Do you pay your child if they score a goal?

I wrote this after seeing a conversation on the GrassRoots Football Facebook page. I think it is a bad idea, although no doubt well-meaning, to pay a child to score a goal.

cash

The child who is getting paid £5 a goal, or whatever the monetary value, is harder to coach. Firstly with a binary payment system such as goal = cash, and no goal = no cash, you are telling the young player that goals are the only measure worthy of reward.

Football is a team game, and some of the best individual team-first performances won’t end up with a goal, and some of the worst can yield a goal. I would take the former every week.

Whenever the kid who is getting paid-per-goal gets the ball their focus will be on scoring. The focus on team play and making good decisions for the team will likely be overshadowed by the desire to score and be paid.

I actually found out recently that a boy I have been coaching on decision-making for years was being paid and the penny dropped for me – no wonder it has been so hard to get this particular player to make good decisions. A good decision to that boy is to score and to get paid, not to play well for the team.

There are broadly three main decisions a player has to make when they receive the ball in the final third. Pass, shoot or travel with the ball. Coaching when to make which decision to young players is hard enough without loading cash on the option to shoot.

In my opinion and in my experience, I would say don’t pay for goals.

 

 

Our green and pleasant land

sgp
St Georges Park, The FA’s state-of-the-art 3G facilities

The Football Association are doing a lot of good work in grassroots football to try and improve the quality of coaches, players and facilities, and while some people will never think that their efforts are good enough I for one applaud them for trying.

A part of that FA vision was revealed two years ago by Greg Dyke. He told the world that they were to invest £230 million on 150 3G pitches, in 30 UK cities by 2020. Why? Dyke said of 3G pitches ‘Whereas grass pitches tend to be used for four to five hours a week, with matches often cancelled due to inclement weather, 3G pitches can be used for 70 to 80 hours. They also promote better technical skills at a younger age.’

Sutton United Football Club, currently towards the top of the National League, are publicly pointing to the fact that their state of the art 3G pitch has become the hub of a community, and has teams including AFC Wimbledon ladies, Sutton Common Rovers, Sutton United and many of their youth teams playing on the one excellent 3G pitch. It also hosts many hours of coaching for children associated with both Sutton United youth teams and JDFS, a soccer school who has a partnership with the club. Hundreds of kids get use out of the pitch every week. I have played on Sutton’s pitch and it is an excellent surface to play football on. The bounce is true, the surface flat, and if you can play football then you would love to play there. If it was a grass pitch you would be lucky to get two games a week out of it in the winter months.

3gpitch
Sutton United’s impressive 3G pitch at Gander Green Lane

Below is a recent photo of Rodney Parade, home of Football League 2 club, Newport County, who are just one division above Sutton United in League 2. This season Newport County requested and received special dispensation from the EFL not to play home games for the first three weeks of this season because their grass pitch is a mess.

newport_EFL
Rodney Parade,  Newport, South Wales

If this is the state of a Football League club playing surface in August, you can imagine what grass roots pitches are like mid winter, so the FA are right in my view to try and increase the number of 3G pitches that are available for our children to train and play on. I have coached U7-U11 boys over the past four years, and if I had a pound for every disappointed child I have seen or heard having looked forward to playing football on a Sunday morning, only to be told that the game is off because it rained overnight, then I could put a pretty impressive deposit down on my own 3G pitch.

The Football Association, I thought, were responsible for football from grass roots right up to the England national team. If that is the case, surely the facilities from the bottom to the top should be as consistent as is feasible? Surely you shouldn’t start your football career as a six year old enjoying fantastic 3G surfaces, and then be forced to play on muddy, uneven, weather damaged ‘grass’ pitches for no good reason?

It is possible that a 6 year old child could start playing for Sutton United this year, train and play on a 3G pitch until they are 18, sign for the first team, play in the National League on a 3G pitch for years and then get promoted to the Football League who currently do not allow 3G pitches. They could spend 15 years at the bottom of the pyramid honing their skills on superior surfaces before having that taken away. So we have a situation where grassroots clubs allow 3G pitches and the FA are heavily investing in those pitches. The National League, thefifth tier of English football, allow 3G pitches and have shown the way forward with real-life successful case studies. FIFA allow international matches to be played on 3G pitches, with Scotland recently playing Lithuania on a 3G pitch, but the bit in the middle – the Football League – won’t allow it? It’s nuts, disjointed, and has to change.

