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.
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Till next time