Friday, 25 July 2014

EPPP Require player reports. What affect do they have? Are you a considerate to the Impact?

As part of the Elite Player Performance Plan clubs academy systems are required to report on player development on a regular basis. That sounds great and actually, in my years coaching I know first-hand that some parents feel excluded with a lack of information and sometimes players feel that they don’t know what the coach actually wants him to work harder on. I also know that the process is or should be part of linked up learning, for example if an area of development is required an identified, can we then see an individual development plan to help tackle that?
I actually support this in principle and also agree that improved communication and clarity over development can only be a good thing. But as with most things EPPP, how is it interpreted at the sharp end might be called into question and what affect does that have on our future talent and future non footballing adults?

As with all things EPPP it’s not all bad. There are some good examples of how clubs handle player reports and as described, it is trying to address something which it should. Having said that I can’t help feeling gravely concerned about how and why some of them are executed.

I have witnessed and received many complaints from people about the tonality and content of these reports. I think that perhaps coaches lack the time, depth of thought and empathy for the potential damage their words can cause. Some coaches are filling in these reports with little thought and for the wrong reasons. Many simply make notes about so called ‘development’ points. Even just highlighting mistakes and weaknesses. I know from first-hand experience lads that went a whole year without a single positive remark in a report or meeting. Therefore leaving feeling completely demolished and confidence shattered. Also, if senior staff don’t ‘fancy’ a player they are encouraged to write negatives in the reports to somehow set up the player and parents for the axe. This somehow strengthens their argument when they are released. I don’t believe this is the reason for these reports and therefore the Premier League auditors need to look deeper into them as part of assessment and offer tighter guidelines about how they are used. My wife works in a primary school setting and she has seen the similarities in the process. However, she was shocked when I showed her example reports as she insists that is where similarities end. Process similar, content, purpose and plan poles apart. I don’t know why some of these staff do this or why they allow themselves to be convinced to slowly derail a player’s belief. Of course you also need to be honest. You can’t pretend a player is at a level they are not. But just because the boss doesn’t rate them you don’t have to agree and you don’t have to make them miserable leading up to the inevitable. It’s not the green mile. Surely, if you was a decent coach and a decent person you would do your best to address issues and help him fix them. Wouldn’t it be great to make them change their mind? I have just seen a 1st year scholar play his pre-season friendly in the youth team. He was going twice in the view of the bosses and I believed they were wrong and fought to save him. If he had gone and not accepted the help, ok, but at least I know I tried my best as his coach and someone he looked up to.
So why do some not ‘abuse’ this process?

Lack of time?
If coaches are working in a Level 1 regular Premier League team they might be fortunate to be full-time in charge of their youth age group. Therefore they are afforded the time to properly plan, review and report on sessions and players. But if you are part-time at say perhaps an aspiring club that is pushing to achieve a higher academy grade, you will be pushed to almost conduct the records that a Level1 Academy would, but afforded a fraction of the time and pay. When you consider the requirements that are over and above preparing, delivering and evaluating a football session.
-          Setting individual learning objectives for players and recording individual session outcomes. This could be for 4/5 training sessions per week.
-          Setting individual learning objectives for players and recording outcomes for games. Normally 1 per week
-          Doing individual weekly reports
-          6 wk, ½ year and year end reports
This amounts to vastly more hours of commitment compared to pre-eppp. Yes, rolling out on a pitch with a bag of footballs and wondering what to deliver is a thing of the past. Planning to a consistent club syllabus and philosophy is great. But the reports take the hours to a different level of commitment. I have seen then that coaches resort to ‘copy paste’ of content, or it is rushed. Filling in data fields for the sake of it to relieve some pressure. The trouble is for the individual that receives that content. They don’t have 20 reports to read. They have one, they read every word in depth. So do some go wrong?

Having suffered ‘ageism’ in a business world I believe that the ability to be successful in a job doesn’t mean you fit a certain stereotype. So if a young person can do the job then great. But they will lack experience. Equally, being older shouldn’t mean you are excluded because people think you are ‘old school’ not prepared to change and cant adopt technology? Having said that I feel that there is a growing number of very young coaches, which is great because many are excellent. But with qualifications on board there is one thing they cannot rush, experience. I have spoken to a highly qualified ‘older’ non-league manager, when I say ‘non-league’ I’m talking very high standard semi pro outfit. He told me of his growing concern at going on FA football courses and seeing the EGO in many young guys that boast the top pro club crest on their kit. He described how many he could see clearly struggled and wished they had the humbleness to just talk to him. Instead he felt they looked down their nose at him and he was in some way inferior. These guys need to quickly realise that the football industry knows that these positions are heavily underpaid and with the workload is a turn off for many experienced coaches.
I recall coming home skipping with my driving licence skipping with my delight for my dad to bring me back down to earth. “Well don son, but remember you haven’t qualified yet, qualification comes from experience. In the 1st year you’ll learn more when faced with the 4 seasons and you never stop learning after that”. I think this is the same with coaching.