We live in England. It is our green and pleasant land because it rains so much and our young players are spending less time playing football than kids in Europe because the weather makes our pitches unplayable. We bemoan that our players are falling behind other European countries, yet a huge part of the English footballing infrastructure are living under water.

 

Session planning template ideas

I have always strived to try and find the perfect template to help me plan a coaching session. When undertaking the FA Level 2 or FA Youth Award courses, the session plans are very detailed which is great, but as a volunteer coach with a demanding full-time job I feel that I need to balance the thirst for detail with a simpler, quicker template to design and plan.

My latest ideas on this are below. They incorporate a lot of the three/four-point checklists that I have learned over the years and aim to help me ensure my sessions are well planned, deliver what the players need yet are simple enough to allow me to fit them into a busy working week. Let me know if you have any comments, good or bad, and how you would improve on this?

Firstly, to introduce the checklists I will use:

What, why, when and how?
Before, during and after.
Constant, Variable and random.
Repetition, Relevant and realistic?

I try to deal with the what, why, when and how to make sure the players understand the context. What we are practicing, why that is important, when you would use the skill in a game and how you correctly execute that skill (the coaching points.)

I use an app called Edufii (edufii.com) and will send a short video message to the players on the Monday before training on a Wednesday to outline the what, why, when and how and sometimes the key coaching points to help them all get on the same page before training starts. When coaching younger age groups, and assuming you can get the support of the parents, this is a very helpful way of dripping some information into each player one-on-one, when they are not distracted by the balls and their team-mates at training.

edufii

So if I was planning a session on turning that might look like this:

What? Turning to play forwards.

Why? To enable you to play forwards more quickly.

When? You are receiving the ball.

How? This is when the coaching detail comes in and when I switch to a before, during, after model. Before is what you need to think about or do before you receive the ball. During deals with the actual turn and after what you do once you have successfully executed the turn. So that might look like this:

Before (you receive the ball):

> Scan behind you – where is the space?
> Consider – Move towards the ball to make space to receive?
> Body shape – open or closed?
> How many touches do you need: One, two, more?

During:

Weight of touch?
Direction of touch?
First touch should make your second touch easy.

After:

Scan
Decide – pass, shoot or travel with the ball?

So I now know what we are doing, why we are doing it, when it would be done in a game and how that skill should be executed. It is now time to allocate the way I will run the time I have for this session. I have 1 hour and 15 minutes on a Wednesday and I plan that time as follows:

1.Warm-up / arrival game (with a turning focus) – 10 mins
2.Turning game one – (variable) (20)
4.Turning game two – (variable, progressing to random) – 20 mins
6.SSG (15)

(Drinks/ social breaks interspersed adding up to 10 minutes)

Once I have planned the session, I then look at my session check list to see if anything needs to be amended or improved. That session check list looks like this:

Is there enough Repetition of the learning focus?

Is it Relevant to the players?

Is it Realistic to what they will experience in a game?

Is there an element of competition to motivate the players?

Is there an element of decision-making?

Is it simple to understand and fun to play?

Please do comment, wither on the blog of the Facebook page here – https://www.facebook.com/coachyouthfootball/

Professionalism in football (or cheating as it used to be called)

 

One of the proudest moments of coaching my sons football team was after he scored a screamer, and then told the referee that he handled it in order to get it under control. Pride was bursting out of me, and my enthusiastic approval of that moment sparked a behaviour that sees my U’9s regularly offer the referee help in coming to a decision against our team. Honesty, integrity. Some might say old fashioned values, but they are values I want my own kids to grow up with and values I try to display in my own life. One opposing manager said to me ‘have you got the nicest bunch of lads in the world playing for you, or what?”. I am sure he was semi-mocking our ‘niceness’ but I was proud.

I am a Liverpool fan, and I was disgusted yesterday as my team won all three points at Crystal Palace thanks to Benteke cheating. Lets not dress it up as ‘doing the professional thing’ its cheating. I have watched and re-watched and I still can’t even see the minimal contact that apparently ‘definitely’ happened. This is not rose-tinted glasses, I am a Liverpool fan!

