When is enough enough..

The question I am asking myself is how much practice is enough so that a player can reach their technical potential.

 

I am a strong believer in games based training but I cannot deny that when I try to re-examine my beliefs I always have a little doubt in the back of my mind about do I give the players enough repetitions at all the techniques required to have a strong technical base.

 

I do have large concerns over techniques that happen less regularly in small sided games such as longer passing or controlling the ball in the air for example but that isn’t the focus of this blog. The blog’s focus is on what is the right number of repetitions of a technique for a player to reach their technical potential.

 

If a drill based session is coached properly then a player will get more practice at the technique they are working on how to do than a player who is involved with a games based session. There may be little or no perception or decision making but there will be more repetitions. The fact there is more repetitions is the basis of the argument of most Coaches I have met who prefer drill based sessions.

 

The argument is simple and appears to be common sense. The player did it more times therefore they have gotten better than if they did it less times. Argument over.

 

This leads me back to the question I keep asking myself is how many repetitions at how to do a technique is enough. Am I giving the players I train the ability to transfer the techniques they practice to a competitive game more easily because it is learnt with Perception- Action coupling but not giving them enough repetitions at the technique for them to have the best possible technical level.

 

Should I be doing a blend of drills and games based training to increase the number of repetitions. If so what number of repetitions should I increase it to so that they have done enough.

 

Many years ago, I used to be a Coach who aimed for 1,000 touches per player per session. Where did that number come from and has it been proven to be a number of any significance or was it as I came to believe simply a nice round number that meant players touched the ball a lot.

 

To further add to my confusion, I have had a new player trying out a training program I do. He has done 3 sessions with me now in a very good standard group. He is 11 years old. The first two sessions he barely touched the ball and when he did he regularly lost it before he could complete an action. In the 2nd session he got the ball in space and simply smashed it at goal immediately completely ignoring the conditions on the game. He said he had forgotten but I was pretty sure he was just frustrated at his lack of involvement.

 

Now I’m sure you expect me to say in the 3rd session he started to touch the ball more and he played really well but there was no perceivable increase in touches. He still had the lowest number of touches out of anyone in the group by a margin but the thing was he kept possession. Whereas in his first sessions he attempted to simply control the ball and so would have it taken off him regularly. Now the few times he got the ball he managed to keep possession probably because he was scanning noticeably more so knew where the defenders where and controlled it in a deliberate direction away from them.

 

I understand that the level of his 1st Touch may have not improved significantly simply his ability to apply his 1st Touch in a game situation has. The problem this has set me is that he has done this with so few repetitions. I was going to say to him that perhaps he needs to look for another training program but now I am interested to see how this unfolds over the next few weeks.

 

I am now pondering perhaps can this be applied to improving technical level. Does a player require a lower number of repetitions of a technique if all the repetitions are in a game situation compared to being done in isolation?

 

Perhaps the hours I spent as a kid controlling the ball with my chest off our back wall was equal to the, I guessing here, 7/8 times I would do it in some sort of game each week.

 

Just my thoughts but I would be interested to hear from other Coaches especially those who may have any articles or studies that could make my thinking clearer.

 

Look forward to hearing from you

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

Follow me on Twitter @SeanDArcy66

Till next time

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Coaching & Chloroform

My mind has been racing since someone posted on Twitter an extract from the 1952 English FA book ‘Soccer Coaching’ by Walter Winterbottom. The extract although only one page was really thought provoking particularly this

 

Some of the early ideas of ‘what to coach’ or ‘how to coach’ have changed. Lessons built from unrelated activities like dribbling around sticks and circle heading have been largely abandoned. Today, emphasis is on the applied development of particular skills in settings closely resembling the game itself.

 

Now this was first published in Jan 1952. Yet about a month ago some 65 years after publication I was an Instructor on a Grassroots Coaching Course (for players U9 or younger) and every Coach there thought that developing ‘technique or skill’ inside a game was a new concept. One Coach who was particularly open to the content of the course was left open mouthed when I said that running around cones with a ball could develop bad habits and there were much better and more enjoyable ways to get practice running with a ball. I think he felt I was insulting an old friend of his.

 

I am a Technical Director at a club and every new season with new Coaches becoming involved I have to debate using Games Based Training as an alternative to using drills. Each year I have Coaches who it is obvious think that what I am saying is all just a fad and that eventually everyone will see sense and we will all go back to proper coaching.

 

Seeing this extract on Twitter got me thinking that why if Coaches as prestigious as Walter Winterbottom in 1952 were thinking in this manner then how is it still regarded as a new concept so many years later.

