Skill Acquisition Game

Quite by accident I have managed to come up with a game that I think has exciting potential to be used in a number of ways. It is a small sided game but I will outline the roundabout way the game evolved.

A few years ago I was doing a session with young players I think they were U6/U7s. I was playing games of 2 v 2 with small portable goals. One player every time the ball came near him would just kick it as hard as he could. The ball would go in all directions there was no thought to it just a big kick. Unfortunately for me on this day he managed to score 2 goals in this manner so I was having no joy whatsoever trying to encourage him to control the ball. I had a brain wave and turned the goals around so they were backwards which meant it was now impossible to score with a fortuitous big kick from the other end of the pitch.


Immediately I noticed now that the players all ran with the ball much more to get around the goal and score. I was delighted and have managed to use backwards goals for a variety of purposes over the last few years since (check this blog out ).

With younger players (up to 11ish) I have used it often as an alternative to playing variations of Line Football (were the players score by running the ball over the Endline). The younger players tend to have little patience with a game where they cannot actually kick a goal so this is one of my alternatives for them.

It is challenging for the players as they have to turn at speed while keeping control of the ball to score. It provides lots of decision making such as which way do I turn, how tight is the defender (or are they still there), is the goal open, do I pass etc etc.

One of the drawbacks was that when a player had run the ball into a position to turn and shoot the defender tracking them would regularly leave the player and simply defend the goal. This meant that the turn wasn’t always executed with a defender close so an opportunity was regularly getting missed to practice a technique under pressure.

A fortnight ago I had a lightbulb moment and decided to combine this backwards goal game with Line Football. Now the attacker has 2 ways to score

1 – In the goal facing backwards

2 – Running the ball over the endline. I added that a defender only has to tag the attacker as they go over the endline and it isn’t a goal.


I have since done it in 3 sessions with U8s, U9s and a U10/U11 group. So far it has solved the problem of the defender leaving the attacker to turn and just defend the goal.

However, what has really grabbed my attention is that without losing anything this change has added some interesting decision making for both the defender and the attacker.

At first thought, unintentionally this game looks like it has potential to practice a player’s decision making in crossing situations because both the player and defender have to consider.

  • Is there enough space to continue running forward to get success?
  • What happens if the player with the ball changes direction?
  • What happens if the player disguises to change direction/continue forward then does the opposite?

It is very much early days as I have only done it 3 times with this one but I feel it is an exciting addition and wonder what I will be able to use it for in the future. Would be very interested to hear form other Coaches who have already done this or similar and what techniques they use the game to work on.

Look forward to hearing from you

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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

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Till next time

Decision making when the ball is in the air

I had one of those moments over the weekend where I saw something happening in games that I had seen many times before but this time it made me think differently .

A player I have coached many times was what set me off. About two minutes apart he was in an almost identical situation regarding how much space he had and what was probably the best option to take. The only difference being one time the ball came to him on the ground and the other it came to him bouncing about thigh high. On the ground he clearly scanned before the ball came then took a touch and played the ball to the centre forward’s feet and supported the pass. Two minutes later when the ball was bouncing towards him he simply hooked the ball forwards over his shoulder.

This was what set me thinking. Why did he behave so differently in two such similar situations?

After that I started to watch players in all the games to see how the same players behaved when the ball was off the ground compared to on the ground. This is only one day’s viewing but I saw many players play plenty of 1st time passes in the air but only rarely saw a 1st time pass when the ball was on the ground. I can surmise that many of those aerial 1st time passes would not have been made if the ball came to them on the ground.

It seemed players required a lot more space to attempt to control the ball when the ball was even slightly off the ground unless they were close to their opponent’s goal. The player who I mentioned earlier was quite prepared to control a far more difficult aerial ball when it meant he could set up a shot at goal later in the game.

The question I started to ponder was why is the decision making noticeably different when the ball is off the ground compared what I assume the same player would do if the ball was on the ground in the same situation.

Is it that much more difficult to take an aerial 1st Touch than one along the ground?

