A few observations….

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.

Look forward to hearing from you

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

Follow me on Twitter @SeanDArcy66

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Confused Coaches

I was recently on a course that included a 4-day Strength & Conditioning component. The topic was raised about the language used by Sports Scientists. Almost every Coach agreed that they don’t want to hear a load of jargon about underloads, overloads or maximum aerobic speed they just want to know if the players are as fit as possible to play football.

As Coaches it was quite obvious we didn’t want someone coming into our football environment using language we are unfamiliar with and had any trouble understanding.

Recently I watched a training session were U8s were getting shouted at to take the ball on the half-turn constantly. Now this is language I am familiar with as I suppose is everyone reading this blog but would it be something I would expect an U8 to understand.

In the past when I have mentioned to Coaches that they might be using language that confuses younger players I inevitably end up in a debate not about using clearer language but how the kids should know the meaning of the phrases the Coach is using.

If we flip this and return to the Sports Scientists at the start of the blog. How long would a Sports Scientist be employed if they suggested to the Head Coach they weren’t going to change the language they are comfortable using but instead the Head Coach should learn to understand them.

A few seasons back I had a discussion about language used by Coaches at a meeting and both the Coaches in question were as usual saying the fault lay with the players. The players didn’t know what something meant because they don’t understand football these days like we did etc etc.

I have no idea where it came from but I said to the Coaches

‘Do you know what a ‘Sweaty Goal’ is.’

Both of them looked at me with pretty much the same expression I had when someone first spoke to me about half spaces.

‘Ask your players and I reckon every single one of them will know.’

I think one of the Coaches actually googled ‘Sweaty Goal’ right there and then and were amazed that they got an answer as they thought I was just making it up. I told them only a few weeks before with their players I did a game when a goal was worth double if it was a sweaty. It was great for working on players supporting the attack and positioning themselves to support the player on the ball.

The point is the information you give has to be understood before the players can actually use that information. If the players don’t understand then think of another way to phrase it that is clearer.

As usual would love to hear your opinion on the subject and whether you know what a ‘Sweaty Goal’ is.

Look forward to hearing from you

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

Follow me on Twitter @SeanDArcy66

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Thank You Patrice you made me smile

In the spirit of Patrice Evra I am going to write a blog that is just for fun.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fJZYnrsnr2E

Have a look at this clip from his Instagram it makes me laugh every time I watch it. Please enjoy the clip and my blog.

I think all Coaches have a ‘Go To’ exercise or game that is just great fun both for the Coach and players. Mine is a shooting game called ‘Around the Goal’ and I first start playing it about 10 years ago and have done it with all ages and it has just about never let me down.

Here is the set up.blog-55

 

I am sure you are thinking the same as me when I first saw it. Look at the length of those lines but with this game being so fast it doesn’t matter. In fact, it is very hard to play it without at least 6 players in each line.

The Yellows are the shooters and the Blues are the GKs. The Coach is the White and all the footballs are in a pile ready for the Coach to pass out for the shot. When the Coach passes the ball out one Yellow player takes off and sprints around the 2nd blue cone and has 1-touch to score. At the same time the Blue player has to sprint around the back of the goal and then get in front to be the GK and save the shot. After the shot the shooter joins the back of the Shooter’s line and the GK goes to the back of the GK’s line.

As soon as the shot is taken without waiting for those players to clear the area the Coach passes out another ball and another shooter comes out and another GK and it just keeps repeating. The Shooters have 2 minutes to score as many goals as possible before we swap the two teams over.

This game is played at a really high tempo and you can quickly run out of footballs so I try to play it next to a fence or slope and tell the Shooters if I run out of footballs then it is the end of your go. The players, as you would expect, forget to collect the footballs but if you keep reminding them you will get enough to keep it going.

The distances vary according to the age groups but all you have to do is make sure that the GK has enough time to get around the back of the goal and in front before the shot is taken and the shot is from a distance that makes it challenging and it will work. It is the perfect game to liven up a group or to let a group know it is going to be fun today.

Before I go I have a memory attached to this game and again in the spirit of Patrice I will share it even though I know it won’t make you a better Coach. The best I can hope for is you will smile with me at my unprofessional, inappropriate but highly enjoyable behaviour.

I was at a High School doing a ‘Try-A-Sport’ day which is when the school organises lots of different Sports Coaches to come in and the children spend the day moving from Coach to Coach trying each sport. This was the only time I have ever done one at a High School. I have done several with younger children but not with 16/17 year olds. To put it bluntly these kids had had enough at 9:05am but my story starts with the last group coming to me at about 2:00pm.

