Friday, 25 April 2014

My 'E Triple E' - Energy Enthusiasm Empathy & Enjoyment

My new session template
I watched the first Ryan Giggs interview this morning courtesy of Sky Sports News. It lasted around 4-5 Minutes and I took some snippets that he said. Firstly without the surrounding sentences.

"I'll Enjoy" "I've Enjoyed the week" "I'm Gonna Enjoy" "I've enjoyed" "Smiles on fans" "Enjoy Yourselves" (To Players) "Give fans something to smile about" 
He was then asked if he will be installing a 'united' style of play. He said "I want them to play with passion, speed, bravery, imagination and to work hard, most of all, ENJOY it".

He went on to say "As a player I know if I'm enjoying it I can express myself" 
In another statement he said "Wanna see goals, wanna see tackles, wanna see players taking people on, want the passion"

He was finally asked, ‘What have you changed in training’? "Just try and enjoy yourself & express yourself. I want to win Saturday and I felt the best way to do that is to make training as enjoyable as you can"

So Ryan Giggs needs no introduction in terms of what he’s achieved and we will not know what career he will have as a manager at ManUtd or elsewhere. We all know others have had great playing careers and under achieved in management. But what fascinates me is his immediate outlook on what is required. Bearing in mind his knowledge based on that fantastic unmatchable playing experience. I have not doubled up the comments above, that is the amount of times he said those words. Enjoyment, smiles etc. 

You hear so often fans say, well, you’re getting paid fortunes so just do your job etc. But clearly, money is not the only motivating factor. Football is. Why is it? Because we love it.

This interview made me think about everything I have said about how Academy football is and what it is becoming. Here is Ryan Giggs handed a 4 game job at one of the world’s biggest clubs and the first thing is to put smiles on the players faces and he’s not embarrassed to admit that he’s enjoying it himself. Yet, toward the end of my Academy time I felt that was suppressed. At some clubs enjoyment is not on the radar of things to be considered and players and coaches seem miserable. Full of pressure and stress. How can they play with that freedom Giggs describes when there being constantly reminded that every little kick of the ball is recorded, written down, typed up and chucked back at them on a weekly and 6 week report. 

So, you may think that you've come through the coaching ranks having never played the game at serious level and believe that your a 'learner/student' of the game. That's fine but try to recall or understand what it is like to play. When you implement EPPP and all its reports, try to cover the one thing the performance clock and auditor’s don’t need or ask. Are the kids happy? We all know most will not make it so at least let them enjoy the process and leave the system loving football as much or more than they did when they joined. Also, you may force talent out of the game that could have been great because they could never relax and smile.

I firmly believe you can coach to an excellent level being happy and still enable the kids to develop and learn. They don’t have to be miserable and stone faced to convince you the message has been absorbed. They can smile and learn. After all, it seems its key to getting the best out of £100k + per week footballers so why cant that be applied to your young players? 

I feel so strongly about this topic that I have made an immediate change to my own session plans. I want myself and my colleges that I coach with for my organisation to always be reminded of my key requirements. That’s before we get into the fine details of coaching. This is more a coaching philosophy not a playing philosophy. But by applying the former I think the latter can happen organically. So I've printed them on the session plan template as a constant reminder.

My constant reminder for myself and coaches

ENERGY:  Always encourage high tempo play from the players and lead by example as a coach. "Always get caught being yourself" Inject energy buy displaying it. Remember 'behaviour breads behaviour'. 
ENTHUSIASM: The coach, the teacher set the tone and feel of the group. Display plenty of enthusiasm and verbal encouragement. Inject confidence. Lead by example, smile, laugh be happy. Your asking players to work outside their comfort zone, so should you.
EMPATHY: Always be considerate to the players. Think about their circumstances, think about there feelings. Imagine being in their boots. Think about how you felt when you did your last coaching badge assessment. Was you apprehensive? A bit nervous? Was you completely relaxed and coaching with freedom? No, that’s because of pressure, pressure does horrible things to the system. Think about your words & be patient. My ultimate challenge, can you fix fine detail requirements of young players without them even knowing? There's a challenge. Just telling them what they did wrong isn't coaching.
ENJOYMENT: Most of all, if you asked all the players did they enjoy it what would they say? Of course that can be more than your demeanour, it could be simply boredom. Like over coaching, queues, lack of participation, critical words etc. So, do what ever you can to help them enjoy football. That doesn't mean you need to sacrifice discipline and organisation. There’s the challenge, behaviour, discipline and enjoyment can all be achieved together, work out how.

So, thanks Ryan Giggs. You have re-enforced that fundamental issue I raised regarding the so called changing face of youth development. Are the players happy? I will do everything I can to ensure the players in my care certainly are and I think I will have a wonderful environment where that freedom allows all the things you wanted in training this week.

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

When a player is released, is it all down to the player?

Hearing again recently some Academy staff taking credit for successful players developing into first teams or sold on for profit made me think. I have heard that allot over the years. When a player has seemingly done well, gets a scholar, has a good spell etc. Coaches are quick to take credit. Patting themselves on the back and stealing the opportunity to tell anyone that will listen what their part in the process was. 
Well it occurred to me, what about all the players that are released? I don't think I have ever heard a coach say. "I think I could have done more"? or "Did I actually coach that problem away"?

We talk a lot about evaluation of our session as coaches but what about our overall evaluation of how we handled a player over a period of his holistic development? Did we really do enough? Are you brave enough to question yourself or is it that you don't care enough about the impact? You see, someone at some stage identified some great 'talent' in that boy, maybe a rough cut diamond. But for some reason, it never materialised. Was that because the boy had reached his ceiling of development and capability, which could happen. But what if you, the coach, the S&C, the psychologist, the dietician, the physio, the head of coaching, the academy manager... what if you didn't do enough?

I remember my first 'management' job and still to this day it was the best business coach I’ve had in my life. A Managing Director who oozed class and quality. Sat in his office with the huge shining table, display cabinets with business awards, mahogany desk with a pen holder. You would walk in knocking on the door to be welcomed by his warm secretary and onto his office with your feet sinking into the deep pile carpet. Mr Hardy sat in his green leather chair that looked like it was straight out of a classic Jag, suited with his tie shirt and gold cuff links immaculate. Despite being nervous, I was only young, he would greet you by stubbing out his cigar and stand up with a huge grin and welcome, "come in, sit down". 

