Coaching & Chloroform

My mind has been racing since someone posted on Twitter an extract from the 1952 English FA book ‘Soccer Coaching’ by Walter Winterbottom. The extract although only one page was really thought provoking particularly this

 

Some of the early ideas of ‘what to coach’ or ‘how to coach’ have changed. Lessons built from unrelated activities like dribbling around sticks and circle heading have been largely abandoned. Today, emphasis is on the applied development of particular skills in settings closely resembling the game itself.

 

Now this was first published in Jan 1952. Yet about a month ago some 65 years after publication I was an Instructor on a Grassroots Coaching Course (for players U9 or younger) and every Coach there thought that developing ‘technique or skill’ inside a game was a new concept. One Coach who was particularly open to the content of the course was left open mouthed when I said that running around cones with a ball could develop bad habits and there were much better and more enjoyable ways to get practice running with a ball. I think he felt I was insulting an old friend of his.

 

I am a Technical Director at a club and every new season with new Coaches becoming involved I have to debate using Games Based Training as an alternative to using drills. Each year I have Coaches who it is obvious think that what I am saying is all just a fad and that eventually everyone will see sense and we will all go back to proper coaching.

 

Seeing this extract on Twitter got me thinking that why if Coaches as prestigious as Walter Winterbottom in 1952 were thinking in this manner then how is it still regarded as a new concept so many years later.

 

A simple but I don’t think totally accurate answer is that drilling players can be easy. I helped out a friend a few weeks ago as at the last minute as he was going to be short of Coaches at an event. I was asked to take a group of between 12-16 players and do a passing drill with them. I thought I was going to have 3 different groups this size in 15 mins so would have each group for around 4 mins allowing for change over. Instead I had each group for 15 mins straight. In my head I worked out a progression or two and started. I looked over at my friend after about 3 or 4 mins to see how long was left to which he gave me a quizzical look and held up 10 fingers.

 

Now remember I have not done any passing drills in my own coaching for over 10 years and I now have 10 mins to fill with fourteen U18 players and no idea how to fill it. I simply made it up as I went along and none of the players noticed. With the next two groups I challenged myself to make up something different each time. Basically, if you are confident enough in your delivery you can simply make it all up as you go along because the Coach dictates everything. A player can’t really challenge you because where the ball moves to is down to the Coach.

 

Like I said I think that is a very simple answer and not totally accurate but I feel it is a part of why isolated practices or drills continue to feature so significantly in a team setting.

 

Then, for a reason I will explain later, I looked critically at the images I see of football training on telly. Teams preparing for international matches seem to be always running around pitches or doing simple isolated practices while a voiceover describes the star players who are injured or anything newsworthy for the upcoming game.

 

I have no doubt this is because the cameras are cleared out or not allowed to film any training that may help the Opposition figure out the game plan but the audience just gets to see International players doing isolated practices.

 

A TV advert for a football camp sponsored by a star player showed him putting the youngsters through their paces and surprise, surprise they ran around cones. Another TV advert showed young players shooting at a professional goalkeeper one at a time after passing to a current professional who set up the shot presumably while all the others stood in line waiting for their turn.

 

I’ve been involved in filming such adverts and normally it is the cameraman or the photographer, probably with no coaching experience, who dictates what practice is done so they can get a good shot in the shortest possible time. However, to the average Coach it looks as if the International or Professional players are conducting the session so by inference this must be something they do.

 

Watch any Hollywood film about football and at some point, the player/team will do isolated practices or drills more than likely for the same reason as the adverts but this time the director who probably has no coaching experience is dictating what shots are taken.

 

I am not a fan now of dribbling a ball around cones but I can remember as a kid following the instructions in the Daily Mirror during Argentina ’78. I placed out some bricks (who had cones in 1978) in a line just like they said and tried to learn to dribble like Mario Kempes in my back yard.

 

This dribbling drill was probably written by some journalist who has never coached a minute of football in their lives and was simply filling up space in the newspaper but to me I thought I was doing what Argentina were doing at training that very same day.