I was doing the ‘Around the Goal’ game because I had to let them know it was going to be a laugh as none of the groups so far seemed particularly interested in football. By the amount of NBA merchandise being worn it was obvious that the mainly Maori or African students at the school preferred Basketball.

Anyway, this group came over and walking at the back was a kid who looked even more bored than the others which was pretty difficult. I say a kid but he was a head taller than me and clearly he was in no mood to Try-Yet-Another-Effing-Sport. He walked up and made a massive big show of plugging his headphones into his phone then tapped his phone loudly a few times before hitching up his top to put it in his pocket. After this he fully extended both his arms out above his head while we listened to someone rapping at high speed for a few seconds and placed the headphones over both ears then with his head tilted slightly to the side he looked at me.

It doesn’t take 10 years of coaching experience to read this situation so I said ‘No problems mate. If you don’t want to do it just go sit over there.’ He continued to look at me without changing his bored expression and never moved. He was wanting everyone to know that he had the music up so loud he couldn’t hear me. The girl next to him pulled the headphones out and said ‘He said go and sit over there’. The boy walked off clearly thinking he had just had a big win and sat down next to the fence that was going to stop all the footballs. He pulled his hoodie up and the brim of his Boston Celtics cap down. I could understand his attitude to some extent as the Hockey Coach before me looked like she was boring the kids silly before they got to me and it had been a long day.

Anyway, I explained the ‘Around the Goal’ game to the group and for some reason they were enthusiastic to play it. After a few shots ‘Headphone Boy’ realised he was a bit too close to the goal so he moved a bit further away along the fence. I cannot explain what went through my brain I just saw the opportunity and did it. I waited till he pulled his cap down again then I turned around and in full view of all the other kids playing I chipped a ball perfectly over the line of Shooters arching beautifully into the fence which then dropped on to the head of ‘Headphone Boy’ then I turned around and carried the game on.

‘Headphone Boy’ pulled his cap back but by now there were 6 players on the move again and had no idea who had hit it. He was in a dilemma now as everyone not moving was smiling at him but he had no idea who had done it or if it was on purpose. ‘Headphone Boy’ was clearly not the main man in this group that honour clearly fell to the enormous Maori boy with the Chicago Bulls tracksuit on turned up to his knees.

All the kids in the group weren’t too sure what had just happened whether I meant it or if it accidentally hit him. The game kept going I kept glancing back and as soon as ‘Headphone Boy’ put his head down again I chipped another ball. I was on fire and hit exactly the same spot on the fence so bang the ball dropped on to his head again. At this point it was time to change the two teams around so although everyone was laughing they were all moving again so again he had no idea who had done it or if they meant to. He got up putting on his sulkiest face which I assume he thought made him look hard and moved further along the fence.

As the teams changed over all the players were begging me to do it again. I was falling for peer group pressure from people who were hardly my peers to bully a teenager who I didn’t know at all but it had been a long day for me as well. If I am truthful by now my major concern was not my behaviour was completely inappropriate and would be majorly difficult to explain if I got pinged but the fact that he had moved about 30m away and I wasn’t sure if I could hit him.

I couldn’t resist but now he wasn’t pulling his cap down and was watching the game more intently. I waited and waited and as soon as he looked away I chipped another one. I underhit it a bit and instead of hitting the fence and dropping on him it hit his legs directly. As he jumped to his feet all the girls in the group immediately fell to the ground laughing and the boys were spinning around bent over howling and laughing.

‘Headphone Boy’ was furious but the only person apart from me standing up straight was ‘Mr Chicago Bulls Tracksuit’ so he wasn’t game to come over and find out who hit it just in case he really didn’t like the answer. He stormed off and sat down out of range for even Beckham. I carried on the rest of the session thinking I was Sidney Poitier and had a great time.

To this day I have no idea what came over me but it always brings a smile to my face.

None to surprisingly for a change I am not keen to hear your thoughts on that story.

Follow me on Twitter @SeanDArcy66

Till next time

Playing Up

If there is one remark that will make me cautious when talking to someone about a young player I haven’t seen it is if they tell me that they are playing up an age group at their club.

It is a remark laden with connotations that this child is so good that it is a waste of time for them to play with children their own age and they are well on their way to becoming a professional.

Before I continue I will say I am not against players playing up I just think it is overused and to be clear I am talking about players younger than 14/15 years of age.

What makes me cautious is that I feel it can be detrimental to the player’s development as well as have a positive effect. It seems that if a player has success playing up then it is generally thought it can only be good for them whereas I disagree.

As usual what prompted me to write this is that over the last 12 months I seem to have had people constantly telling me this player or that player is playing up.