On the same weekend, I saw Michael Owen, a great player from Liverpool’s past interview the Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino on BT Sport. That is Michael Owen, who lets remember went over like an old lady on an icy morning when playing for England versus Argentina in the 2012 world cup. Pochettino was the player who stuck out a leg, and Michael didn’t need a second invitation. There was no contact that day either, none. Michael Owen cheated. England were awarded the penalty which David Beckham converted. Some blame Pochettino for being naive in sticking out a leg, Some say Michael Owen was being professional. Too few, in my opinion, call it cheating.

In this interview on BT Sport this weekend Pochettino called Michael Owen ‘clever’ for cheating and Owen seemed to admit that there was no contact in his laughing and mannerisms. CLEVER!? If this is what we are teaching our kids then we can’t complain when ‘the youth of today’ appear to lack a moral compass.

I saw a tweet from @whitehouseaddress today that said ‘Deceit is fundamental to football. The high “morality” of the English is holding the nation back from succeeding’ and to be honest, it made me angry and sad in equal measure. It seems to say that if they are all at it, we should do it as well. If you can’t beat them, join them. With morality and ethics the things we are willing to leave as we cross the white line in order to win at all costs.

What sort of message does that send our young about life? If you can’t win by fair means win by foul? The problem is that football has allowed the cheats to prosper for far too long, and now cheating has the new, more socially acceptable title of professionalism. It needs FIFA to stamp it out. Don’t bemoan the English and their morality – that is the easy way out.

Would you teach your kids to cheat in school? “Don’t bother working hard to earn an education son, just copy everything off the bright kid, yeah?” What about when they leave school? “Don’t work hard for a living son, just become a benefit cheat, or a thief, everyone else is at it so why not?” Cheating is cheating. When is it OK to cheat?

Stamp out the cheats, one red card and one big fine at a time, and then little by little we can get back a game that we can be proud of … and please, stop calling players who simulate a foul professional. Call them a cheat, because that is what they are.

I will no doubt be accused of being naive, and told that I don’t understand how football works. I do understand how I think life should work however, and as football has such a huge influence on our kids, we need to be careful what lessons football teaches them.

 

 

‘Somebody could be killed’ at a youth football match

Graham Elkins, the chairman of the Surrey Youth League, caused a media storm recently when he claimed that some of the parents at youth football matches in the UK are behaving in such a violent and threatening manner that ‘Somebody could be killed’.

What a ridiculous statement. At a kids football match? Killed? Tragically, the ridiculousness is not in the statement itself, but in the fact that this has a very real chance of happening.

It has already happened in the Netherlands, when U17 footballers kicked a linesman to death. Insane.

Last year, The Standard in London reported that a man who should have been old enough to know better beat up an U9’s football coach because the coach dared to ask the man not to tell his son to hurt other players – The coach, a volunteer, who was trying to help young players improve was left with two black eyes and a broken nose. 

You hear justifying statements such as ‘its a mans game’ or ‘you have to toughen them up’ or ‘its a passionate game’ but these are flimsy excuses for parents who, in the words of Ray Winston in the FA’s respect video, “need to take a long, hard look at themselves” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ezZ2ZRfSsLY

Its a sad state of affairs, but something drastic has to be done because as in so many areas of life, the minority are ruining it for the majority. Its the kids who are losing out, and that is a crying shame.

Just this weekend I heard a little 8 year old boy say, through sobbing tears, “My dad keeps shouting at me and I don’t like it”. Something has to stop, now.

Some parents seem to be living in the old days where a football manager would shout and swear and scare players into a performance, but at the top level now that manager is rare. Ferguson and his ‘hairdryer’ are a thing of the past in the main. Players have the power now and my understanding is that managers have to be more ‘carrot’ and less ‘stick’ in todays elite world.

So why do we subject our babies to this treatment, if England internationals are not expected to put up with it?

I have my own ideas on what should happen to stamp out this horrendous behavior, but I am very keen to hear from others what they would do to stop it if they were at the FA now?

Please take time to comment.

Thanks.

Here is an article in the Telegraph, that quotes Me Elkins of the Surrey FA:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/law-and-order/12171203/Parents-on-football-touchline-so-violent-someone-could-be-killed-youth-league-chairman-warns.html

No coaching from parents during matches helps develop creative footballers? Discuss.

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?