Monday, 12 December 2016

Week 49 – Inspirational Refugee Footballer, Reward v Reports & Performance Bands

At my coaching session on the Monday under the backdrop of Wembley Stadiums iconic arc we put together games for the boys. Some registered academy players and some trial players. I happened to be on the phone to a well-known coach as I struggled to get all my equipment and balls from my car to the pitch. He said I’ll let you go but I suddenly thought, no wait actually because something has occurred to me. I had recently hurt my back yet I had counted 15+ lads had walked past me and not offered to help. I have a bag of balls, a kit bag an equipment bag as I shuffled around consciously not asking to see if anyone offered. Within yards of the pitch one lad finally offered to give me hope that some decency and manners existed still. That was followed up by a lad showing me the ultimate disrespect kissing his lips at me when asked to play in a position he didn’t like. I offered him another option which was standing on the side of the pitch and he decided to opt for the first option and play where I asked him. I later explained to him the importance of trying different positions, examples of professionals playing now where we had done the same in their development years.
Another new lad had arrived late and we got him on the pitch. Just as I was in a bit of a gaze despairing in my mind and frustrated at the attitude of some of the boys that we are here trying to help, maybe they think they have cracked the code. As I quietly & thoughtfully carried on watching I was quickly diverted. The new lad was running and trying like I haven’t seen in a long time from any player. He tactically wasn’t great and you could see he was ‘raw’. Immediately I can see that he hadn’t been in any academy structure which sometimes I like. When he got the ball his first touch was excellent and positive. He drove at players, could beat them 1v1 and had a great shot but also awareness to pick out opposition. Every time his team lost it, he ran and closed down like it was the last 5 minutes of an FA cup final he was losing. I got him on the side for a chat as I had not really spoke to him. After introductions…

Me “hey, great start, well done”
Player “Thank you” (hes looking at me smiling)
Me “So, could you tell me, where have you been playing”?
Player “I play for *** ******” (of course need to protect his identity)
Me “So, how long have you played for them”
Player “have played for them for 3 months”
Me “Oh cool, so where did you play before that?”
Player “I just came to the country a year ago”
Me “that’s ok, so you played where you lived before”?
Player “No, I didn’t, I never played football”

So, what happened next took my breath away. It turns out this child is an orphan refugee. He has foster parents in London and was rescued from a war torn country. His parents killed in the process. He had never played in an organised football match until September this year and at best practiced skills in the street on his own. Hes 13. We’ve all seen the refugee crises on the TV and most have seen and heard the resentment towards people that come here perhaps unjustified. However, for me this was the first time I had met a real victim. A poor child on his own in a foreign country. I have children and it quickly hit home how lucky we are. I put him on the pitch and what he displayed the first time only got better. It was like watching one of those X Factor episodes of a child lighting up the stage that followed a heart-breaking story. Except this was no stage and no audience. However he still left me thrilled and excited. I of course had to remain professional but inside it felt both heart-breaking and heart-warming. If this child gets signed and continues on what he showed, he will be an unbelievable story. I feel like if he does then every cold wet night evening of ups and downs will have been worth it, just for that. I think I might need to wear sunglasses next week if he performs like that again.

Reward v Reports
Delivering Fiitball this week in schools got me thinking about player reports in academy football. We really want players to learn movement off the ball and forward runs. In Fiitball we have scoring end zones and when the first child did it I really exaggerated the reward. I stopped it, everyone clapped. I reminded everyone how that indicates great tactical ability. Guess what, within 5 minutes of restarting 6 further children ran into the end zone seeking out a similar “well done”. I then thought about player reports and what if I did that as a trial. As an alternative method just write that learning objective down on the child’s report. Then see how translate that into a game. To me, most children have a natural competitive instinct that can be exploited as a coach to be able to provoke that leaning point. Just by a tweak of the rules and game targets can help you get the learning target out instead of putting it down on paper as a ‘negative’ that many children can take badly even putting them off the sport. I’m not a fan of endless pointless reports and I believe it creates lazy coaching.

Performance Bands

I heard something outrageous this week. A professional club development centre putting bronze, silver and gold bands on the children. This is ten year olds. Maybe they do it with younger ones as well. But what is your view on this? Am I alone in thinking of so many reasons of why this is bad and I don’t know how it helps development at any level of football. Reality is, some players are better than others. In the end, at professional clubs, some get contracts, some don’t and get released. In development years I see no benefit whatsoever of there being a public display of your ‘opinion’ of who is doing better and who is struggling. It will create an environment straight away that could create bullying behind your back. It’s embarrassing for the child and you could completely demotivate that child and put them off football. Also, how does it help the ‘gold’ players? They think they’ve cracked it, get over confident and now start to coast along. The reality behind the scenes inside professional clubs is that they indeed will have typically three groups. Those struggling, the ones in the middle and the ones flying at the top. Ultimately if players don’t improve or development strategies tried have failed they will get released. Recruitment teams then replenish those players. But discussions need to be private with the player and parents and include expected areas of improvement. To put bands on them to me is awful. If it was my club I would tell the coaches I’m going to do the same with them. Put them is groups of who we as a club rate as a club and those we don’t. I wonder how that would make them feel? Or let the parents put them into those groups. Sounds outrageous doesn’t it? That’s because it is, if you’re a coach, stand up for what right and challenge that please. Or, help me understand the argument for it. For example, in class the children will sit in groups for maths. Stronger ones will be developed/challenged more. Lower performing groups helped more. Personally, I don’t think this can work in football. Do you?

Tony McCool

Tuesday, 29 November 2016

Tackle the Culprit

It goes without saying that I like 99% of others have found the recent revelations around Barry Bennell the football coach and scout  completely sickening, to think this could happen in the industry we work in is so appalling and shocking. It has sparked all sorts of emotions in me after watching the original dispatches video on youtube which left me speechless and shocked. I had never seen it before. Why was this brushed under the carpet?
When I reflect on this it leaves me with the conclusion I have have had before. There is no doubt in my mind that people like this (men and women) that have sexual tendencies toward children and act out their sick fantasies are not dealt with strongly enough. The consequences resulting from the actions of these people when they follow through their urges cuts so deep and affects so many people around the victim to extents that somehow don't get considered enough or people and authorities don't realise.
If a person serves time as in the case of Barry Bennell. 9 years for 25 convictions does he come out cured? If somebody goes to jail for their actions of crime it is meant as a punishment. It might make the criminal think twice about a further assault or a thief think twice about stealing. But can sexual urges and instinct be controlled with the same mindset? As adults who are attracted to other adults can we relate to that? Imagine being single but being told it is against the law to look at or approach another adult that you are attracted to? I think that would be virtually impossible to prevent and I consider it impossible to prevent in proven paedophile’s whether they have been to jail or not. To me, if you are a threat to a child you should not be walking the streets with protected identities. It’s the children that should be protected first. Jail for a man like this should have been whole life, or 9 years and chemical castration (if that works). That then complete with constant monitoring and complete isolation from the public. Is that extreme? What about his human right’s? He didn't kill anyone? Well, I will explain further my ‘extreme view’ if that's how you see it.