One week recently a parent rang me up to say was it OK if his son’s mate came along to one of my sessions. He then told me the boy in question was playing 2 years up at his club. The implication was that I would relish seeing this boy play because he was bound to be snapped up soon.

When I got to see the player he was big for his age which I expected, he was very right footed, had a below par 1st Touch, tried to run with the ball every time he got it and got very frustrated as he constantly lost the ball playing 5 v 5 on a 30 x 20m pitch. I was told that apparently the young boy was very fast and in games the team would play the ball over the top and no one could catch him.

My issue in this case from what I saw was that the boy had a physical strength that allowed him to play up and be successful but his technical ability and decision making seemed to be below players his own age. I would imagine it would be a lot harder for him to improve these weaknesses playing and training against players who were bigger, stronger and more experienced than him.

With this player the question has to be asked even though he is having some success playing up two years is it the best thing for his overall development or is he being turned into a ‘one trick pony’ who will only be successful as long as he is able to and has space to outrun the opposition defence.

Another problem I have with players playing up is that they can be treated differently because they are younger than the other players. To put it simply allowances are made for the players they wouldn’t get if they played in their own age groups.

Two players come to mind straight away that I have coached in programs in the last few years. Both players had a very good level of technique and although neither was super quick both were still considered fast even with older players.

The problems came from how they were allowed to play. Both players had always played up, both played a forward role and both players were allowed to do nothing else but attack.

One player played right midfield in a 4-4-2 and when his team wasn’t attacking just stood on the halfway line waiting for his team to win the ball back and start attacking. I knew the Coach and asked why he let him play like that and his first response was “He is a year younger you know”.

Both players when they trained in the program with me had problems remembering any conditions I put on games, had trouble positioning themselves, often ball watched and rarely thought about what they would do until they had the ball in their possession.

Of course it is only my opinion but I do feel the fact they were playing up meant they were treated differently and this wasn’t actually helping them in their development. In this case both players developed a habit of just switching off if the ball wasn’t near them.

Like I said at the start I am not against players playing up I just believe that we have to consider a player’s overall development when we decide to play them up. At the moment it seems in many cases players are judged simply by can they manage to play with older players not whether it is the best thing for them.

I have seen players who I believe can learn nothing by playing in their own age group and needed the challenge of playing against older players but they are a minority.

One thing I think can work is players from time to time training with older players to aid their development instead of joining another team and playing totally outside their age group. I think this way the player can get the best of both worlds.

As usual would love to hear your opinion on the subject.

Look forward to hearing from you

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

Follow me on Twitter @SeanDArcy66

Till next time

Can you help

When I was 16 I got a ‘B’ in my French O Level at school which I was quite pleased about. In my early 20’s I spent 3 weeks in France and I was no better at speaking to the locals than my girlfriend who had never done a French lesson in her life.

However, my girlfriend had Dutch parents who although by the time I met her rarely if ever spoke Dutch at home did so quite a bit when she was little she told me. When we were in the Netherlands for 3 weeks within a few hours she was able to hold conversations with her relatives and by the end of the stay was chatting away comfortably.

Why am I telling you this?

Well I can see lots of parallels with coaching football.

I had done 4 years of French at school with the volcanic Miss Black but it was proving useless to me when I was actually in France needing to speak French. For me to impress my girlfriend I was going to have to bump into someone called Mr Bertillon who had forgotten to wear his watch and wanted to know the time so desperately he was prepared to ask a tourist. To really cap it off Mr Bertillon would have to be prepared to stand there while I asked him “where is the train station”or my personal favourite “where is the library” although I probably wouldn’t have understood any of his answers.

My girlfriend on the other hand had never had a ‘proper’ education in Dutch. She had simply been in an environment where Dutch was spoken.

The parallel comes from the current debate about whether a proper education in football involves a sizeable amount of time spent doing drills or isolated technical practices compared to a games based method of training.

Just so you know I am a firm believer in learning how to play football with as many elements of the actual game involved as possible.

Now the reason I am writing this blog is I feel I keep finding ways to back up the fact I prefer games based training. I have even managed to see a trip around Europe in the late 80’s as proof it works.

What I would like is to hear from Coaches or read articles that have the opposite view.

Could anyone point me towards articles or studies that challenge my current thinking. It would be most appreciated as I feel all I do is read articles that back up what I think and so may simply be looking in the wrong places.

Love to hear from you

As always please leave a comment or email me seanthecoach@icloud.com

Or follow me on Twitter @SeanDArcy66

Till next time

Creative training games

I am sure most of the Coaches reading this blog have either done this drill as a player or as a Coach. I know I have done it as both. The Coach sets out two lines of cones facing each other about 20-25m apart. Now one player stands between 2 x cones on one line while their partner stands directly opposite between two cones on the other line. The drill is can you strike the ball to your partner 20-25m away.