 

My trigger for writing the blog in this way was something I saw in an article called ‘Don’t believe everything you see’. Apparently, it takes 5 minutes to knock someone out with a cloth soaked in Chloroform but yet I have seen baddies in movies or TV shows sneaking up on people and rendering them unconscious in a matter of seconds for years. In fact, I saw it in a film only 2 days ago and never questioned it for a second.

 

My point is this people are surrounded by images of what proper coaching appears to look like for years and so when they become Coaches themselves they believe they already know the basic concepts of coaching. Maybe this is why it is so hard for some Coaches to try to coach another way as it goes against everything they have ever seen about coaching.

 

Maybe like me with the Chloroform you just accept that is what coaching is and never challenge it.

 

Just my thoughts but I would be interested to hear from other Coaches.

Look forward to hearing from you

Please leave a comment or email me seanthecoach@icloud.com

Follow me on Twitter @SeanDArcy66

Till next time

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Coaching the person

I recently attended a National Talent Identification Tournament for early teenage footballers. It is the 5th time I have been in a variety of roles though I have never been the Head Coach. This blog is about how my reflections on what I have learned from being at these tournaments.

When I first attended my focus was about the technical level of the players. I suppose I was being quite self-centred because I was anxious to see if some of the players I had coached in the 9-12 age groups had the necessary technical ability to play at a National level.

The more tournaments I went to the more I shifted my focus away from the players technical level. Don’t get me wrong I still believe the technical level of the players is very important but I found that the majority of the players at this level were technically proficient. Plus, I thought if they have the right attitude they can tweak or further improve their technical level anyway.

I’m not sure when but I did begin to look more at how players performed inside the team. Did they play spontaneously or did they do a job for the team. Was it clear what they were trying to do and did they do it consistently. I realised that this was not a good way to look at the players as some Coaches play with lots of structure and others give the players lots of freedom. Therefore, I had no idea if the player was doing what was asked of them in the team.

Plus, I thought if the player has the right attitude and a good coaching environment they can improve their ability to follow team structure or play with more freedom at a later date anyway.

This time without consciously meaning too I have now realised since I got back that I was looking more at what is the right attitude. With the group I was with I was noticing more who was self-motivated, who was willing to be motivated by the group, who would play when tired or who made every effort to follow the Coach’s instructions. Plus, a multitude of other things away from the pitch such as focus at team meetings, punctuality, game preparation, how they recovered, desire to be ready to compete etc.

Now finally I am getting to the point of my blog. The players physically were in good shape. Many in the group I was with had private professional help to maximise their physical potential from Physios to Strength and Conditioning Coaches back at home. All the players seemed to be from decent clubs and coaching environments so I presume their technical and tactical level will continue to improve. However the players as you would expect hadn’t developed a totally ‘right attitude’ either and this is where I am unsure about what help they will receive to develop this.

I know the way I have written this blog we can substitute the word ‘attitude’ for character, personality, mentality or a host of other words and I don’t want to get into a discussion about the definitions of each word. Please just accept attitude as their approach to how they conducted themselves as a potential elite footballer.

The more I coach the more I consider the importance of the player’s attitude and the fact that we can shape a player’s attitude as much as we can shape their 1st Touch. My problem is I’m not exactly sure how I can shape it or if what I am doing is right. I read everything I can on Sports Psychology but I suppose it is because I have never seen a Sports Psychologist in action or worked alongside one that I feel a bit like I did when I first started coaching. Basically, I am just trying things but now it is much harder to see if they work.

What I want to affect as I have seen it in all five of these tournaments is the player who is content to be injured or a substitute as it means they don’t have to compete, the player who struggles simply as it is not what they expected, the player who thinks they have made it because they have done well, the player who allows just about everything or everyone to distract them.

Just my thoughts but I would be interested to hear how many other Coaches feel the player’s attitude is important but not sure if they can or how they can develop it in the right direction.

Look forward to hearing from you

Please leave a comment or email me seanthecoach@icloud.com

Follow me on Twitter @SeanDArcy66

Till next time

A Developing Story….

Often, I present these blogs as completed stories. This was the issue/problem/situation and this was how I dealt with it and this is the moral of the story etc.

