Should coaches give players more time with the ball?

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While on an FA Youth Award course, I came across an interesting idea that makes an awful lot of sense to me.

It was apparently a strategy implemented by Dutch clubs such as Ajax, in which the youth players were given 10,000 touches of the ball every day in the belief that more touches would equal better mastery of the ball. You can read more about the Dutch way in a Guardian article here. It makes sense, although despite Malcolm Gladwell’s theory in Outliers about 10,000 hours being about the number of hours it takes to achieve mastery, I am not totally convinced on the number. What I am convinced about however is that the old adage ‘practice makes perfect’ is as true in football as it is in most walks of life, and so the more touches of the ball a player gets, the more likely they are to progress. I believe that if you give two identical players separate training opportunities, and the first gets 1,000 touches of the ball a week and the second gets 1,500 touches, the second player will progress more quickly.

Pretty obvious stuff really, but it does beg the question should the vast majority of the time you have with your players each week be with the ball?

I see and hear training sessions in which players queue in preparation to carry out a skill or game, and others in which running without the ball in encouraged. On the FA course I was on there was a youth coach from Chelsea who said he’d get shot if his bosses ever saw boys standing around, waiting. So thinking of the 10,000 touch rule at Ajax and the practice makes perfect rule of life, should we be making sure that more minutes in our training sessions are spend actively with the ball?

I’d be very interested to hear your thoughts below, either agreeing or disagreeing, which you can do by just adding a comment.

You can follow me on Twitter @YouthCoachMike if you’d like to hear next time somebody posts, and if you would like to contribute to the blog with an article of your own, please email it to me at mike_nicholson@hotmail.co.uk

Thanks for reading.

 

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10 thoughts on “Should coaches give players more time with the ball?”

  1. I agree with the point that players should spend as much time as possible with a ball at their feet. The more time they spend with the ball the more comfortable they will feel with it.

    When I’m coaching I make sure the players always have a ball with them, so when they jog in the warm-up, they jog with a ball. When they go for a drink, they have a ball at their feet or in their hands. The ball must in time be treated as an extension of their body – I’ve seen too many young players at grassroots level look very uncomfortable on the ball

    1. Hi Luke, thanks for getting involved.

      I agree with you 100%. The ABC’s (Agility, Balance, Coordination and Speed) can all be practiced while controlling a ball, so to me it seems a waste of precious training time to practice without the ball.

      Thanks again for commenting, I hope you’ll get involved on a regular basis. I want this page to be used by as many youth team coaches as possible to share and discuss our passion.

      New Facebook page – https://www.facebook.com/pages/Coaching-Youth-Football/1414011108863843

      Twitter account – @YouthCoachMike

      1. Spot on.

        I think the 10’000 hour theory works hand-in-hand with the 10’000 touch theory. Do you think each 1 hour training session counts as 1 hour towards the 10’000 hours? It would be interested to know how much of that hour is actually spent with a ball at a players feet.

        If a player spends on average 10 minutes of every hour-long training session on drinks breaks, waiting for the next drill etc, it means that they spend 10 minutes less time developing as a footballer! If they make use of those breaks by walking around with the ball, performing kick ups etc those 10 minutes are put to good use.

        I’ve seen some coaches spend half of a training session on a practice match, some players might go 5 minutes without even touching the ball.

        It’s been said that it takes over 6 hours of 11-a-side football to take as many touches of the ball as you would in a 1 hour 5v5 SSG.

  2. To put a figure in hours in what it takes to become elite at anything is slightly misleading in my opinion.
    However, In early fundamental stages the more touches of the ball the better. The ball per player games (Aliens etc) are great for this. The brain is ‘sponging’ up all the various responses and feel, making connections with the muscles and learning about movement patterns. But also without the ball present, if we as coaches challenge players to move in different ways this also aids development ( ABCs ). Some find it comes more naturally than others.
    Skill acquisition is about using previous learnt behaviours, but where there are time restraints (opposition) and an optimal outcome is achieved as a result of the performers purposeful actions.
    Up to age u11/12 – Small sided games tick all the boxes for me – add challenges and a bit of player ownership and you have the ingredients to maximise the learning environment and assisting the player reaching their full potential. That’s the coaches golden mantle.
    Cheers
    Boothy
    Twitter: boothy_fballer

    1. Hi Boothy,

      Yes I agree, that 10,000 touches seems an arbitrary number, although Malcolm Gladwell tried to prove the 10,000 hours rule in his book Outliers through many different pieces of research.

      I really like how you describe ‘The brain is ‘sponging’ up all the various responses and feel, making connections with the muscles and learning about movement patterns.’

      With regards to movements without the ball, to practice different movements, I think that the interesting point. I’d think that ABCs can be incorporated with the ball, thus working on ABCs and ball mastery at the same time. Two birds with one stone if you will. Do you think there are any specific moves that young players need to be experiencing without the ball?

      Thanks for your input, I hope you’ll stay involved on the site.

      Twitter: @YouthCoachMike

  3. Hi Luke,

    I read an analogy somewhere which I really liked. I forget the exact wording, but basically it described every touch as another (skill) penny in the (skill) piggy bank. Every single touch of the ball moves you slightly further forward. I liked Boothy’s description above ‘‘The brain is ‘sponging’ up all the various responses and feel, making connections with the muscles and learning about movement patterns.’

    With regards to how many minutes of a one-hour session are spent with the ball at a players feet, that is the interesting question. It is probably for each individual coach to estimate, and then increase if appropriate. I would suggest that it is probably far lower than you first think as well.

    For my lads, I try to make sure that they warm up with a ball each, and do as many drills as possible with one ball per player, so I maximise the number of touches each player experiences. I am only the assistant manager however, so I don’t always achieve that 😉

  4. I like that. That analogy is well-suited to the younger ages, I usually tell my U16 players to set themselves tangible / controllable goals, and that every touch of the ball is another step towards accomplishing your goal!

    1. Yes! The problem with this though is it makes me want to give up my job, and train the lads every day 🙂

      I do think it would be an interesting exercise to get somebody to count the touches one of the players manages in a normal, one hour session. I reckon it will be scarily low!

  5. Agree 100%. I read the article you mentioned a few weeks ago and i would love that to be how football in coached in the future. I compared it to watching my son learn to walk. His concentration levels are so high as he is learning a new skill that is in fact a basic foundation for all the other skills he will be able to learn. Before long, he will be able to walk without thinking about it. Our footballs don’t have the ball enough as kids to be as one with it. A control or dribble should be done without needing to think about it. This will only come if this basic “skill” is practiced thousands of times and without pressure.

  6. Hi Darren, do you mean the article about 10,000 touches a day in the Guardian?

    I agree that repetition leads to mastery, and I guess the challenge to us coaches is to make that repetition fun enough to keep the young players interested?

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