 

A simple but I don’t think totally accurate answer is that drilling players can be easy. I helped out a friend a few weeks ago as at the last minute as he was going to be short of Coaches at an event. I was asked to take a group of between 12-16 players and do a passing drill with them. I thought I was going to have 3 different groups this size in 15 mins so would have each group for around 4 mins allowing for change over. Instead I had each group for 15 mins straight. In my head I worked out a progression or two and started. I looked over at my friend after about 3 or 4 mins to see how long was left to which he gave me a quizzical look and held up 10 fingers.

 

Now remember I have not done any passing drills in my own coaching for over 10 years and I now have 10 mins to fill with fourteen U18 players and no idea how to fill it. I simply made it up as I went along and none of the players noticed. With the next two groups I challenged myself to make up something different each time. Basically, if you are confident enough in your delivery you can simply make it all up as you go along because the Coach dictates everything. A player can’t really challenge you because where the ball moves to is down to the Coach.

 

Like I said I think that is a very simple answer and not totally accurate but I feel it is a part of why isolated practices or drills continue to feature so significantly in a team setting.

 

Then, for a reason I will explain later, I looked critically at the images I see of football training on telly. Teams preparing for international matches seem to be always running around pitches or doing simple isolated practices while a voiceover describes the star players who are injured or anything newsworthy for the upcoming game.

 

I have no doubt this is because the cameras are cleared out or not allowed to film any training that may help the Opposition figure out the game plan but the audience just gets to see International players doing isolated practices.

 

A TV advert for a football camp sponsored by a star player showed him putting the youngsters through their paces and surprise, surprise they ran around cones. Another TV advert showed young players shooting at a professional goalkeeper one at a time after passing to a current professional who set up the shot presumably while all the others stood in line waiting for their turn.

 

I’ve been involved in filming such adverts and normally it is the cameraman or the photographer, probably with no coaching experience, who dictates what practice is done so they can get a good shot in the shortest possible time. However, to the average Coach it looks as if the International or Professional players are conducting the session so by inference this must be something they do.

 

Watch any Hollywood film about football and at some point, the player/team will do isolated practices or drills more than likely for the same reason as the adverts but this time the director who probably has no coaching experience is dictating what shots are taken.

 

I am not a fan now of dribbling a ball around cones but I can remember as a kid following the instructions in the Daily Mirror during Argentina ’78. I placed out some bricks (who had cones in 1978) in a line just like they said and tried to learn to dribble like Mario Kempes in my back yard.

 

This dribbling drill was probably written by some journalist who has never coached a minute of football in their lives and was simply filling up space in the newspaper but to me I thought I was doing what Argentina were doing at training that very same day.

 

My trigger for writing the blog in this way was something I saw in an article called ‘Don’t believe everything you see’. Apparently, it takes 5 minutes to knock someone out with a cloth soaked in Chloroform but yet I have seen baddies in movies or TV shows sneaking up on people and rendering them unconscious in a matter of seconds for years. In fact, I saw it in a film only 2 days ago and never questioned it for a second.

 

My point is this people are surrounded by images of what proper coaching appears to look like for years and so when they become Coaches themselves they believe they already know the basic concepts of coaching. Maybe this is why it is so hard for some Coaches to try to coach another way as it goes against everything they have ever seen about coaching.

 

Maybe like me with the Chloroform you just accept that is what coaching is and never challenge it.

 

Just my thoughts but I would be interested to hear from other Coaches.

Look forward to hearing from you

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

Follow me on Twitter @SeanDArcy66

Till next time

Coaching the person

I recently attended a National Talent Identification Tournament for early teenage footballers. It is the 5th time I have been in a variety of roles though I have never been the Head Coach. This blog is about how my reflections on what I have learned from being at these tournaments.

When I first attended my focus was about the technical level of the players. I suppose I was being quite self-centred because I was anxious to see if some of the players I had coached in the 9-12 age groups had the necessary technical ability to play at a National level.

The more tournaments I went to the more I shifted my focus away from the players technical level. Don’t get me wrong I still believe the technical level of the players is very important but I found that the majority of the players at this level were technically proficient. Plus, I thought if they have the right attitude they can tweak or further improve their technical level anyway.

I’m not sure when but I did begin to look more at how players performed inside the team. Did they play spontaneously or did they do a job for the team. Was it clear what they were trying to do and did they do it consistently. I realised that this was not a good way to look at the players as some Coaches play with lots of structure and others give the players lots of freedom. Therefore, I had no idea if the player was doing what was asked of them in the team.

