“Talking lads. You have to talk to each other”

There is one Coach who I simply cannot think about without seeing a vision of him with his head bowed and shaking from side to side, his hands above his head furiously tapping his fingers against his thumbs as he shouts to the ground

“Talking lads. You have to talk to each other”.

His solution to just about everything was that the ‘lads’ needed to talk to each other more. For those old enough to remember it always reminded me of the Birdie Dance and he was just about as useful.

For last week’s blog

1 v 1’s how my sessions have changed http://wp.me/p5aQfW-4Y

most of the messages I got were about the players talking to each other during sessions.

This set me thinking about some of the parts of my sessions that allow/force the players to talk to each other that I never included or even thought of including when I first started coaching. Remember I work predominantly with players aged between 8 – 15 years of age.

Pick Teams

Not having Captains who pick the teams as that is all about getting the strongest team for yourself instead sometimes ask the players to discuss and come up with the most even teams they possibly can whether they need to pick 2, 3 or 4 teams.

In my experience if I emphasise that the more even the teams are the more the players will learn they tend to do it properly. However, I have had to ask players if they want to redo the teams after a few games more than once when clearly one team is dominating. Rarely are the teams uneven after they redo them.

With older youth players, I will remind them of the topic of the session and encourage them to make the teams even based on the topic.

Transfer Window

No matter how the initial teams were chosen after playing for a while give the teams the chance to get a player or players from another team. The players get 30/60 seconds to discuss who they want which they all must agree on. No team is allowed to refuse a request.

Every now and again I will also say that the team picking the player has to tell the squad why they picked them. I, also, include that saying because they are good isn’t enough they have to be specific.

With Transfer Windows sometimes a dominant player will override the discussion so if I think this has happened I will ask a specific player usually sitting to the side of the group which player their team has chosen. If there is any hint of disagreement or they don’t know because they weren’t included in the discussion then ask them to discuss again and come up with a player they all agree on.

Coach and team discussions

I have asked the players to discuss what they think the next conditions should be on the game we are playing to make it harder or easier. I will explain the topic again and ask for suggestions. Whichever condition all the players agree on we will do next.

All of these things as I said I didn’t do when I started coaching. I was very much a Coach who thought any time the players weren’t getting touches of the ball was wasted time. I still think we need to maximise how often the player is in contact with the ball but have grown to realise that all other time is not wasted.

I suppose to put it very simply it is ridiculous to expect the players to work as a team or to communicate with each other during the hustle and bustle of the weekend game when you don’t practice this at all in your training sessions.

As ever love to hear your thoughts.

Please follow me on Twitter @SeanDArcy66

Till next time

A few observations….

A while ago now I spent a pleasant three hours or so on a lovely day down at a park with my wife. From where I was I saw six footballs being kicked. Now this is why I am writing this blog. All I could see was footballs being kicked I never saw a game of football.

Six different families it seemed had brought a football to the park and predominantly the Dad was kicking the ball back to the son. The only game like activity was when a family of four showed up and the Dad was in goal and the Mum and Daughter played against the Son. This lasted about five mins until the Mum decided she had had enough.

One young boy who had basically worn his Dad out sat down on his football near another Dad who was kicking the ball back and forth with his two sons and watched them. It was clear if he had been asked he would have jumped at the chance to get involved but he was never asked and eventually they sat down too so he went back to his family.

All the children were roughly 8 to 13 years old so a decent game could easily have been played but there was not even a flicker of a chance of this happening.

I imagine those kids in the park that day could count on one hand the amount of times they have been involved in a spontaneous game of football.

I have actually heard children come back from holidays and say the best thing that happened was that, at whatever resort they were at, in the mornings all the kids got together and played football.

As a child I played lots of football and I also kicked a ball lots on my own. I did all the things I had read so many times about kicking a ball against a wall with your right foot and your left. I set up a line of old bricks in the back yard and dribbled in and out of them. I tied a ball up to the washing line in a shopping bag (the onion bag looked better but made your forehead go red) to practice headers. Just about everything I heard I gave it a go.