 

Normally this type of drill is to get the players to practice striking the ball in the air. I can remember trying to make it a game by saying such things as you got a point if your partner could catch the ball without having to take a step or one bounce into partner’s hands without taking a step etc etc.

 

As often is the case with drills all the decision making and any awareness of what is around you was removed totally. The trick is how do we get players to strike the ball in the air in a small sided game. Personally this is something that up until a few years ago I seemed to completely neglect. All my sessions were encouraging the players to keep the ball on the ground and I gave the players few chances to practice striking the ball in the air. This now seems really stupid but if I am honest I had absolutely no idea I was doing it.

 

Last season I came up with the setup for the goals in the picture. I did it at various times with all the age groups in my technical program so players from U6 to U12. I found it worked really well and it is something I think I will use regularly in the future.

 

The players found the set up interesting and wanted to score in the top half of the goal. Obviously some players needed advice and for the majority that did all I needed to say was imagine you are sliding your foot under the ball when you hit it. I never once told anyone where to place their standing foot or to ‘lock their ankle’.

 

The games would be 3 v 3 or 4 v 4 and there were no GKs. The conditions normally progressed along these lines

 

1 – A goal in the Red goals worth 1pt. A goal over the Red goals and inside the height of the poles worth 5 pts.

2 – Same points but can only score in Red goals with your ‘other foot’.

3 – Only goals over the Red goals counted now. ‘Other foot’ worth 5 pts & ‘Usual foot’ now only 1 pt.

 

Obviously I used other variations but the progressions were built around these conditions.

 

Interestingly one player at the club who would have excelled if we had lined up players with partners 20-25m apart really struggled both times he did it. He has what most people would describe as a ‘sweet left peg’ but when he had to create the space in the right position to use it he found it quite difficult.

 

With this set up I particularly liked the players having to decide how to strike the ball in the air or how to score depending on their distance from goal. This meant we had a whole variety of ways to strike the ball in the air practiced from scoops to drives. I really liked players with the 2nd condition switching to the ‘other foot’ as they thought they were too close to get the ball over the Red goals.

 

Personally I found it a very simple set up that efficiently encouraged players to strike the ball in the air but I would love to hear from other Coaches. What conditions they would use with this set up or what small sided games they have used that encourages players to strike the ball in the air.

 

Love to hear what you think.

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

Or if possible leave a comment on Twitter @SeanDArcy66

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Who knows best: Kids or Adults

I will admit when I was a Novice Coach I did this as part of the Warm Up for a game. I am fairly confident my thinking went no further than it seemed absolutely every other team seems to be doing this so I’ll do it too.

Before I tell you about what prompted this blog I think we need to cover why do we do a warm up. For me a warm up is to prepare the athlete both physically and mentally for the activity.

We get the body physically ready so it is able to perform at the correct level of intensity from the start and we prepare the player mentally so they are focused and ready to make decisions from the start.

Now let’s look at this exercise again with that definition in mind.

The majority of the time the players are standing still waiting their turn then do a short burst of activity (very short if they score or GK catches ball as they don’t have to retrieve the ball) then wait their turn again. Minimal physical preparation as players are not moving.

The players line up then shoot so the only decision is where to hit shot. Again minimal mental preparation as the players aren’t making decisions.

Now this is why I am writing this blog. Last weekend I was watching a visiting U8s team warm up. The Coach brought the team together had a quick chat then lined the players up for the above exercise. After all the players had had one shot I noticed the ‘big kid’ in the team Josh stood off to the side after his shot and instead of joining back of line jumped in front of next player and had another shot. All the players at the back of the line laughed and all the players at the front of the line complained.

Next all the players started trying it which meant the one ball they were using would sometimes get kicked sideways off the pitch and so would take longer to retrieve and there were even less bursts of activity.

After about 8/9 minutes the Coach looked at his watch and realised there was only a couple of minutes to go to kick off and so told the players their positions and put them in them taking the subs off with him. The players lined up but our side wasn’t ready and weren’t on the pitch.

So after about 10 seconds of standing around Josh left his position and got the ball that was left in the goal and they started playing a game. I think it was Josh and his mate against everyone else into their goal. The players ran around laughing and joking for about 2/3 minutes while our team got on the pitch.

The question now is for us as Coaches in terms of the definition above which one was the most effective warm up the adult led shooting exercise or the Josh led game.

I know which one I think was better preparation but interested to hear your thoughts.

Look forward to hearing from you

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

Follow me on Twitter @SeanDArcy66

Till next time