He's convicted of 25 crimes against 6 boys. But how many others are there? Andy Woodward, Steve Walters, Paul Stewart, David White, Chris Unsworth, Jason Dunford and Ian Ackley have spoken up about him and potential other coaches. But, in the case of Barry Bennell it would be naive to consider we have seen and heard all the cases. This is made very clear in the heart breaking interview on Victoria Live.  A lot of people are too embarrassed to come forward, so it must be more. But the original 6 for which he was charged, that's 6 lives affected. What if any of them ended up like my family?
We had a very difficult life of unexplained events. It didn't include sexual assault but it certainly was a very difficult time which my siblings and I endured. The end result was both our parents dyeing very young. 48 & 49. Without going into detail the whole episode resulted in elements of huge dysfunctional nature. Lets just say that we have seen problems including alcohol, drugs, depression, break ups, detachment, violence, emotional issues, anger and suicide attempts to name but a few. This progressed consequently through two further generations. Only years later most have found peace and normality stabilising their day to day lives. But these were all victims. A knock on affect that spirals out of control. Mixed in to this we had a mother who the kindest most giving charitable person I’ve ever known. But something also wasn't right. Things we overheard. My father suspected something. I even remember a ritual burning of evidence in the back garden. Maybe in that era that was supposed to be the method for getting over something that was torturing you. To me, none of it made sense, apart from a hunch. Working on that ‘hunch’ I did some homework. I asked a lot of questions from people still around. 15 years since my mother locked herself away and destroyed herself, I only recently had it confirmed. My mother had been a victim in a paedophile ring growing up in the Devon area. This is what left her so disturbed and something she never got over. Something that was covered up/ignored by her own friends and family. Im not suggesting they supported it. I actually know one member that was desperate to expose it and was trying to save her. But the rest turned a blind eye. Chose to pretend it didn’t happen despite her despair. In an era where saying “underpants” was deemed rude it seems the embarrassment of this would be too much to bear. Maybe they feel guilt, and a sense of blame for allowing certain situations to happen or allowing people into their lives. Better just to move on rather than face the outrage? Also, the perpetrators are so convincing as they control the extended family, maybe there is doubt? Who would believe us anyway? All this bears a striking resemblance to Barry Bennell. I have names, places, events but it looks like all the people involved are likely now dead. Or maybe they to moved on with protected identities?

 At least I now have the explanation. I take some comfort in that and also feel I owed it to my poor tortured mother to find the truth, some people somewhere must have gasped a huge relief when they heard she fell quiet. She was no longer at risk of exposing them. For the record, if you’re alive and reading this, I haven't finished looking for you…

But it also means I’ve seen first hand the damage over generations of extended family these people inflict indirectly. They should get life for every life they ruined in my family. At the very least my mums. They murdered her and put her through the slowest painful death.
We see now in the excellent BBC drama The Missing the damage and carnage heaped upon a family as a result of the evil monster who kidnapped their daughter. Worse still is the cover up from like minded people or from people keen to not upset the image of in this case the British army. It’s so well written but, of course fictional. Credit to the writers. But this is something we have seen in other major organisations like the Catholic Church, the BBC and now, professional football. With what we now know is there anything less taboo than protecting children?

There of course has to be responsibility of the ignorance and lack of action from the organisations. It’s even been suggested that there was more people involved in organised paedophile rings. Frankly, that wouldn’t surprise me, why else would so many ‘accusations’ be dismissed out of hand? As they say, there is no smoke without fire?
It has to be said that the FA had taken great steps in the last decade regarding child protection and I applaud that. That follows the DBS implementation that schools followed post Huntley’s vile crime. But what I want to say is, who committed the crime? We have a tendency to go after everyone else and somehow let the perpetrators off the hook. Is it more PC madness? We can’t afford to offend someone? We have to include them? The strong hand needs to be with those that commit the crime which for me is not enough.

I have been on numerous child welfare/protection/safeguarding courses. It does open your eyes and also makes you think about your own actions and protection. It certainly reminds you to never put yourself in a questionable situation. I would also suggest they show the dispatches video from 1997 presented by Deborah Davies which somehow got little or no coverage and was not followed up sufficiently. Let’s not hide from the truth, this is why we are here. Ultimately that together with DBS checks makes it more difficult for a new Barry Bennell to utilise our game to carry out his or hers sick perversions. However one thing crosses my mind which I think adds weight to my argument of not dealing with perpetrators strongly enough. Ultimately, what has the training course done for those individuals that have those sick thoughts? Do they go, “oh, actually it’s wrong to do that”? So don't be a paedophile. A course isn't going to cure that. However we can’t be complacent and these awareness sessions do indeed serve to help prevent incidents.

Do we turn into hysterical paedophile hunters though? I have been all over the country delivering our new game we created in many schools.  We and our staff are well qualified, well checked, we work within education requirements and of course we work within rules and our own guidelines. But being a new person in a school certainly highlights certain things.
I remember once packing away my goals and equipment in the car park. It happened to be next to the playground. I’m inside the school gates, I’ve got identification on. I’ve coached all morning. Its lunchtime. A few of the children said hello who I had been teaching that morning and two girls stopped by as I was back and forward to the car with equipment. They were asking about the game, who created it, where it is played etc. Of course as I was back and forward loading the car I answered their questions. One of the dinner ladies was looking over. I could feel I was being a watched. A good thing? They are looking after the welfare of the girls. That's cool, not an issues. I would be doing the same if it was my own children. But then the dinner lady came over, not looking at me she said “Come away from that man girls, we don't know who he is”. Well, I was a bit shocked with that. She made me feel awful. I was guilty of being spoken to. Why should I feel like that? You see, that's their fault. The likes of Bennell. In football we've all seen it. Hysteria, a granddad takes a photo of his grandchild playing football and were running over to him making him feel like that also! That can’t be right can it? I think as part of the courses we should be learning how to address this in how we communicate. For example If I have to approach a grandparent in situations like that I always start with an apology and explain things like identifying children that could be under the watch of the authorities and can’t be photographed. Remember, this is just an innocent loving proud granddad, please pay him the courtesy of an explanation and think about how hurtful and suggestive we can be in our protective cautious behavior.