 

This time I am writing about a developing story. This year I began coaching a boy in one of my programs. He is around 11 years of age and to say he was new to football doesn’t quite cover it. He was aware of the rules but it was the first time he had actually tried playing the game.

 

I have read many times that talent identification before puberty is ridiculous but I felt safe on only one viewing in predicting that this boy will have a successful career in accountancy.

 

He struggled to kick the ball forwards instead he had a sort of sweeping motion which ended up with the ball going sideways to his left. He never controlled the ball he just kicked it as soon as it came near him in any direction. If he didn’t have room to swing at the ball he would roll the ball backwards with the sole of his foot. I could go on but I think I have established his credentials.

 

One other thing though is important to know is he seemed to have no self-confidence. He always asked me to clarify the rules of each game to him individually plus he constantly told me he wasn’t very good.

 

Initially I didn’t realise what an opportunity he is because, if you think about it, I am getting to coach a player who is like Mr Bean. He appears to have just dropped from the sky and now wants to play football with no previous influences.

 

About this time there was another flare up of the opposed v unopposed training debate on Twitter which I mentioned in a previous blog. I realised that for many Coaches (even those who lean towards games based training) they would take one look at this player and say they have to teach him some basic techniques in unopposed exercises first.

 

I am being quite literal that if 6 months ago this player had been asked to pass back and forth with another player 5m away. It would have been difficult for him and probably painful to watch and to be a part of. He would have been unable to control the pass he received and unable to pass to the other player accurately.

 

I do the majority of my coaching through small sided games and I decided he could be a sort of test case for me. Basically, he has just played in 2 v 2, 3 v 3 or 4 v 4 conditioned games with me since he started.

 

Obviously because I am closely monitoring him I can remember some of our first exchanges. In the 2nd /3rd week we played a game were the players had to take a minimum 2 touches every time they got the ball. I have used this game for a variety of reasons but for this level group it was primarily to encourage them to consider something more than kicking the ball away as soon as it came near them.

 

As I am sure you would expect he didn’t take a directional 1st touch instead he tried to stamp on the ball to get it to stop. After 10 mins or so I stopped the play just as he stamped on the ball in loads of space

 

Me: “So what goal are you trying to score in”

Player points to goal over his shoulder

Me: “What direction was the ball rolling in”

Player points forwards in the direction of the goal over his shoulder.

Me: “Then why did you stop the ball if it was already going towards the goal you want to score in”

Player: “Coz I have to take two touches”

Me: “But if it was already going the way you wanted why stop it. Could you use those two touches in another way? I’ll pass you the ball again and you show me something other than stopping the ball.”

 

We replayed the situation with me thinking to myself what a top, top Coach I am. I passed him the ball and he didn’t stamp on the ball but let it roll past him in the direction of the goal I was momentarily delighted as unfortunately, he remained completely stationary only moving his head to watch the ball roll 5m past him and be collected by an opposition player. At this point I began to calculate how many years till my retirement and did I have enough time left with this player to make a difference.

 

To his credit during the rest of the session he allowed the ball to roll forwards a few times so I had something that I could use to praise him. He was absolutely delighted to be praised for trying hard to improve. Fortunately, he finishes every session sweaty and bright red in the face so I can always praise his physical effort to improve as well.

 

A few months ago, while still maintaining the once a week session with me he began training once a week with me one of our Team Coaches. His Team Coach also does games based training so he is still being exposed to similar coaching. I manage to watch all his home games so I can monitor improvements outside of training sessions.

 

To summarise him currently after 6 months his technical level is still low but it has certainly improved. He now has a directional 1st Touch. He can control easy, slow passes although bouncing balls and balls in the air are still difficult for him. He can now strike the ball forwards and can accurately pass over short distances plus now has the self-confidence even to take a corner kick during a game. He will run with the ball and be able to control its general direction. He infrequently attempts 1 v 1s in games but in training he does and his ability to manipulate the ball under pressure is limited although improving.

