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How Many Touches Do You Get?

Over the past couple of weeks we have monitored a child to see how many touches they actually receive on the ball during training sessions & matches.  In my last blog post we talked about the 10,000 hour theory, in that to become an expert or professional in any field it takes 20 hours practice time per week.  What we experience as coaches is parents believing that their child has made it by playing football for a club that in some cases only have one session per week & one match per week…but how many times do they touch the ball?

To improve & develop you need to practice.  In football to be more comfortable on the ball & possess a good technical ability you need to practice with the ball.  Simple theory but crazy how many people miss this at such a young age!  I watch youth sessions & I see kids running round a pitch in 2′s with the coach shouting, ‘left hand down, right hand down’.  They get away with it as all parents see is their kids in their footy kit, with ‘coaches’ dressed in their gear & training on the best 3G pitch.  Well before I talk about improving the technical ability of kids I want to make a simple statement.  When paying upwards of £50 to hire a 3G pitch I don’t want to run round the edge of it – I want to use the bloody pitch!

Then we have the IFA run mini leagues that encourage small sided games which in theory is great but again, unfortunately, they get it completely wrong in my opinion.  I operate Toddler Soccer in an indoor 3G arena on a Saturday morning.  Next to us we have kids only a year older than some of my toddler group playing in these mini leagues.  They play 5 a-side, but on the same size of pitches as fully grown men play with the long wide nets!  To me this is still like playing 11 v 11 on a full size pitch with the big goals!  What happens?  The ball is at one end of the pitch with 9 kids around it while the poor little kid is at the other end stuck in nets waving to his dad…then the inspired words from the coach, ‘GET RID OF IT!’, as little Billy lumps the ball down the other end for the 8 kids to run after with the other coach shouting, ‘KEEPER – SWITCH ON!’  It is a waste of time.  Some will argue that the kids enjoy it, I don’t know.  I would split the pitches in half & play left to right into mini goals with NO KEEPER, & encourage 4 v 4.  Still loads of space but more touches of the ball, more 1 v 1′s, more tricks, more goals, more fun = improved technical ability.

Concentrate on the amount of touches each individual receives during each session

Through poor training methods & mis-guided development games the technical ability of our game suffers.  This starts from the grassroots game & no surprise continues through to the professional game.

Reading a recent report the Premier League has announced plans to at least triple the amount of coaching for promising young players in England which it hopes will eventually help improve the quality of the national team.

Under the plans, Premier League academies will provide 15-20 hours of coaching a week for 9 to 16 year olds instead of the current 5 hours, meaning youngsters would get even more coaching time than those in Germany or Holland.

The plan, which might also include football schools, was agreed by the 20 Premier League clubs before the World Cup in which England produced their worst ever performance.  There were 222 English-qualified players who played first-team football in the Premier League last season.  League chief executive, Richard Scudamore, believed that was enough to find 11 to perform in international competition.

Ged Roddy, the Premier League’s director of youth development, stated that the average 18 year old at Ajax gets 6,000 hours of ‘contact time’ with coaches compared to 2,500 for the equivalent player in England.  He also added that the English system has lagged behind & it needs reconstructed.  One of the aims is to have about 10,000 hours of contact time in the future.

One English Club leading the way is Watford with the Harewood Academy.  They studied the set up at Dutch Club, Willem II Tilburg, & have tried to replicate the set up in England.  The focus is that the boys are transported to the Harewood Academy, which is a normal school with other pupils attending, so that boys continue their education but have more coaching time with the coaches.  Already the contact time with coaches has increased from 6 hours per week to 15 hours per week with studies, home work & meals all completed on site.  The project is currently based on 11-15 year olds.  They train in the morning then have classes before lunch.  More classes in the afternoon along with time for homework & another training session before returning home.  You can watch some videos about the Harewood Academy by simply clicking the following links…it also includes ballet dancing in one!  Harewood Academy 1, Harewood Academy 2 & Harewood Academy 3.

‘The young boys, they practice 5 times a week, at the end of the year they will not be the same players.  It’s no superiority from any other country, it’s just that here in England is less practice with the children than anywhere else.’

Arsene Wenger, Arsenal Manager.

This leads us on nicely to our study.  We took one player & counted the amount of times he touched the ball in different environments.  This was from training sessions to matches.  If you want your child to improve technically you should monitor how many practice sessions they are doing on a week to week basis & what they actually do in these sessions.

IFA National County Programme (2 hour training session)

20 minute warm up, working 1 ball in pairs passing.  171 touches.

Remainder of session working on patterns of play & a match.  53 touches.

Overall touches – 224.

Dungoyne FC Club Training (1 hour session)

Warm up, individual with a ball each.  170 touches.

Remainder of session based on possession game then a match.  137 touches.

Overall touches – 307.

Dungoyne vs. Carniny, League Game (30 minutes each way)

Played in midfield for duration of game on wing.  Scored a goal & set up 3.  Dungoyne won the game 8-1.

Warm up, 20 minutes.  162 touches.

During game, 60 minutes.  80 touches.

Overall touches – 242.

1-on-1 Coaching (1 hour session)

Session started off with keepie ups for a warm up.  Then operated the skill square concentrating on dribbling, turns & skills.  A fun passing exercise was followed by S.A.Q. (still using the ball).  A selection of shooting activities completed the session which included volleys, lobs, over heads, free kicks & then a cool down.

Overall touches – 699.

No surprises that the 1-on-1 session involved the most touches but shows the importance of them.  The overall total touches is heavily affected on what you are working on in training.  It is also interesting in the results that the shorter sessions still resulted in more touches of the ball!  This can also be a reflection on the coaching style.  How many times the session is stopped, how long the coach talks for, etc.  But one thing to remember is the importance of using a ball during the warm up.  The difference from a short warm up with the ball (average 165 touches) compared to zero touches if running around a pitch!

In signing off, how many touches does your player / child receive during a typical session or a match?  If it is not in the hundreds & they are not completing enough sessions / practice time you can bet their technical ability will suffer for it.  Why not take a count at the next session or game & add in the comments box?

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