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”.
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.
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.
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.
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.