 

One of the biggest changes in him is that the game doesn’t seem to constantly surprise him anymore. About 5 weeks ago we were playing 4-a-side at training and the conditions were your team won if you were the first team were every player scored a certain type of goal i.e goal with ‘other foot’, 1st time strike, along the ground, top half of goal etc.

 

In this particular game, it was score with a 1st time strike when he anticipated where the ball was going to be in two passes time and deliberately moved about 15m from a central area and positioned himself near the far post and scored. It was brilliant to witness him moving off the ball plus he was the second player to score on his team so he wasn’t prompted to simply get close to the goal as he ‘had to score next’.

 

My thoughts at this moment are the games based approach to coaching him is going well. He is enjoying playing football and I would be surprised if he didn’t continue playing. His technical level although still low has shown considerable improvement. He no longer tells me he isn’t very good and doesn’t stand out anymore as the player who has never played before.

 

Would his technical level be greater if I had used unopposed training exercises with him is impossible to say. What I am more comfortably saying is he wouldn’t have his current technical level plus be reading the game the way he is if he hadn’t have spent the majority of his first 100 hours of football experience actually playing football.

 

I am still trying to have an open mind and will update you on his further progress at a later date.

 

Look forward to hearing from you

Please leave a comment or email me seanthecoach@icloud.com

Follow me on Twitter @SeanDArcy66

Till next time

Letter to my younger self…

Recently in one of the many debates that I see discussed (rage) over Twitter about benefits of isolated practice one person chipped into a conversation with the tweet

 

‘If you can’t control ball you can’t make a decision. Technique first. No brainer’

 

and then left immediately as if he had stated the obvious and surely everyone would understand now.

 

I know how he felt as I heard a comment very similar to this perhaps 20 years ago. At the time, it really resonated with me and provoked a mental image of a perfectly weighted pass being completely miscontrolled in front of goal. Of course, it just seemed to make perfect sense you have to have the technique before anything else. I was hooked.

 

In hindsight, I took this completely on face value and yet this thinking had a strong influence over how I coached for quite a number of years.

 

As is fashionable at the moment I am going to write this blog in the style of a letter to my younger self.

 

The first advice I would give to my younger self would be why don’t you ask a few questions because anything that is worth basing how you are going to coach on deserves to be checked thoroughly.

 

If ‘can’t control ball can’t make a decision’ is the basis of your coaching then what type of coaching do you do with a player who can consistently control the ball.

 

What level of controlling the ball does a player need to reach before they can train with decisions.

 

You constantly tell the players you coach that the best players know what they are going to do before they get the ball. Why haven’t you considered there is some conflict between this and the way you coach. Shouldn’t the fact that you believe technique should be taught first yet you tell the players that a decision comes first in a game at least set off a few warning bells?

 

Why do you tell players the old chestnut ‘the top 3 inches are the most important part of your body’ then remove players getting practice making decisions from large parts of your training?

 

Why haven’t you considered what affect adding decisions into the mix at a later stage will have.

 

Why don’t you consider your training might be the reason when players display good levels of technique in sessions but less so in games. Why don’t you think about what is the difference between your training and the game?

 

Why do you lament that ‘young players today’ can’t read the game or suggest young players don’t play enough football and then play so little football yourself in the sessions you plan?

 

There are many other questions but the last one is this why when in other walks of your life you always look for the best way yet with your passion, football, you simply copy what everyone else is doing.

 

Look forward to hearing from you

Please leave a comment or email me seanthecoach@icloud.com

Follow me on Twitter @SeanDArcy66

Till next time

Skill Acquisition Game

Quite by accident I have managed to come up with a game that I think has exciting potential to be used in a number of ways. It is a small sided game but I will outline the roundabout way the game evolved.

A few years ago I was doing a session with young players I think they were U6/U7s. I was playing games of 2 v 2 with small portable goals. One player every time the ball came near him would just kick it as hard as he could. The ball would go in all directions there was no thought to it just a big kick. Unfortunately for me on this day he managed to score 2 goals in this manner so I was having no joy whatsoever trying to encourage him to control the ball. I had a brain wave and turned the goals around so they were backwards which meant it was now impossible to score with a fortuitous big kick from the other end of the pitch.

backwards-goals

Immediately I noticed now that the players all ran with the ball much more to get around the goal and score. I was delighted and have managed to use backwards goals for a variety of purposes over the last few years since (check this blog out http://wp.me/p5aQfW-2S ).

