My niche as a Soccer player was setting up scoring opportunities, what I lacked in scoring goals I made up in abundance by setting them up, assisting as it is commonly referred to these days. My favourite player today apart from the God of football Messi is Busquets of FC Barcelona. I see myself in his attributes as a former footballer. I also enjoyed playing the more attacking or forward role like that of a Xavi or Iniesta. In many cases while I was growing up and during my development stage coaches would throw me out wide, they presumed that because I was quite skilfull that I could take people on down the flanks which is madness because I never had any speed. My niche was tight close proximity dribbling and passing rather than fast pace speed like a Messi. My point here is that my characteristics were shaped by several factors. My character, my dreams, my morphological factor and the fact that when I first started playing I wanted to be a striker, so I told my then coach that I wanted to play in the middle, so he stuck me in centre midfield, being young and too fearful to explain that what I meant was in the middle when we kick off! I ended up playing my first year primarily in centre mid. That’s where I grew comfortable and in those days there was no such thing as rotation of positions so I ended up playing there virtually throughout my youth and I got good at it!
As a development coach whose focus is helping kids reach their full potential, I look for each player’s innate talent via their personal characteristics. All kids and adults have different types and levels of strengths and weaknesses. From the experience that comes from years of youth development, I have come to realise that in order to nurture one’s specific talent one must place it in an environment that will allow it to grow, as opposed to environments that suppress a child’s individual capacity. How is one supposed to develop potential if we as coaches are busy trying control every aspect of a child’s decision-making processes? Working with younger players they take more risks, this is because kids are generally egocentric at a young age, they all want the ball, they all want to show what they can do and they do it without a care for consequence. Adults, on the other hand, develop a different perspective which is normally results based, therefore the emotional response to this is to try to control the child’s behaviour on the ball. Children possess a different mentality, more carefree and based on having fun. We, however, try to fast-track children to play like little adults. The talent is quite simply siphoned out by the system. The system I call the robot factories. We fast track kids into early competitions and in doing so we search for the big, the fast, the strong and quite often overlook potential. We think a 10-year-old is a made player simply because the said child may be more advanced than a child who doesn’t possess the same athletic attributes. Is talent at 10 years of age even a thing?
Developing a philosophical style of play which encourages creativity and decision making means mistakes are inevitable, the job of the teacher is to help the individual develop the skills necessary to eventually overcome mistakes rather than avoid them. A group of individuals working together under the same philosophy can and will allow players to become more creative and confident of risk-taking.
The key to everything is making players think, you never say don’t instead you make them aware of field recognition, where are they & how does it affect decisions on the ball and off! Asking questions allows the player to take control of his/her own learning.
In football development the methodology is only partial to the overall development of a footballer, more importantly, are the values we instil to form the foundations of good personality/character. Respecting opportunities and the game, we do this in several ways, by carefully spoken words, by example, by rules of engagement, by caring for the individual and providing a place where they can connect to, which is greater than the sum of one. In this way, we also develop their intrinsic motivation and a culture of football and standards that provoke passion and love for the institution in which they partake. This is why I believe club competition fails our children, overemphasis on results, a lack of understanding of a child’s cognitive development and a failure to structure football holistically before competitively will continue to undermine the true value of the game. You cannot create a genuine football culture without first caring about how we treat children. The needs of adults must be put aside, the needs of children must be our first priority then work to improve it, nurture it! Therefore our mentality as to how we perceive the game and how we think in regards to individuals and most importantly the style of play has to change. What we currently perceive as an asset, strength, speed should be subtracted with substance, style and skill. If we don’t good players will slip through the cracks lost to the game quite simply because of a flawed analysis and incorrect logic.
One easy way to change the thought process is to ask yourself who are the world’s best what are their characteristics, how do we emulate or identify those characteristics and look for them in our kids, enhance them by encouraging those same characteristics we admire from the world’s best players. Football is a highly dynamic game, a coach cannot control every little thing that happens on the pitch nor should they. We need players who can think for themselves, players that are capable of adapting and enhancing their personal characteristics through a positive environment. A player who can unlock defences by way of imagination, creativity, thinking, movement, dribbling, scanning. These are not actions that one can control by way of puppet strings. You can’t teach a player to unlock a defence but you can nurture the environment by way of facilitation and methodology which will enhance that player’s ability to form more complex solutions. How? by way of creating multiple opportunities to replicate real game situations as often as possible. The game in its whole as frequently and often as possible.
Food for thought!