So, he had heard that I was frustrated with a young teenage lad we had in. He was learning, his first job, but he was difficult to manage. After trying hard and several stern discussions this lad went missing again and I went looking. I caught him smoking behind the bins. This for me was the last straw, I wanted him fired.
So, I was told Mr Hardy wanted to see me... although he was a fair, lovely man. He had that 'ore' about him, so I was apprehensive. "So, I hear you’re going to have him sacked Tony, OK, whatever YOU decide, I will back you, that's why I put you in this position. But, I have just a couple of questions and comments". He spoke with a smile and did never do anything intimidating, but his persona and clear intelligence I had admiration for and slight fear.
"Can I ask you Tony, who or how does this lad get to work everyday"? 
I was stumped, "I'm sorry Mr Hardy, I don't know" 
He informed me again with a smile so as not to scare me. This was clearly a lesson I was getting.
"Well, sometimes his Dad drops him off, I’ve noticed he gives him a stern talking to before he leaves the car. The other times his Mum drops him and she gives him a kiss every morning followed by his sandwiches. So, what do you think that tells me about his family"?
I could see where this was going by now, I guess he doesn't want me to sack this lad but he wants me to decide. "Well, I guess he’s got a loving supporting family" I replied. 
He, Lent forward in his chair,
"Yes, you see, now isn't that great. But as a parent it’s tough. Only years down the line will this young man realise what his parents were trying to teach him. So, I see it from their view, they can see he is a typical teenager and they are desperate to get him through this spell. Well, I can look ahead and think to myself, no, what if that young man turns into them? Wow, what a great staff member we would have. Plus I think that as one parent to another, I don't know them, but they are placing their young man, still a boy, in my care and I take it very seriously"
He went on "So, I will ask you one favour if I may. Could you please help me list all the things we (he meant me) have done to help this lad overcome his issues? Because, if and when I look his parents in the eye I want to be comfortable and confident that we looked under every possible stone to find the solution"
He picked up his dark rimmed glasses, placed them on his face, collected his pen and placed the tip on the watermarked paper on his leather dressed desk. Looking at me ready for the first answer. I winced, "Mr Hardy, now you put it like that I think we could do more to help him, I suggest I go away and provide you a list of suggestions, interventions, separate courses, motivational ideas etc and come back to you, is that OK"?

A beam came across his face "Excellent, well if that's your choice Tony, I'm happy to go along with that"

Mr Hardy then later called me back and placed me on a Dale Carnegie man management course. So, he taught me so many things. Not only about his own management of a situation which was breathtakingly superb and ensured I still walked out with confidence. But, more importantly it taught me the impact of my decisions when being in such an influential position. To this day I have never forgotten that story and is partly why today I find releasing young lads the single most difficult thing in football, but regretfully inevitable and necessary.

I was asked about a lad, if we should keep him in a player review meeting. ‘Succession plan’ The lad was struggling a lot, I hesitated. The boss then said, OK, that's enough to know he’s released. Hang on, that hesitation is because of my experience. I'm doing what Mr Hardy taught me, I'm thinking. Yes, he’s struggling but have we done enough? Is it him... or me? or us? But I had no power to change this guy’s decision. 
A week or so later, I got a text off the lad saying 'thanks for everything'. I didn't even know they had released him. They never even gave me the opportunity to talk to him.
We took this boy out of school, we gave him a dream and we tore his world apart. Surely we should take this process more seriously? Moreover the football league, premier league, the FA, EPPP should be doing more. I believe there should be a better process for this. 

Coaches especially need to look at themselves. We know what the four corners are and how to develop them. So surely, if a player has failed, then that is also a failure for us, the coach? It must be surely? So at the very least we should review our own performance of that individual and reflect on our actions with that individual. Did we really look under every stone? 
For me, I would have the confidence to have this documented. A formal process, even a player exit interview for the coach. This document should then be available for the parents and his school. Because after all, whichever way we look at it, we may have actually improved this individual as a sports-person and athlete, but we have had a negative effect on his confidence and certainly been detrimental to his educational performance. Do we not owe a better explanation? Plus if we reflect more, it could be that we could improve our own performance and ultimately have more success in retention. 

One example I have was a lad that got released. I recalled in his player assessment that he was told he needed to improve his range of forward passing instead of going sideways and backwards always. The next training session I watch the lad make a 40 yard forward pass on an angle which was pinpoint accurate and if Paul Scholes did it, we would be bowing to his greatness. The coach intervened, “STOP, bad decision, that could be intercepted”. I thought, well hang on, YOU were the one that told him to add that to his game, he’s desperate to please YOU. How many other examples happened to that lad? He was confused about what you wanted from him, yet now he’s released. Maybe on reflection that coach would think deeper about what he says & does? The coach needed to improve.

In my teams, I have to admit (and people that know me would back me up). I know the best performing players are easy to pick out, focus on and boast about. But what about the struggling lads? So called middle and bottom of the group? I would be passionate about doing my absolute best to work with them, improve them, give them the tools and knowledge, a chance. Instead I think some coaches ignore them to claim the glory story. 

Well, what if you’re the coach with that glory player, but the highest percentage of failures? Should we measure that? Because maybe your part of the problem.

Tony McCool


Enjoyment, Players, People & Personality - Sacrificed for the implementation of EPPP
My article about my experience of EPPP will no doubt ruffle a few feathers and will even mean I'm ruled out of ever working in a professional academy again. However, the way I feel I actually would not want to ever work in youth professional football ever again anyway. I believe that EPPP is fundamentally failing and we will not see more talented players as a result of this system. In fact the youth football scene has become a dull place to be and it’s riddled with people placing their own development ahead of child welfare and player development.
I was a coach at a level 2 Academy and resigned in November as I became so frustrated with the whole process. So perhaps this is because I’I'm an old school coach who wants to deliver information on the back of a fag packet? Not at all. I love change and I work in the business of innovation and technology. I sold the concept of change and improvement my whole career and I was truly excited about the so called vision of a more professional environment, better facilities, better coaching and better players. However the reality of the day to day shop floor has been horrifying and I think something urgent needs to be done.
Of course it could be that other coaches at other clubs don’t share my view or experience and perhaps the interpretation of some clubs may well have created nice working environments that nurture development. Therefore I urge people to speak up. Albeit I know that most people are too scared because everyone feels they have got something to lose. Coaches are dreaming of a full-time job and parents are parents & players are dreaming the obvious. Well, I feel so passionately that we are damaging the future of young people that I wouldn't want to take part in it anyway.
This ‘shop-floor’ experience is aside from the current debates of the reality of producing players that could be playing fairly unrealistic football up to U21’s. Or the massive detrimental financial implications it has on lower league clubs, some famous for producing home grown talent and selling them on to survive. Anyway, those debates will rumble on but my subject is my first-hand experience of working in Academies and being around other clubs embarking on this strategy to ‘improve our talent’ by obtaining the highest category status possible.
So the core objective of EPPP is that we have a clear unblocked path for the best players to be at the best academies. All the clubs involved then receive funding form the Premier League dependant on the so called level which is measured on a whole host of set requirement which are then audited. To me, some clubs have then been hell bent on reaching a certain level to obtain the most funding.
The EPPP refers to four main areas of focus to deliver its 6 principles. Well in my experience it has had a detrimental effect in 4 key areas
Enjoyment, Players, People & Personality that should underpin EPPP or that old tradition… Football!

