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

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

Playing Up

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Look forward to hearing from you

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

Follow me on Twitter @SeanDArcy66

Till next time

Can you help

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

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

Why am I telling you this?

Well I can see lots of parallels with coaching football.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love to hear from you

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

Or follow me on Twitter @SeanDArcy66

Till next time

Creative training games

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Love to hear what you think.

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

Or if possible leave a comment on Twitter @SeanDArcy66

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

Till next time

Coaching a 1st Touch

I both love and hate aiming for small continuous improvements. I love it because I am someone who was always going to get around one day to ‘totally revamping’ this or ‘have a good think about’ that and in the end I would never find the time to do it.

Trying to aim for small continuous improvements means over time I get things done without having to find a block of time from nowhere. The reason I hate it is that sometimes it feels like I am not progressing or evolving as a Coach as change goes unnoticed.

It takes something like when I found an old Term Planner I was given by someone I worked for years ago to give me a jolt to how much my coaching has changed. Basically this was a guide to what topics I should coach. It actually made me chuckle as I can remember thinking that it was terrific at the time. It gave me some direction so I was grateful but now I look at it and think it wouldn’t give me any direction now.

I will use this to show how things have changed for me although none of it came in a huge change after a total revamp.

Over the term it had ‘1st Touch’ as a topic twice. Now at the time 1st Touch for me was all about getting the ball under control so this really was enough. I’m not sure what I did for these sessions but I remember I often played lots of 2-Touch. My thinking not extending beyond you have to control the ball then pass so it works your 1st Touch because if it takes two touches to get the ball under control you cannot get success.

From somewhere I was introduced to the concept of a directional 1st Touch. Your 1st Touch sets up what you want to do next. This then changed the way I coached 1st Touch because now it just wasn’t about getting the ball under control.

Originally this didn’t extend beyond simply taking your 1st Touch into space. Gradually this evolved to include into coaching the players about scanning, their body shape and disguising the direction of their 1st Touch.

Gradually I started understanding that a directional 1st Touch didn’t always have to go into space it could go towards the defender and even go past them plus I went backwards to go forwards realising that a player didn’t always take a directional 1st Touch. This was the beginning of understanding that a session on 1st Touch couldn’t just be about the player, their teammates and the nearest defenders but had to include an overall theme of what area of the pitch the players are in.

Now when I coach 1st Touch I alternate between sessions that have two overarching themes. One the players are attacking in the final third and two the players are building up the attack or controlling possession from the defensive and middle thirds of the pitch. Inside these themes I specifically work on different types of 1st Touch that are appropriate for that area of the pitch. To sum it up quickly the differences between taking a 1st Touch under pressure on the edge of your own penalty area compared to the opposition’s penalty area.

Back to the point of the blog that I knew I had changed (without a total revamp) the way I coached 1st Touch but I didn’t realise quite how much until I found that old Term Planner and realised I used to be happy to do sessions that had nothing more to them than just getting the ball under control.

As always I love to hear other Coach’s’ opinions so we can all improve.

Thank you to everyone who engages with the blog it is really appreciated.

Look forward to hearing from you

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

Follow me on Twitter @SeanDArcy66

Till next time