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Swansea City Academy Coach Education Session

TW Braga Coach, David Sleator, attended a coach education day provided by Swansea City Academy.  Below is his report and thoughts on the day.  We thank David for sharing his report.

Stormont Pavilion, Belfast - Sunday 3 December 2017.

Sunday saw the return of the now annual Swansea City Academy education event to Belfast’s Stormont Estate, attended by coaches from all over Northern Ireland.  It was a fascinating insight into the philosophy which underpins the Swans Academy setup, from the foundation phase through to U23's. What is clear is the amount of dedication and focus given to ensure that any player entering the Academy has a clear pathway through it, with the same technical and tactical aims.

Swansea City has built a reputation within their 1st team to play from the back utilising the goalkeepers, a key component to their Academy as well, but the 1st team does act independently when required - a fact reflected upon during the session given the current difficulty the team is facing in the Premier League. Adaptability is still a key component to development.

The session today was divided into the following parts;

  • Overview and Introduction to the Swans Academy – Aaron McNeill, Ireland Coordinator & Ollie Jefferies, Foundation Phase Academy Coach.
  • Practical session 1 – ‘Me’ - Roy Thomas, Head of Academy Coaching & Coach Educator & Andrew Sparkes, Head of Academy Goalkeeping.
  • Goalkeeping Focus – Andrew Sparkes, Head of Academy Goalkeeping.
  • Practical session 2 – ‘We’ & ‘Us’ - Roy Thomas, Head of Academy Coaching & Coach Educator & Andrew Sparkes, Head of Academy Goalkeeping.
  • Video and Statistical Analysis – Harry Spratley, Academy Analyst.

 

The “Swansea City Way”

Ollie outlined the key focus areas for the Academy – technical and tactical development, player personalities, coach interactions and target setting. The technical and tactical development is key to the philosophy of the Academy, which is to have players capable of playing out from the back in a typical 1-4-3-3 system. There has been a real shift in modern youth coaching, no longer is it acceptable to just have young players able to ‘get rid’ of the ball into attacking channels, but technically capable players able to not only receive a pass in their own defensive third, but also utilise the goalkeeper and other players in order to play passes in a controlled manner in their own half. The most fascinating part of this was the tactical awareness element which Swansea have incorporated and essential in producing players able to execute their approach to the game. Ollie continued to give an overview of a typical practical session for players in the foundation phase (u7 to u12) – a clear focus on technical aspects at this age, fun orientated sessions which seek to develop skills needed. Even at this phase, goalkeepers are an integral part of all practical sessions (on top of their own goalkeeping sessions) – should it be a possession based drill or focus on one particular aspect, they are utilised. In the example used, a simple 4v4 rondo uses two goalkeepers at each end who face forward at all times, able to play the ball in to their teammates. The idea of this is to get the goalkeepers as much contact time on the ball with their feet in a high pressure situation – how comfortable are they on making a good 1st touch before finding a teammate? Is their body shape correct in order to offer to receive the pass? All of this built nicely into the practical sessions which followed.

Another aspect touched upon was player personality and coach interaction. Swans Academy have player development plans for every player from u7 up to u23. A set template is used which coaches and players themselves feed into. I was really impressed at how Swansea get their youth players to be engaged in their own development – recognising strengths and weaknesses. Along with long term development, these plans are updated weekly and monthly allowing coaches and players to look at certain areas which require focus. The key thing here is getting the players, even at a very young age, to buy into their own development. Although it sounds very rigid, the plans have broad outlines of what the players are working on at any given time, e.g. technical such as first touch, or when the players are older the addition of psychosocial elements such as interaction with teammates or ability to cope with pressure. Further to this, players are asked what their ‘super-strengths’ are – those abilities a player has which they feel is their best attribute. The interesting thing here is that these stronger attributes are not placed to the side in order to concentrate on weaker elements, in fact it’s the opposite. If a player shows really good skill in playing a penetrating pass, focus remains on developing this to the fullest. The explanation is that players are defined by their strongest ability which will become a key aspect of their game, so why abandon the development of this? Of course it’s not to the detriment of improving all aspects of play, but a balanced approach.

