Drills. Why not?

I can understand how some Coaches are amazed when I broach the topic that doing drills at training is not an effective way to improve our players. For a major part of my life I too believed that drills were essential to improving as a footballer.

Looking back I can see how I thought this way. Most training I did as a player was very much drills, drills, drills and a little game at the end if all went well.  I cannot remember any adult or Coach placing any particular importance on the game at the end either.

So how did I start thinking differently?

When I first started coaching the first thing that I noticed was that I disliked coaching drills almost as much as I disliked doing them when I was a player. I found them very boring and when players asked about when they were going to play a game I really sympathised with them.

Everything I read or heard about coaching at this point seemed to have two common themes we need to make sure the players get as many touches of the ball as possible and the players need to enjoy the sessions.

The perfect answer for me at the time seemed to be juggling the ball and learning moves with a ball. The players would get lots of touches and the majority of them seemed to really enjoy it. Plus I enjoyed this far more than coaching drills.

Next I got told about playing small sided games such as Line Football or 4 Goal Football and this seemed to meet the criteria as well plus it placated my lingering worries that the players were not passing the ball enough in my sessions.

There were two major turning points for me that I can look back and think that affected my thinking towards doing even more Games Based Training and gradually using less juggling or practicing moves in my sessions.

One was when I was involved in selecting a representative squad to compete at a National Championship. The trials started out with possibly 150+ players and when we had whittled this down to just 25-30 players I wrote out my opinion on each player and whether I thought they should be selected or not. I noticed that regularly I was assessing players as having a very high technical level but then not recommending they be picked.

It stayed in the back of my mind for months that how could a player get to have a high technical level but wasn’t really that good at playing football.

The second turning point came when I was coaching my daughter’s team. The team had an influx of about 4/5 players who had never played before. It became very apparent that they literally had ‘never played before’ and I had a lot of work to do to find a way to do sessions with these new players and the existing players.

I decided to do the majority of the training using small sided games so that I can improve their ‘game sense’ if nothing else while still keeping the better players happy. By the end of the season it was obvious that doing the training this way the new player’s technical level plus their ‘game sense’ had improved massively.

At this stage I was thinking more that Games Based Training worked because the players got lots of touches and enjoyed playing games. I thought as the players were enjoying themselves they simply learnt how to play football quicker.

Then I started to look into the theory behind Skill Acquisition and for the first time understood why Games Based Training actually worked. The amount of times the players touched the ball helped plus the players enjoying themselves helped enormously. However the essence of its success was that the players were practicing everything they needed to improve at football. They were practicing assessing the football situation, making a decision based on that assessment and then executing that decision all at the same time.

Now I totally understand how a player can have high technical ability but not be a good footballer.

If I look at my coaching career I think if I had enjoyed doing drills as a player or coaching drills as a Coach would I still be doing them. The answer is probably yes.

Also something for me to remember is that I never stopped doing drills because I realised they were inefficient so that isn’t something that I should expect other Coaches to realise either.

It took me many years of trial and error and plenty of research to realise that Games Based Training worked better so I shouldn’t expect Coaches to accept this within a few minutes of discussing the topic.

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

Or possible leave a comment on Twitter @SeanDArcy66

Till next time


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.

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

Or possible leave a comment on Twitter @SeanDArcy66

Till next time

Creative Small Sided Games

How many times have you had a similar conversation while playing a small sided game at training with players approx. 12 years old or younger?

The Scene:

Two players running towards the goal, one attacker and one defender, with no one else anywhere near them except the goalkeeper. The attacker is well within shooting range and has a clear sight of goal but the ball is on their non-preferred foot so they cut back to their preferred side where the defender is and get tackled straight away resulting in no shot.

The Conversation:

Coach: What do you think you could have done there to make sure you got a shot on goal?

Player: Passed.

Coach: How does that help you make sure you get a shot on goal?

Player: ………………………..Don’t know.

Why do young players so often think that passing is the right answer to every question or situation? Are we as adults involved in the game part of the problem? Do we over emphasise this part of the game when we are developing youth players?

Don’t get me wrong passing is a fundamental part of football and I am not someone who suggests we head off entirely in the other direction and only teach 1 v 1s every session.