With younger players (up to 11ish) I have used it often as an alternative to playing variations of Line Football (were the players score by running the ball over the Endline). The younger players tend to have little patience with a game where they cannot actually kick a goal so this is one of my alternatives for them.

It is challenging for the players as they have to turn at speed while keeping control of the ball to score. It provides lots of decision making such as which way do I turn, how tight is the defender (or are they still there), is the goal open, do I pass etc etc.

One of the drawbacks was that when a player had run the ball into a position to turn and shoot the defender tracking them would regularly leave the player and simply defend the goal. This meant that the turn wasn’t always executed with a defender close so an opportunity was regularly getting missed to practice a technique under pressure.

A fortnight ago I had a lightbulb moment and decided to combine this backwards goal game with Line Football. Now the attacker has 2 ways to score

1 – In the goal facing backwards

2 – Running the ball over the endline. I added that a defender only has to tag the attacker as they go over the endline and it isn’t a goal.

bwards-line-football

I have since done it in 3 sessions with U8s, U9s and a U10/U11 group. So far it has solved the problem of the defender leaving the attacker to turn and just defend the goal.

However, what has really grabbed my attention is that without losing anything this change has added some interesting decision making for both the defender and the attacker.

At first thought, unintentionally this game looks like it has potential to practice a player’s decision making in crossing situations because both the player and defender have to consider.

  • Is there enough space to continue running forward to get success?
  • What happens if the player with the ball changes direction?
  • What happens if the player disguises to change direction/continue forward then does the opposite?

It is very much early days as I have only done it 3 times with this one but I feel it is an exciting addition and wonder what I will be able to use it for in the future. Would be very interested to hear form other Coaches who have already done this or similar and what techniques they use the game to work on.

Look forward to hearing from you

Please leave a comment or email me seanthecoach@icloud.com

Follow me on Twitter @SeanDArcy66

Till next time

“Talking lads. You have to talk to each other”

There is one Coach who I simply cannot think about without seeing a vision of him with his head bowed and shaking from side to side, his hands above his head furiously tapping his fingers against his thumbs as he shouts to the ground

“Talking lads. You have to talk to each other”.

His solution to just about everything was that the ‘lads’ needed to talk to each other more. For those old enough to remember it always reminded me of the Birdie Dance and he was just about as useful.

For last week’s blog

1 v 1’s how my sessions have changed http://wp.me/p5aQfW-4Y

most of the messages I got were about the players talking to each other during sessions.

This set me thinking about some of the parts of my sessions that allow/force the players to talk to each other that I never included or even thought of including when I first started coaching. Remember I work predominantly with players aged between 8 – 15 years of age.

Pick Teams

Not having Captains who pick the teams as that is all about getting the strongest team for yourself instead sometimes ask the players to discuss and come up with the most even teams they possibly can whether they need to pick 2, 3 or 4 teams.

In my experience if I emphasise that the more even the teams are the more the players will learn they tend to do it properly. However, I have had to ask players if they want to redo the teams after a few games more than once when clearly one team is dominating. Rarely are the teams uneven after they redo them.

With older youth players, I will remind them of the topic of the session and encourage them to make the teams even based on the topic.

Transfer Window

No matter how the initial teams were chosen after playing for a while give the teams the chance to get a player or players from another team. The players get 30/60 seconds to discuss who they want which they all must agree on. No team is allowed to refuse a request.

Every now and again I will also say that the team picking the player has to tell the squad why they picked them. I, also, include that saying because they are good isn’t enough they have to be specific.

With Transfer Windows sometimes a dominant player will override the discussion so if I think this has happened I will ask a specific player usually sitting to the side of the group which player their team has chosen. If there is any hint of disagreement or they don’t know because they weren’t included in the discussion then ask them to discuss again and come up with a player they all agree on.

