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The State of the Game

People like to make it a crime in Northern Ireland that I charge for children to access my football coaching.  Never mind I have spent thousands of pounds to develop myself & undertake my coaching qualifications along with the sacrifice I have made in my life to get to where I am.  A meeting last week reminded me that the future of the local game & the development in our young players is in the hands of semi to non qualified volunteers.  In this life you get what you pay for...

When will attitudes change in youth football?

Lisburn Distillery

4 years ago I left my post as Academy Director at Irish Premier League side, Lisburn Distillery.  I spent 6 happy years at the club but left disappointed that I'd not been allowed to complete my project.  I don't think people will ever understand the hurt that you receive as I put my life & soul into it.

At the same time you have to be true to yourself.  I left due to funding & a lack of contact time with the players.  This is such a regular occurrence in Northern Ireland.  I had my players in twice a week for training along with their match.  The majority of players also attended one of my development centres.  I wanted them in another night so we would see them 4-5 times per week but the club wanted them down to one night a week due to funding.  So we want to develop elite players in Northern Ireland by training them once a week?  Then they wanted to cut my expenses too.  This would have resulted in it costing me money to work for the club.

How can we produce better players unless we increase the contact time & give them access to the best youth coaches & development programme?  It's a bit like the millions of pounds the Government waste into researching child obesity.  They come back with their findings that if children eat less & exercise more it will reduce their weight & increase their life expectancy.  Bloody hell, now there's a plan...I can just imagine the length of time it took the Government to come back with those findings & the amount of public money it wasted.

I suppose it's the same here when the powers that be looked at building a National Stadium somewhere & wasted millions of public money talking about it for nothing to happen on the proposed site.  The same way that many Council's stop me from hiring a venue or charge me £100 per 45 minute slot to operate a Toddler or Mini Soccer centre.  It's a load of crap.

So getting back to producing elite players.  If we offer the best youth coaches & increase the contact time we have with players that is going to create better players.  What a simple little concept but we have to make it difficult by finding excuses to not do it.

The Irish Premiership

I had a meeting with an Irish Premiership side recently.  On paper they want to re-structure their academy & to be fair they have a nice plan but it's only on paper...implementation is the key.  I met with them, they seemed quite genuine when they said they were happy to receive an application from myself & highlighted my experience & qualifications.  After 15 minutes of talking we hit a dead end, 'You do realise that this position is voluntary?'  Now at this point you would think they would try to offer some small weekly allowance to get you on board...you know something to help cover a little of your time or the very least petrol / mobile phone expense?  Or maybe suggest using their website, match day programme or signage at the stadium to promote my business as another leverage.  No!  Nothing!  Not a penny!

'Well what is you do? '  I asked.  'I'm a painter & decorator' came the reply.  'Ok, I've heard good things about you.  I'd like to bring you to my house & tell you what I want you to do to create a lovely looking house.  I'm going to give you some freedom as well for you to put your own identity on my house.  But just one thing, I have no money.  Sure your qualified at what you do & have invested years to get to where you are now but I'm sure you'll do it for nothing as your passionate?'

Funny, I'm still waiting for my house to be decorated...I think I'm just going to have to bring some cowboy in.  He'll do the job for nothing.  Although he's not educated, qualified & not suitable to let free on my house but it will get the job done.  Does this story sound familiar?  Why as coaches do people expect us to do it for nothing?  Whose going to pay my bills & support my wife & 3 children?

Pay peanuts get monkeys...

So while clubs get anyone to come in & manage their youth teams the end result is the same.  I've never seen youth football so poor in Northern Ireland.  People will say it's better, we have small sided game centres but for every one success story there will be 12  horror stories.  The 5 & 7-aside games are flawed.  They play on an adults 5-aside pitch with the massive wide goals.  Kids as young as 5 & 6 chase one ball from one end of the pitch to the other.  You'll have some poor sod in goals (who wants to do nets at the age of 5 & 6??) while 8 others chase the ball into the corner while the other keeper stands doing nothing.  Then someone boots the ball to the other end & some idiot coach shouts, 'WELL PLAYED, NOW GET OUT!'  At the same time you have about 30-50 parents, grand parents all huddled round the pitch screaming & shouting at these little kids.  What is worse is the clubs to provide a team put anyone in charge.  In most cases an un-qualified parent.  This is the worst thing a club can do as it's the most important age group & should have the best coaches at this age group!  The other problem you have is teams meeting an hour before kick off.  Assuming some of these young children have 30-45 minutes to travel to get there & then home you will find that 2-3 hours are wasted travelling or standing about for 30 minutes of football...well that is if they get a full game!

Why not split the pitch in half & play left to right using small pugg goals & NO goalkeepers & play 4 v 4.  Then simply rotate games so that kids get more football & more variation as well as developing.  Better still, just organise it yourself internally like I did at Distillery!

