“Stop thinking your Messi and keep it simple”, ” stop passing the ball around there and get rid of it”, ” when you get the ball just give it to our best player”. Do these statements encourage creative football players?
These are just some of the comments you may hear coaches and parents give to young players, every week around the country. I remember in my youth football playing days receiving such instructions on a weekly basis and finding it more of a distraction than actually helping me play better football. Encouraging ‘simplistic’ football is all too common in our game and despite the football association’s best efforts with the introduction of the new FA coaching courses, grassroots football is still suffering from this culture.
Skillful, creative football should be encouraged from the beginning of a young footballers playing career. Coaches at this level have to be more accepting of failure when it comes winning trophies and focus on creating an environment that encourages players to have individualism and excellent game understanding.
In this article, I would like to share some of the methods I use to encourage creative football players.
Creative Football Players!
Firstly, I believe it’s important to get the players to understand how you like to play and it is their development that comes first not the result of the game. Players will naturally want to win anyway but must understand if they do win the game it’s by implementing their game style.
Every player on your team is important regardless of their ability. It still surprises me to see coaches instruct their ‘less able’ players to only focus on giving the ball to the best player on the team by any means necessary. Every player on the team deserves your attention. Your focus should be on how you can keep each player involved in the learning process.
The players should learn to trust each other with the football. This can only happen if the coach has set an environment where the players feel they can trust each other. whenever they play, give them the confidence to get on the ball and express themselves. Yes, mistakes will happen but these are the golden moments where the coach can really help the players reflect and make changes for the future.
In training, the coach should see every small sided game as an assessment of what was previously taught and should never look to waste opportunities by using it as a ‘treat’ to keep the players happy.
As I have stated before, the best coaches come to life in the moments that are most chaotic. This is why using realistic practices is more beneficial then drills with ‘closed outcomes’.
Practices With Multiple Outcomes!
To encourage creative football players, practices should have multiple outcomes and not be overly restrictive.
If a session becomes too restrictive then the player’s will find it difficult to relate what they are learning to the real game. This means they are less likely to transfer those skills to the game.
A good practice should encourage the players to solve problems and make decisions on time and space. Good coaching doesn’t include long lines and a coach constantly barking orders to the players.
Many of the best players in world football honed their skills whilst playing in the streets. In the streets, there is no outside interference and the players are allowed to just get on with it. The players have to make decisions on time and space due to the limited time on the ball. Due to constantly having to play in tight situations players are forced to ‘screen’ when they are in possession of the football and learn to be aware of their surroundings whilst on the ball.
Although not perfect, street football layed many foundations for young players in the early stages of their development. As coaches, we should find ways to bring the good things that street football teaches players into our coaching sessions.
In street football, having good individualism is key. Without this as a base for young players, everything else becomes harder to teach. From the beginning look to improve your player’s individualism in game situations and gradually introduce other aspects when they are ready.
Positive Running With The Ball!
Many think creativity in football is when a player provides a defense-splitting pass or produces some fancy tricks on the ball. For me, great creative players are also very good when running with the ball.
A young player should be encouraged to have the confidence to run with the ball. When your players are confident and begin to run with the ball, they can create new advantages for their teammates.
Your players should learn to keep their eyes up when running with the ball. This will help them to be aware of the opposition and see the gaps that are left open to exploit. Your players should also be taught when and where to run with the ball. This can only be taught if the practice is realistic and encourages the player’s decisions on time & space e.g. is there space for me to run with the ball, if there is no space, is there space for me to go in to out wide.
If space is limited in front, can the player change direction and run across the defender whilst screening with the ball. With this, the player should also learn to keep the ball on the safe side (the foot furthest away from the opposition) whilst running with the ball.
It still amazes me how so many coaches at grassroots level don’t teach their players to ‘scan’ or ‘check their shoulder’ with and without the ball. Firstly, they should be taught to keep their eyes up when in possession of the ball. It’s common for young players to only look at the ball, so we need to help them ‘scan ahead’ to see teammates, opposition and spaces to exploit.
Players should get in the habit of receiving the ball side on (shoulder to the ball) so they can see clearly what is behind them. This also allows the player to receive the ball on the back foot to turn into space quicker or receive on the front foot to keep it away from the opposition.
We want the players to look for opportunities to play forward and if they can’t play forward can they keep the ball until another opportunity to go forward presents itself. A player can only recognize these moments by constantly scanning the field.
To develop creative football players teaching them to make the right decisions can be difficult for some coaches especially if they are using ‘drills’ that have no relation to the actual game. For players to learn how to make the right decisions more frequently, they need to face game related situations constantly. This will give the coach opportunities to help guide their players to the right solution and help them solve problems that will happen in the game.
Kurtis is the Director of Coaching at coaching company ‘Lets Play The Game Ltd’ and has over 12 years of coaching experience. He is also a head coach at a junior school and club level. Kurtis has experience in training and mentoring grassroots coaches in the West Midlands area. He holds a Diploma of Higher Education in Sports Coaching, FA Level 2 Badge Holder and is currently doing the FA youth module level 3. He has the Premier Skills Coach Education Award.