But what is also highlighted in the job I do is the vulnerability of the children. It’s incredible. I meet some children for 40 minutes yet they are trying to hold your hand and cuddle you. There’s an immediate trust, it’s frightening. This is what makes this so much worse. What sort of animal can take advantage of that vulnerability? It certainly highlights why children indeed need many ears and eyes to gauge potential risks to them. But equally, we also need to remind ourselves that 99.9% of adults are genuine caring people.
When I think back to my childhood which was troubled to say the least, I found football. Trouble was, I couldn’t get there, I was picked up, for years, by the most genuine, nicest guy in my life at that time. Plus I've got a surprise. That's it! He picked up several players on a regular basis. Without him I would never have got to football. But we never went to his house or had any inappropriate behavior. He was my hero. An unpaid hero getting lads together to play football. He gave me something to look forward to, an escape. Ironically though, that's what Bennell did. That's what makes that twisted evil man so bad. He's made society’s really nice people, think twice about nice. Think twice about helping people. That makes me so mad. If it wasn't for my football coach, god know’s where I would be today. If anywhere.

We are in a culture that brings more football children’s parents to football so I think these situations are rarer. My own children both played football and they were never left alone with anyone other than our closest friends and family. I think the work of DBS checking, identity checking, workshops and culture changes certainly make it more difficult for a Barry Bennell to operate but it would be extremely naive to expect there to be no-ne out there with his thoughts and tendencies. My answer would be to deal with THEM ‘effectively’ to protect children that will inevitably come into contact with THEM. The system is too soft in its dealings with monsters like this. That man got nine years, but let’s put that in perspective. Nine years for alleged hundreds of rapes on children? He should never have seen daylight. I don’t think that is an ‘extreme view’.

I have seen the Interview on Victoria Live from four of the men. The deep pain in them men etched on their face and images frozen in their eyes. As parents and as, in this case ‘football people’ we owe a huge gratitude to them. What bravery and courage to have shared their gut wrenching stories for the purpose to help prevent this in the future. Big strong men completely broken up. I absolutely concur with them about their parents and extended network being victims of this evil twisted man. The punishment needs to be greater. Studies need to be done to uncover the true extends of carnage these people cause. It’s never just the physical person they attacked that’s the sole victim.

This ‘Man’ Bennell and others like him operated and got away with it because the subject was taboo and they held dreams in their hands. They bullied the victim and manipulated the loved ones around them. I can’t think of any example of a sadder low-life human being. We have got to oust them, lock them up, throw away the key, offer lifetime support to the victims and then move on so we can allow children to still form genuine appropriate relationships with decent adults.


Sunday, 20 November 2016

Week 46 - Fiitball goes to Wales & Wayne Rooney Tales

I did my session in London for the academy satellite centre. Driving in I recognised one of the families walking from the tube. It was a mum with her son. I made a point of asking her how far she comes to training when i seen her later on. She had a long train journey home from training as well. Its quite clear that many of these people live on or near the bread line, have difficult lives, single parents and it amazes me the lengths, strength and desire of some parents. We foolishly as well presume that they go to these extremes because its them pushing the child. But she said to me, "I just do whatever it takes to make him happy, this is what he want's so I find a way". She never mentioned money. I'm sure he does, but I hope her lad appreciates what his mum puts herself through. 
There was also a lad training that didn't seem right to me. I asked him and he said he felt sick and had been off school. This started another series of questions. Too sick for school but drags himself to training? My club would not want that and I certainly don't. I explained to him that his commitment is commendable, however. I cant think of any child in all the years that succeeded or failed becasue they were sick and missed training as a result. He looked reassured, wrapped up and went home with his parents.

A long day, started on the road to head to Gloucestershire from Bedfordshire to deliver Fiitball in a primary school. The feedback from the teachers was fantastic and more importantly, the pupils who all took part and some asked if we could go back again. We were talking about movement and awareness in team games and netball came up. I asked "can you name me any sports then where you think netball skills would also be useful"?. A little girl put her hand up and replied, "yes, netball". Haha, done me there. I asked for that!
After the school day I went and had dinner with a previous colleague from QPR who now works for Swindon Town before I headed to the ground for my scouting role. They had Eastleigh in the FA Cup. Eastleigh were excellent and had a good game plan executed by some good experienced professionals. I sat with Paul Furlong to watch the game who I also worked with at QPR and we had a good catch up. It still amazes me how big the ego's are on some people in football who have never really achieved anything yet guys like Furz are so nice and humble. 

Managed to get a late upgrade to the Celtic Manor resort which was a fantastic nights sleep before a short drive down to Newport where I was to deliver Fiitball to a whole school years 3-6. One thing that becomes apparent to me doing this all over the country is that there is a difference in the mannerism of the staff and children. Also a difference in resilience. I see lots of children who get upset very quickly, or hurt and rushed off to medical rooms seemingly for no reason. I didn't see that here. The children were bright, enthusiastic, bags of energy, tough and most of all funny! Its great to hear children laughing and allowed to have personality. I didn't once hear "he said, she said". Technically I could clearly see many children passing the ball to each other in the style of rugby. There is no doubt what is popular round here. One child said to me, "You smell like Ronaldo" after a conversation about the smell of the bibs. I don't know how it was intended but I certainly was taking that as compliment.
I had a long drive home to listen to radio and decided on talksport. During that drive and over the next days i heard host after host continuing the Wayne Rooney discussion. I must have heard his name 500 times. For me its a non topic and all those who criticise him as hes a role model etc need to take a look at themselves. Yes Wayne is England's captain and indeed a role model to children. However its parents that are the closest influence on their children and i'm sure 99% can tell similar stories and worse. Hypercritical warning me thinks!
Also in the car I listen to a talksport show topic title. 'Was Paul Scholes all that'? What a fantastic player. World class and now in his retirement do we really need to have such a pointless debate? Comparing him to Gerrrard and Lampard. Why? He was different. All three were great for slightly different reasons. Its typical English, we have to find whats wrong, we have to find fault. Many managers get critised for lack of decency and integrity or horrible management skills. Gareth Southgate is in the frame for the England Managers job, wait for it, hes too nice! When will we ever stop?
Wayne has been one of the most exciting English players ever and lets be straight, England's top scorer! What a great servant to club and country. Over 400 premier league games and 119 England games. Does he not deserve a bit of respect instead of hounding him like hes an evil criminal? He got drunk in a hotel lobby. So what?