I see so many of my little toddlers who have been with me from the age of 2 go from my Toddler Soccer to the Premier League...oh wait, sorry, I mean the little 5-aside league.  This is what is ruining the game & the fun for kids.  The people that brought this in to 'develop' the kids have created a monster.  When I was at Distillery I was questioned at bringing kids in at 6.  I was passionate that it was going to happen & pushed it through.  Although I managed it in a completely different way to how people are today.

Challenge your players but concentrate on the technical side of the game & always use the ball!

All the children received was good quality coaching.  Always with the ball.  Dribbling, tricks, keepie ups, 1 v 1's & small sided games.  It was all controlled by me & all internal.  We didn't play any opposition simply created internal 4 v 4 game days.  We educated the parents too.  It was perfect.  After a year we invited opposition in as long as they played to our rules of 4 v 4 & 5 v 5.  When we actually came round to playing in organised game centres with kids our own age we beat them 7, 8 & 9-0 & in some cases 19-0!  So here was the next problem.

We have become so structured it stops development...

My boys were learning nothing as they weren't being challenged.  It certainly wasn't doing the teams we played any good getting beat by that amount.  It proved my development programme worked.  I asked to play a year up.  Honestly, the reply I got back from the 'Development Officer' you'd think I was announcing World War III!  It wasn't allowed to happen on the grounds of health & safety - BULL!  How did you develop when you were a kid?  On the streets playing against better, stronger & older kids so you always excelled at your own age.  I went ahead & put them up a year & told a wee white lie.  Haha, you normally have the sad coaches playing over aged players to gain an advantage - we were having to 'cheat' by playing under age players!

When we look back on it now we can see how it has developed those young players.  They are all playing at the so called 'top' clubs in Northern Ireland.  But even that I've done that many will argue against it & the overall enjoyment & development is suffering.

Parents you need to take a stand!

If you think the coach shouting at your kid is good, think again!  They are stopping your child from playing.  Let's think about it.  Your son does something bad, you shout at them so you hope they don't do it again?  Well, same on the football pitch.  Your child tries something & it doesn't come off so a fully grown man shouts at him...the result?  The child won't play with freedom & creativity...simply play in a comfort zone & won't take risks.  We prefer to educate rather than shout.

I've raised the point already about travelling & standing about prior to the match.  Next time your child plays count how many times he touches the ball.  Why not take a stop watch & time how long the ball is at their feet?  You'll be shocked!  Go ahead - do it!  Then do the same in training.  If you have a coach that does laps around the pitch I'd have to ask questions on how that is going to develop his technical ability at football.  My son goes to piano lessons, if the teacher made him run round the piano I'd take him out the class!

Does your coach operate line drills, doggy style runs or lectures?  Or if you son gets hurt does your coach run on to the pitch with a bottle of water!!!  It needs to change.  Start off with the 3 L's - get away from; laps, lines & lectures!  In Northern Ireland coaches that say, 'We'll burn the kids out' actually mean they can't be bothered planning sessions.  It's games that do the damage.  A match on a Saturday, a match for the school, a match for a County & a match in training!  Kids can train every day it it is all based around the technical side of the game.

A scout informed me that 98% of Northern Ireland kids return home from pro clubs across the water.  People talk about 1% of kids making it through the academy system.  It's such a small percentage of children that actually make it as a professional.  But we're not going to get any kids playing across the water in the near future unless we increase the level of coaching here & the amount of contact time we have with our kids!

Don't be a yes man & stick to your beliefs...

There is a small group of coaches who I have met that think similar to me.  The powers that be hate them.  Look at Paul Cooper from Give Us Back Our Game.  They stopped his funding & wanted to get rid of him.  What a gent.  The stuff that Brooking is coming out with at the FA now is what Paul was saying years ago.  Paul was part of the studies at Manchester University with his business partner Rick Fenalgio that studied Manchester United's 4 v 4 study.  Less kids on the pitch = more touches, more dribbles, more passes, more tricks, more shots, more goals = higher technical ability & development of a player.  The Dutch have been doing this for years.

Only last week was one of my coaches met by 2 coaches from the Irish Football Association.  'You work for Tim Wareing?  We (the Irish Football Association) don't like him.'

My coach asked them had they seen me coach, 'No...just what we heard.'  You see you have the robots.  They can't think for themselves & just follow the crowd.  Jealousy is a wonderful thing.  They talk about you as they fear you.  This is what holds back football in the UK.  We have coaches that are only out for themselves.  The fear of someone knowing more than them stops them from asking questions.  We have far too many clubs.  Then each club has 10 mini clubs within them as no one wants to support each other.

Commission...

I believe coaches should be paid on commission (as should pro players!)  I run my own business so I need to insure the coaching is carried out to a high standard as well as the running of my business.  This is how we are all paid.  I don't get Government grants or tax payers money!  Whereas we have 'Development Coaches', 'County Coaches', etc. etc. in the IFA / FA.  Now before my little friend pipes up.  I am not speaking about everyone.  I know some great coaches that work in the IFA / FA.  But you can bet your house on it that there is many 'jobs for the boys'.  At the minute they all get paid the agreed amount regardless of performance.  Change that to a commission based approach & the standard will improve throughout!  Imagine if clubs followed the same route & paid to have the best youth coaches.  What would it do to our local & national game?