The biggest problem I have is the players not looking happy to me. Bearing in mind I only really seen the players 12-16’s. But I’m hearing many stories of players also in younger age groups now walking away from academy football due to pressure and enjoyment. The FA themselves in all their courses say we want players to play without fear of mistakes meaning that promotes creativity. Yet I know so many coaches that think good coaching is spotting the mistakes. Its “what can I spot wrong”? Not, “what can I spot what’s right”? I think the latter is better and I would tell the player. I could actually fix ‘what’s wrong’ without the player even knowing. Because confidence is completely overlooked and underestimated how damaging a lack of it is, this is despite all the coaches sit in all the presentations about psychology and youth modules.  Not only do they spot everything that’s wrong, they then make sure they tell the player. Then, under the computerised requirements of EPPP they head for the laptop and record them next to the player’s name. Then in 6 weeks you’re required to sit the players down and we have to re-enforce learning write? Great, so we remind them of all the things they did wrong and to make doubly sure they get it we print it off and give it to them to take home. I think this is so wrong. In many cases it’s not even a mix of good and bad. Or a bad sandwich, good being the bread. It’s just bad, negative comments that absolutely destroy the kid’s confidence. I would tell my players constantly that they are here at an academy because at some point someone thought they were an outstanding footballer and never forget it. This all fall’s under the EPPP Quote ‘Implement a system of effective measurement and quality assurance’ Is this effective?

So, the players are allowed to play with freedom? Not in this system there not. They are dreading walking on the pitch and all these coaches need to take more heed of the learning they do in things like youth modules. My advice to any coach is to think how they like criticism. We think we are strong with broad shoulders but if I walked over to your session and every single time said “Good session, BUT… You need to improve this, you need to improve that etc. How would you feel? They would think I didn't rate them as a coach because all I ever do is find faults. Yet that’s exactly what they do with the players.
I also think that the system was such that players not ‘rated’ by senior staff were then treated badly by coaches. By this I mean ignored, moved out of position, poor communication, criticised unfairly and so on. This is because again, coaches are so desperate to impress to try and earn themselves jobs they do so by just agreeing with everything. If the boss likes him, that lad gets patted on the back and boosted. The un-rated player is then set up for failure. I have seen this happen! My problem here is obvious but what really baffles me is how in any circumstances any adult can show rejection to a kid and worse, for seemingly their own gain. We are not a charity system for sure and of course, most times we have to give bad news which can inevitably at times upset children and parents. But does that mean we should make a child miserable constantly in the build up? That means they know what’s coming? That’s an absolute disgrace. These kids will never regain their childhood and despite the academy level there playing at I would want them to want to come to training, love playing football and leave smiling. I want them to look back and say, yeah, ok, I didn’t make it…but. I loved, I enjoyed it and I’m a better player and person as a result of being in the system. I think we have the opposite and not only that. We completely disregard the way in which they are released. I even had a text from a player saying thanks for everything. I didn’t even know he was released let alone given the chance to speak to him about why and what he could do to help. Releasing players I took very seriously, as a registered player or trialist. I would always take the time. Your crushing little boy’s dreams and so I would want to talk to them properly. Increasingly I seen this process become so lacking of any emotion. Nobody cares, something else is more important… the vision.
In all the presentations I have sat through, I have never been asked if we find ways of making kids happy? By that I don’t mean muck around, play completely fake fun games, these are elite sports children. They want to play, they want to learn, but there still kids! Enjoyment, that should be number one and number two, inject them with confidence, every session! It’s possible!
Well I tried my best to do this and of course sometimes I let my-self down in hindsight but I always consciously tried. However in this new environment it’s become like a factory floor “look busy the boss is coming” ‘feeling’ and this has made it harder to inject confidence and be passionate and enthusiastic. This was the main reason I left the system, I cannot take part in a process that sees kids not smiling.
This pressure scenario also spreads to the coaches. The best thing about football is laughing. After a hard day’s work you can’t wait to get on the training pitch and helping elite players develop. It’s so rewarding and satisfying. However, the demands of EPPP mean that I have seen a shift in the coaches’ personalities also. They became strained, tired, cranky, paranoid, pressured. The smile had gone, this feels like a real job and one I don’t like any-more!


Hours – EPPP Quote ‘Allowing more coaching time with young players’
Much is made of the hours as part of the EPPP requirement. I’ve heard the theory and I get it. 10,000 hours and I get that. But we were forcing full-time hours into one day, evenings and weekends. I think the result was the kids were becoming sick of it. Sick of structured wooden coaching. They just want to play. What do kids say to coaches at all levels at all ages? “When are we playing a game”? They just want to play not listen to a coach harping on about learning objectives. The kids were starting to look fed up and tired. I also think this was really affecting the injuries sustained as well as the boys are permanently fatigued. Were also completely disregarding the pressure it puts parents under to get them there and also means there is little or no time for homework. Most of all, when can they just be kids? Hang out, see mates, have a bit of fun?
So desperate to record hours we even then started making the’ before training’ bit structured. So, this is a before structured training, structured training. So, it used to be see your mates, catch up, juggle a ball. Now, nope were doing the pre training syllabus. Passing and receiving. Another 15 minutes recorded on the EPPP! I may be on my own here, but some of the most ragged looking things are perhaps the best. We as coaches have all shouted at our players for smashing balls in a net before training right? They practice free kicks and penalties, crossing and volley’s finishing. But, actually, what is wrong with that? Only we think it looks rubbish. But the kids are enjoying it and it’s real. The aim of football is to score goals and they all want to. There are all trying to practice being David Beckham, but we stop them. Why? I know, injury risk, there cold? In 18 years of coaching I have never ever seen a player pull a hamstring kicking a ball in a warm up. I also had another group where the coach was late. The lads borrowed a ball off me and I watched them. They made a goal and played cupsies. One player dribbled around 8 players and scored. Not a coach in site. Yet, to gain hours we now have stopped that and record another ‘session’ to satisfy EPPP.  I was thinking recently, the kids went in for half hour S&C, I set up my session quickly and had 20 minutes to kill, what did I do? I got 5 balls, practised free kicks and crossbar challenge. Yet I’ve stopped the kids doing it?