Simply I noticed that I used the word ‘pass’ an awful lot in my sessions so that the answers I got from the players were in a roundabout way only the answers I gave them. No matter what the topic somehow the word pass would be mentioned often.

The more I think about what I am saying the more I realise some of the things I say could be sending a message I don’t really want to send.

An example is that often when doing 1 v 1s I will talk about taking a player on to get to the space on the other side of them which I think is fair enough. However then I hear myself saying ‘Now that you have got into that space you can pass, shoot, run with the ball, whatever ‘.

Basically it sounds or at least it sounds to me now like I am ranking them in importance with passing the ball as the first thing that should be on your mind after a successful 1 v 1. I am trying to change it to simply saying ‘Now that you have got into that space you can do whatever you want’. I am simply trying to cut down the amounts of times I say ‘Pass’ to the players.

I have challenged myself to do sessions and not use the word ‘Pass’ at all although I still want to see the players pass the ball. Here are a few of the small sided games I have played were the word pass isn’t in the rules or explanations but the players to be successful have to pass the ball frequently.

All of these games are ideal for teams with 3 to 5 players and played with normal rules except

1 – First team were every player on your team scores wins the game.

2 – A player can’t score a 2nd goal until every other player on your team has scored.

3 – At least 3 players on your team must touch the ball in the build-up for a goal to count (or a goal is worth 5 if 3 or more of your players touch the ball in the build-up otherwise only worth one).

4 – Same player cannot score two goals in a row.

I have only just started doing this game and it has worked really well so far

5 – Fantasy Football – Lets say we are playing a 4-a-side then each team has to decide what a goal is worth for each opposition player from 4 down to 1 point i.e a goal for Jack=4, Josh=3, Jim=2 and Jeff=1. The first team to get to 21 points or more wins (or which I have not done yet you could do it that the first team to score exactly 21 points wins).

With these games it is easy to substitute ‘set up’ or ‘assist’ another player instead of saying ‘pass’ or I talk about creating goal scoring opportunities.

Like I said before passing is a fundamental part of football but feel possibly I am influencing the young players unintentionally that passing is always the right answer by constant reference to it. I want our players to consider all options equally when they make their decisions playing football and not be swayed towards one solution.

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

Or possible leave a comment on Twitter @SeanDArcy66

Till next time

You can’t always get what you want

You know when you have a great idea for an exercise and it seems like you have thought out every possibility then reality hits. One of my sessions each week is with the U6/7s. Now they are a top group but like all groups they prefer certain types of exercises over others.

A few years ago the U6/7s at the club loved relay races. I did a different set up but essentially did a relay race every session and they never grew tired of them. The group I have now love playing ‘Chasey type’ games. I mean games were each player has a ball and someone is chasing them and they have to keep control of their football while getting away from the Chaser.

I have done plenty of different games but lately it has been getting harder and harder to come up with new ones.

This week I took my own advice about being creative (How you can be more creative http://wp.me/p5aQfW-21 ) and set about coming up with something new. I played with lots of ideas and then suddenly it hit me. I have two older brothers who come down every week and both are really sensible. I would use them to chase the players but the twist would be I would make them wear woolly hats pulled down over their eyes and they would have to chase the players under my instructions. I would call it Remote Control Chasey.

I thought what could go wrong

1 – They could just dash around madly and knock over the young players so I thought I will make it so the Remote Control Chasers can only walk.

2 – Possibly being totally unsighted the older brothers would only move very slowly so the young players just wouldn’t need to run with the ball but I checked the woolly hats by putting them on myself and actually you could see shapes through them so they weren’t completely unsighted.

To cut a long story short I thought it was going to work big time so I was excited to give it a go. I was setting up the session and my phone goes unfortunately one of the young players with the older brother was sick so they weren’t coming. No problem I still have the other older brother. I finished setting up the session and the young players started coming but not the player with the older brother. I was gutted but I thought I’ll just use it next week.

About 5 mins into the session a player turns up late and to my joy out of the car pops his older brother who never usually comes to the sessions. I was delighted even though he is not quite as sensible as the other two I thought it was back on.

Anyway we will call the older brother Brian (it is obvious I have changed the name here as I don’t think I have coached a young player called Brian for about 15 years). I explained it to Brian and asked him was he OK helping me and he seemed to think it will be a laugh too.

