Letter to my younger self…

Recently in one of the many debates that I see discussed (rage) over Twitter about benefits of isolated practice one person chipped into a conversation with the tweet

 

‘If you can’t control ball you can’t make a decision. Technique first. No brainer’

 

and then left immediately as if he had stated the obvious and surely everyone would understand now.

 

I know how he felt as I heard a comment very similar to this perhaps 20 years ago. At the time, it really resonated with me and provoked a mental image of a perfectly weighted pass being completely miscontrolled in front of goal. Of course, it just seemed to make perfect sense you have to have the technique before anything else. I was hooked.

 

In hindsight, I took this completely on face value and yet this thinking had a strong influence over how I coached for quite a number of years.

 

As is fashionable at the moment I am going to write this blog in the style of a letter to my younger self.

 

The first advice I would give to my younger self would be why don’t you ask a few questions because anything that is worth basing how you are going to coach on deserves to be checked thoroughly.

 

If ‘can’t control ball can’t make a decision’ is the basis of your coaching then what type of coaching do you do with a player who can consistently control the ball.

 

What level of controlling the ball does a player need to reach before they can train with decisions.

 

You constantly tell the players you coach that the best players know what they are going to do before they get the ball. Why haven’t you considered there is some conflict between this and the way you coach. Shouldn’t the fact that you believe technique should be taught first yet you tell the players that a decision comes first in a game at least set off a few warning bells?

 

Why do you tell players the old chestnut ‘the top 3 inches are the most important part of your body’ then remove players getting practice making decisions from large parts of your training?

 

Why haven’t you considered what affect adding decisions into the mix at a later stage will have.

 

Why don’t you consider your training might be the reason when players display good levels of technique in sessions but less so in games. Why don’t you think about what is the difference between your training and the game?

 

Why do you lament that ‘young players today’ can’t read the game or suggest young players don’t play enough football and then play so little football yourself in the sessions you plan?

 

There are many other questions but the last one is this why when in other walks of your life you always look for the best way yet with your passion, football, you simply copy what everyone else is doing.

 

Look forward to hearing from you

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

Follow me on Twitter @SeanDArcy66

Till next time

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Not all football is football apparently…

A few months ago, while talking to a parent they told me their son doesn’t like indoor football/futsal at all and only likes playing outdoor. My first reaction was to ask why as for me it is all football. If I’m honest my next thought was there has to be a blog in this somewhere as it seemed such a peculiar thing to say.

To give you some background the player in question is someone I have known for a number of years who rarely misses outdoor training. One of the first things you would notice about him is that he is always smiling when he plays. To be truthful though he is an average player but someone I would expect to see playing football for life as they just seem to enjoy it so much.

The parents comment surprised me because I thought he didn’t attend any of the indoor programs I run any more simply because he couldn’t. I assumed he would enjoy them as much as he enjoyed the outdoor programs.

Since then I have brought up the topic with a few other parents and have been surprised that this isn’t an isolated case. There were several in my small survey who had kids the same who had tried and didn’t want to play indoor but loved outdoor football.

By the way none of the parents really knew why. The only common theme that was mentioned a few times was that the other players were too greedy and never passed. I am not totally dismissing this as the quicker pace of futsal does mean that players tend to run with the ball more but I have my doubts about it.

My indoor sessions are usually ‘walk in’ sessions so each week there is a different composition of players. The bulk of the players though would be the same players that these children play outdoor with so why don’t they like playing indoor with a similar group of players.

This had me thinking about what are the differences between indoor and outdoor football that could cause a player to dislike one and clearly enjoy the other.

There are the obvious differences such as the ball and the surface but I cannot see either as a genuine obstacle to players enjoying playing the game. I would love to hear from anyone who has a good suggestion for why either of these could make a player not want to play football indoors.

I see them both as positives. The ball being smaller and heavier makes it easier to control and the surface being flat and true makes a change from the bumpy pitches that I hear parents complaining about through the season.

