Moneyball (with no money)

I absolutely loved the film Moneyball. I really enjoy reading the articles about Brentford FC or the Danish Club FC Midtjylland about how they are using a totally new ways to evaluate players and tactically prepare themselves for their games. The one thing I don’t like is the basic premise seems to get lost in talk of Sabermetrics experts, expensive video analysis software packages or mysterious mathematical algorithms.

For me the basic premise is to look at what we are currently doing and evaluate is that still the best way. My question in this blog is do we need any of these experts to take a Moneyball approach to coaching our teams.

My current role is to run a weekly technical program for all the players at a grassroots club aged up to U12 so the stories I tell are about these age groups but the principles apply to any age group. I watch lots of games every weekend and every weekend I see things happen that make no sense whatsoever and no one appears to notice.

Two weeks ago I saw an U9 team take around about 10 corners in one half of football. Every time the same boy (with the big kick) went over to the ball placed it down took 3 or 4 steps back then slowly looked up into the area in front of the goal then swung the ball over into a pack of U9s. Each time they all got out of the way and the ball either hit someone’s back or arm as they protected themselves or went out of play.

Why in age groups were the players rarely head the ball and even more rarely score a header do I see literally hundreds of corners every season taken like this. Do we need a statistics expert to tell us that passing the ball to a team mate to try to get a shot on goal would probably yield more goals in the long run?

Last season a visiting U10 team took 3 or 4 corners in a short space of time. The same boy took each one and each one sailed over everyone and bounced once or twice and went out for a throw-in. The visiting Coach smiled at our Coach and said ‘that boy really can take a lovely corner’. Possibly if they had an U10 player built like John Terry steaming in at the back post then I would agree that was a lovely corner but otherwise it just made no sense.

Why in just about every game I watch are throw-ins thrown up the line the vast majority of times. Is that really the best option on such a regular basis? If we look at a throw-in as simply a pass with our hands to restart the game then why are players encouraged to do the same pass each time and not simply choose the best option available.

My favourite story about throw-ins occurred at a school tournament about 10 years ago. A player picked up the ball and was just about to take the throw-in when she noticed that all the players up the line were opposition players. She then instructed two of her players who were in loads of space to go and join the pack. One of them said throw it to me to which the thrower replied with the most fantastically exasperated voice and no doubt a roll of her eyes that ‘you’re not ALLOWED to throw the ball backwards’.

Why do I see teams regularly warm up for a game that is free flowing and dynamic by being organised into lines to stand and wait their turn for a pass or shot to a designated target? Is an expert needed to tell us that if a player has not had to make a single decision about where to move to or what to do when in possession of the ball that when the game starts they are not as prepared as they could be.

Why do I hear Coaches bemoan that their players don’t play enough football or harp on about how much ‘street football’ they played in their day then conduct training sessions that involve almost no game play. Again do we need an expert to tell us that if we think they need to play more football then we should consider a way to include more football playing time in our training sessions?

I have just reread my blog and it sounds like I think I have all the answers. I know I haven’t I am constantly amazed, as I have mentioned in the blog before, about how I find I am doing things that make no sense but I do them because I have always done them.

The list above is just the first things that came to mind. I would love to hear from Coaches who have their own story about how they have taken a new approach to any aspect of Coaching. It will help me and I am sure help plenty of other Coaches too.

Please leave a comment or email me

Or possible leave a comment on Twitter @SeanDArcy66

Till next time


How you can be more creative

I can’t go on Twitter for more than a few minutes without coming across a ‘must see’ video or an ‘every Coach should read this’ article. Most aren’t worth the time taken however this video of John Cleese on creativity has had a tremendous impact on me particularly on how I plan my sessions.

I cannot remember where I got the link but I do know I had it saved for about 18 months before I looked at it. Why because the clip is 36 minutes long and so I saved it to look at ‘later’. I don’t think I am the only Coach in the world who parks good info somewhere on their devices but never seems to get around to reviewing it all.