Yet another school delivering Fiitball. This time in Oxford. Got a great response from the pupils and teachers again. Its so rewarding to have a group who at one end includes elite academy footballers and at the other many stated special educational needs. So to have a whole class together enjoying sport, boys and girls, all willing participating and getting something from it is very rewarding. I always like to try and leave with success in at least one development topic. I focused on triangle shape around the ball, individuals losing markers and risk v reward passes.
A teacher afterwards and said how impressed she was how I had handled a boy who is a signed academy player. Of course, I have been working with boys like him for many years so I have a way I guess that can challenge him, acknowledge his ability but equally keeping him grounded. 

Myself and Kevin Gallen headed to Watford to do a couple of sessions for a grass roots club under our brand 2touchfootball. On the first group we decided to try something. "What do you want to do in training"? We asked the group of U11's. I will then try to help you within the session that you decide. After a couple of minutes of excitement, they decided. Two things came out. Shooting and Play Matches. We put it to the vote and 'Play Matches' was by far the most popular. Its interesting I feel for us as coaches to remember what it is the children want. We get frustrated when they keep saying "can we play a match now", but its proof that is what they enjoy most. So can we get topics out as a coach inside their choice to play matches? We put a 'cross' on each pitch and played 3x 5 aside matches. as we progressed we put rules and challenges inside the games that allowed us to achieve, ball manipulation, 1v1s, passing and receiving, movement and awareness and combination play. Not bad considering the lads did what they wanted. Playing games.
Saturday afternoon I went to Barnet v Crewe and it looked as though Martin Allen was attempting to keep himself away from the touchline. However, that didn't last long and he was soon down there dragging players into areas he wanted them. It was reported that he didn't need his minor heart surgery. But i'm sure and hope he keeps tabs on it. To this day its still so devastating to know that my own father lost his life at 48 to a heart attack that could have been prevented with a stent in minor surgery. Its a tough job and Martin Allen is a big strong man. Fingers crossed hes now on the mend!
Have a great week doing sports and coaching!

Tony McCool

Week 45 - Arthritis time, EPPP and the EFL Trophy

For many like me, this is the time when I get a stark reminder of all the operations iv'e had on my knee. I'm sure many people can relate to the pain that comes this time of year. Of course its got nothing to do with age! I had been to Northampton Town V Harrow Borough on the Saturday. Great to catch up with Mick Harford there. We spoke about Luton Town and the crop of talent there. Exciting times for Luton I feel. I have to say its really refreshing. Harrow Borough going two goals behind early on of course quickly sealed this games fate. It was cold as well, at half time around me there was a collective groan of pain as all the scouts got up for the half time coffee! 
Doing our weekly training at a school in Hertfordshire where we coach a real diverse range of abilities. Something I really love about this is one of the children's granddads comes along to watch. Iv'e been in grass roots and have experienced some parents and grandparents shouting and sideline coaching. But I think we all need reminding sometimes how special it is that they come and support. We call him the Director of Football! I think we are too quick to dismiss people on over the top policies. Hes a top man!
In the evening I did a session at our level one recruitment satellite training center. I really do buy into the training methods. All geared around sessions that look like real football. Something I think the lads really enjoy more as well. Had a discussion with the local guys there about some of the great English players that have come from the areas around Brent and what attributes they demonstrated which gave them the edge to kick on. Lots of comment about desire and hunger. Funny how that always comes up?
Its ironic, the next day in school football we are having a discussion with the boys and girls about behavior and attitude. I start to think, is desire and and hunger in you? Technical/Tactical development can 100% be coached. What about desire and hunger? I certainly think we can effect enthusiasm with competitive games and sessions.
In the evening I nipped over to Stevenage V Southend to look at players. Was a bit deserted and its no secret that this EFL tournament needs review. I certainly see pros and cons.
Wembley 2009 After JPT Final  
Interesting driving to Reading U23 v Yeovil in the EFL Trophy listening to talksport where the topic was EPPP. I was a bit disappointed to have to go in the game and missing it so I did catch up later. I think the guys spoke very well and have real good arguments for change. We couldn't leave things as they were and the facilities and resource now at the disposal of the big clubs is tremendous. 
I split the key areas in to three that I feel still need to be reviewed. 1. Grassroots to Elite pathway and 2. EPPP environment 3. Elite Development pathway to 1st team.
1. Grassroots to Elite
-  No contracts for any players under 11. Just a free registration. 
- No restrictions on where they play and what sport they participate in. With a 1:200 chance at a club it's a moral crime to deny a child wider sporting memories
- Reduced controlled contact. The children are too tired
- Address the pay to play culture. Talent is lost in schools as they cant afford to travel to academies or even the subs for a grass roots team. Set up FA regional elite centers that are fully funded. Schools can then send unattached selected players for free.
- Change and enforce restrictions on scouting bonus systems. Short term bonus cannot work. If all the incentive is on new players some existing talent could get squeezed out. Also no bonus for early signing of scholars and 1st year pros.
- Clubs should have a sign and release committee. 
- Zero tolerance to recruitment based on ethnic background. If a player meets the target criteria then they are given the opportunity
- Recruit balanced players of ranging attributes. Not one style (Messi)
2. EPPP Environment
- Players are turning up hungry or eating rushed meals, siblings negatively affected, parents risking work issues to meet times. Escalating fuel and travel costs, players falling asleep in class. We need to review the contact hours relevant to age.
- 20-40% loss of education contact hours on a 1:200 chance. That is career changing and morally outrageous. 
- Quality of coaches reduced due to some walking away due to pressures of low income and hours required to record data on computer systems that are unreliable. 
- Endless repetieve player reports on players that few consider in final decisions and sometimes serve to add huge pressure to the players. Huge amounts of subjective information that will have little effect on development and decisions.
- Changing senior academy staff and heads of coaching which affects club philosophies and whole ethos. Academy managers should be on four year contracts. If they don't want a four year contract then it maybe clear they are using the role as a pathway to something else. This is not healthy for a clubs and its young players.
I recently spoke to a '3rd year scholar' at a club who said to me. "Im so bored, its like school" 
3. Elite Development pathway to 1st team.
I have to say, I do feel this is the most challenging for the guys that run our game. They have trialed the EFL Trophy and I dont think anyone really supports the outcome of that. Loaning out players still serves up the best pathway in my mind but the trouble now is that the clubs have trawler fished so much of the talented lads that they have them in stock piles and no where to go. Something that goes back to the youth development phase. Sometimes players are better left where they are to learn their trade, break into the first team. Become a professional then progress back that way. The other problem with the huge numbers in the very sanitised route is that many seem cocooned in the fantasy world in which they have operated and maybe that is why they are left shell shocked and unable to cope with the real world.