Plus, I thought if the player has the right attitude and a good coaching environment they can improve their ability to follow team structure or play with more freedom at a later date anyway.

This time without consciously meaning too I have now realised since I got back that I was looking more at what is the right attitude. With the group I was with I was noticing more who was self-motivated, who was willing to be motivated by the group, who would play when tired or who made every effort to follow the Coach’s instructions. Plus, a multitude of other things away from the pitch such as focus at team meetings, punctuality, game preparation, how they recovered, desire to be ready to compete etc.

Now finally I am getting to the point of my blog. The players physically were in good shape. Many in the group I was with had private professional help to maximise their physical potential from Physios to Strength and Conditioning Coaches back at home. All the players seemed to be from decent clubs and coaching environments so I presume their technical and tactical level will continue to improve. However the players as you would expect hadn’t developed a totally ‘right attitude’ either and this is where I am unsure about what help they will receive to develop this.

I know the way I have written this blog we can substitute the word ‘attitude’ for character, personality, mentality or a host of other words and I don’t want to get into a discussion about the definitions of each word. Please just accept attitude as their approach to how they conducted themselves as a potential elite footballer.

The more I coach the more I consider the importance of the player’s attitude and the fact that we can shape a player’s attitude as much as we can shape their 1st Touch. My problem is I’m not exactly sure how I can shape it or if what I am doing is right. I read everything I can on Sports Psychology but I suppose it is because I have never seen a Sports Psychologist in action or worked alongside one that I feel a bit like I did when I first started coaching. Basically, I am just trying things but now it is much harder to see if they work.

What I want to affect as I have seen it in all five of these tournaments is the player who is content to be injured or a substitute as it means they don’t have to compete, the player who struggles simply as it is not what they expected, the player who thinks they have made it because they have done well, the player who allows just about everything or everyone to distract them.

Just my thoughts but I would be interested to hear how many other Coaches feel the player’s attitude is important but not sure if they can or how they can develop it in the right direction.

Look forward to hearing from you

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

Follow me on Twitter @SeanDArcy66

Till next time

A Developing Story….

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.

 

Look forward to hearing from you

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

Follow me on Twitter @SeanDArcy66

Till next time

Letter to my younger self…

Recently in one of the many debates that I see discussed (rage) over Twitter about benefits of isolated practice one person chipped into a conversation with the tweet

 

‘If you can’t control ball you can’t make a decision. Technique first. No brainer’

 

and then left immediately as if he had stated the obvious and surely everyone would understand now.

 

I know how he felt as I heard a comment very similar to this perhaps 20 years ago. At the time, it really resonated with me and provoked a mental image of a perfectly weighted pass being completely miscontrolled in front of goal. Of course, it just seemed to make perfect sense you have to have the technique before anything else. I was hooked.

 

In hindsight, I took this completely on face value and yet this thinking had a strong influence over how I coached for quite a number of years.

 

As is fashionable at the moment I am going to write this blog in the style of a letter to my younger self.

 

The first advice I would give to my younger self would be why don’t you ask a few questions because anything that is worth basing how you are going to coach on deserves to be checked thoroughly.

 

If ‘can’t control ball can’t make a decision’ is the basis of your coaching then what type of coaching do you do with a player who can consistently control the ball.

 

What level of controlling the ball does a player need to reach before they can train with decisions.

 

You constantly tell the players you coach that the best players know what they are going to do before they get the ball. Why haven’t you considered there is some conflict between this and the way you coach. Shouldn’t the fact that you believe technique should be taught first yet you tell the players that a decision comes first in a game at least set off a few warning bells?

 

Why do you tell players the old chestnut ‘the top 3 inches are the most important part of your body’ then remove players getting practice making decisions from large parts of your training?

 

Why haven’t you considered what affect adding decisions into the mix at a later stage will have.

 

Why don’t you consider your training might be the reason when players display good levels of technique in sessions but less so in games. Why don’t you think about what is the difference between your training and the game?

 

Why do you lament that ‘young players today’ can’t read the game or suggest young players don’t play enough football and then play so little football yourself in the sessions you plan?

 

There are many other questions but the last one is this why when in other walks of your life you always look for the best way yet with your passion, football, you simply copy what everyone else is doing.

 

Look forward to hearing from you

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

Follow me on Twitter @SeanDArcy66

Till next time

“Talking lads. You have to talk to each other”

There is one Coach who I simply cannot think about without seeing a vision of him with his head bowed and shaking from side to side, his hands above his head furiously tapping his fingers against his thumbs as he shouts to the ground

“Talking lads. You have to talk to each other”.