Another reason that is less obvious may be the answer. Recently I went to the Futsal Nationals here in Australia. Although I was in charge of only one team I was involved in the trials for all the teams that went so I got to see lots of futsal players. At one of the trials there was a particular player who was very memorable.

Although I don’t think the ball simply being different is an obstacle to player’s enjoyable and do think it causes a problem for some players.

In simplistic terms the ball being far easier to control diminishes the core skill of 1st Touch.

With the ball being more often controlled players are more regularly in a situation where they have to make a decision on what to do next based solely on their perception abilities and how they read each situation.

This could possibly be why some players don’t enjoy it as much. In outdoor football a player’s thinking or perceptual abilities can be concealed by them having to react to a 1st Touch but in futsal when the player more often than not controls the ball instantly it is more obvious to see a player’s thinking or lack of thinking.

Back to the player from the futsal trials. The memorable player in question is a good kid who plays a similar standard of outdoor football as the other players at the trial. What made them stand out was the quite frankly ludicrous decisions they made when in possession of the ball. My personal favourite being the stepover done far too far away from the defender so they did another stepover and were still too far way then hesitated for a bit then did another stepover but this time were too close so headbutted the defender before they both ended up in a pile on the floor.

At the start, it was quite fun to watch but gradually we began to feel sorry for them. I’m positive they have no idea why they struggled to play.

In fairness, this player is far more likely to be described as a ‘busy, hardworking player’ than a ‘technically gifted player’ in outdoor but this doesn’t change the fact when this player was faced with taking a better 1st touch constantly because of the smaller, heavier ball they then had an unfamiliar problem of what do I do next.

The obvious test for this is to play indoor with the traditional bouncy green ball of my youth and see if the players who dislike indoor now come back. This isn’t something I am keen to do though.

As ever I am keen to hear your thoughts.

Please 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

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

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

Making Two Footed Players

Like many Coaches reading this blog I like to develop players to be two footed. It is one of the constant themes running through all the technical sessions I do. This blog is about some of what I have discovered along the way and some of what I am still trying to work out.

Originally my efforts to make players two footed centred around switching the exercise or drill to go the opposite way or move to the opposite side of the goal i.e now can you pass/shoot/control  with your ‘other foot’. I didn’t really get much success transferring this into using both feet in a game but now realise that could have been because of two reasons

1 – It was very drill based and I now believe that games based training is the better way to develop players.

2 – Was I reinforcing in players that using their ‘other foot’ meant failure. Once we did switch it around the quality would drop without fail. When I think back to shooting exercises in particular there was always lots of fun and comments flying around about the quality of the ‘other foot’ strikes. I now believe the exercises I did made it even less likely that some players would use their ‘other foot’ in a game because I further imprinted it upon them that using it meant failure.

When I started coaching I was very caught up in the thinking that the players needed to touch the ball as often as possible. My thoughts were that every touch was beneficial so didn’t consider much else apart from the quantity of touches. I still believe training sessions have to involve allowing the players to have numerous touches but I now consider whether the touches involve the player having to assess their surroundings and make a decision not simply the amount.

Since I have adopted more of a games based approach I have noticed more of the players I coach becoming two footed in matches at the weekend. This season I thought it was particularly noticeable that the new players to the club looked very one footed compared to the players in their 2nd or 3rd year at the club.

Another thing that has changed is my opinion of why a player needs to be two footed. I grew up being told quite simplistically that a two footed player can score every chance that they get doesn’t matter if the ball is on the left or the right but now I see it affecting a player’s entire game not just in moments when they have no other option.

What I mean is I often see players make decisions based more on the fact they have to use their preferred foot than on what they have perceived of their surroundings i.e taking 1st Touch and immediately being tackled despite space being readily available but on the ‘wrong side’. I believe part of my job is to remove as many technical limits as I can from the players decision making so they can make the best decision based as much as possible on where their team mates are, the opposition players are, where the ball and where the space is.