In this country we have over 100 full-time professional football clubs. That in its self is a huge unique situation that we can boast about and could surely utilise better? 
Those 100+ pro clubs make up 5 national leagues.What other countries can boast this? One thing is certain to me. A footballers successful pathway is still unproven. Those that get there probably got there because fate took them on the journey that worked for them, not because one way works over an other. Players will always come via non-league, its very reasonable to suggest that its not an error that they were missed by the pro games recruitment, its more likely that's what worked for their development. Had they been in the 'system' it could be that they would have failed, like most do. Equally those within a level 1 academy and make it, well done, clearly they were on the correct pathway for them. Or thirdly being loaned down the ladder to learn the trade. In my mind, all three of these methods work at times and all three fail, at times. But we need all three. It seems however that there is growing disregard for the smaller clubs and perception that only the top eppp level 1 clubs have the formula to produce players. That is enormously incorrect based on fact and 100% dangerous to our games future in my opinion.
This is the best football country in the world, if only we could recognise the features that make it great, embrace them instead of trying to disown them as they are maybe a threat somehow to the Premier League 'Corporation'.
I went to England v Scotland which I was very excited about. Watching Stones up close started another series of questions in my mind. Mainly, is he still then classed as professional development phase? Even though this is a competitive international at Wembley Stadium in front of 90,000 against Scotland? I think there can be no doubt the increased level of technical ability is a huge credit to the culture of his youth upbringing. But is it now a mindset thing to get him to understand that to have a great 1st touch and 1v1 capabilities under pressure which can get you out of trouble, doesn't mean you should constantly do things to put you IN trouble to demonstrate it?
I also have to point out that I was sat near the guy that was drunk out of his mind and videos emerged in the press of his bloodied face and torn shirt. I also read that this was a brawl between Scotland and England. I walked past all the guys and not sure if anyone in Scotland speaks with a cockney accent?
Saturday morning was great. A private coaching clinic with some little guys at a great club in Hertfordshire. It feels great to share some experience although we were quick to tell them how we are always learning also. That's the nature of this coaching thing, we are all in it together. 
My week was rounded off with a visit to MK Dons against Walsall. Good to say hello and I hope they keep scrapping for much needed points. I avoided all the temptation around the ground to go home hungry and have a family meal to wrap my week up...a busy one!

Thursday, 5 May 2016

Practice penalties kicks. What’s the point?

This blog is not for the upcoming Euro Championship, or for the playoff games. There isn’t £200m at stake, no press will be there and no TV. It’s for youth players. If I stopped 1000 people in the city where it was held I would stake a large amount of money that 1,000 wouldn’t know about it and wouldn’t care. However 999 will know about and 995 will care about the 11th June when England play Russia.

With all the work and investment the FA have made in football development education programs you would think the message would be getting through to parents. I don’t know the exact statistics or even how they would measure the success of this so I can only go on experience. On the whole there is clear improvement to side-line behaviour, but problems still exist. This is based on what I experience and the last week clearly shows there is still work to be done. Personally I feel that a lot of parents and unruly coaches have simply been ‘gagged’. So what we have done is make them feel tremendously guilty for shouting and that ‘on the whole’ is not a bad thing. We’ve done that by means of codes of conducts and parents courses which focus heavily on aggressive touchline behaviour and its affects. Courses are hard to get people to attend, that I know. But I feel maybe if someone went into a club and did a free workshop but focus more on the football development side. Because what I have seen and heard in the last weeks and consistently over the last 20 years is comments from parents where they ‘know best’. That’s the problem with our great sport and its popularity. Were all experts. So rather than just chucking guilt at parents & volunteer unqualified coaches (and unruly qualified coaches), we should maybe come at it more from a technical development perspective. Like a dressed down youth module. Educate them!
For example. We do some work with a club/organisation. (I don’t want to highlight the individuals for obvious reasons). We coach the children on a regular basis once a week. They are U10/U11. As part of that we took them in a tournament and recently they got knocked out of that tournament on penalties. One lad missed. In the days that followed it was commented back to us that parents had ‘complained’, albeit not directly to us, that it was the coaches fault. Because? He had not practiced penalties with the lads the week before. Now anyone that knows anything about football at any age know's this is outrageous. In particular when it comes to children of this age. We of course feel that we need address this but I’m sure it will be met with resistance. It takes me back to my days when I helped out in grass roots football and constantly fighting parents that know better and apparently know who the best players are and know how to win football matches. They think then that because you place development ahead of winning games that you’re a happy clapper and don’t care about winning.
The truth is, we just don’t care about winning as much as they do. Do I want the kids to lose? Of course not. Do I want them to win? Of course I do. I made this clear in my previous blog

Schools and Academies made mistakes in removing the intrinsic natural winning motivation from children in PE and Games. But let’s be reminded why they did. 99.9% of the issues were on the side-lines, not on the pitch. So, I want to win and so does my colleague Kevin Gallen (the most competitive person I know) But, I’m not prepared to sacrifice development to win at all cost and nor will Kevin.

Regarding the penalty situation then. Why don’t we address it. Maybe those individuals involved will read this and perhaps have a rethink about the complaint. I just want them to think about it.