In fact the only reason I looked at it was because the season was over and I was just messing about really. I thought it will be funny because it is John Cleese so I’ll watch it. This is important because I was in a playful mood. I never watched it during the season because I couldn’t find the time.

Basically the video says you need to create the right conditions to be creative rather than you have to try to be creative.

Here are the 5 Steps to create the conditions

Step 1 – Seal yourself off from all distractions i.e emails, phone calls etc

Step 2 – Give yourself a specific period of time. Allowing for the fact that as soon as you remove all distractions you will begin to think of lots of other things you should be doing instead of what you intend to do.

Steps 1 & 2 he called creating the ‘Oasis of Quiet’ setting up boundaries of space & time.

It certainly works for me to allow the time for my mind to go through the million and one other things I need to do and make a note of them but still continue with my planning.

Step 3 – Allowing yourself time to play with your ideas. Not coming up with a solution and settling for the first thing that will work. Keep working with an idea to see if you can make it better.

This step has affected me the most and when I reflected I saw that I got into the habit of going with the first thing that worked. However considering before I went full time coaching I used to write my session plans on the train to work in the mornings this can be forgiven somewhat. Nothing like only having three stations to go with a half-finished plan to make you go for the first thing you think of.

Step 4 – Be confident. Don’t worry about making a mistake and possibly going down a train of thought that might be wrong. Nothing can be wrong when you are being playful.

Step 5 – Humour makes us playful so humour helps creativity.

I think I have watched it maybe 3 or 4 times now over the past 3 years and some of the phrases still jump out at me such as

‘It is easier to do trivial things that are urgent than important things that are urgent’

For me this is answering emails. I often find myself answering emails that really don’t need to replied to straight away instead of doing what I need to do first. I have to be mindful of this constantly.

I am not going to tell you that you have to watch this video but it has certainly helped me.

Look forward to hearing your feedback.

Please leave a comment or email me

Follow me on Twitter @SeanDArcy66

Till next time

Fixed Mindset & Relative Age Effect together

This blog is about one of my coaching adventures with ‘fixed mindsets’, the ‘relative age effect’ as well as a few other phrases that make me sound really clever.

Currently I am coaching a young player who is an U10. He has been a great challenge to me over the last few years though probably through no fault of his own.

Let me tell you a little bit about him

He is born in the first week of his selection year plus he is quite big for his age anyway. He is well co-ordinated, is physically stronger than most of the other players in his age group and can hit a ball powerfully with his preferred foot.

It is a huge struggle to get him to try anything new. Often when I put a condition on a training game that encourages the use of a technique he isn’t that good at he will go in goal, somehow conveniently forget the condition is on the game or simply drift out of the game till all conditions are removed.

He is intelligent and realises he is more effective than the other players and he has certainly noticed that when he plays the team scores more goals. He knows the right answers to any questions he just regularly makes no effort to actually do what he says. He is also quite immature for his age and certainly feels that the world revolves around him. He has a strong desire to win and regularly tells me how many goals he scored.

I feel I have had very little effect on him and that already although still bigger than most players in his age group so still effective he is beginning to fall behind some of his peers. This is beginning to manifest itself in that he is regularly no longer picked first when players pick or swap players. The first time this happened he was actually moving forward expecting to be picked and his face showed how stunned he was that it wasn’t his name being called.

Here are some (I have tried more than I can mention) of the things I have tried with him. I moved him up with two other bigger players to train with an older age group once a week. The two other players within the first session began to adapt how they played because they could no longer rely on their size. He, however, even after half a season of sessions never changed at all. He still tried to use his physicality all the time although obviously it now worked less often. The only difference in his behaviour was that he started to target the smaller older players in the games and would simply leave the bigger ones totally alone.