Education - EPPP Quote ‘Helping clubs foster links with local schools in order to help young players get the best out of their football education as well as the academic side’
I would love to ask all head teachers who have experienced losing students how they feel about that statement!
The pressures on hours and to have numbers that look healthy mean that in my opinion we sometimes sign players too quickly or for wrong reasons. We do not take serious enough the detrimental affect we have on a child’s education. We are taking kids out of school for potentially 3 years then at the end we say “no-thanks”. (to nearly all). The last year of school, such a vital year yet we delay telling players what we already know. The FA need to make a ruling on this to protect children’s futures. Football takes advantage of desperate kids and then takes no responsibility for the consequences.  Taking a child out of school should be the single biggest consideration of a decision to sign them. Yet I saw a player get signed after training in one session and half of that the floodlights failed. Yet, with that limited knowledge we've played father figure and made up the mind of him and all his family that he should come out of school. Clubs would argue that this is not mandatory but we all know that the kids feel pressured to do so to maximise their potential. Parents should be sat down and all the statistics, facts, possible affects should be made clear to them. I even then seen kids told they could go home early from day release, or sometimes, no plan and very little football. Therefore, why are they there? That’s 20% - 40% of their education given up. Is that relative? Does that equate to 20% reduction in grades? It certainly means you could be completely setting them on different career path than they could have been on. That’s life changing and breath-taking that EPPP forces clubs down this road simply because of ‘hours’. Clubs will argue they have good education people and I actually know of clubs with fantastic education set-ups. But that is certainly not the case of all clubs. So if a club has 120 players on his books, we know that well over 100 of them will be detrimentally affected in their education and dumped back into society.
With that in mind, how shocked do you think I was when I heard a comment from a staff member at a club who said. “Perhaps we should sign these players because it will look better for the auditors for numbers”.
Recruitment -
I’m sure not everyone will agree with me but our new system of player ID and opinion really frustrates me. We are like ping pong and ignore our strengths we did have. Spain and Barcelona dominate and then we chase Messi, Xavi and Iniesta, but for me, these players are raw talent. No coach created messi, he was always messi. What did happen was he was set in a great environment to allow him to organically develop. Now were going to study the Germans. We have had great English players. Were frightened to mention one of the world’s best technical players ever in Paul Gascoigne.
We've developed this new system under the eye of the FA, yet were about to see a film called the class of ’92. Was that again an environment allowing talent to flourish or were they simply coached to death? Players who they said “Just 6 kids who loved playing football”.
What worries me is we are so hell bent on recruiting a player that can do step overs and tricks that were ignoring many fundamental aspects of a balanced team. Every great team has had great defenders and a great deep midfield, including Barcelona! Yet the message seems to just be attacking 1v1 and that will make England better. I’m sorry, great teams have great balance. That includes Pique, Puyol and Busquets. Who’s recruiting them? Real football is not a juggling competition. Of course we need to be technically better but football has so many more skills required. Ryan Giggs had that unique ability to beat players. On the other wing Beckham never did but was one of the best passers of a ball I’ve ever seen live. Mixed with that they had the engine, psychological strength and defending skill of Roy Keane who could tackle, control, pass and score. Whose is scouting him?
We seem to be recruiting one type of player. Explosive, 1v1 players. Which of course is great but that is one of three/four players in my mind that make a team. If rugby went down the same road who would be in the scrum? Yes, I’m sure we can all be better on the ball under pressure all over the pitch, including the goalkeeper. But footballers come in all shapes and sizes with various strengths and weaknesses.
This desperation for new players and type means that players come through like a production line of trialist. I also fundamentally disagree with this on the basis of the child’s emotions. Why bring them in if they are not ready? Actually they could go from 1-2 hours football training a week to compete with players training well over 10 hours a week. So the poor kids don’t really have a chance anyway and yet staff come and ask you “what do you think”. During his first training session. I think, what? Give the poor kid a chance, he’s probably a bag of nerves for a start and were judging him half way through a session and has had a massive leap. It’s not fair. This kid has a dream and were about to turn it into a nightmare. I think if a child walks onto an academy football pitch he should be immediately entitled to a 6 week trial and 2 games. Due diligence should have been done. That would make clubs take this more serious and make sure their development centres work as a proper stepping stone. I would also then get the coaches to attend the development centre as they know the standard. Then when a player comes in, he’s given a proper fair chance on that huge step up and time to integrate and relax. Instead of farming players through like sheep to be sheered. But we clip their confidence and dreams and chuck them out the back door… or sign them after half a session to make the numbers look better.

People - EPPP Quote ‘Improve coaching provision’