First and foremost, it’s our view that a penalty in a competitive situation is much more a psychological challenge than it is technical. Hence why it’s been proven over the years to be the case that many managers of some of the top teams in the world have not even bothered to practice penalties prior to some of the world’s biggest knock out football matches. Why? Because it’s pointless. If you’re an international football player, hitting an 18 target from 12 yards should be pretty straight forward. On the training ground they would hit it showboating. But put 60,000 people in a stadium, do press conferences leading up to the game with journalist asking “what happens if you lose”? Think about what happens if you hoof it over the bar and years of teasing and torment. Think about all the back pages and the comments from people in the street. Now let an eye drift into the stand and see the fans waving and sticking their fingers up at you. All these dynamics are barriers and obstacles that you zone out from. Top players can do this. Most then that I have spoken to that took penalties in pro football have said to me. They pick a spot before the game and never change their mind. This includes Kevin Gallen who of course took many penalties and said: “on occasions, as a young player, of course, sometimes you did notice the 5000 people behind the goal distracting you with songs, verbal abuse and even miming ways they wanted to kill you”

So, how do you practice that? The only way possible for let’s say elite players, is to go to tournaments that are competitive knock out formats in stadiums that prepare you mentally for such situations. My current academy club have been excellent at this and I even remember at my previous club a great tournament in Oostende where we went on a regular basis with the U14/U15 youth team. One year I recall we done really well. We were in the knockout stages and we had one of the great Moscow teams. It went to penalties. There lad strolled up, thumped the ball on to the spot, never looked anywhere other than the target, steamed up, head down and blasted the ball into the roof of the net. Our lad, looked so nervous I actually from the dugout wondered if his legs would give way on the walk to the ball. It’s in a stadium, there is maybe a thousand people watching. There is a stadium announcer, cameras, cheering. He’s just a kid and it’s all new. Predictably, he missed. That player is maybe the most technically gifted player I had. In training if I held an A4 piece of paper in the goal he would hit it from 25 yards not a problem. So, was the issue, Technical (requires practice) or Psychological? But then that requires practice surely? So, hang on, this event, the feeling, the anxiety, the thoughts, the disappointment. That WAS the practice? Going to the tournament? The experience. Eureka, that was it. We all know that England, let’s say, have a bit of an issue with penalties, so the good thing is, the academies know this and they want the teams to experience a proper competitive knock out experience.

I think about other sports like Darts. There are thousands of excellent ‘pub’ dart players so what the difference? Could it be, elevated on a stage with 5000 people in the room singing and TV cameras could be a distraction for many?

Going back to the original ‘complaint’. The only way to practice this would be to ask every child in the school to come out on to the pitch and stand around shouting and screaming. To perhaps create pressure. In fact thinking about pressure. The very fact that there is a complaint would suggest the pressure in the first place came from the parent. If they are that devastated about losing you can only imagine the conversation in the car on the way. The pressure didn’t come from us. Just the experience, experience that makes you psychologically stronger and better. Experience that made that player in Oostende better and stronger.

To finish, of course, there are technical aspects to taking a penalty. Striking a ball in many different ways is covered by us. If the children apply themselves to training they will get that. But we would not and would never queue up 20 children to practice penalties in a pointless situation sacrificing other learning. We have one hour a week to learn. So I would ask this. In the week leading up to the tournament we had one hour of learning. How many hours that week did the child spend on the PlayStation, in front of the TV or on the computer? Those house could have spent in the garden or the park with two people a ball and a goal practicing penalties.

Tony McCool


Thursday, 14 January 2016

Effects of Fifa gaming on young people. Can we embrace the game to get children active?

As a parent, a youth football coach and school sport provider, I am fully aware of the affects and influence gaming has on our children’s lives. #FifaRealDeal

As parents we know that we have always been concerned about the time spent on computer games. The effects it has on a child’s social skills, communications skills, the detrimental effects it has on our child’s education as we battle time spent on gaming or online versus homework or revising. The biggest concern of course is the affects on physical wellbeing due to inactivity. As parents, like many we questioned for years the effects on motor skills and the eyes looking at screens for hours on end. Of course much of this is hard to prove but our gut feeling is, it can’t be good for you. One thing that is perhaps more easy to identify is weight gain and the visual effects on our children. We can easily identify our children’s mood by their actions and we can see when they appear to become overweight. Sometimes we even turn a blind eye to it. 
The trouble is, this phenomenon is getting harder to control. Without any question obesity in the UK is an ever increasing concern with the government yet again committing its £150m a year school sports fund to try and tackle this and push increased activity across all children. So its clear activity has to be the primary factor. Well, along with the ‘fuel’ we put in our body. So leading brands like McDonalds bring so much to the country in terms of employment etc. But they are equally having such an huge impact on health. Of course, I don’t want to bash them. We have a choice. Why don’t we bash the grotty burger van or lesser performing fast food brands. Only because McDonalds is hugely successful we target them for criticism. So of course to tackle that McDonalds counter this by promoting the integrity of their produce and also by giving us a healthy option. Whether this sells or not in large volumes I don’t know, but at least they promote. Either way, we can’t stop our children wanting to go to the restaurant so for us it meant we just tried to reduce the volume and limit it to become a treat. McDonalds also invests heavily into Football by backing community football, providing kits for grass roots and supporting coaching. They also do work in education providing business training and food production education. So in fact, when you delve a bit, as well as the profit they take they do at least attempt to give something back and I of course support the football projects because it promotes burning off the fuel.

Trouble is, I don’t see this from the gaming community. If they do, then I stand corrected but perhaps it isn’t well marketed. In particular we are looking at Fifa here. As this is relevant to football which is of course the most popular sport in the world and my trade. If you look at the marketing and think about it. It typically uses the world’s most famous footballers and then puts them in there club kits and sit them in front of a screen playing Fifa. The messaging is almost like “play this and you could be like me”. It’s like it has become part of the development pathway. I’m sure those guys will produce some research figures showing how they increase interest in football. I don’t disagree with that but what I ask is this. You now have such an influence on the game through young children, teenagers and now adults due to the era, what do you give back? So, you employ a lot of people, you pay a lot of tax I’m sure. But two things have to happen for me. Your ‘superstars’ have to be shown to mention the importance of real activity and real practice if you want to be a footballer of any level and certainly if you want to be healthy. Secondly you surely have some moral responsibility considering the massive powerful influence you have on now a massive percentage of the population. Bearing in mind the Fifa product is promoted and deemed suitable to children aged 3+.