An interesting side note to this after about 5 weeks of these 3 players training with the older group. I overheard one of their team mates say to them ‘Why don’t you only train with us on a Wednesday anymore’. One of the 3 players said ‘I don’t know Sean just told us to go on Thursdays instead’ while he said ‘It is because we are too good’.

He is one footed and loves to smash shots in from everywhere. I once did a training game were if a players did 5 turns or passes or shots with their ‘other foot’ in a game then they could have a free shot on goal from 8m. The players had to run off the pitch and mark it on a white board so everyone knew what they were up to. He constantly told other players on his team to use their ‘other foot’ to get free shots but over the course of all the games played only twice did he have to go to the whiteboard himself.

The usual challenges have not worked with him really. What has worked though is giving him and another player a personal challenge. I matched him with his best mate in a 4 v 4 and said they both had to stop each other from scoring and see who won at the end. The first one he lost because he simply never even tried to defend but the next one he went for it. I thought I had cracked it but when I have tried to match him against other players nearer his size often he doesn’t try. Only with his best mate will he be fully engaged every time. It works well with lots of other players I coach. He is about the only one who will just try to outscore the other player and leave the defending up to others.

Another story about him that paints a picture of possibly what environment he has away from football. Once he was dropped off to a holiday program by a relative of his. I didn’t know her but with the player by her side the first thing she said to me was ‘I hear this little lad scores all the goals and is the top scorer for the club’. We have no top scorer awards and the Coaches in his age group don’t record who scored the goals.

In summary I have a player who I feel doesn’t respond well to a challenge and he will soon have a big one when he begins to understand he is not the ‘best’ player on the team anymore. He is possibly in an environment that encourages him to believe and possibly emphasises that he is better than his fellow players.

His current success is largely based on something that is a fluke of his birth and growth rate and will potentially fade as he grows older. Plus his immaturity basically makes him believe that he is already a very good footballer who doesn’t need to learn anything more about football because he is naturally good at it.

I don’t think I have tried everything with him but I have tried enough different ways to engage him to believe that my impact can only be limited until he matures a bit. At the moment he seems to be inside a ‘perfect storm’ that is stopping him developing.

I don’t know if I will be coaching him when he matures by the way as I recently found out he has been telling the other players he plans to trial with ‘bigger’ clubs in the area next season.

Thanks to all the Coaches who contact me and retweet my blog it is really appreciated.

Please leave a comment or email me

Follow me on Twitter @SeanDArcy66

Till next time

How the 10,000 Hour Rule helped me

In the last few days I had a short discussion about Coaches asking players to pass and follow your pass in training exercises because you wouldn’t want your players to do that on game day. One Coach replied correctly ‘if they had good reason for doing it and understood what they were doing’ then why not follow your pass in a game. He is right and it set me thinking that often I dismiss everything that is associated with something I don’t agree with.

Personally ‘Pass and follow your pass’ is very much associated with mindless drills for me just as ‘Stop, Stand Still’ is associated with Coaches constantly interrupting training to talk. However I have to remind myself that just because I don’t agree with something a Coach does doesn’t mean everything they do is of no value to improving me.

The 10,000 Hour Rule is a classic example. It was the hot topic around 5/6 years ago with many articles discussing it. I even bought ‘Outliers’ by Malcolm Gladwell as this was the book that brought it to everyone’s attention. Now all articles on the topic written seem to contain the phrase ‘Debunking the 10,000 Hour Myth’. It is certainly no longer a hot topic.

I don’t agree there is a 10,000 Hour Rule but it did introduce me to the concept of ‘Deliberate Practice’ which can be defined as practicing with the intent of improving. I began to think differently about my coaching after reading about this because it made me consider for the first time that all practice wasn’t equal.

I could relate this concept to my own experiences. My previous training as a freestyler was very ‘deliberate’. I was always looking to improve, I evaluated why mistakes happened, I designed ways to train to allow me to learn new tricks easily and I practiced repeatedly. Whereas at the same time I played loads of golf with my brothers and got absolutely no better whatsoever because I played for fun and although I had lots of practice made little effort to improve.