Can we evolve?  Our cultural is mixed.  It's getting a balance.  Pay for coaches to work with the best but look for passionate coaches that want to improve & have an open mind.  I have great coaches that work for me.  Pro Licence, UEFA A & B Licence coaches & a number of great young coaches.  With a team of 37 coaches I find them to be generally reliable & turn up for sessions as they are paid.  I operate free staff training every 6 weeks...the numbers are generally about 10-12 attending!  We don't have that cultural that we want to learn.

Professional Level

You want your child to ride a horse, play an instrument, learn how to swim or play golf you demand an expert.  Why not in football?  1-2 hours poor coaching is not enough.  We need to change & fast.  If not we're going to slide down the FIFA rankings even more.  87th position in the rankings?  I've still not got over us not being able to beat a country that has more sheep than people!  I'm fed up of the excuses that we are a small nation...look at some of the nations that are above us; Guatemala, Trinidad and Tobago & the likes of Iraq...

Let's embrace change & come out the dark ages.  When a junior referee can make £100 on a Saturday while a coach makes nothing we have problems...but we're a small country who can't train excellence in youth more than 4 times a week because of 'burn out' & finance...this is bull...we waste over £5 million of tax payers money on 15 leisure centres in Belfast a year...yes you read that right...give me £20k a year & a leisure centre & I'll train kids 4 times a week.  But that wouldn't work as people don't work together in NI - just slate them unless you're a yes man that keeps doing the same crap that was going on 25 years ago.  1986 is a distant memory.

One Response to “The State of the Game”

  1. Great blog Tim I feel exactly the same. I have recently left a Championship side as a development centre coach due to the same issues. We had the best players in a football mad area who were deemed almost good enough for a CoE or Academy yet only had them for 1 hour a week plus the odd round robin at the w/end if we were lucky. Despite it paying £20 an hour and the proud feeling it gave me to be in such a position, i couldnt get my head around having just 1 hour a week with them. I was told it was down to costs. It was inspiring to coach at their CoE yet although the facilities were good they had no indoor facilities of their own and hired a local college. They had plans to build there own but plans were scrapped when they sacked their manager to the tune of £2 million, a guy who was never a popular choice and indeed got them relegated from the Premier League after their manager left to join another Prem side in Jan of that season. £2 million could have rebuilt and funded their CoE for years.
    I also coach my 7 year old sons grassroots side and enjoy the ‘long-term project’ of teaching these kids how i believe the kids should be coached. With access to them for 2 1 and a half hour sessions a week plus matches i subsequently decided to leave the development centre for reasons mentioned.
    I am a level 2 coach and like yourself have spent thousands on improving my practice and been to many a club watching the practice of top coaches, while i dont claim to be the best coach not many will work harder than i do. I stick to my principles that football is a simple game ruined by coaches, parents and those in authority in different ways. When on the B Licence i failed after a disagreement. My examiner wanted me to effectively play long ball football, to hit the front man early and for the supporting players to bust a gut to support, whereas i preferred a more patient build up where possession was key and hitting the front man only became a priority when the time was correct to do so. I was not prepared to change my philosophy to suit this man who subsequently told me i was a good coach but poor on tests??? If this is how a county ‘top dog’ goes about his coaching what chance does football have?
    Your idea of 4 sessions a week really appeals to me but the town i coach for is a fairly deprived area and when i do get access to the kids i have to organise lifts for at least half a dozen due to poor parenting and work commitments. Unfortunately, over half of these kids are what i’d call ‘street’ kids which are now very rare. Admitedly i dont let my own son play on the streets for safety reasons but i know he would be a better play if he did.
    I love teaching kids new skills and much of my work is based around similar things coerver coaches do. I coach kids to be 2 footed, have a good knowledge bank of skills, can pass the ball well and guide them to understand how and why i ask them to do the things they do. Its no good them doing things if they dont understand why and how they do it.
    There is so much bad practice about in regards to youth coaches that my passion lies in teaching kids ‘proper’ football and let them express themselves in a fun environment. I was recently at LFC Academy and a sign stood out to me, it read ‘only applause is acceptable’ a Shankly quote which was so powerful and true.
    You seem to be doing great things Tim, maybe the next step would be to start your own development league to rival your local ones as you seem to get no help from those in authority.
    A little research has told me your counrties population is very similar to Uraguay and look at the players they currently produce ! I imagine someone at some point had similar ideas to yourself but got the chance to implement it to great effect. When watching their players i try and imagine how they were coached and i immediately see them in an environment where they are free to express themselves, playing futsal or SSGs.
    I believe in your simple more time with quality coaching idea however when it comes to getting paid for it i do not think it would be possible where i live as our culture dictates that coaching isnt a profession for only an elite few. I will follow your progress closely and wish you look. As you are a Utd fan i may be able to organise a fixture with their u11 if you ever came over as i am friends with their u11 head coach.
    I could go on all day about this subject and appologise if my ‘rant’ lacks flow.
    Regards Mike

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