As parents we know that 3 hours could absolutely fly by for a child playing Fifa and it would be hell to play to get them off. Could the game or console manufactures create a parent area which gives parents the ability to create a time-limit? With today’s modern technology why don’t you give parents that control via an app? Parents sometimes lose track of the time they are on it so why not be responsible and give them more direct control and information. This would enable parents to even shut down the console remotely or set times breaks. Use a tool to control homework etc. I think as a parent I would buy that add on. Just a suggestion. If you make a gazillion dollars perhaps you’ll remember who gave you the idea?

As a football coach I have seen a complete change in culture as a result of this game. I’m of course a traditionalist. I used to go to the park with a ball under my arm. I used to be in the street playing football. But times have changed. Also there are so many alarming stories and disgusting crimes against children that perhaps we have also become so protective that in fact we take comfort that our child is inside safe and sound.
But I can’t help fighting it. I said to a child recently “You do know that you can’t get better at football by exercising your hands and fingers? You would be better warming up with a rubiks cube than a ball”. I recently had a full on debate about an Arsenal center back when a young Yr6 lad was suggesting you don’t have to be quick or fit to be a footballer. I was saying, I’ll think you will find that player is a lot quicker and fitter than you perhaps think. He laughed, shrugged his head. He absolutely didn’t buy into what I was telling him. I pressed further and then he told me. On Fifa he has only got 29 for pace. So that is his gauge of the player. What Fifa says goes. Not the coach!

I recently ran trials for teenagers. Now these were players serious about wanting to still become footballers. Again it’s my view that the culture has changed. When I was a teenager (I sound like uncle albert) we would meet up for a kick around in the parks. I remember one Christmas we all met up and played football in the snow. Loads of us. We needed to get out and play because all our games were off. But snow wouldn’t stop us. Now, its changed. Teenagers meet online. They play Fifa online. In fact, If, now as a parent of teenagers we didn’t bang on the wall at 2am in the morning I think they would play all through the night.
So, I went around these teenagers on trial and asked them what position they played. The replies were “CDM, CAM, LAM, RAM” etc. I thought to myself, wow, these guys all use “Fifa language” This is how they see the game now. During one of the games we asked why a midfielder had not tracked back with his runner and he replied “I’m not CDM, I’m CAM”. That was when it hit me. Times have changed. I can’t fight this on my own. The trouble is, the kids don’t believe me anyway. But I’m not going to concede to the challenge. I can do one of two things. I can keep fighting this challenge or I can embrace it and somehow use it.

There is of course benefits to the game. One of those being knowledge. Whenever I hear a player’s name I haven’t heard of before I just ask my teenage son. Now I work in professional football but my lad has got one up on me. He can tell me stats and history of seemingly any player in the world. Remarkable, how does he know that? Fifa. So to try to open my mind to change I took a bold step. Of course I played Fifa over the years, less recently as I don’t have time. So I know the basics. But I asked my son to show me all the new training sessions and drills. I recall doing some as you would wait for the game to load. I was shocked. Actually, some of these drills looked fantastic. Moreover they looked fun. They also looked like drills I would love to try myself. So I started jotting some down. Some also looked like a real good cardio exercise. Actually, overall, to me, if someone was exceptional at these drills in real life I suspect they would be absolutely fantastic! So, it was decided. I’m going to bring these drills to life.

In the last few weeks whilst coaching in schools I have now started to ask the question.
“How many of you play Fifa at home?” Nearly always all hands go up.
“How many of you would like to try the training drills in Fifa, in REAL LIFE?” The response was amazing, children jumping with their hands up, “me me me, when is it”.
So, my organisation has ran football holiday courses for years now. It’s always been structured within a learning syllabus typical of academy football. It’s I know, It’s what I was trained for. But I’m going to do something new. I’m going to completely change our approach. Try something fresh. We are going to deliver Drills that look like the Fifa training games. Including knocking down boxes and target rings for crossing. Shooting drills with balls launched from machines and dribbling challenges. The full works.

We will arrange a points and a prize for leading players in age range and maybe even talk to football club to see if they would like to invite a player in on trial as a result. Because these drills are tough!
I think I would also consider a late teens/adult competition. Purely because I think I would like to have a go myself!

Coming soon April 2016

Bedfordshire 4th & 5th April
Hertfordshire 6th & 7th April

Details will be at:
Twitter:               @2touchfootball @FifaRealDeal

Pre register or direct communication:

Could you be the #FifaRealDeal

Friday, 1 January 2016

Steve Gallen - The end of an era

Steve Gallen
So, with the reported sad departure of Steve Gallen it means that he is the last person out the door from the days of Raheem Sterling and beyond. Key people from those days like Terry O'sullivan, Paul Bruce & Fitzroy Lewinson plus more have all gone and were important people that took part in Raheem's and others recruitment and development. Good coaches, good scouts, good people, QPR people. 

Every season we will here of managers getting sacked. That’s part of football but when it happens we often here and see many people in the game and in the media showing great human sympathy for a man losing his job and so we should. However, many that do are rewarded in a way far removed from us mere mortals with contracts paid out in full resulting in many multi-millionaire former managers. 

With this in mind I was truly shocked to see Steve Gallen seemingly ushered out of the back door at QPR after it being reported that he was removed from all duties at the club. QPR is a club that publicly reports its family feeling, culture and togetherness but this to me seems to be an action in contrast to that. Steve Gallen has been employed at QPR in a multitude of coaching roles for around 18 years. Most of which were working in the youth centre of excellence where he later became the head of youth and Academy manager. He was then moved out of that role to coach the U21's and later promoted to work with the first team. Of course things happen in the first team and people get sacked with new people coming in and with the introduction of Jimmy Floyd Hasslebaink Steve has been deemed surplus to requirements I guess. I don’t see issues with that and I’m sure if Steve was asked, he wouldn’t either. That happens. However since the news broke I have seen lurching opinion on the overall value of Steve to the club and also questions of his ability and results working in the youth structure. This is such a shock to me and its when the 'only at QPR' term came to me again. Why can’t this gentleman be given the just reward and appreciation he so deserves? Instead it’s debated by certain quarters as to his success. One comment I read was. 