While all that sounds quite overwhelming, it is in fact carefully structured. Training sessions are thoughtfully planned with not only focus on group development, but also individual development through goal-setting. The Academy asks captains (rotating weekly) to choose ‘extras’, a clever way of getting the boys to practice certain skills at home which they can record and share. The reason behind this is part of the wider debate in youth football. Young players in the UK are simply not getting as much contact time with the ball as previous generations did though street football and other forms of free form play which is now seen as key to development. This is one way the Swans Academy has sought to address this. Analysis and feedback is performed to each player, the example shown of the coach and parent watching some video footage of training, before the player is asked to note which areas they want to work on. What is great about this is the fact that the player will present back video footage to his coach and parent, identifying what they have learnt by talking through solutions to problems. For example this could be trying to find space to receive a pass in wide areas – how does a player identify space against the positioning of opponents etc. The technical work on the pitch is followed up with insight and review which greatly benefits the players. The degree of learning and player involvement is perhaps a luxury a Premiership Academy can employ, however it is interesting to see how beneficial even the slightest amount of player ownership of learning can be.

Players also share in the mentoring process, so the older boys will take a younger player under their wing and help them review their own development as well as set goals. We got a snapshot of that within the practical sessions where the older goalkeepers worked alongside the younger kids. This takes place as much off the training pitch as on it which is interesting to see. Finally, players are given the opportunity to player up or down a year depending on their particular need at any given time. So a player low on confidence could play a year down to give more touches/passes/shots, whereas players can also be challenged playing a year up to really stretch their abilities. It’s not too dissimilar to bio-banding which also looks at shaping games to fit in with levels of development, however this method continuously monitors the need of the individual player on a regular basis, allowing them that flexibility depending on how they are doing.

 

Practical Session – ‘Me’

With two sessions running in parallel I had the opportunity to see the group of outfield players but choose to take a look at Andrew’s session with the goalkeepers. I’ve always felt goalkeepers are often an afterthought when it comes to training, but it can be difficult to incorporate them at times besides getting them to ‘go in goal’ – I wanted to see how the professionals did it! It was a good call, because as it turned out there was a particular focus on goalkeepers as part of the wider Academy context.

Warmup was a simple 3v1 passing rondo – working on 1st touch and quick passing. Progressing into all 4 keeping the ball up in the air using a ball in the hands to bounce, finally keeping the ball in the air using alternating hands.

With hands and feet warmed up, it was time to work on the goalkeepers playing the ball out wide and receiving passes in return on the back foot. Coaching points on body position to receive as well as footwork all feed in to the idea of getting ‘keepers comfortable receiving the ball and playing out with their feet. Decision making also played a part, with wide players eventually able to move between set cones so goalkeepers had to be fully aware of movement in front of them. This played perfectly into the other practical sessions later on which developed on these skills. It struck me at this point how little the hands had been used, clearly an emphasis was placed on ability with feet and it was reinforced by a comment Andrew made later on. He wants his goalkeepers to be as good in receiving and passing the ball as midfielders in the Academy. My initial surprise to this was put into context by what he pointed out next – a midfielder losing the ball can make a recovery run, have someone behind him to cover. A goalkeeper is last player back – a misjudged touch or poor pass can easily lead to a goal, and so given the way Swansea wish to play it is imperative the boys learn the skills at this foundation phase. We moved onto handling and diving technique and it was really good to see coaching points delivered one on one. Andrew’s main point was driven home as he touched upon something each of the three goalkeepers could improve upon – in one case position of the knee to aid the dive, setting of the hands forward rather than too wide and also setting too early. Giving a generalised overview for all players is not enough – it must be relevant to the individual.

 