I got all the players in and explained we were going to play REMOTE CONTROL CHASEY. They all started laughing when I put the hat over Brian’s eyes. I was buzzing I thought this is going to be great. I could imagine the youngsters dribbling up to him shouting then turning away and leaving Brian floundering.

I had a quick check and asked Brian quietly when all the kids were running off to find space could he see how many fingers I was holding up. He said he couldn’t see anything at all. At this point I realised that maybe the fact that my head is bigger might stretch the fabric more than a 9 year old’s head allowing me to see through it but not him. As I am a super experienced Coach I completely ignored this.


‘Brian go forward… forward… forward…now RIGHT’

Brian went left.

I walked up to Brian like the super experienced Coach I am and said when I say right I mean ‘your right’. As I was walking back I thought I heard the faint sound of a warning bell when I realised we were both facing the same way but as I am a super experienced Coach I ignored that too.

‘Brian forwards….forwards….WHO IS GOING TO GET CAUGHT BY THE REMOTE CONTROLLED CATCHER… forwards… left. No… left Brian the other way. No…. turn around. No not all the way around…..OK go forwards… forwards… right, right…..OK just hold it a second there.’

I walked up to Brain and quietly asked him did he know his left from his right to which he replied no he didn’t with a massive gap toothed smile. I quickly explained that he writes with his right hand and the other one is his left (I coach him as well so I know he is right handed so that is not the next disaster in case you were thinking ahead). Brian didn’t look quite so smiley now but I quickly explained it again and walked back.

Brian forwards….forwards….. WHO IS GOING TO GET CAUGHT….. Brian right (Brian goes to the right. I am thinking wonderful)……right (Brian switches to left thinking he had made a mistake again)……No Brian go back the way you were going…….No back the way you were going when I said right the first time……..tell you what Brian why don’t you tell me were to go and then when you get home you can tell your mum you told your Coach where you go….How does that sound.

Brian is clearly happy not to be doing it anymore as he was losing enthusiasm for this Remote Control Chasey while I was determined to keep it going as despite not having anything to chase them the young players were laughing and running about with the ball having a blast going up to Brian then spinning away.

So I put on the woolly hat. The players are laughing and I can see a few already thinking what a great opportunity this is.

OK Bri ……………………………………………………………………………OK Bri so you just tell me where you want me to go to catch the players. Why don’t you get me to chase your little brother…..forwards (I set off)………………………………………………………………………………….…………………………………….(by now I have walked at least 10 steps off the grid) OK tell you what Bri I’ll just chase after them and can you make sure they don’t leave the grid. How does that sound.

It went brilliantly in the end just took a little while to get there.

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

Or possible leave a comment on Twitter @SeanDArcy66

Till next time

Moneyball (with no money)

I absolutely loved the film Moneyball. I really enjoy reading the articles about Brentford FC or the Danish Club FC Midtjylland about how they are using a totally new ways to evaluate players and tactically prepare themselves for their games. The one thing I don’t like is the basic premise seems to get lost in talk of Sabermetrics experts, expensive video analysis software packages or mysterious mathematical algorithms.

For me the basic premise is to look at what we are currently doing and evaluate is that still the best way. My question in this blog is do we need any of these experts to take a Moneyball approach to coaching our teams.

My current role is to run a weekly technical program for all the players at a grassroots club aged up to U12 so the stories I tell are about these age groups but the principles apply to any age group. I watch lots of games every weekend and every weekend I see things happen that make no sense whatsoever and no one appears to notice.

Two weeks ago I saw an U9 team take around about 10 corners in one half of football. Every time the same boy (with the big kick) went over to the ball placed it down took 3 or 4 steps back then slowly looked up into the area in front of the goal then swung the ball over into a pack of U9s. Each time they all got out of the way and the ball either hit someone’s back or arm as they protected themselves or went out of play.

Why in age groups were the players rarely head the ball and even more rarely score a header do I see literally hundreds of corners every season taken like this. Do we need a statistics expert to tell us that passing the ball to a team mate to try to get a shot on goal would probably yield more goals in the long run?