Is my assumption that a player who assesses the football situation before their 1st touch when the ball is on the ground will also do it before their 1st touch when the ball is in the air actually correct?

Do I need to add conditions to my small sided games to encourage the ball being in the air more to allow players to practice assessing the football situation and decision making when the ball is off the ground?

I have not come to any conclusions yet but I certainly have plenty to ponder and discuss with other Coaches to see if I have change how I conduct my sessions to better prepare the players for the game they play in.

As always please leave a comment or email me

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When I was your age…..

One of the good things about my role at the club is that I am not confined to just one team so I get to be a part of all the teams and so get to notice similarities or patterns with team issues. One of the constant issues at the club is that we want the Coaches to rotate the players through different positions so I am going to use this to illustrate my point.

I exchanged a series of emails with a parent recently who wrote

“H is a lovely kid but I have been watching him for three years now and no matter what position he is given he always drifts back into defence so why don’t we just play him there all the time.”

H is 8 years old and 7 months.

I had a conversation with a Coach very recently and he said

“Yes I agree with rotating the players here but not next year when we play on this pitch. Surely by then they need to specialise in one position.”

He was referring to the season the players turn 10 years old when his son will be playing for his 5th year.

Now this blog is not about whether players should be rotated through positions but how we need to understand that the length of time children have been playing football greatly influences the thinking of the Parents and Parent Coaches.

Regularly when I talk to parents they make some sort of reference to how long the children have been playing to validate their point and I have to point out how old the children are.

Now don’t get me wrong I can understand how this can happen. If you have spent years getting your child to hundreds of training sessions plus getting up many weekend mornings of the year to watch them play then it does seem like they have been playing for a very long time. I have done the same thing so I can understand how it feels.

However this doesn’t change the age of the children involved.

A 10/11/12 year old child is still just that no matter how many years they have played football and we have to recognise this when we help them along with their development.

No one would say that a player has been playing football for 5/6 years now so they should be at their full height but plenty will make comments that suggest a player should have fully developed decision making capabilities or social skills after 5/6 years. Or to go back to the point we were using a full understanding of all the physical, technical and tactical requirements for all the positions on the pitch so can make the correct decision for them to specialise in just one.

Players start to play organised football at such young ages that it is easy to fall into the trap of thinking their development is over when really there is more years to go than they have already done.

I had one parent ring me up in the last few months and discuss his son’s ‘playing career’ in depth with me then tell me that he rang because his son wasn’t going to be at training tonight. Apparently he was cheeky to his mum when she wanted him to finish his vegetables last night and the best way to get through to him is to stop his football. It was a truly farcical finish to the conversation considering what he wanted to discuss before that.

With the parent who sent the email about H drifting back into defence I was able to get him to reconsider when I said that we probably both have socks and undies older than these players.

So the point of this blog is to consider what might be influencing the parents of the players to think the way they do and how simply reminding them we are dealing with young children might make life much easier for everyone.

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Extreme Football

Lately when I am talking about football it seems to be that often I am not talking about the topic I think I am at all.

For the second time in as many weeks I have had a conversation start something like this

Me: The club is not too concerned about whether the children win every week. We are more concerned with making sure that each team is following the club philosophy and every player is enjoying their football and getting an equal opportunity to play.

Coach/Parent: So you want them to lose every game.

Me: No what I am saying is the children don’t play football simply to win no matter what. We need to consider whether we are trying to win games by following the club philosophy rather than simply going for the win each week because we have to win no matter what we do to achieve it.

Coach/Parent: So you think the children would be happy if they never won another game.

I think I thought about writing this blog this week because I seemed to have seen on Twitter or had many conversations that have followed a similar path to this quite a bit in the last month.

This blog is not about ‘results’ by the way it is about debating the actual topic and not debating about whether you believe in taking your opinion to its extreme.

If the club is not concerned about ‘weekly results’ does this mean the club is happy if every team loses every game is where the above discussion headed both times. The topic which I thought at the time was how to win games following the club philosophy was not really what we spoke about.