“It is an inconvenient truth...however...Steve Gallen has been a fundamental part of a youth system that has grossly failed for 20 years

Being in football more than most industries means that you are open to criticism and I can take that. Steve certainly can I’m sure and he wouldn’t want to respond. However having worked for this guy and seeing first-hand the challenges I felt I want to tribute him and show the details of what he actually achieved. Knowing that if I was a chairman I would be currently hunting him down to come to work at my club. Criticism is ok but I think it’s fair if people know the details facts and truth as some either comment without the depth of knowledge or else have hidden agenda's which is unacceptable, damaging and disrespectful to someone that has given so much to his role and i'm guessing, doesn't walk away a millionaire for his family. 

Looking at the comment above I read the words 'fundamental part' as being an overall decision maker. Or a key person at least. Let’s put that in perspective. Steve was not in charge of the youth system for the last 20 years. He was to the best of my knowledge in charge of the youth system for 4-5 years up to 2012. Post 2012 was the era that Tony Fernandes came in as did Mike Rigg and Steve was almost immediately stepped aside. Since that date a further four people have been in charge of the academy and as many placed in the role of Head of Coaching. Steve has had no decision making responsibility during that period. I accept that Steve Gallen bleeding hoops doesn’t mean he is owed anything or that he is owed a job. He would never want that either. Hes a proud hard working man. So let’s examine the second part as indeed Steve was in charge of the Academy for the period leading to the influx of investment.

If we firstly look at the numbers. Steve was in charge of a ‘center of excellence’ under owners that seemingly didn’t focus too much on the youth. Investment was minimal and I estimate it to be around no more than £150k per year. At that time it had 3 full-time staff. It’s not up for debate the major influence Steve and coaches like Fitzroy Lewinson had on Raheem’s capture, development and majorly, keeping him at the club as long as they did as he gained approaches from the local ‘big guns’. Sterling’s recent move to Man City netted QPR £9m in a payment clause. I’m sure it’s clear that I’m a fan of Steve Gallen as a great coach and a great person. But were not debating his values, kindness and integrity here, were debating what he did for QPR. If his responsibility lasted 5 years that would equate to a circa cost of £750k. To ease the argument lets round it up and stick another £250k to the cost and that still leaves a profit to QPR of £8M for his term. I think that’s worth a thank you. Since then the investment was massive and now the academy has around 20 full-time staff and a cost of circa £2M in my estimation. Around a third of that could be recouped from the Premier League’s EPPP system but it still leaves the club paying out an estimated 8-10 times the investment under Steve. The same pro rata return would see the club profit circa £12M per year.

Considering all the challenges that were faced in these years and low budget it’s a miracle that any players of any level were produced and it’s that remarkable equation that always left me scratching my head as to why Steve was never given the reigns when the investment arrived. admissions were made about the many mistakes that were made and the ‘type’ of people that came in. But with the message and focus returning to youth as a clear strategy I feel it’s a huge mistake again to allow Steve to be pushed out in this way. If you went on a recruitment drive you would have to break the bank to gain the incredible capabilities of a Steve Gallen that produced players against the odds. Tony Fernandes has one under his nose and surely must reverse this decision if taken out of his hands.

"Steve [Gallen] was great. He always had such confidence in me and that gave me more confidence in myself"
Raheem Stirling

Its been much reported as the chairman having the wool pulled over his eyes and as part of that maybe he was told the same stories about what I read and what’s implied. The club hasn’t produced players over Steve’s term. Well, Let’s investigate that further. After some quick research of the football league and beyond it became very apparent that I would be able to put together a very decent team and squad from current players that all came through under Steve’s guidance and responsibility. Here it is….

These players are a mix of current QPR players, players sold and players released. The point is, they all make a reasonable living. Some higher, some lower but it’s a great testimony to Steve’s work. Imagine if he had been given the opportunity to drive the improved investment bus? This was on a shoestring compared to now.
As well as these players, most of which are still young and developing with therefore a great chance of making a higher grade, Steve led the U18's to 3 x league titles in his term and 1 x national cup. He was runner up in the U21 final in more recent years. In a New York tournament QPR beat Inter Milan and Liverpool to win an international trophy. Against all odds they had reached a quarter final of the FA youth cup beating level one class leading Southampton on the way to losing at Newcastle at St James Park. Clubs that had been investing millions in their academies for years. 

For an Academy to work properly there a simple equation in my book.

Recruitment (People)
You cannot turn a bull dog into a greyhound derby winner. You cannot turn a shire horse into a winner at Aintree. There is a starting point of talent and it’s the most crucial part. The trouble with a club like QPR is its competitive. When real talent presents itself you have to compete with clubs around you. You walk the player around the facility. In the days of Steve this was clearly tough to sell. Then it’s the people. You prove to the parents that you actually care and have good morals and transparency. Then you show them the proof of the pathway making it clear they have a chance. In the past of course this was again tough to sell.

Coaching (People)
Of course development is vital. You don’t take your new Mercedes to a back street garage. You want it cared for by the best. No doubt the coach has more contact with the player than anyone and could truly break a player as well as be pivotal in developing them. That’s also mentally as well as technically. Coaches like Fitzroy were great examples of that. He cared, you could feel his personality and he had the knowledge to back it up. In 20 years of being in professional clubs, Steve is the best coach I have seen and Ive worked with many high profile names.

Facility (Investment)
Its home. It’s the place you spend most time. As well as the bricks and mortar it’s the holistic science that now has been introduced to the game. The support of medical teams to keep players fit and protect them as well as pitches and equipment that gives the player the tools as well as the feel good factor

Pathway (Strategy)
All of it doesn’t matter if the club doesn’t have a strategy to bring the players through. In the past its obvious that this was not happening. Of course the players have to be good enough, but they also need a chance.

With those four pillars ticked you will then produce players for the first team. Mr Fernandes, you are frighteningly close to getting it right this time. But you need the right people. If you don't reconsider than I'm sure Steve will be back in work soon and everyone moves on. 
Knowing Steve he wont thank me for writing this, but its got to be said. I'm sure I speak for many when I say I thank you for all you did for the people you came into contact with and I'm sure fans that understand the depth of work, dedication, professionalism and value you brought to QPR they will also join me in showing their appreciation!