Simplify, paint pictures & repeat

keep-calm-and-simplify-8

Maurice Saatchi, co-founder of one of the most successful advertising agencies of all time said ‘simple ideas enter the brain quicker and stay there for longer’ and having spent around 20 years working in the communications industry I have had my fair share of experience and training on this from a business perspective. Saatchi also said ‘it is easier to complicate than to simplify’ but that is surely what we as youth coaches must do if we are to offer the maximum chance of learning to our young players?

I have spent 20 years trying to explain complex ideas in an easy-to-understand way, and when I started coaching youth football I realised that my training in business could be of huge value to my newfound passion. Simplicity is a form of genius in my eyes, and the 140 characters that you are allowed per tweet on Twitter is a fantastic measure of how well you have simplified. If you can’t articulate your idea in 140 characters, the chances are you need to further simplify. Young players have a limited attention span and so getting across key messages, in a very concise, easy to understand way is vital. I could waffle on for hours to my 7-year-olds about the four phases of play for example, but how much would they take in and would the key messages be lost in the noise? Less is more.

As an example, lets imagine you were trying to teach the four phases of play to a seven year old. It is likely too complex an idea (from a tactical perspective) for them to grasp with their limited attention span. So your only realistic opportunities is to scrap it all together, or to take what you consider the very essence of the four phases of play and condense it, to be a few simple pointers that might help your players understand.

Phases of play

The four phases of play:

  1. Attacking
  2. Defending
  3. Transition to attack
  4. Transition to defend

I simplified to this:

  1. When we win the ball we attack as quickly as we can
  2. When we lose the ball we defend as quickly as we can

By definition, when we win the ball we become the attacking team and when we lose the ball we are the defending team, so I thought it was OK to drop all of that detail and to focus simply on communicating two, hopefully simple, concepts. What we do as an individual when our team win the ball and what we do when our team lose the ball. As the players develop and become exposed to more complex tactical coaching, I hope that this rudimentary exposure at an early age will prove to be a platform on what to build.

I then try to design sessions that help players practice skills that they will need to operate successfully in all four phases, but only explain two of them as key points in every match, namely when we win the ball and when we lose the ball. For example, in training yesterday we played a game which was designed to help players practice attacking quickly as a team. The game itself was loosely based on the FA’s ‘Waves’ game. I set up with a 5-a-side pitch, and a goalkeeper in each goal. A team of three players start at one end, and another three at the other, and on the coaches instruction they try to work the ball forward as quickly as possible as a team, and score a goal at the opposite end.

Before they start that exercise and a couple of times throughout the game, I ask them to visualise that they are playing in a game and that when I shout ‘go’ or ‘play’ they have suddenly won back possession. That is hopefully the starting point of the game in their minds. The practice was set up with a pitch in the approximate dimensions they will experience on match days, with interference from the team playing from the other end, and the stress of the other team scoring first which spurred them on to try and play more quickly. Incidentally, this practice led into a 4v4 game in which the players were encouraged to think about the last game, and how quickly they could attack as a team when they won the ball.

Finally, repetition is how humans take short-term memories and transcode them into long-term memories. Without repetition, ideas are lost because long-term memories are not made. At every training session I ask the players what they remember about our formation (diamond), what we ask of our wing-backs (attack quickly when we win the ball, defend quickly when we lose it) and a couple of other key, simplified points around respect, teamwork and fun.

 

Do you have any thoughts, comments or suggestions about this? If so, please leave in the comments!

P.S. I set this blog up in the hope that I would get contributions from coaches, so please do send me anything you would like me to publish, or add your comments on this blog post in the comments section.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Retreat line in mini soccer is a good thing … do you have a different view?

retreat line

In mini-soccer, the FA introduced a rule concerning goal kicks. The rule reads “Law 16. Goal Kick. Procedure. A player of the defending team kicks the ball from any point within the penalty area. Opponents must retreat to their own half until the ball is in play. The defending team does not have to wait for the opposition to retreat and has the option to restart the game before should they choose to. The ball is in play when it is kicked directly out the penalty area.”

I think that it is a good thing for the age group I coach (under 7’s) for the reasons I will explain below. Others disagree though. It is a rule that divides opinion, and I’d love to hear what you think about it in the comments?

Pro retreat line.

The biggest benefit of the retreat line is that it encourages players to play football, with the ball on the ground. Imagine the scenario without a retreat line … a goalkeeper looks up, ready to take a goal kick, and all four of his outfield players are marked. In that scenario, the goalkeeper is likely to try and kick it long. The understandable rationale being that if the ball is going to be lost then it is done as far away from their goal as possible.

I believe that the retreat line offers the goalkeeper an easy pass, to feet, and encourages the team to pass and move from there. Not only does that encourage the passing of the ball, it offers all players more touches of the ball, which will aid their long-term development. More touches = better ball mastery. Or as your parents used to drum into you, practice makes perfect. The whole reason that mini-soccer was introduced was to offer more touches of the ball to each player.