I started to consider what can I do to make my players more consistently practice with the intent of improving. I realised a starting point would be to let them know the topic of the session so they could focus their effort on the topic from the start. Embarrassing as it is to say now before then I didn’t really give much importance to letting the players know the topic or it might be better to say I never considered the relevance of letting the players know the session topic.

An extension from letting the players know the session topic is that now I often let the players know what I want to see them doing in a session to improve at the topic (as a discussed in the Blog – Session Plans ). Again this can easily be linked back in my coaching to the 10,000 Hour Rule which I disagree with.

My point being although I disagree with the 10,000 Hour Rule I still feel it has improved my coaching and there are plenty of Coaches out there who I disagree with their methods but it doesn’t mean I can’t learn something from them that will improve me.

I just have to keep reminding myself of this.

Again thank you to all the Coaches who leave comments or retweet the blog it is very much appreciated.

Follow me on Twitter @SeanDArcy66

Till next time

How to survive ‘The Parents’

This season I had a chat with an U11 Coach who had been having problems fielding a full side at the weekends due to various unforeseen reasons.

I asked him did he expect to have a full side at the weekend.

I don’t know I have sent out texts and emails to everyone but only had 5 replies. ‘The parents’ just don’t get back in touch. It is always the same ones and either the kids don’t turn up to training or ‘the parents’ are not there so I can’t ask them direct. It is hard to know what to do when you don’t know till just before kick-off whether you have a full side or not.”

He carried on for around 5 minutes about how hard it was dealing with ‘the parents’ they drop their kids off then they’re away, they won’t help with the nets or at training and they don’t get in touch if they can’t make it. All the usual stuff I am sure you have heard many, many times.

What made this conversation extraordinary was that the previous season when he was ‘a Parent’ not ‘a Coach’ he was exactly the same. I was not the Coach of his team but I did one session a week that his son was to attend. His son missed many sessions and I never got any notification from him although he apparently now believes it is not that hard to send a text.

I had his son’s jacket for weeks because it was left behind at one of the few sessions he attended and although I sent numerous emails and texts that I had it I eventually had to bring it to a home game and personally hand it to them. At this point I checked with him that I had the right email address and mobile number but it made no difference.

I ran holiday programs that his son turned up at without registering. He just appeared on the day and expected that I would be able to fit him in.

The point of this blog is that my life has been made a lot easier by just assuming there is a perfectly good reason for many of the parental issues faced as a Grassroots Football Coach. Instead of thinking of them as people who are all deliberately trying to make my life more difficult I try to regard them as simply being busy people who are unaware of the issues caused by their actions.

I try to apply the 80/20 rule which means that 80% of the time there is a perfectly good reason why an issue has arisen and only 20% of time is it any sort of a minor or major problem with ‘the parents’ at all.

Regularly simply by talking to the parents you find out that they are rushed off their feet taking one child to one place at a certain time and another somewhere else at a certain time or every night of the week they are doing something whether it is guitar lessons, other sports or tutors to help with school so football is just another activity not the most important activity of the week for all of them.

To illustrate this lets look at the broader issue of parents involved in youth sports I have read hundreds of articles about ‘out of control’ parents or parents ruining sports for their children and yet in my experience I have met significantly more parents who are no problem.

Of course I have met plenty of nutcases but if I am honest there would only a handful of parents that I would be glad never to see again. Although if I am going to be truly honest those handful probably make up 80% of my stories about parents too.

So my message to you is maybe they didn’t reply to that text or email because they have to check it with their partner first and then just forgot about it because they get hundreds of texts and emails each week. Maybe they don’t help out because they have no time, they have to be somewhere else or it is the only little break they get. Maybe they don’t always let you know they cannot make it because they had so much on.

Just assume there is a good reason because in my experience there often is.

Thanks to all the Coaches who contact me and retweet my blog it is really appreciated.

Till next time