see in the FA courses I’ve attended (which I’ve actively done already to those who seem a little cynical) and share this cool proverb which I received via email this week. I thing it suits the tone of this post quite nicely 🙂

Empty Your Cup

A master was trying to explain something to a student. Now this student was not a ‘brand new’ student, but a senior student who had learned many things. He had knowledge and experience aplenty to draw upon. But each time the master tried to explain something new to the student, the student kept trying to hold it up against his own notions of the way the world is and how it ought be, and he was unable to see the lessons in what the master was trying to teach him.

Finally, the master poured a full serving of tea into his own cup, and into the cup of the student. Then he told the student he wanted to give to him some of the tea from his own cup. He began pouring tea from his cup into the student’s cup, but the student’s cup was already full, and all the tea from the master’s cup spilled out over the cup onto the surface below.

The student said, “Master, you can’t pour anything into my cup until I empty it to make room for what you are trying to give me.”, and the master replied “Yes I know.” “And I can’t give you any new thoughts or ideas or perspectives on life’s lessons until you clear out some thoughts that are already teeming in your mind to make room for what I have to teach you.” Then the master paused for a brief moment, meeting the student’s eyes with his own knowing look and calmly but sternly said: ” If you truly seek understanding, then first, empty your cup!”

The student pondered for a moment with a look of absolute bewilderment. Then a look of enlightenment came over him, followed by a smile, and a look of receptiveness. The master started to explain again, and this time the student saw what the master was trying to say.

Finally, it’d be great to hear if you come across similar views within your clubs?

Did I let him down?

I had an interesting situation at training last week which I found a bit awkward and it’s had me thinking about it ever since. I’ve been coaching the under 7s at this club since the start of the season and there’s been one child in particular who stands out a bit from the rest, primarily because he doesn’t really take any interest in the football part of the session (or in fact, any part of the session).

He’s quite reserved and will generally take part in the warm-up only to end up sitting away from the kids and either doing his own thing or standing on the sides as the session progresses. Both of us (the manager and I) have encouraged him to be more involved in the games we’ve played in the past but ultimately if he’s not interested then as a coach you revert to focussing on the other 15-20 kids who’re there to play football.

In the past I’ve noticed that he loses interested when he’s had shots saved during a shooting game (for example) so I’ve tried to improve his chances of success but he still ended up sitting on the periphery of the session. Which is kind of what happened last week…

We’d split in to two groups and this child had started with the other group. I’d set up a SSG (Small Sided Game) for the players I had with me and was watching and coaching from the side of the pitch when he came over and stood next to me. He didn’t say anything at first and then grabbed my hand and asked if he could join in with the SSG I was running. I asked him why he wasn’t with the others anymore and he stated that “X kept saving all my shots” (with X being a boy who was playing in goal) so immediately I’m aware that once again the failure-factor has steered him away from the game he was involved with.

I told him that I couldn’t add him in to the SSG I was running at that point because the teams were even – note to self: I should have just let him join one of the teams, not sure why I didn’t. So he just held my hand and started to ask me what were (I assume) the maths questions he’d been taught that day/week. From talking to the manager of our team about this boy in the past I understand that he’s very bright for his age but where his intellect is clearly good (I could tell this from the maths questions he was asking) he’s obviously struggling with his social development.

So, apart from the fact that I should have just allowed him to join our game it begs the question – is there anything I should be doing with this boy to help him enjoy his football training more? And, ideally, incorporate him with the others? It strikes me as being a classic example of what the Level 1 course teaches you – you’re not just a soccer coach when you’re working with children of this age.

(P.S Aware that blog posts such as this might verge on the border of being a bit too personal but I wanted to share it as it’s relevant to challenges coaches have to overcome).

Do the FA need to limit the age at which young players are recruited?

We had an interesting debate at our monthly club meeting last night and I wanted to share it on here to see if the general opinion in last night’s meeting was shared by people who read this blog. To provide the context of the meeting – it’s attended by all managers / coaches who are involved in my local youth FA charter standard club and it’s a general meeting discussing everything from equipment, to match reports, to any problems/important info etc.

