I think it is safe to say that we have all been there at some point as a child or adult, where we are stood around waiting to take our turn.
How did it make you feel? did you enjoy waiting around? did you feel that you were actually learning from the whole experience of watching others dribble, pass then join the back of the line again? me neither.
In fact, this process used to frustrate the hell out of me as a young player as all I wanted to have was the ball at my feet and having to stand and wait in line for it didn’t make sense to me.
Despite the clear frustration on the player’s faces up & down the country, this is a very common practice that we see on the local playing fields.
Many coaches, find it difficult to not take the command approach and be in control of every decision. encouraging the players to play in a ‘robotic’ style of play that is very reliant on the coach’s input.
Is this what we want from our players, to rely on someone else to make decisions for them?
As far as I am aware, in order for someone to learn a skill, they have to experience doing it in a real situation. This allows them to relate it to the game.
Throughout a child’s upbringing, we expect them to learn in a ‘real situation’ whether it’s crossing the road (with the guidance of an adult), riding a bike and taking their first steps.
Despite this, when it comes to football we like to control every aspect of the session, having kids in lines and passing on command.
“Football is played with the head, the feet are just the tools” Andrea Pirlo.
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Street Football Mentallity!
Back way before social media and Netflix, playing football in the streets & local playing fields was popular.
I remember racing home from school in the summertime when it didn’t go dark until 9 pm and then head to my grandparent’s place and play either in the car park or local field.
This would be repeated daily giving me many opportunities to work on my game.
When we played on the car park the surface was unforgiving so our first touch had to be good or else you would never keep the ball.
The timing was important as the ball would bobble along the floor and your speed of thought had to be quick as the game was played at a frantic pace.
Limited space and high numbers were the norms but we never complained just got on with it.
We constantly had to be aware of time, space & other players due to the small spaces and overcrowding.
Scanning & screening (using your arm to keep opponents away) were in constant use due to the number of players and limited space.
This was no different on the playing field as numbers were large so we had to make quick decisions with the ball.
I found that with little space to operate, it forced me to look for gaps to penetrate either by running with the ball or playing through a pass.
Let’s Teach Good Decision Making!
Football is a decision-making game, so how can we ask a child to perform a skill in an un-realistic situation?
Don’t get me wrong, unopposed practices have their place in the session as it gives the players time to understand how to use the skill, but this should still relate to the game.
Passing the ball every time a coach tells you to doesn’t relate to the game but change that to a scenario where they are in small groups (group sizes 3-4 in each group, in an area of 40 by 30) moving the ball amongst each other.
In this scenario, the players still have to be aware of time, space & the other players while still learning to pass the ball. The only thing that isn’t game-related is the non-tackling, but the players are still having to assess (scan) and make decisions.
Naturally, the next step would be to add opposition but not until the players are comfortable with practice.
Waiting in lines and instructing every action to the players will unlikely produce thinking players. Your players will also find it difficult to apply what they have learned to the game as it carries no relation.
Using The Street Like Mentality!
Now that we have recognized the need for using elements of ‘street football’ in our training how can it be implemented?
For so long now, traditional methods of coaching have been the cornerstone of youth development.
Despite the efforts of the English FA with the overhaul of coach education, unrealistic drills are still very common up and down the country.
For this to be effective, the culture of ‘kick & rush’ football need’s to change to a more ‘patient’ Environment in youth football.
Parents and coaches need to buy into the fact that mistakes are part of the learning process and the ‘result’ isn’t how we measure success at this level.
Encouraging players to be ‘brave’ on the ball instead of ‘getting rid of it’ or pass at every opportunity will produce players with more confidence on the ball.
This approach will also encourage better decision making as the players will have more freedom to take ownership of their development.
Instead of doing it for them, create situations that encourage the players to solve a problem.
Set the objective (the topic you want them to learn) by conditioning the practice to bring out the aims you wish to see i.e reducing space, setting a target of passes or dribbles, etc.
Embrace the chaos and adapt the session as you go, yes at times it may look messy but this is what you want, to see what it could be like in the game. With it relating to the game, you can guide the players to the correct solution.
Working With Parents!
To successfully implement this into your club you should decide how can get the parents on board.
The parents must be involved in the development process from the beginning. When you make it clear about the direction you want to take you from the offset you can weed out the non-believers from the start (if you have any).
Making an effort to educate the parents, as well as the players, will help them understand what you are trying to achieve with the players.
You will find that the parents are more likely to be more patient with you, as they now understand what you are trying to achieve.
We can also use parents to help further embed our teachings into the players by setting individual tasks for them to complete at home (football homework).
When I ran my junior football team, after each session I would set football homework for the players. My intention was to encourage the players to play more away from training and speed up the development process.
I didn’t just show the players but also the parents. Then I would share a video either that I created myself or something I found on YouTube in a group chat.
Not everyone will do it, but just getting a few to work with the kids or just show them the video will benefit the team. I would also share articles that were relevant or anything I felt would benefit the parents.
This can be done in a number of ways such as;
- Weekly or monthly newsletters
- Group chats (Facebook groups or Whatsapp)
Today, we have more ways of communicating our message than ever before so why not also use them to educate the parents as well.
Although players don’t really play in the streets like they used to, we can implement a methodology that promotes a ‘street-like environment’.
Everything that you teach doesn’t have to be in a controlled manner, let go and allow the kids to be brave on the ball and make mistakes. In many cases, you don’t solve a problem without first facing the issue, as it help’s with understanding how to overcome it.
Don’t be afraid to involve the parents, they can be very powerful if you can get them on board with what you are trying to achieve.
Kurtis is the Head coach at ‘Let’s Play The Game ’ and has over 15 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.