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.
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?