I see Coaches debating the merits of isolated training and games based training on Twitter quite often. I am all in favour of games based training but this doesn’t mean I regard any training that isn’t games based as having absolutely no value. This discussion so often heads towards debating whether extreme incidents of isolated training such as an individual kicking a ball against a wall or juggling has any benefit and not about which of the methods of training is more effective and why.

Another one was a discussion I thought about possession football compared with more direct football. The Coach I was talking to believed strongly that I couldn’t say I favoured possession football because I was happy for players to play long passes. I explained that as long as it is a pass then the length of the pass doesn’t matter to me. To him possession football only meant short passes on the ground and if I agreed with long aerial passes then it wasn’t possession football. The discussion ended up being about length of pass.

The point of the blog is that when I reflected on the discussions nothing was really any different after them. I felt I had no more knowledge and I didn’t feel I had been able to express myself properly. Looking back I think this is because the topic itself wasn’t really discussed what was discussed was the extreme examples of the topic rather than the topic.

This is something for me to consider in future as I feel these discussions could have been of more value if I had realised at the time that we had stopped talking about the topic. Definitely something for me to consider next time I talk football.

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Till next time

How to survive ‘The Parents’

This season I had a chat with an U11 Coach who had been having problems fielding a full side at the weekends due to various unforeseen reasons.

I asked him did he expect to have a full side at the weekend.

I don’t know I have sent out texts and emails to everyone but only had 5 replies. ‘The parents’ just don’t get back in touch. It is always the same ones and either the kids don’t turn up to training or ‘the parents’ are not there so I can’t ask them direct. It is hard to know what to do when you don’t know till just before kick-off whether you have a full side or not.”

He carried on for around 5 minutes about how hard it was dealing with ‘the parents’ they drop their kids off then they’re away, they won’t help with the nets or at training and they don’t get in touch if they can’t make it. All the usual stuff I am sure you have heard many, many times.

What made this conversation extraordinary was that the previous season when he was ‘a Parent’ not ‘a Coach’ he was exactly the same. I was not the Coach of his team but I did one session a week that his son was to attend. His son missed many sessions and I never got any notification from him although he apparently now believes it is not that hard to send a text.

I had his son’s jacket for weeks because it was left behind at one of the few sessions he attended and although I sent numerous emails and texts that I had it I eventually had to bring it to a home game and personally hand it to them. At this point I checked with him that I had the right email address and mobile number but it made no difference.

I ran holiday programs that his son turned up at without registering. He just appeared on the day and expected that I would be able to fit him in.

The point of this blog is that my life has been made a lot easier by just assuming there is a perfectly good reason for many of the parental issues faced as a Grassroots Football Coach. Instead of thinking of them as people who are all deliberately trying to make my life more difficult I try to regard them as simply being busy people who are unaware of the issues caused by their actions.

I try to apply the 80/20 rule which means that 80% of the time there is a perfectly good reason why an issue has arisen and only 20% of time is it any sort of a minor or major problem with ‘the parents’ at all.

Regularly simply by talking to the parents you find out that they are rushed off their feet taking one child to one place at a certain time and another somewhere else at a certain time or every night of the week they are doing something whether it is guitar lessons, other sports or tutors to help with school so football is just another activity not the most important activity of the week for all of them.

To illustrate this lets look at the broader issue of parents involved in youth sports I have read hundreds of articles about ‘out of control’ parents or parents ruining sports for their children and yet in my experience I have met significantly more parents who are no problem.

Of course I have met plenty of nutcases but if I am honest there would only a handful of parents that I would be glad never to see again. Although if I am going to be truly honest those handful probably make up 80% of my stories about parents too.

So my message to you is maybe they didn’t reply to that text or email because they have to check it with their partner first and then just forgot about it because they get hundreds of texts and emails each week. Maybe they don’t help out because they have no time, they have to be somewhere else or it is the only little break they get. Maybe they don’t always let you know they cannot make it because they had so much on.

Just assume there is a good reason because in my experience there often is.

Thanks to all the Coaches who contact me and retweet my blog it is really appreciated.

Till next time