His solution to just about everything was that the ‘lads’ needed to talk to each other more. For those old enough to remember it always reminded me of the Birdie Dance and he was just about as useful.

For last week’s blog

1 v 1’s how my sessions have changed http://wp.me/p5aQfW-4Y

most of the messages I got were about the players talking to each other during sessions.

This set me thinking about some of the parts of my sessions that allow/force the players to talk to each other that I never included or even thought of including when I first started coaching. Remember I work predominantly with players aged between 8 – 15 years of age.

Pick Teams

Not having Captains who pick the teams as that is all about getting the strongest team for yourself instead sometimes ask the players to discuss and come up with the most even teams they possibly can whether they need to pick 2, 3 or 4 teams.

In my experience if I emphasise that the more even the teams are the more the players will learn they tend to do it properly. However, I have had to ask players if they want to redo the teams after a few games more than once when clearly one team is dominating. Rarely are the teams uneven after they redo them.

With older youth players, I will remind them of the topic of the session and encourage them to make the teams even based on the topic.

Transfer Window

No matter how the initial teams were chosen after playing for a while give the teams the chance to get a player or players from another team. The players get 30/60 seconds to discuss who they want which they all must agree on. No team is allowed to refuse a request.

Every now and again I will also say that the team picking the player has to tell the squad why they picked them. I, also, include that saying because they are good isn’t enough they have to be specific.

With Transfer Windows sometimes a dominant player will override the discussion so if I think this has happened I will ask a specific player usually sitting to the side of the group which player their team has chosen. If there is any hint of disagreement or they don’t know because they weren’t included in the discussion then ask them to discuss again and come up with a player they all agree on.

Coach and team discussions

I have asked the players to discuss what they think the next conditions should be on the game we are playing to make it harder or easier. I will explain the topic again and ask for suggestions. Whichever condition all the players agree on we will do next.

All of these things as I said I didn’t do when I started coaching. I was very much a Coach who thought any time the players weren’t getting touches of the ball was wasted time. I still think we need to maximise how often the player is in contact with the ball but have grown to realise that all other time is not wasted.

I suppose to put it very simply it is ridiculous to expect the players to work as a team or to communicate with each other during the hustle and bustle of the weekend game when you don’t practice this at all in your training sessions.

As ever love to hear your thoughts.

Please follow me on Twitter @SeanDArcy66

Till next time

‘Unconsciously Incompetent’

I was sent to a Physio recently because I have been having a different sort of pain in my hips. My left hip has a condition called Perthes Disease so I have had pain in my hips since I was a child but this was different.

To my immense relief, the diagnosis was that it is just a muscle problem. I was given some exercises to do to build up some muscles that weren’t doing much and most of the pain has gone already in less than 3 weeks. The fears of a possible hip replacement already seem a distant memory.

I asked him would it help if I stretched the area more and he said that would be fine. I told him I was a Football Coach and knew a few stretches. He immediately told me not to do the traditional groin stretch that just about every footballer in the world does including David Luiz in the above photo. He said it wouldn’t help and I would have more chance of getting an adductor tear than making myself more flexible. I quizzed him about it and he was of the opinion that it was less used than I thought and was being phased out at top level sport.

I am not sure why but it felt like he was insulting an old friend and it has been on my mind ever since. I even brought it up again at our 2nd appointment.

Don’t misunderstand me I have not done static stretching as a warm up before a session in years. I am firmly a dynamic flex warm up Coach. However, I still use static stretching since I stopped using it as a warm up in recovery sessions or to increase flexibility. Just about every time I do any static stretching this is the stretch I would do either 1st or 2nd. Like I said it is like an old friend, an old favourite.

I like my physio and I think he knows what he is talking about but I will do more research and try to talk to other physios as well just to see if this stretch is being phased out.

I think I may have found out though why it has played on my mind so much. I read an article I saved from ages ago this week about the ‘Four Stages of Competence’. This article made me think about my first coaching sessions and basically how I was the definition of ‘unconsciously incompetent’.

In plain language ‘unconsciously incompetent’ means you don’t realise you aren’t very good at something.

I have no memory of the contents of my first ever coaching session but I do know that it is extremely likely that the very first thing I ever did was to get the group together and do this groin stretch.

I have already ready recognised that I was ‘unconsciously incompetent’ at this stage of my coaching career but this made me realise that I am still ‘unconsciously incompetent’ as a Football Coach just not in the same ways.

Love to hear from anyone who can help me form an opinion on whether I should start to phase out using this stretch or not.

Look forward to hearing from you

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

Follow me on Twitter @SeanDArcy66

Till next time