The debate arose at the end of the meeting and was inspired a comment from the club chairman in response to this article. His point was (summarising), “Are professional clubs limiting player potential and enjoyment within the game by recruiting players at too early an age?”.

His view being that young players, both girls and boys, were being recruited at a young age and because the clubs stipulated that they could no longer player for a youth club side, it meant that the boy or girl was unable to play with their friends anymore (park kick-abouts aside). Also, given the intensity and formality of the coaching they’d receive at a professional club it took the enjoyment out of what was, essentially, just a fun game for them.

The discussion covered a number of points, but the main points were as follows:

  • Coaches and Managers agreed that children were being recruited at a younger age than they perhaps should be
  • Professional clubs were too aggressive in their recruitment
  • There were too many instances of teenagers dropping out of football because they’d played too much too soon (i.e. were burnt out)
  • Parents were having too much influence in the decision process, i.e. they were chasing the possibility of fame and fortune

It was agreed though, that recruitment was required at a certain age to ensure appropriate development and fulfil potential, but this should start from around the age of 13.

The discussion also threw out the following points / observations:

  • There are fewer children playing organised football now than there was 20/30 years ago
  • There are some people who have no confidence in Trevor Brooking leading us forward

The club have decided to write a letter to the Oxfordshire FA to get their point across. That is, clubs are recruiting players too early in their development and this isn’t having  a net positive impact on the game or the players development. This is the point I’d welcome discussion and input on.

Personally, I’ve not got much of a view on this due to lack of experience but I can probably see both sides of the argument. If youth clubs are seeing good players drop out of football or become uninterested in the game due to the cutthroat nature of professional clubs then I can fully see their point. However, professional clubs are always under pressure to find good quality young players, players who the fans engage with and who can provide a good return on investment for them.

Given the nature of the business then clubs are obviously looking at younger and younger players but does that really need to happen? Can the FA do something to stop this? If recruitment started at 12 or 13 does that leave enough time to develop those players? Is 12 or 13 still too young? Jury’s still out I guess…

The Babel/Twitter debate

Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock for the last few days you’ll probably be aware that Liverpool’s Ryan Babel has been charged with improper conduct by the FA after he posted a picture of referee Howard Webb wearing a Man Utd shirt on Twitter after Sunday’s FA Cup defeat at Old Trafford.

United had of course won the FA Cup tie 1-0 thanks largely to a soft-looking penalty awarded by Webb in the first minute and the game was further influenced by a refereeing decision when Liverpool were forced to play over half of the game with ten men following the red card awarded to Steven Gerrard for a two-footed lunge on Darren Fletcher (this decision wasn’t contentious at all).

Since being charged many, including the PFA, have suggested the charge is unfair and that the FA have perhaps over-reacted to the incident which has generally been regarded as “a bit of a joke”. However, are people not missing the bigger point here?

We have been talking about respect for referees for a long time in this country and whilst things are improving, the chuck away comments made by people such as Ryan Babel only continue to undermine the role they play and set a bad example to our young players. Indeed, things are much better as we no longer (or rarely) see instances such as that of 2000 when Manchester United players, lead by captain Roy Keane, reacted appallingly to a decision made by referee Andy D’Urso.

The FA’s RESPECT program is aiming to “address unacceptable behaviour on and off the pitch”, which includes behaviour towards referees and it’s clearly making huge strides forward. This is why I believe the FA needed to make a stance with Ryan Babel and why they need to take this stance with any other players who decides it’s funny to belittle a referee.

People such as the FA have worked hard to improve life for referees both at the top level and at a grassroots level and we need to keep working at this because without referees we have no game. There’s a clear shortage of referees at both the grassroots or lower-senior level in this country so we must continue to encourage people to become referees and those people must be confident that they can do so without fear of being bullied, and this starts at the top.