Perhaps football is the only industry where only the newest qualified individuals can actually afford to work in the profession at the highest level. Are they being backed by someone senior that knows they pose no threat to their position? Is it felt that by bringing in someone with vast playing and coaching experience could in some way threaten your leadership whereas the younger generation will be that much more grateful to be in a professional football club setting having never played there, that they won’t ask questions. Well like many top clubs I see that do it right it is a balance. A balance of keen fresh new coaching talent, coaches that totally embrace change and evolution, but also you can’t ignore experience. You can’t ignore playing experience and coaching experience. Are any of you like me that get a very slight nervous twitch when the experienced flight pilot says over the speaker, “Today my colleague and 1st officer will fly you to…”
Having had major knee reconstruction and double cruciate repairs I can’t tell you how much more comfortable I was to see my senior consultant standing over me with his scalpel as opposed to his registrar. Maybe there is something big here. Why don’t BA put two newly qualified pilots together? Why are senior consultant surgeons always flanked by their team of newly qualified doctors? Why in my wife’s school is an NQT (Newly qualified teacher) always partnered with the most experienced Teaching Assistants? Only in football would we find so called NCC (Newly qualified coaches), placed in leadership roles like head of 12-16’s for example. They haven’t even learned their trade yet. According to my wife, the equivalent role in her school would be a Key stage leader. These people in her school have all got at least 5 years’ experience teaching and have taught across the full age range.
In my opinion this lack of experience does have an effect and combined with perhaps a lack of parenting skills shows massively in the way some children are addressed and then how reports are written or communicated.

Not the wright person?
There is of course the possibility that you just simply are the wrong person. Some of the most abusive people I have seen pitch side or some that seem to lack all people skills are some the most qualified. Going on courses and taking notes frantically is great, but when you are seen a week later lacking all ability to understand the emotions of a child or read some of the content you write in reports which completely destroy lads, I think to myself, you stood out on that course as being the busiest in terms of application. So in front of your peers and management you look like the head boy. But when I see the ‘other you’ I have to question your integrity. A great coach and man said to me. “Tony, always get caught being yourself” For me, courses are books, full of words. Presentations are text, full of words. But none of it matters if you don’t apply it. Actions are the only thing that matters. If or when im an academy manager and I asked you who the most important person in the club is, I will not expect you to say me, or the chief executive or even the chairman. The most important person is the player. That’s who you work for, impress them before you impress me.

Overall I would ask coaches to consider their own feelings. They don’t understand the psychological impact of your words. At all ages, not just children, we don’t react well to constant criticism.  If you went into your work review and your boss only told you what you should improve, you would think, hang on, have I don’t anything good? Have you recognised a shred of my effort? If you were constantly assessed coaching and got a review every week which only highlighted what you did wrong, how would you feel?

Of course we see a very similar process of 6 week reporting (term time) in school. But the reports are constantly evaluated with action plans by senior leadership teams. In my wife’s school they also make a plan with the older pupils together, so they discuss with them where they think they are and together come up with targets. We don’t listen to players, we dictate to them. All we do is start the review with the question “So, how do you think the last term has gone”? With a terrified child looking back not knowing what’s coming. Plus the question isn’t going to change anything because the document is typed and printed. I love the concept of starting that conversation with a completely blank canvass and working together to come up with the plan.

But also we all know school teachers are under pressure. You only have to see the details of the latest walk out to know they also question the amount of reporting. Although teachers in my view are better trained to balance the ‘development’ with some positive recognition. But, in some cases they are also are guilty of not thinking about the children individually. I have evidence myself. I took the trouble to re-read my sons report again this morning. In a number of locations it has ‘(His/Her)’ in the sentence, meaning clearly this is a global comment that is copied and pasted into boxes for the teacher to simply amend the gender to make it personal. 

When I see that, I’m sorry, I completely disregard the whole report other than the ‘FACTS’ the results. That is a fault of the system, not the teacher, underpaid and no time. So pointless reports are the result.

Particularly when dealing with the younger players, saying, you need to improve this, you need to improve that…. you’re the coach, teach me then please. Its like they pass all the responsibility onto the player. But sometimes they don’t know what your point looks like. For example, if we look academically. When ,my sons report comes in and says he needs to do better in non-calculator maths topics, well, he is heavily dependent on the teacher to show him and as parents, we can surely only get left with the general motivational or discipline sides. Like, Must try harder, listen in class, stop talking and getting distracted. Because I certainly cannot help with quadratic graphs and without his teacher he wouldn’t know either. So for me, the reports are much better if they were references for the coaches, not the players. It’s the coaches that need to understand what the players needs and help them.

There is a clear lack of guidance in these reporting methods, how they are done, the purpose of them and the impact. The FA and The Premier League EPPP team need to address this. Perhaps find the ‘good club’ example and share it.
I would improve or reshuffle staff. I would ‘buddy up’ experience with youth. Also, by that I don’t mean the ‘senior’ coach takes all the sessions and the younger coach is his assistant just to put cones out. The senior coach needs to buy into to his or her role. Success is the development of that coach as well as the players.
So I certainly would be embracing youth but I would change the rules for leadership roles. These roles need improved pay structure making it more attractive to more qualified, but more importantly experienced coaches. These roles should be proven people with many years at all ages of development. That also applies to the roles above them like head of coaching. Surely that’s obvious? But not the case everywhere.
In terms of reports, I would set guidelines for the coaches. What the report should look like. It should tell me what I’m great at, even if you’ve already told me, it should remind me. It should tell me what’s great about me in all four corners. It should involve the parents with an open mind and should point out the things that are general that they can help with. Timekeeping, attendance, attitude, behaviour, aggression, diet etc.
As a player, these are the things that together with you the player, me the coach am going to really focus on helping you improve on. That’s my job as a coach to give you the best chance when it comes to being considered for the next stage. Another year, another two years, a scholarship, a pro etc.

Tony McCool