A while ago now I spent a pleasant three hours or so on a lovely day down at a park with my wife. From where I was I saw six footballs being kicked. Now this is why I am writing this blog. All I could see was footballs being kicked I never saw a game of football.
Six different families it seemed had brought a football to the park and predominantly the Dad was kicking the ball back to the son. The only game like activity was when a family of four showed up and the Dad was in goal and the Mum and Daughter played against the Son. This lasted about five mins until the Mum decided she had had enough.
One young boy who had basically worn his Dad out sat down on his football near another Dad who was kicking the ball back and forth with his two sons and watched them. It was clear if he had been asked he would have jumped at the chance to get involved but he was never asked and eventually they sat down too so he went back to his family.
All the children were roughly 8 to 13 years old so a decent game could easily have been played but there was not even a flicker of a chance of this happening.
I imagine those kids in the park that day could count on one hand the amount of times they have been involved in a spontaneous game of football.
I have actually heard children come back from holidays and say the best thing that happened was that, at whatever resort they were at, in the mornings all the kids got together and played football.
As a child I played lots of football and I also kicked a ball lots on my own. I did all the things I had read so many times about kicking a ball against a wall with your right foot and your left. I set up a line of old bricks in the back yard and dribbled in and out of them. I tied a ball up to the washing line in a shopping bag (the onion bag looked better but made your forehead go red) to practice headers. Just about everything I heard I gave it a go.
As a Coach now looking back at my own development I would say the word that stands out for me is balance. I did both playing football and kicking a ball on my own in almost equal measure. It is rare nowadays to find a player who has the same balance. I see lots of children who clearly spend lots of time kicking a ball but seem to have little idea on how to play the game itself.
I am sorry but I have forgotten who said this quote but I have never forgotten the quote
‘A friend to the ball but a stranger to the game’
This perfectly describes what I see most often.
I think a big hindrance to young players today is the myths that have grown around how the greats developed. How many times have we heard a great player talk about how they used to do something for hours on their own. I have no doubt they did but they also played lots of football which isn’t mentioned quite as often.
I suppose it isn’t mentioned as often because if a great player when probed to give the secret of their success says it is I played with my mates every day then surely someone will ask the difficult question about what happened to the rest of your mates. Why didn’t they make it as well? Therefore we get some obscure exercise that is given as the secret to making it.
An imbalance is created because people take this too literally. A sentence from an article or a 15 second sound bite from an interview is not the basis for a young player’s development. Spending time at training sessions trying to kick a ball through a hoop hanging from the crossbar one at a time because David Beckham did this is not going to be the answer.
For me enthusiastic young footballers today have more than enough opportunity to practice alone. The cost of good quality footballs now is low enough that having access to a ball is easy. The internet is so full of ideas that even the most unimaginative child can still find lots of different ways to kick a ball and have fun on their own.
The difference is it is far more difficult for that enthusiastic young footballer today to find ways to play lots of football. The old avenues for playing football informally don’t really exist anymore for a variety of reasons.
As a consequence, players who love football and have good mastery over the ball are not actually very good at playing football due to lack of practice.
By the way I do not believe that opposed or unopposed practice are the only two things that go in to developing footballers. There are many factors but from what I see in my grassroots environment we need to readdress the current imbalance and allow players to experience playing the game as much as possible at training so they can be friends with the game as well as the ball.
If they don’t play football at your sessions then where and when do they get the chance to experience playing football.
As usual would love to hear your opinion on the subject.
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