Too often in the past, English coaches would encourage defenders not to play with the ball. Cries from the touchline of ‘get rid’ directed defenders to lump it forward the big lad up front, and that tactic robs the other defenders and the entire midfield from a touch of the ball. That is one thing if you are a Premiership manager trying to set up to play to the strengths of the players you have, but if you are trying to develop young players, then I think it is better to encourage them to receive and pass the ball more often.

As with many things in youth coaching, I think it comes back to the fundamental motivation of the coach. Are you trying to win this game, or develop the players in it for the long-term? If it is the former then your thinking will be about getting the players ready for that game, if it is the latter, you will see the game as another opportunity for the players to develop skills.

As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts? Please leave a comment.

If you wish to submit an article to be published on the blog, then please email it to me at mike_nicholson@hotmail.co.uk

 

 

 

 

Should coaches tell young players not to dribble?

An interesting debate started on Twitter recently when @tashapearson17 tweeted “Refd a u10 game this morning, where the coach discouraged any dribbling.completely wrong for the kids to hear at that age.”

My thoughts are that at under 10 level, the players should be encouraged to express themselves and develop all skills, not be moulded into playing just one way.

What are your thoughts on this?

Please get involved in the conversation by leaving your thoughts in the comments.

@tashapearson17

@tashapearson17

 

@tashapearson17

At what age do you move your squad from a policy of everyone plays the same time, to pick the players to win?

trophies

At some point in a player’s life they will have to face the harsh reality that the better players will play more football. The question is when?

I coach at under 7’s level, and rotation is definitely the ethos that I believe in for this age group. The benefits of this policy are many. Firstly, it promotes harmony and reduces conflict throughout the squad and feels fair to all concerned. It shows that the team is set up for the good of all, and not for the individual. You are unlikely to get negative hassle from parents complaining that their child isn’t getting enough game time, and most importantly, you are giving every player the same opportunity to develop.  If your primary motivation as a coach is to develop players for the long term, then I believe that this is the policy that best displays motivation.

The advantages of picking players to win the game are perhaps obvious. If you have a lethal finisher, or a beast of a tackler, it is understandable that in a tight situation you would want them on the field.  However, if they spend the entire match on the field it is in the place of another player and players develop through playing & training, not sitting on the bench. The gap between the players who are better and weaker is likely to grow, if the better players play more and the weaker players play less.

So if you agree with this so far, the question is at what age do you change the priority from development to winning?

The golden opportunity for development is up until the age of 11 in boys, as 95% of their neural pathways are set by that age. So does that mean that from 12 onwards the coach should focus on building winning teams, and concentrating on the better players? Is 12 the age that players should be moved into teams that match their ability level?

Personally, I think 12 still feels too young but I would love to hear the thoughts of other coaches on this subject! Players move to 11v11 football at U14 age, so maybe that is the right time?

Please write your thoughts in the comments.

 

 

Creating an environment where making a mistake is a positive thing

well_done_thumb

I believe that mistakes are a fundamental part of learning, and creating an environment where children are encouraged for their effort, not just the result is vital if we are going to produce a player who in willing to take players on or keep control of the ball under pressure. As Albert Einstein said “Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.”

Looking at today’s England players and comparing them to players from the Brazil or Spain national team for example, there are two differences that leap out at me. The first is how uncomfortable England players are in possession of the ball, when put under pressure, compared to their counterparts from South America and Spain. I believe this is at least in part down to the culture that existed in England of ‘get rid’ and of berating players for losing the ball.

The second difference is how willing players are to take on a man. I have watched Liverpool for 36 years and have been lucky to watch some fantastic players in those decades, but one player in particular stands out as a victim of the English mentality to berate mistakes and that is Steve McManaman. He started his Liverpool career so brightly, beating players for fun with his silky dribbling skills, but as the years wore on and he got used to being berated by the crowd when he lost the ball, he seemed to stop trying. He would jink towards a player, drop a shoulder, and then come backwards and pass it. It being both the ball and responsibility. To my mind, he learned that losing the ball was bad, and thus stopped trying and thus depriving the club of arguably his best attribute.

The Football Association have made great strides in trying to help with this by introducing mini-soccer and the Respect guides, as well as running coaching course for the coaches, but I still see managers moaning at players for making mistakes too often at U7’s level and it is even worse as the kids get older.

I believe coaches should praise the effort of players who try to keep a hold of the ball, even if they lose it, because it teaches them that they were doing the right thing and gives them the confidence to try it again. With practice, they will develop and improve. Criticising the mistake teaches them that it is better to pass the ball, and the responsibility to someone else. I think it is equally important that parents are on the same page with this, but that is another story!

Do you have any views on this? Any thoughts on how this can be coached? Does anybody disagree?

Please get involved my making a comment to keep the conversation going.

 

If you would like to submit an article for submission, please email it to me at mike_nicholson@hotmail.co.uk 

 

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