As a Coach now looking back at my own development I would say the word that stands out for me is balance. I did both playing football and kicking a ball on my own in almost equal measure. It is rare nowadays to find a player who has the same balance. I see lots of children who clearly spend lots of time kicking a ball but seem to have little idea on how to play the game itself.

I am sorry but I have forgotten who said this quote but I have never forgotten the quote

‘A friend to the ball but a stranger to the game’

This perfectly describes what I see most often.

I think a big hindrance to young players today is the myths that have grown around how the greats developed. How many times have we heard a great player talk about how they used to do something for hours on their own. I have no doubt they did but they also played lots of football which isn’t mentioned quite as often.

I suppose it isn’t mentioned as often because if a great player when probed to give the secret of their success says it is I played with my mates every day then surely someone will ask the difficult question about what happened to the rest of your mates. Why didn’t they make it as well? Therefore we get some obscure exercise that is given as the secret to making it.

An imbalance is created because people take this too literally. A sentence from an article or a 15 second sound bite from an interview is not the basis for a young player’s development. Spending time at training sessions trying to kick a ball through a hoop hanging from the crossbar one at a time because David Beckham did this is not going to be the answer.

For me enthusiastic young footballers today have more than enough opportunity to practice alone. The cost of good quality footballs now is low enough that having access to a ball is easy. The internet is so full of ideas that even the most unimaginative child can still find lots of different ways to kick a ball and have fun on their own.

The difference is it is far more difficult for that enthusiastic young footballer today to find ways to play lots of football. The old avenues for playing football informally don’t really exist anymore for a variety of reasons.

As a consequence, players who love football and have good mastery over the ball are not actually very good at playing football due to lack of practice.

By the way I do not believe that opposed or unopposed practice are the only two things that go in to developing footballers. There are many factors but from what I see in my grassroots environment we need to readdress the current imbalance and allow players to experience playing the game as much as possible at training so they can be friends with the game as well as the ball.

If they don’t play football at your sessions then where and when do they get the chance to experience playing football.

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

Look forward to hearing from you

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

Follow me on Twitter @SeanDArcy66

Till next time

Confused Coaches

I was recently on a course that included a 4-day Strength & Conditioning component. The topic was raised about the language used by Sports Scientists. Almost every Coach agreed that they don’t want to hear a load of jargon about underloads, overloads or maximum aerobic speed they just want to know if the players are as fit as possible to play football.

As Coaches it was quite obvious we didn’t want someone coming into our football environment using language we are unfamiliar with and had any trouble understanding.

Recently I watched a training session were U8s were getting shouted at to take the ball on the half-turn constantly. Now this is language I am familiar with as I suppose is everyone reading this blog but would it be something I would expect an U8 to understand.

In the past when I have mentioned to Coaches that they might be using language that confuses younger players I inevitably end up in a debate not about using clearer language but how the kids should know the meaning of the phrases the Coach is using.

If we flip this and return to the Sports Scientists at the start of the blog. How long would a Sports Scientist be employed if they suggested to the Head Coach they weren’t going to change the language they are comfortable using but instead the Head Coach should learn to understand them.

A few seasons back I had a discussion about language used by Coaches at a meeting and both the Coaches in question were as usual saying the fault lay with the players. The players didn’t know what something meant because they don’t understand football these days like we did etc etc.

I have no idea where it came from but I said to the Coaches

‘Do you know what a ‘Sweaty Goal’ is.’

Both of them looked at me with pretty much the same expression I had when someone first spoke to me about half spaces.

‘Ask your players and I reckon every single one of them will know.’

I think one of the Coaches actually googled ‘Sweaty Goal’ right there and then and were amazed that they got an answer as they thought I was just making it up. I told them only a few weeks before with their players I did a game when a goal was worth double if it was a sweaty. It was great for working on players supporting the attack and positioning themselves to support the player on the ball.

The point is the information you give has to be understood before the players can actually use that information. If the players don’t understand then think of another way to phrase it that is clearer.

As usual would love to hear your opinion on the subject and whether you know what a ‘Sweaty Goal’ is.

Look forward to hearing from you

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

Follow me on Twitter @SeanDArcy66

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

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

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