Today more and more society has been conditioned for instant results, instant gratification, so we can feel good about ourselves, so we can justify our exertions. We see things through filters created by apps. As a society, Steven Covey explains in his book “the seven habits” that we have shifted from the character ethic to the personality ethic, the ethic of wants and needs.
What one needs to understand is that in Football nothing is short term. Football is such a highly-opinionated game and everyone seems to be an expert with in-depth knowledge. A game that after all these years I myself am still trying to understand. However, when you dedicate your life to doing so, you are able to form an educated opinion on matters relating to the game and on my part, that of developing footballers. After nearly 15 years of working with children of all ages, I can honestly say that I am not nearly close to perfecting myself as an educator and it is this attitude I take towards continuing to learn something new every day that I believe has equipped me with the ability to do my job fairly well.
What I have learned over the years is that there is no magic wand that transforms a child into a football superstar. I have learned that many of the world’s best players became so through circumstances that include their childhood environment, their influences, their parents and where they live. This, however, does not mean that a child is destined to become a superstar merely because of their circumstance. A child that has innate talent needs that talent to be realised. In the case of Lionel Messi for example, he was fortunate that he ended up at Barcelona because he entered a development system as such that provides the means of fostering ones potential, these factors enabled him to reach his full potential along with those around him – today we see a team packed with super players capable of incredible feats. One must understand however that the end product was a long-term and continual work in progress.
It takes time for anyone to truly develop their full potential. When discussing training methods, those that do not understand the concepts and methodologies will not be able to understand how a child develops technically within a game. I keep hearing and reading about ‘corrective technique methods’. I keep reading that a player cannot progress unless the game is stripped back to its solitary movement or function and such movement/function can be corrected in isolation. Football is a dynamic game and within that environment, you have a million different variables that exist. Variables such as time, movement, moments, stance, positioning, thinking, reading, size, cohesion, cognition, motivation, boredom, excitement, adrenalin, confidence, speed, space and the list goes on and on and on. These variables cannot be taken literally, for example, size cannot be treated as a singular variable, size can mean multiple things along with speed. The bottom line is that there is no one-size-fits-all way of doing things.
The only true form of development which encapsulates all of these variables is the game. This is so for any age group and any level. The key is for the teacher to understand the game and all of its variables first. Understanding the variables allows you to chop and change, adapt and assess, instruct and nurture. Understanding kids’ cognitive, physical, mental and emotional stages will enable you to adapt the games to suit the level that these players are at.
Coaching kids are liable to constant, unpredictable change. No training session is ever the same: you could do a game related drill that goes extremely well, players executing things perfectly the next day; you can do the same drill with the same kids and it could all turn pear-shaped. Finding the balance and learning to identify the dynamics of what you are teaching will improve the players’ technique, insight and every other variable within the game. It would be close to impossible to write a book on this as there are a million different ways you can facilitate a game based drill.
Technique can be learned from the game; South Americans have been doing it through street football for as long as one cares to remember. Once again it would be foolish to think that this is the only reason why they develop so many players, you can add all the other variables that don’t exist in other parts of the world that contribute towards a large number of players they export every year such as culture and their socio-economic issues.
A coach can teach technique within the game environment, in fact, I believe players learn to control the ball quicker in gameplay and if the game is structured properly they will still get their thousand touches of the ball per session only it will be a thousand touches where they will also have a multitude of other variables around them to focus on. By doing it this way they adapt to chaos and learn to make sense out of chaos. Again, it is silly to presume that this is a one size fits all solution. Common sense tells us that this is why we have grading, to find the balance, allowing kids to evolve at their own pace within their own level and ability.
The main form of isolated training I use and endorse is co-ordination exercises with a ball. These are fundamental for the younger age groups. I very rarely do passing practices, only individual one player one ball co-ordination work and the amount and time spent on such a task once again is dependent on the level of the group. Sometimes I’ll do ten minutes sometimes it will take three-quarters of a session, it is determined by a multitude of different variables such as emotional state, the weather and group dynamics or numbers.
It is important to mention that what I am discussing here is the concept of group training. Also, the most important factor in developing players which is time or the lack of it. There is another component of training which is self-training, kicking a ball against a wall, juggling a ball, dribbling around cones and so forth when kids are at home or in their own time.
Which brings me to another factor what is better for development weekend games or training. This to me is a no-brainer, at training you have 1.5 hours to create an environment where learning is the most prevailing outcome. Training allows kids to make many mistakes without external pressure. Let’s face it parents don’t normally get emotionally attached to training sessions, most will sit quietly in their cars some will gather together to socialise and others may just drop their kids off and head off for a coffee somewhere. Gameday, however, most parents are drawn into the events. It can be the most fun time of the week watching your children play, dealing with all of the variables that the competition produces, the highs and lows, but unfortunately, many parents get caught into the competitive spirit. Most will tell you that they want their kids to have fun but then spend most of the game shouting and even coaching their kids from the sideline. Very few will sit quietly and just enjoy the moment!
Frank Martin discusses the sad reality of parents attempting to coach their kids from the stands. Read more in the story linked below.
Posted by The State Newspaper on Saturday, 17 March 2018
I must say that as a parent myself I too have been guilty of allowing my emotions to get the better of me once or twice throughout my kid’s football journeys. It’s also happened on the sidelines as a coach. Especially when I see coaches on the opposite side not fulfilling their duty of care.
The other important thing to remember is that children learn through interaction and repetition or frequency, in a game a child will touch the ball maybe 20-30 times, at training a child can touch the ball 1000’s of times if the training has a decent philosophy and methodology behind it. When it comes to tactical concepts, the best way to learn is by watching the real thing, therefore, parents who want their kids to compete at a high level must understand how important it is to watch football with your kids. Not just watching but analysing the game, talking about the game the tactics the systems coaches use this is all part of the learning process and kids who are exposed to this will have a greater awareness and understanding when the weekend games come along.
All in all, as a parent or coach one must factor in time, it takes time and consistency to reach the highest of highs. There is a saying, “It took ten years to become an overnight sensation” be patient all good things come to those who work hard.