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

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“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

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‘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

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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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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

The one that got away….

One of my unresolved experiences in Coaching has been coming back into my mind to haunt me lately.  It concerns a player I coached quite a number of years ago for only a few months. He was a part of a training program put together by the Governing Body so the players came from a variety of clubs. He was 11 or 12 years old at the time.

The standard of the group was pretty good and we did 2 x sessions per week in 8 week blocks. I am sure I was involved with this group for something like 20 sessions.

Let me describe him first he was the tallest and biggest player in the group but he was also one of the fastest and most agile. However his technical level was low. He was quite one footed but could strike the ball very hard with his preferred foot.

Apparently he was played in defence for his team which was at one of the best clubs in the metropolitan area. I think possibly too he was playing up.

Before I get into the reason for this story I should point out that his father and his mother were well over 6ft tall and both of them looked like they were athletes in their day. Therefore it was safe to assume this player wasn’t simply an early developer but would likely have a physical advantage that would continue into senior football.

This blog is about me wishing I had come into contact with this player when I had more experience as I think I handled him completely wrong. He was very sure in himself that he was a really top player and with his approach to the sessions it felt to me at the time like he thought he didn’t need them.

I think this little story tells lots about what he was like. It was arranged to play an 11-a-side game against another training group on a really windy day. At some point during the game the ball came rolling towards him near the halfway line on the left hand side of the centre circle. I could see as he ran towards it with his eyes fixed only on the ball that all he was thinking was how hard he could connect with it. As he struck the ball I asked him ‘Who are you passing to’. He shanked the ball and it went almost straight up in the air and got caught in the wind. He watched the ball as it swerved off towards the right hand side of the pitch and then actually started to drift backwards finally bouncing down right in front of our right back. He turned to me and said ‘Liam’.

The reason I remember this so vividly was that he wasn’t trying to be funny far from it. I knew if I spoke to him later about  what other options he could have taken there he would have said or thought to himself at least that ‘the pass’ went to Liam so what is the problem.

I can also clearly remember thinking I cannot get through to this kid at all.

As I said I was only involved with him briefly before I was moved to another training group. To be honest I forgot about him. Basically I thought it was his fault and his attitude that was the reason I think I had no impact on him. He was ‘uncoachable’.

The reason he haunts me now occurred about 3 years later. It was a Saturday morning and I had just finished the session I was doing and packing the equipment into my car. That morning the final State Trials had been held on the same fields although I wasn’t involved in the selection process. When the same player walks up to me crying his eyes out and literally wailed “Sean what do I have to do to get in.” I didn’t recognise him straight away as he was considerably taller than the last time I had seen him and now also considerably taller than me. At this moment anyway all that self-assurance and confidence that he really was a top player was gone. I spoke to him as best I could but really he was so distraught he didn’t want advice he wanted comforting.

The encounter really affected me so naturally I reflected upon my time with him and looking back with more experienced eyes I saw things in a completely different light. Yes he did have an attitude problem but what did I do to try to engage him to see things differently. From my memory very little all I seem to remember happening was me feeling frustration that he couldn’t see that I thought he needed to improve his technique.

If I had him now I have no idea what would have worked but I know I would have approached him with less of the attitude that it is his fault and more of the attitude that I need to find something that will work with him instead of expecting him to accept what I thought.

The other thing that haunts me is I doubt I have met another young player with his physical gifts. I have coached lots of big players but very few players come near him for size, agility and pace. I can’t help thinking if I could have done a better job would that player potentially be enjoying a football career now.

My challenge I suppose is to not let it happen again.

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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