EPPP wants to make better players and part of that is through improved coaching. A lot of that has been the case. I'm all for continuous development and being open to constant learning. However, EPPP demands on coaches mean that many good ones will leave the system. For a part time academy coach the administration requirement are staggering. I actually analysed my time one week and discovered I was doing between 30 – 39 hours a week, part-time. This equated to £1.74 per hour and that’s before my fuel costs. So, it’s affectively costing me money to be a coach. However, when it was enjoyable you didn't mind and it’s hugely satisfying working with young talent. But it became a massive burden and chore. I used to dread going to training just like the players.
This is an example of my week’s work as a part-time academy coach.
Time (hrs)
Work Description
Go on to the PMA application and prepare Tuesdays session. Do a session plan (Of course we should). Insert drill diagrams, who’s expected, make notes on how you’re affecting the four corners. Also, set individual learning objectives for players.
Arrive at coaching after work, might have a meeting, set up your session, but players need coaching on the pre training work. Deliver session. Late home after drive, log back on to PMA, do your session outcomes. Do player attendance, do learning objective outcomes
Go on to the PMA application and prepare Thursdays session. Do a session plan (Of course we should). Insert drill diagrams, who’s expected, make notes on how you’re affecting the four corners. Also, set individual learning objectives for players.
Arrive at coaching after work, might have a meeting, set up your session, but players need coaching on the pre training work. Deliver session. Late home after drive, log back on to PMA, do your session outcomes. Do player attendance, do learning objective outcomes
Go on to the PMA application and prepare Saturdays session. Do a session plan (Of course we should). Insert drill diagrams, who’s expected, make notes on how you’re affecting the four corners. Also, set individual learning objectives for players.
(5-6 hr)
Arrive at coaching early, set up your session, but players need coaching on the pre training work. Deliver session. Drive home, log back on to PMA, do your session outcomes. Do player attendance, do learning objective outcomes. Prepare your game for the next day on the PMA, this includes team selection, team objectives and individual learning objectives. Print them off.
(8 hr)
Arrive for game, set up. Pin up all the objectives and prepare for game. Manage the game. Post-match debrief.  Drive home, log onto PMA. Record all match details. Including individual player time. Record team and individual learning outcomes. Complete a weekly report then for each player which includes notes about the game performance and training performances. We also then record any reasons why players were absent during the week.
On top of this we also have extra duties. At the end of the 6 week phase we must complete a 6 week report for each player. Part of the EPPP ‘effective measurement’. This is presented to the player in a meeting and we also amend a succession plan.
Most coaches I know are having major issues with this workload and the biggest problem was it seems unappreciated. We also feel that nobody actually reads it and most of the reports seem to have no positive affect on a player’s development, more they are detrimental. Clearly this means this role is completely unsustainable and serves no purpose meaning coaches will simply leave.
This is more than often now being called the process. Well this isn't a factory, were not quality inspectors on a production line and we will soon realise this is sport and development and most importantly people not a product, human beings who have emotions.

Under the ‘coaching provisions’ title there are many new jobs up for grabs. One of the results is there are many people in the jobs in leadership roles that have little or no leadership skills. They have simply been given a ‘full-time’ role in football and with that so called dream fulfilled they proceed to develop a massive ego and forget how to conduct themselves with people. They have climbed on a pedestal and think they are now football masters. I've worked with many top ex pro footballers and most show me great management skills and humane behaviour. Perhaps the old way maybe taught them good management & people skills? I have been inside man united at Carrington and met first team coaches under Sir Alex. I never saw any Ego or self-promotion. Yet in Academies, at various lower clubs, it’s full of it.
Some people are realising a dream of having a pro club crest on them with their initials on giving them that professional football sensation and many are completely ruthless in there strive to manoeuvre themselves upwards and at the detriment of good people and player welfare.  Good people and good coaches will walk away from the game, how is that good for English footballs future?
I feel strongly about this that I have a message for my ex fellow youth pro coaches…

My message to coaches
This is not meant to be a scathing attack on all coaches in pro football. I have met some delightful people and great coaches. But I’m just saying what I see from the various clubs where I have been.
Just remember when you coach why you are there. You’re not there for you, your there for the players. It’s not about you looking good, it’s about the players looking good in the end.
I urge you greatly to think about the words you use and especially when you write them down on a computer system. Doubt is one of the biggest psychological barriers and the more you highlight mistakes and create negativity the player increases doubt. Wouldn't it be great if you could only tell players what they did well, but fix what they do wrong, without them even knowing? Think about that, think about what that would achieve. Challenge yourself to try it.
Don’t ever forget these are young vulnerable people desperately trying to please you. You’re not managing the 1st team, pat them on the back as often as you can!
We can agree or not about coaching philosophies and I agree with most about the technical improvements we need. However, don’t forget. A football team is made up of 11 ranging players including a goalkeeper. Every successful team in my living memory has had an excellent balance of players with ranging attacking and defensive capabilities. Just remember that when your desperately trying to make every player Lionel Messi.
Finally, I think it’s great that many people see opportunities in football but just be careful about how you climb the ladder. One ladder has infinity and the other a spring loaded ceiling.
 Never forget your roots and values. Someone in your family was like the kit lady, washing that smelly kit, the cleaner, the security guard, the cook, the tea man, the driver, the admin people.
 You never won a world cup, you’re not a super hero, so drop the ego. Talk to people around you, say hello, show respect, be humble and you’ll be amazed what you learn from people for free giving you knowledge and integrity. That’s the true foundation of a solid future. Infinity, no limits.
I have been at all levels of the scale in sport and business and the biggest thing that always stuck with me that rung true was…

Remember the names of all the people you meet on the way up, because you will meet them again on the way down.

To the genuine human beings I met in youth football. I hope for the sake of the game you get recognised and placed in positions were you can get the influence you deserve. Also thanks for everything I learned from you. 

Under this system we are losing individuality in our coaching. I mean I like to coach with energy and enthusiasm but I’m not sure it fits the role. All I see is coaches conforming like robots. You’re told you can progress “If you buy into what we are doing”. What that means is, ‘AGREE’. In fact we were actually told that if we didn’t “there’s the door, there’s hundreds more to take your place”. So not even allowed to share a view? An opinion? To challenge something doesn't mean you don’t want change. It just means you've got the minerals to speak. EPPP/FA wants all the coaches to deliver everything the same way, like a pre match meeting. Its wooden, boring, lacks enthusiasm. It’s like school and even some schools have accepted that children all learn differently and embark on technology as part of engagement. So, I feel like a robot and yet any compliments I’ve had as a coach was about my energy and enthusiasm. Now I’ve got to be another dull drone and bore the players to tears with learning objectives. Hands up how many kids actually love classroom learning? Well, that’s what football has become. School!
Since I resigned from my club I have received so many great messages from fellow coaches and players. That gives me hope that one day the game can again regain some personality.

I do think that some aspects of EPPP demands are actually brilliant. Mainly sports science and medicine. This is a massive improvement on what I have seen before. But overall, the end goal here is better players and I simply cannot see it. Clubs are playing a numbers game and removing all emotion. Football indeed needs to move with the times. I'm part of that in my job. But we've embarked on this massive shift and somehow I think we've slowly taken the soul out of our sport. When I grew up I went everywhere with a football because I loved the game. This generation is beginning to hate the sight of a football.
I would love to see somebody do a survey on a massive scale. Write to every coach and player in the country or go and talk to them. Properly without retribution. That will carry more weight and although my years of coaching at youth level is over (in the UK),  maybe someone in the Premier League, the FA, the Football Commission might actually listen.
I've finished with academy football through choice. But been overwhelmed with the messages from players and parents. They meant more than anything else I've ever done in football. Thank you.

