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

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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

Reflections

kloppI am sure I am not the only one who has looked at old session plans and winced. I did the other day and I couldn’t believe what I was reading. There seemed to be no detail, the session objectives were really vague and sometimes the exercises themselves were designed in such a way that I don’t think the players were practicing what I thought they were practicing.

To give some background I work primarily with 9 – 13 year old players and normally coach in a technical program and not teams as such.

Now if I look at this logically as this isn’t the first time this has happened then I can expect to be looking back at my current plans in 2021 and wincing at how rubbish I am today. The trick for me is to try to see into the future by looking at the past with some of the core skills I coach.

So here is a rough guide to the evolution

1st Touch

10 years ago – Sessions were little more than the players having to control the ball a lot.

5 years ago – Emphasis on disguise and direction of 1st Touch, facing forwards on 1st Touch, using both feet however mostly 1st Touch into space. Very strong emphasis on planning 1st Touch before receive the ball. Encouraging players to use all parts of foot to control ball not just insides.

Currently – All of the above but more specific with direction of 1st Touch which can be towards defender to engage them as well away from defender to create space plus past nearest defender. More sessions were players have to control ball in the air.

2021 – I feel I am moving towards asking the players to think an extra step earlier. Not just plan the disguise or direction of their 1st Touch before the ball arrives but asking them to think can they reposition themselves before their 1st Touch.

Striking the Ball

10 years ago – Lots of shooting exercises and passing for passing sake. Coaching the correct ways to pass.

5 years ago – Shift towards allowing a player to strike the ball in more unorthodox ways and encouraging the use of the both feet constantly not just in specific use ‘other foot’ exercises. Beginnings of being more specific with types of passing such as inbetween passes, killer passes and switching point of attack.

Currently – All of above and again encouraging passes in the air not just on ground as with 1st Touch. With my current shift to playing small sided games from start to finish of session I no longer do sessions about shooting as all sessions require the players to score goals from start to finish. Feel sessions are more refined and the design of the conditions specifically encourages the players to play the passes I want not simply do lots of passing.

2021 – I think these sessions are going to head towards passing in match situations were the opposition are going to be asked to employ a tactic such as high press, low block or man for man.

Running with Ball

10 years ago – the most embarrassing sessions of all as seemed to involve little more than giving each player a ball and then playing TAG games so everyone was running with a ball at their feet. Plus working on specific turns to change direction.

5 years ago – Still very non-specific. Lots of sessions with areas that the ball must be run across but little detail. Players just encouraged to run with ball and keep it under control while turning or altering direction or speed. Vast amount of sessions simply about running with ball into space.

Currently – More specific with topics such as running with ball to engage defenders to create overloads & space for others, to move defenders out of position to create space, to allow team mates time to get into position or make runs as well as running with ball to attack free space. No turns coached at all as players playing games all the time so need to turn with ball constantly so whatever works for them is fine with me.

2021 – I need time to experiment but I think I can manipulate the dimensions of the area more with these sessions. For example I reread a session were I seemed to be very positive that the pitch being long and narrow was a major positive influence on the session but appear to have done little experimenting with the dimensions of the pitch since.

I think I will move towards more sessions on running with ball to move defenders and less towards attacking free space too.

1 v 1’s

10 years ago – Taught specific moves to beat players as all sessions about beating defender. Defender was almost always in front of the attacker. Players forced to go 1 v 1 often as no passing option given to players so little decision making except what move to use.

5 years ago – Shift towards the defender not always having to be directly in front of attacker and the attacker having a passing option so could decide to go 1 v 1 or pass. Focus on player going to both sides of defender and using both feet. Still a 1 v 1 session was always about going past a defender.

Currently – Strong encouragement for player to be unpredictable. Again more specific so now a 1 v 1 session can be about creating space for shot/pass or create space for a cross/ball behind defence as well as beating a defender. Always have a passing option in sessions now and more emphasis on decision making about right time not just constant encouragement to go for it.

2021 – I think this is going to be similar to 1st Touch in that more emphasis will go onto repositioning or readjusting body shape before 1 v 1 opportunity. How can a player make the 1 v 1 more likely to be successful before the opportunity arises without the player simply dropping off into a less threatening position.

I think I will still be looking back in 2021 and thinking I was getting away with murder with my plans but I have found this exercise very useful.

Merry Christmas in case this time next week I am rushing around the shops instead of writing a blog.

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

Or follow me on Twitter @SeanDArcy66

Till next time

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

Till next time