Last season a visiting U10 team took 3 or 4 corners in a short space of time. The same boy took each one and each one sailed over everyone and bounced once or twice and went out for a throw-in. The visiting Coach smiled at our Coach and said ‘that boy really can take a lovely corner’. Possibly if they had an U10 player built like John Terry steaming in at the back post then I would agree that was a lovely corner but otherwise it just made no sense.

Why in just about every game I watch are throw-ins thrown up the line the vast majority of times. Is that really the best option on such a regular basis? If we look at a throw-in as simply a pass with our hands to restart the game then why are players encouraged to do the same pass each time and not simply choose the best option available.

My favourite story about throw-ins occurred at a school tournament about 10 years ago. A player picked up the ball and was just about to take the throw-in when she noticed that all the players up the line were opposition players. She then instructed two of her players who were in loads of space to go and join the pack. One of them said throw it to me to which the thrower replied with the most fantastically exasperated voice and no doubt a roll of her eyes that ‘you’re not ALLOWED to throw the ball backwards’.

Why do I see teams regularly warm up for a game that is free flowing and dynamic by being organised into lines to stand and wait their turn for a pass or shot to a designated target? Is an expert needed to tell us that if a player has not had to make a single decision about where to move to or what to do when in possession of the ball that when the game starts they are not as prepared as they could be.

Why do I hear Coaches bemoan that their players don’t play enough football or harp on about how much ‘street football’ they played in their day then conduct training sessions that involve almost no game play. Again do we need an expert to tell us that if we think they need to play more football then we should consider a way to include more football playing time in our training sessions?

I have just reread my blog and it sounds like I think I have all the answers. I know I haven’t I am constantly amazed, as I have mentioned in the blog before, about how I find I am doing things that make no sense but I do them because I have always done them.

The list above is just the first things that came to mind. I would love to hear from Coaches who have their own story about how they have taken a new approach to any aspect of Coaching. It will help me and I am sure help plenty of other Coaches too.

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

Or possible leave a comment on Twitter @SeanDArcy66

Till next time

How you can be more creative


I can’t go on Twitter for more than a few minutes without coming across a ‘must see’ video or an ‘every Coach should read this’ article. Most aren’t worth the time taken however this video of John Cleese on creativity has had a tremendous impact on me particularly on how I plan my sessions.

I cannot remember where I got the link but I do know I had it saved for about 18 months before I looked at it. Why because the clip is 36 minutes long and so I saved it to look at ‘later’. I don’t think I am the only Coach in the world who parks good info somewhere on their devices but never seems to get around to reviewing it all.

In fact the only reason I looked at it was because the season was over and I was just messing about really. I thought it will be funny because it is John Cleese so I’ll watch it. This is important because I was in a playful mood. I never watched it during the season because I couldn’t find the time.

Basically the video says you need to create the right conditions to be creative rather than you have to try to be creative.

Here are the 5 Steps to create the conditions

Step 1 – Seal yourself off from all distractions i.e emails, phone calls etc

Step 2 – Give yourself a specific period of time. Allowing for the fact that as soon as you remove all distractions you will begin to think of lots of other things you should be doing instead of what you intend to do.

Steps 1 & 2 he called creating the ‘Oasis of Quiet’ setting up boundaries of space & time.

It certainly works for me to allow the time for my mind to go through the million and one other things I need to do and make a note of them but still continue with my planning.

Step 3 – Allowing yourself time to play with your ideas. Not coming up with a solution and settling for the first thing that will work. Keep working with an idea to see if you can make it better.

This step has affected me the most and when I reflected I saw that I got into the habit of going with the first thing that worked. However considering before I went full time coaching I used to write my session plans on the train to work in the mornings this can be forgiven somewhat. Nothing like only having three stations to go with a half-finished plan to make you go for the first thing you think of.

Step 4 – Be confident. Don’t worry about making a mistake and possibly going down a train of thought that might be wrong. Nothing can be wrong when you are being playful.

Step 5 – Humour makes us playful so humour helps creativity.

I think I have watched it maybe 3 or 4 times now over the past 3 years and some of the phrases still jump out at me such as

‘It is easier to do trivial things that are urgent than important things that are urgent’

For me this is answering emails. I often find myself answering emails that really don’t need to replied to straight away instead of doing what I need to do first. I have to be mindful of this constantly.

I am not going to tell you that you have to watch this video but it has certainly helped me.