Learning about how encouraging player’s effort rather than success has been beneficial in developing more two footed players in my opinion. Ten years ago I would have just said ‘Unlucky’ to someone who tried to use their ‘other foot’ but failed. Now I will praise them simply for using it or the decision to use it. It can take a long time for players to get success with their ‘other foot’ so if you only praise success the player has to be quite resilient to keep trying without any reward.

Now I regard my next challenges are those players who

1 – Even after many sessions simply avoid using their ‘other foot’ despite praise, engaging them in the activity, offering rewards such as goal with ‘other foot’ worth 5 etc

2- Players who will use ‘other foot’ in training and get success but rarely do in games.

If you can help me with these challenges with some suggestions for what you have done I would much appreciate it. Although I have had some success making players more two footed there are two players in particular who spring to mind immediately who I feel I need new ideas with.

Look forward to hearing from you

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

Follow me on Twitter @SeanDArcy66

Till next time

5-Pass Rule – Now I like it

To follow on from previous blogs about questioning long held beliefs http://wp.me/p5aQfW-r and placing conditions on small sided games http://wp.me/5aQfW. For this blog I am trying to bring the two topics together.

As a novice coach asking more experienced coaches for help with what I could do at training I was told about putting a 5-Pass Rule on a game. This meant there had to be at least 5 or more passes without the other team touching the ball before a goal could be scored. I thought what a great idea. It is simple to explain and will get the players passing the ball more.

* I don’t want to confuse anyone as this isn’t the topic of this post but it is interesting to note in thinking back to my early coaching days for the purpose of this blog the vast majority of advice I got was about ways to get the players to pass more.

I started using it and quickly found some real issues

1 – Players would do meaningless very short passes to each other to rack up the five passes then attack as normal

My response – Tweak it by adding that the pass didn’t count if you passed the ball back to the person that gave it to you. Secretly I did like that the players had come up with a tactic that worked although it didn’t encourage what I wanted to see.

2 – The opposition sat back and didn’t press the team in possession near their goal because there was no real reward for doing so as still had to get five passes before they could score anyway. This meant the team in possession just did five passes under no pressure then attacked.

My response – Add a condition that all five passes have to be in the opposition’s half. This often meant that there were almost no goals scored as teams rarely got to five continuous passes in the opposition half.

Another response – To help I tweaked the rules and said that the five passes in the opposition half didn’t have to be one after the other but as long as five passes were made in opposition half before you scored it was OK to pass back into your own half to keep the ball. This helped but as you can imagine caused some disagreements as to how many passes had actually been done.

Yet another response – Was to make it that the goal had to be scored on the 5th pass or between 5 and 10 passes. Neither of these worked really as scoring on the 5th pass was very difficult and both often made the players make poor decisions because they were running out of passes.

3 – Players would be in great goal scoring positions after 2/3/4 passes but would not get the ball or pass to someone else instead of scoring or simply score and the goal would be disallowed with a flurry of protests that ‘they didn’t do enough passes’.

I didn’t come up with a response to that last one because I suppose I was becoming disillusioned with the 5-Pass rule. I felt all I was doing was trying to find ways to make it work rather than it actually working properly so I stopped using it altogether.

Now I cannot claim that I have always followed my own advice to question everything because this was how I left it for quite a few years I simply never revisited the 5-Pass Rule. Until I read a Club Coaching Manual from the US and in it the author mentioned how he had tweaked it. He said that he made a goal after 5 or more passes worth double but a goal in less than 5 passes was still a goal.

I have used this and it takes away all the above issues which caused me to stop using it. I have added my own tweak to it at times to encourage a different sort of passing combination by reversing the points and making a goal in less than five pass worth double and a goal in more than five passes worth one.

I would very much like to hear from other coaches who have found ways to make this 5-Pass Rule work for them or any other tweaks they have made to conditions on small sided games to encourage what they want to see.

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

Follow me on Twitter @SeanDArcy66

Till next time