Tony McCool

Grass Roots & Pro Football Clubs need to work better together for a common GOAL

The 'game' has come a long way and despite all the criticism I have seen first-hand the improvements in Elite football. I’ve also seen massive steps in Grass Roots. I do think however that more still needs to be done in grass roots to help coaches. I know all the things The FA did in recent years like charter standards but it’s just a qualification, like a coaching certificate. To me they don’t mean anything if you don’t carry out those actions on a regular basis. 
Of course Nick Levett has worked tirelessly and I fully support his efforts and changes he was instrumental in achieving. I know The FA is also now employing evangelist type roles to promote the future game. The trouble is, not all coaches want to change and see this intervention as interference. 

The Grass Roots Training Session
I was training myself in my local park this week and there was an U11 team training nearby. He did his warm up, "left hand down, right hand down, jump" etc... Then they did some other running, about 15 minutes gone and they still haven’t kicked a ball. So, they now started their first practice. Two queues of 7 players facing each for a passing & receiving session. Players waiting at the back for ages before they get there two touches. I couldn’t help watching out the corner of my eye and thinking, this guy is a good guy, he has given up his spare time and he is passionate and genuine in his intentions. But I would love to show him a session, an idea that’s all, but one that would get all the players moving and allow him to get more realistic coaching points out. But what stops me is the fear of rejection. I know this guy knows me, therefore I know he knows I work in an Academy. In the past I have had my ear bent by a grass roots coach who accused me of 'poaching' players when I said "well done, some cracking players there". So this guy may well just think I am being ‘big time’ and poking my nose in, making him look stupid and me thinking I’m better than him. Well I don’t, I get help all the time, I watch others at QPR all the time and always learning. Anyway, it got worse. The coach became frustrated because the quality of the passing was not as he wanted. So, he introduced punishment, for the whole team if one player made the mistake, so peer humiliation. I was horrified; this was like an FA Youth Module video of ‘how not to’. A player made a mistake, "everybody stop, 5 star jumps". So, now even less time with their foot on the ball and also humiliated. There was also massive lack of any coaching point, not one actually, just told to get it right. Worse was the wait till your go, you could see the worry mounting as the players got closer to the front. 
Then there was a game straight after this. Before the game the 'best' two players were highlighted and called 'Playmakers'. You can only score, if you go through this play maker. See, that’s how I know he is deep down a good guy with good intentions. He wants his team to play football the right way and through midfield not back to front, but he just lacks the knowhow of how to achieve and has put a completely unrealistic rule in and lacked the key components like movement. Of course I also wasn’t a fan of the highlighting to everyone his best players. A rod for his own back with parents in the future there and negative psychological feeling for all the other players.
Then came the KO punch. There was some good passages of play, the lads were keen to try and pass and were encouraged to do so. A little winger picked up the ball and before he received it, he checked his shoulder; he knew therefore that there was pressure so assessing the weight of the pass he instinctively stepped in as a disguise letting the ball cross his body, lost the player without touching the ball. He then took his first touch across that defender making him check his run. He was now away and running. I stopped mid exercise for the first time and watched thinking, "hang on a sec". He engaged the next defender, slowed down, used both feet, instep, outside Giggs like and after a shuffle skipped past the next defender who then fell over. Now slightly wide of the goal the centre back was on his way and with no room he feinted to go inside, did a step over, rolled it with his studs and now found himself facing the goalkeeper, who was the coach. Struggling to slip it past the adult frame it was saved. My eyebrows were now higher than my forehead. Brilliant, not even 1v1, this lad did a 1v3 and it all must be raw talent, because I haven’t heard one of them coaching points. Then the coach said something to move my eyebrows even further up my head for very different reasons. "Oi, this is not a one man show you know, you should pass that. " 
I was thinking afterwards about the most successful England team in my lifetime, whilst it had defensive solid players it was also balanced players like a very young Paul Gascoigne along with Peter Beardsley, Chris Waddle and John Barnes. Players who in my memory could do what I just seen there. Not relying on strength and speed to get past someone, but using great technical skill. Something a certain Lionel Messi possesses in bundles. I bet none of the above 5 players were never told not to take people on either. Especially as they probably did it naturally in the street without a coach. 
So, in the end it was clear to me that this guy needs help. But is I approach him he will probably think I just want to scout that player. He may well be one of the guys that embraces help and advice but in my experience there are many that won’t see it like that. They see professional clubs as ‘them and us’. I think this guy should be invited into to Academies. This would help everybody but how do we get over the first hurdle. He may be like the many that see pro clubs taking his players as a bad thing and no doubt, in some cases that might have been the case. We have to change the mind-set, these coaches should be embracing the pro clubs but this has to be a two way street, clubs have to be better to. I have many examples in my mind of how clubs can help grass roots more and improve that link. The goal of both should be very single minded in my view, finding individual talent and giving that person the best possible path to be successful and produce a player capable of drifting past defenders like Gazza and Barnes did in the past.

Some might say I’m wrong. All coaches at grass roots embrace clubs and the FA development courses. Well I know first-hand that is not the case and hear it every single week in my local club. To further back this up I was listening to talksport yesterday. On Talksport Drive they were discussing the player potentially moving from West Brom to Chelsea and as part of that the whole Academy process and debating where this player would be better placed for his future. A grass roots coach called in and I think Adrian Durham missed his hidden attack at his local clubs. He said something like “Local pro clubs come round here tapping up our players” See, there is my problem, he has accused West Brom, a great club of ‘tapping up’. I would see the west brom scouts going to a Birmingham V Walsall game chatting to a player and his parents encouraging them to West Brom as ‘tapping up’. But a player scouted to go to West Brom would surely be success? Not just for the player but also for the coach. The only real measure of his success surely? Not winning the league but developing a player that went on to play in the premier league, maybe even England?
But this guy sees his local pro club as a thorn in his side, that is all wrong on both sides. What can West Brom do change that and what can his club do change it because like many he would then try and hold on to a talented player to, what? Help him win the league? How many amateur leagues did Gazza, Beardsley or Barnes win and who actually really cares? It’s the semi-final of the World cup we cared about and not qualifying for the next one.
He also went on to say something about this player not owing West Brom anything, when Durham asked what he meant he said that this player would have been paying for years to play for West Brom. Then the subject was moved on. I didn’t hear the end but I think this again slipped under the radar yet such a damming comment. I don’t know West Brom inside, only aware of its fantastic reputation. Therefore I would be amazed if this lad has been paying to play for them. I think the guy is referring to the level below Academies where I do know some clubs charge for this level. Most refer to it as ‘Development Centres’ and these do normally have a games program. Even at Luton Town I was aware of the massive reliance on outside investment to keep their famous successful Academy going because it cost them circa £3,000 a year per player to keep it going. But players were not asked to pay. However, there was part funded development centre that would not survive without charges. So, it’s my view that this guy must be referring to a development centre and I do know that sometimes grass coaches feel that players are taken from them to these, when they should be playing for their club. Perhaps pro clubs need to sit and listen to their grass coaches on this topic and do more to support them. Having been on both sides I am sympathetic to this.