Look forward to hearing your feedback.

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

Follow me on Twitter @SeanDArcy66

Till next time

Fixed Mindset & Relative Age Effect together

This blog is about one of my coaching adventures with ‘fixed mindsets’, the ‘relative age effect’ as well as a few other phrases that make me sound really clever.

Currently I am coaching a young player who is an U10. He has been a great challenge to me over the last few years though probably through no fault of his own.

Let me tell you a little bit about him

He is born in the first week of his selection year plus he is quite big for his age anyway. He is well co-ordinated, is physically stronger than most of the other players in his age group and can hit a ball powerfully with his preferred foot.

It is a huge struggle to get him to try anything new. Often when I put a condition on a training game that encourages the use of a technique he isn’t that good at he will go in goal, somehow conveniently forget the condition is on the game or simply drift out of the game till all conditions are removed.

He is intelligent and realises he is more effective than the other players and he has certainly noticed that when he plays the team scores more goals. He knows the right answers to any questions he just regularly makes no effort to actually do what he says. He is also quite immature for his age and certainly feels that the world revolves around him. He has a strong desire to win and regularly tells me how many goals he scored.

I feel I have had very little effect on him and that already although still bigger than most players in his age group so still effective he is beginning to fall behind some of his peers. This is beginning to manifest itself in that he is regularly no longer picked first when players pick or swap players. The first time this happened he was actually moving forward expecting to be picked and his face showed how stunned he was that it wasn’t his name being called.

Here are some (I have tried more than I can mention) of the things I have tried with him. I moved him up with two other bigger players to train with an older age group once a week. The two other players within the first session began to adapt how they played because they could no longer rely on their size. He, however, even after half a season of sessions never changed at all. He still tried to use his physicality all the time although obviously it now worked less often. The only difference in his behaviour was that he started to target the smaller older players in the games and would simply leave the bigger ones totally alone.

An interesting side note to this after about 5 weeks of these 3 players training with the older group. I overheard one of their team mates say to them ‘Why don’t you only train with us on a Wednesday anymore’. One of the 3 players said ‘I don’t know Sean just told us to go on Thursdays instead’ while he said ‘It is because we are too good’.

He is one footed and loves to smash shots in from everywhere. I once did a training game were if a players did 5 turns or passes or shots with their ‘other foot’ in a game then they could have a free shot on goal from 8m. The players had to run off the pitch and mark it on a white board so everyone knew what they were up to. He constantly told other players on his team to use their ‘other foot’ to get free shots but over the course of all the games played only twice did he have to go to the whiteboard himself.

The usual challenges have not worked with him really. What has worked though is giving him and another player a personal challenge. I matched him with his best mate in a 4 v 4 and said they both had to stop each other from scoring and see who won at the end. The first one he lost because he simply never even tried to defend but the next one he went for it. I thought I had cracked it but when I have tried to match him against other players nearer his size often he doesn’t try. Only with his best mate will he be fully engaged every time. It works well with lots of other players I coach. He is about the only one who will just try to outscore the other player and leave the defending up to others.

Another story about him that paints a picture of possibly what environment he has away from football. Once he was dropped off to a holiday program by a relative of his. I didn’t know her but with the player by her side the first thing she said to me was ‘I hear this little lad scores all the goals and is the top scorer for the club’. We have no top scorer awards and the Coaches in his age group don’t record who scored the goals.

In summary I have a player who I feel doesn’t respond well to a challenge and he will soon have a big one when he begins to understand he is not the ‘best’ player on the team anymore. He is possibly in an environment that encourages him to believe and possibly emphasises that he is better than his fellow players.

His current success is largely based on something that is a fluke of his birth and growth rate and will potentially fade as he grows older. Plus his immaturity basically makes him believe that he is already a very good footballer who doesn’t need to learn anything more about football because he is naturally good at it.

I don’t think I have tried everything with him but I have tried enough different ways to engage him to believe that my impact can only be limited until he matures a bit. At the moment he seems to be inside a ‘perfect storm’ that is stopping him developing.

I don’t know if I will be coaching him when he matures by the way as I recently found out he has been telling the other players he plans to trial with ‘bigger’ clubs in the area next season.

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

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

Follow me on Twitter @SeanDArcy66

Till next time