Coach and team discussions

I have asked the players to discuss what they think the next conditions should be on the game we are playing to make it harder or easier. I will explain the topic again and ask for suggestions. Whichever condition all the players agree on we will do next.

All of these things as I said I didn’t do when I started coaching. I was very much a Coach who thought any time the players weren’t getting touches of the ball was wasted time. I still think we need to maximise how often the player is in contact with the ball but have grown to realise that all other time is not wasted.

I suppose to put it very simply it is ridiculous to expect the players to work as a team or to communicate with each other during the hustle and bustle of the weekend game when you don’t practice this at all in your training sessions.

As ever love to hear your thoughts.

Please follow me on Twitter @SeanDArcy66

Till next time

1 v 1’s how my sessions have changed

1 v 1’s in football on the surface seem quite simple. In the past, I was definitely a Coach who didn’t think much beyond setting out small grids. One player at each end. Player with ball passes the ball to the other and we go live. You scored by getting past the defender and running the ball over the opposite end line of the grid.

Done. Top Coaching. Let’s go home so you can tell me how great I am to coach 1 v 1’s and not scream at my players to pass all the time.

Last week I read a blog by Dan Wright

http://www.coachdanwright.com/blog/2017/2/4/individual-possession

and it started me thinking about some of the changes I have made to how I coach 1 v 1’s. One that Dan mentions in his blog has now become pivotal to my 1 v 1 sessions. I will always include a passing option now for the reasons Dan mentioned and to give the player with the ball more practice at deciding the right time to take on a player. Lots of benefits also to the supporting players and other defenders.

Instead of listing all the changes I have made I will discuss the most interesting for me and how this change has had some terrific unexpected benefits.

Like I said originally, I would simply set out a number of grids and have the players in pairs going 1 v 1. After 30/60 seconds, I would stop it and one player from each pair would move to another grid and then start again.

Someone pointed out to me that players need to be explosive in 1 v 1’s to accelerate away from the defender and that nobody can be repeatedly be explosive without breaks. After a bit of trial and error I started to put two pairs on each grid but only one pair plays while the other rests. This had some good benefits because every time the ball left the grid one of the pair not playing passed a new ball on which meant we had a variety of starting positions for the defender and the attacker.

I patted myself on the back again and went back to thinking I really do know everything.

However, once I started to introduce a passing option into the sessions I started to have two or more players off the grid at the same end. This eventually meant players starting to chat to each other when resting. As a result, the sessions started to get sloppy as players often lost focus when not playing.

My next move was to get the players off the pitch at each end to watch the game and then coach the players playing at their end when the game was finished. To discuss with them if they thought the opposing attackers always tried the same move, tried to beat them on the same side, the defenders were always flat etc. This was more what I wanted as the players kept focus however it meant that players essentially got double breaks one when they watched the game and one when they discussed what had happened.

To eliminate the double breaks, I started having all players playing 2 v 2’s or 3 v 3’s at the same time but then when they rested they discussed among themselves as a team what they had noticed on their pitch. The key change here was after the discussion they played the same team again straight away.

Now this is where it got interesting for me. I have long preached for players to be creative or more unpredictable in 1 v 1 situations and not simply doing practiced moves. When the players discussed the opposition players in the breaks then played them again straight away it made all players begin to feel ‘they know what I am going to do’. This is turn made players feel they have to try something different.

I genuinely believe this has provoked players to be more creative than just about anything I have done before.

To really ramp up that feeling sometimes I have had the same teams play each other 3 or 4 times in a row. Often if they are going to play each other this many times I will swap one player over after 2 games and they tell their new teammates what they noticed about them and vice versa.

Of course, like everything some players love these discussions straight away and others need lots of time to discuss players they know like this but it is worth preserving with.

I feel by accident from simply wanting to give the players a physical break so that they can remain explosive in 1 v 1’s. I am now helping them socially plus providing a terrific platform for the players to think differently.

As ever love to hear your thoughts on how you have changed your 1 v 1 sessions over time.

Please follow me on Twitter @SeanDArcy66

Till next time