So this gentleman seemed to be evidence of this negative feeling towards pro clubs and I would like to see this broken down for the good of development.

The solution
I have a possible solution that would enable an approach to coaches in a non-critical way to avoid them being offended in any way. All clubs and coaches want equipment, kit etc. and have fund raising ideas. The charter process is document based and un audited as far as I know. I have seen many bad examples of coaches with that logo stuck to their forearm. Including the guy I seen marching up and down the line, 3 yards on the pitch, smoking to calm his nerves! I would just focus on the coach, help him or her. Could we have a reward scheme that is like a grant? A catalogue of equipment that instead of pound signs next to the kit it has points. Points that are awarded to an individual coach, not the club. The coach can obtain these points by simply attending certain events. Some tell me that they don’t have time even to attend TheFA courses so whilst points should be rewarded for the fantastic Youth Module’s and FA Courses, they should also be given for attending Academies and watching pre-arranged sessions laid on by the club as in-service for grass roots. Also even by attending certain games that the club allows as this would show a different match day style from coaches and parents. They also could invite coaches to come to their team and coach from clubs, this would be signed off with points awarded.

I think the new EPPP system should include a section of reward based on allowing club coaches to come in and witness coaching sessions to get new ideas and think about a new style and approach. After all, surely it’s in the clubs interest to have the best possible relationship with its local community coaches. They could even lay on a once yearly presentation showing how they will be scouting, the methods, club ethos and open it up for feedback so they can perhaps work closer with them and break down those barriers.

I think this would be another massive step and in reality could mean that I might have had a promotional leaflet in my car. It describes the development point’s scheme and I could have offered that to the coach. It would have been a great positive start of conversation that would be hard to be received as negative. It’s like a thank you to all those unpaid grass roots volunteers. That guy might think yes, I could do with some new kit and some session ideas would be useful. Ultimately we could then see him congratulating that little lad after beating players and seeing his success as seeing him in the Premier League, or even lifting that elusive trophy.

Tony McCool


Driving home from training today I had a call from somebody in grass roots. "Guess what happened Tone"? I’m like, oh here we go then.

This is U11 9v9 Football and I have coached them before as a favour. I had already told the manager and the parents that they need to set the expectations if they want me to help because I am not coming along to help you win games. But if you want to develop players (which might mean you win games) then I’m happy to help. However, you need the coach and the parents to buy into a philosophy and be committed to it. 
When I coached them before I noticed the terminology and timing of words of the coach needed addressing. I asked him to resist the constant drone of shouting and coaching/jockeying. I explained that 3 sessions coaching his players is not going to give him a solution. What I can give him is ideas and perhaps change his own outlook and approach. That could indeed provide him with success, once we agree what 'success' looks like.

So, back to the call. Well, the ball is in the defending area near the goalkeeper and the last defender but their under pressure. So decision to make by the goalkeeper and the defender. Also communication required between them to be successful in safely dealing with the threat and even perhaps get back on the ball quickly in a better angle and launch a counter attack? Either way, good learning opportunity as albeit the ball is in a dangerous area, they have the main threat in control, the ball.

At this point, like we see often, the coach takes control of the situation. He shouts on the pitch "PICK IT UP", then repeats it as load as he can in quick succession. "PICK IT UP, PICK IT UP". This is a big burley man and I think most people would do as he demands. Of course, he's shouting at the goalkeeper, but the ball is at the feet of the defender. So, a little 10 year old lad, panicked, scared, confused, desperate to please. What does he do? He picked it up! Brilliant, what an obedient lad. Except he’s the defender. The whistle blows, "Penalty" shouts the ref “Hand-ball”. The lad is devastated. The coach is irate engulfed with anger. "What did you pick it up for"? The little lad shrugs his shoulders. He confused. The penalty is taken, GOAL! 2-2. His team have 'thrown-away' the chance of the win and the disappointment is too much for the coach to bear. He is beside himself with the actions of the defender, so before they kick off again, he subs him! The lad doesn’t kick another ball. He is tugged and left alone on the side line to consider the consequences of his poor decision. During the team talk afterwards there are suggestions angling toward the reason they didn’t win. The lad is at the back of the group crying.

This situation is so frustrating, this coach is not professional no, but needs educating urgently. There are so many things wrong with this episode I don’t know where to start. The only person that should have been subbed was him, the coach! The lad did exactly what he told him to do, literally, that’s what kids do. There desperate to please! 

I hope the coach concerned reflects on what he did. He has ruined a little kid’s day and from a football perspective is hindering development. Let the kids make decisions themselves, maybe discuss it after with them if you feel you need to, for me, had the lad made a decision on his own, let’s say did something, lost the ball and they scored normally. I might have even spoke to him away from the group to not highlight it further and shown him. Maybe set him a new challenge once I have confirmed his understanding. But the way this was handled was so wrong on so many levels. In particular because the boy only did what he ‘thought’ he was told to do.

Of course the answer for this is the youth module for these guys. A great course which covers all the aspects of the holistic approach to development. The reality is though, this guy and I suspect many others will never attend the course. This will be due to time and money and perhaps a general rejection of change. Whatever the reason. This has to stop, now! Either with the introduction of a mandatory course that must be studied, perhaps even a home study which includes videos and questions to prove they watched it. Or, we introduce something like I suggested previously where coaches can be encouraged to coach the coaches for reward of CPD and monetary reward to a club to off-spend against equipment.

