I strongly believe that in order to develop creative players of the future, something that England has been pretty dire at achieving over the past few decades, you need to give players the freedom to make their own decisions.
Of course during training sessions you teach them how to make better decisions and players can then improve their decision-making through repetition over time, but during the game, I don’t shout instructions while the ball is rolling. Occasionally I might call out with some questions or instructions while there is a break in play, but I try my best to never do so while the ball is rolling.
Some of the most creative players on the world stage today grew up playing street football. No adults making the rules. No rigid ‘if this happens then do this’ instructions. Just play. Trial and error. Improvisations. Messi, Aguero, Suarez … this list is long and compelling.
Rene Muelensteen put it simply while he was in charge of youth development and the academy at Manchester United when he said “footballers cannot learn how to make their own decisions if they are used to receiving instruction from the touchline.” In an interview with the daily Telegraph Muelensteen said that at the Manchester United academy, parents are asked to sign a contract that says they will not shout out during coaching sessions, and that the Manchester United coaches do not shout instructions while the ball is rolling.
I am glad to say that at academies this ‘no coaching from parents’ is standard practice these days, but in grass roots football in England we still have a culture in which parents and coaches shout out a stream of instructions while young players are trying to concentrate on the game, and that leads some to observe that grass roots youth football matches can appear to be like ‘Playstation for dads’ with the parents holding the controller and the kids running around according to instructions.
So many England internationals from the past 30 years have grown to become more functional than creative, and the fact that I have to hark back to players like Hoddle and Gascoigne to remember truly creative, unpredictable, England players is a concern for English football. This rigid, predicable footballer is a product of the coaching they received when they were young. Its great to see this changing in professional academies, but there are still far too many ‘touchline tigers’ pacing up and down next to youth football matches at grass roots level.
So how can grass roots coaches help? As a youth coach you are of course aiming to be a positive influence on the young players in your care, but no matter how well you do as a coach the parents will usually and understandably be the most important influence on the young player.
With that in mind I think it is so, so important that the lines of communication are constantly open between the coach and parents. I see parents as a part of our team. I think that to create the environment you want that you need to ensure it is communicated clearly to the parents. It is much easier to build a positive learning environment for the players if the parents and coach work together, but sadly many coaches don’t feel that the coaching they deliver is any of the parents business. I am of the view that the opposite is true, and I regularly write to the parents of my players to keep them updated on what we are practicing, why, and how they can help if applicable. The no coaching rule is a part of that two-way communication.
Football is an emotive game, and often as a parent or a coach you will see an opportunity that the kids playing do not see, so keeping quiet can be really difficult for some. You might feel compelled to shout out to a player to adjust their position, or tell them to pass, shoot or whatever. The urge is understandable, I appreciate that, but the result of that action is that you short-circuit the players own decision-making in the short-term and it is more difficult for the coach to gauge deeper, longer-term learning.
I have seen games where the coach is constantly screaming instructions at the kids who are trying to focus on the game, and on the other side of the pitch there are many parents shouting their own instructions. It is ridiculously confusing for the kids to receive multiple instructions from the adults, and most importantly, it can stop them from making their own decisions if they become used to receiving instructions form the coach or parents.
Before the players in my team were even selected for the squad, I wrote to all parents with a message that said if their child was selected, they would be expected to abide by the team rules which state that we do not allow parents to shout instructions from the sidelines. Once I had selected the players I wrote to the parents of the kids in question once again to say that their child had a place, but subject to the strict rule above. I believe it is that important to the long-term development of the players. I have only had to speak to one parent about shouting instructions from the side thus far right at the start, so I’d like to think that I have helped to create the right environment for the boys in my team to flourish.
I of course whole-heartedly encourage the parents to shout encouragement, and praise, as that makes for an energised atmosphere, but as long as the calls don’t offer the boys instruction on what they should do. In that environment, I am happy that the boys have the freedom to make their own decisions based on what they have been learning in training.
Would love to hear your thoughts?