One of my unresolved experiences in Coaching has been coming back into my mind to haunt me lately. It concerns a player I coached quite a number of years ago for only a few months. He was a part of a training program put together by the Governing Body so the players came from a variety of clubs. He was 11 or 12 years old at the time.
The standard of the group was pretty good and we did 2 x sessions per week in 8 week blocks. I am sure I was involved with this group for something like 20 sessions.
Let me describe him first he was the tallest and biggest player in the group but he was also one of the fastest and most agile. However his technical level was low. He was quite one footed but could strike the ball very hard with his preferred foot.
Apparently he was played in defence for his team which was at one of the best clubs in the metropolitan area. I think possibly too he was playing up.
Before I get into the reason for this story I should point out that his father and his mother were well over 6ft tall and both of them looked like they were athletes in their day. Therefore it was safe to assume this player wasn’t simply an early developer but would likely have a physical advantage that would continue into senior football.
This blog is about me wishing I had come into contact with this player when I had more experience as I think I handled him completely wrong. He was very sure in himself that he was a really top player and with his approach to the sessions it felt to me at the time like he thought he didn’t need them.
I think this little story tells lots about what he was like. It was arranged to play an 11-a-side game against another training group on a really windy day. At some point during the game the ball came rolling towards him near the halfway line on the left hand side of the centre circle. I could see as he ran towards it with his eyes fixed only on the ball that all he was thinking was how hard he could connect with it. As he struck the ball I asked him ‘Who are you passing to’. He shanked the ball and it went almost straight up in the air and got caught in the wind. He watched the ball as it swerved off towards the right hand side of the pitch and then actually started to drift backwards finally bouncing down right in front of our right back. He turned to me and said ‘Liam’.
The reason I remember this so vividly was that he wasn’t trying to be funny far from it. I knew if I spoke to him later about what other options he could have taken there he would have said or thought to himself at least that ‘the pass’ went to Liam so what is the problem.
I can also clearly remember thinking I cannot get through to this kid at all.
As I said I was only involved with him briefly before I was moved to another training group. To be honest I forgot about him. Basically I thought it was his fault and his attitude that was the reason I think I had no impact on him. He was ‘uncoachable’.
The reason he haunts me now occurred about 3 years later. It was a Saturday morning and I had just finished the session I was doing and packing the equipment into my car. That morning the final State Trials had been held on the same fields although I wasn’t involved in the selection process. When the same player walks up to me crying his eyes out and literally wailed “Sean what do I have to do to get in.” I didn’t recognise him straight away as he was considerably taller than the last time I had seen him and now also considerably taller than me. At this moment anyway all that self-assurance and confidence that he really was a top player was gone. I spoke to him as best I could but really he was so distraught he didn’t want advice he wanted comforting.
The encounter really affected me so naturally I reflected upon my time with him and looking back with more experienced eyes I saw things in a completely different light. Yes he did have an attitude problem but what did I do to try to engage him to see things differently. From my memory very little all I seem to remember happening was me feeling frustration that he couldn’t see that I thought he needed to improve his technique.
If I had him now I have no idea what would have worked but I know I would have approached him with less of the attitude that it is his fault and more of the attitude that I need to find something that will work with him instead of expecting him to accept what I thought.
The other thing that haunts me is I doubt I have met another young player with his physical gifts. I have coached lots of big players but very few players come near him for size, agility and pace. I can’t help thinking if I could have done a better job would that player potentially be enjoying a football career now.
My challenge I suppose is to not let it happen again.
Love to hear what you think.
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Till next time