I’ve said before that it’s great to see all the change at grass roots and Rome wasn’t built in a day. But, I still keep seeing/hearing examples like this which is no different to 10 years ago.

Tony McCool

Enjoyment, People, Players and Personality should not be sacrificed in the implementation of an Elite Players Performance Plan

I have left QPR by resignation last month. I have written in depth reasons and I want to talk to the premier league about these. Football needed change and a lot of what I have seen in the pro game has been great. However, I have deep concerns for players and the future of our game and as a result I could not rest easy by taking part in the ‘processes’.
In the meantime I wanted to just talk about some positive aspects. Working at QPR has been a fantastic experience and I have learnt so much. Most of all I have met some great people who have QPR in there soul and it’s great to experience. Some individuals at that club have an infectious love for their club and it’s difficult not to adopt the attachment.  From the kit lady to the senior coaches there are some truly incredible people who I'm very privileged to have known.
However what I seen happen under EPPP has left me so disturbed that, although you can never say never the way I feel now is I will never work in professional youth football again. Challenging some of the EPPP process will alienate myself from professional youth football because most just agree in fear of their progression, but I am comfortable with that anyway. Enjoyment People Players and Personality should not be sacrificed in the implementation of an Elite Players Performance Plan.
On leaving QPR I was completely overwhelmed by some of the messages I got. Of course elite player coaching is not a popularity contest and also we cannot please everybody because some players will simply not make the grade. Does that mean they can’t be given your every effort to develop them and put smiles on their faces?

After my resignation I have received many comments using different media. Some of which I share here which does give me hope that good will prevail... 

QPR U14 Players/parents
Hi its ****, thanks for everything, you made me a better player and good luck for the future.
Hi Tony, Just wanted to say thanks for being such a good coach for the time you were with us. As a team and as individuals we have never played so well. I will remember all the advice you gave and wanted to say good luck and thank you.
Thanks Tony, we just wanted to say so sorry to hear you gone. ***** is so gutted. Thanks again, you will be a great loss to youth football.
Hi Tony, gutted to hear u have left QPR mate! **** wanted me to text u to say thanks for everything & he’s really enjoyed his football! Wish u all the best.
Hi Tony, thanks for all the support you gave during these couple of months, hope to see you in the future and I will not forget you.
Hi Tony, we were told tonight about you leaving the club and I’d like to say thank you for everything you’ve done for our team this season and especially me. Our team’s confidence was low coming into this season, you gave us a great mentality and upped my confidence to a level so I really believed in myself. You improved me as a player and improved the team, thanks a lot for that.
Hi Tony, I hope all is good. I would just like to say thank you for being a great inspiration and teacher for me, I have learnt a lot from you in these few months and feel I have developed as a player. Thank you a lot and hope to see you soon. Thank you Tony, I will try and make you proud.
Hi Tony, I’ve heard you've decided to move on from the club and I wish you have a great future in what you r next step in your life will be and good luck with that. Thank you for coaching me this year and for all you have done. By you doing this you've made me a much better player.

Senior Pro Coach

We're all going to miss you at our football club.

I'm sorry that you’re leaving for a number of reasons but mainly because of your enthusiasm and brightness around the place.

Good luck to you at your next club, you will be a loss to the game if you are not back at pro level soon.

Full-time Pro Youth Coach
Tony, I’d say you’ve made by far the biggest influence on my coaching out of anyone I’ve worked with. But more the way to act around players and how to speak to people like the kit lady, security guards etc. first... then the coaching second which I leaned loads from. 

Junior Coach QPR

Heard yesterday you had left the club, it’s a big loss for the club to lose one of the best academy coaches but obviously you had your reasons.
Always been told to try and watch you coach since I came to club just over 3 years ago as you were one of the best to learn from. Was good to hear your thoughts and opinions on the youth module courses and I took a lot from the shorts conversations.

Good luck with everything


My message to players
Whatever level you play at try to enjoy football. Remember, whatever happens you will make mistakes. I strongly recommend you younger players don’t take the reports to seriously, or at least when they remind you of the odd mistakes you make. I watched a game between Liverpool and Arsenal and within 6 minutes all 4 key players from both sides had made a mistake of some kind. You’re at an elite environment because somebody thinks you’re great. But in development you won’t always get things right. Just try to win (nothing wrong with that), try to play, try new things and try your best. Keep believing and keep smiling!

My message to coaches
This is not meant to be a scathing attack on all coaches in pro football. I have met some delightful people and great coaches. But I’m just saying what I see from the various clubs where I have been.
Just remember when you coach why you are there. You’re not there for you, your there for the players. It’s not about you looking good, it’s about the players looking good in the end.
I urge you greatly to think about the words you use and especially when you write them down on a computer system. Doubt is one of the biggest psychological barriers and the more you highlight mistakes and create negativity the player increases doubt. Wouldn't it be great if you could only tell players what they did well, but fix what they do wrong, without them even knowing? Think about that, think about what that would achieve. Challenge yourself to try it.
Don’t ever forget these are young vulnerable people desperately trying to please you. You’re not managing the 1st team, pat them on the back as often as you can!
We can agree or not about coaching philosophies and I agree with most about the technical improvements we need. However, don’t forget. A football team is made up of 11 ranging players including a goalkeeper. Every successful team in my living memory has had an excellent balance of players with ranging attacking and defensive capabilities. Just remember that when your desperately trying to make every player Lionel Messi.
Finally, I think it’s great that many people see opportunities in football but just be careful about how you climb the ladder. Never forget your roots and values. Someone in your family was like the kit lady washing that kit, cleaning the floors or making the tea. You never won a world cup so you’re not a super hero, so drop the ego. Talk to people around you, say hello, show respect, be humble and you’ll be amazed what you learn from people for free giving you knowledge and integrity. That’s the true foundation of a solid future.
I have been at all levels of the scale in sport and business and the biggest thing that always stuck with me that rung true was…

“Remember the names of all the people you trample over on the way up, because you will meet them again on the way down”

To the genuine human being beings I met in youth football. I hope for the sake of the game you get recognised and placed in positions were you can get the influence you deserve. Also thanks for everything I learned from you. 

Ok, ive still got my 7 paged EPPP experience and I need to decide to release it or not. In the meantime, my time in youth pro football under this system is over.

Tony McCool