Goalkeeping Focus

Back in the Pavilion Andrew presented a look into the goalkeeping pathway at Swansea City. Beginning in the foundation phase players are focusing in on distribution, catching technique etc. with progression onto dealing with crosses and through-balls and finally at the older age groups looking at specific types of saves as well as the tactical aspects of the game. All of this is centred on that one underpinning theme – playing out from the back. We saw examples of Academy goalkeepers make different types of passes, with three key outcomes - maintain possession, switch play or penetrate to by-pass opponents, all three using the short pass, lofted ball or driven pass. If play was congested down one side of the pitch, the goalkeeper could be used to switch play and this relied upon practising the technique of accurate passing. The second practical session would touch upon this. What initially seems as going against the principle of playing out from the back, goalkeepers are encouraged to look for penetrating passes forward should it be on – the application of smart accurate forward passes directly up to the midfielders or forwards is just as key to the way Swansea wish to develop their goalkeepers. Supporting all of this was a certain mind-set the Academy requires of their players – a short video of keepers from u7 all the way to u23 focused on key attributes of bravery, decision making and belief in their technical ability to play from the back. It struck me just how much emphasis is placed on goalkeepers in terms of what the Academy is trying to do. The modern goalkeeper is much more than a shot-stopper or sweeper for any team – the ability to be a part of the game in terms of switching play, or looking to make that penetrating pass more often associated with a deep lying playmaker is essential.

 

Practical session – ‘We’ & ‘Us’

The final practical session looked to build upon the first, beginning with a three station rotation – heading, pattern play with shooting and also variation of passing. The most interesting of the three asked players to make different types of passes – driven, curved and lofted into goals. Both outfield players and goalkeepers took part and something each of them could take into their own game. Roy touched upon the need to repeat the techniques involved. Following on from the first session, the goalkeepers taking part in the pattern play and shooting drill were tested on distribution as well as shot stopping. It was a nice way of working on as much of the skills as possible for all the players involved. Initial passes back to the goalkeeper were varied, so a slower pass really tested their ability to get the ball to a teammate first time before recovering to cover the incoming shot. Variation was added for the outfield players with concentration on decision making. Which player would sit and cover, which would join the ‘number 9’ to attack the goal?

During all of this, coaching was minimal. Roy noted it was a case that after initial demonstration, the players would continue. Minimal input was made, perhaps the odd question asked in order to get players to think about their decisions but overall player-driven. Also briefly mentioned was ‘shadow-coaching’ – Roy explained how although he may lead a session, other coaches may drop in to provide 1on1 advice when appropriate. A three team pressing game was next which was a great test of player anticipation and stamina, but the real insight was the final session with four teams working in two separate areas in the style of a ladder game – team 1 tried to maintain possession and prevent team 2 scoring, the other area have team 3 and 4 competing. As each team scored, they moved up or down the ladder, but what was interesting was the competitive nature of how the session developed. Roy highlighted one of the kids who had sprinted to retrieve the ball after a wayward shot in order to try and get that elusive goal, a trait any coach likes to see in a player and something picked up on even at that young age as a positive point to highlight.

 

Video and Statistical Analysis

The day finished with an overview from Harry on the role he played in stats and video analysis. It’s now vital to the elite clubs to have this data in order to get the maximum of their players, but it was interesting to hear how incorporating even small elements of video analysis can be beneficial to any youth teams. Looking back to the start of the day, the way in which the Swans Academy use video analysis for player reflection and development is hugely beneficial, getting players to get really involved in their own development by analysing decisions made not only in matches but training. It was noted that all games are filmed with the aim of at least one training session per week. Time consuming enough for full-time staff at the Academy, but something I want to look at in the future again.

 

Thoughts

Swansea City along with a number of resurgent clubs in the English game have sought to choose an identity or philosophy which defines them – through the Academy right through to the 1st team they share an overall approach to football meaning that in theory a player can enter their Academies at u7 and learn the skills required to go on and play in the 1st team, with all the technical and tactical skills required. Their coaching staff don’t drastically change the club in their style of play, reflected in who Swansea and other clubs have hired. Bar a few outliers in recent years, Roberto Martinez, Brendan Rogers, Michael Laudrup, Paul Clement - they all fit in with Swansea’s overall style of play. It’s a realisation of these clubs who cannot compete with the likes of the very top teams in terms of financial clout must seek other ways to be self-sufficient that has seen such focus on the development of their Academies. The attention to detail within a clearly defined player pathway is testament to how seriously Swansea is taking this. Having secured Academy category 1 status, the benefits of such an approach is certainly the medium and long term, but one which is fully invested by all of the Academy staff. They are desperate to see Academy players who pass through their ranks make it to the first team, and while the realm of a Premier League Academy may seem to be far sight from the work done in many clubs in our small province, it is clear that many aspects of what Swansea do can be adapted to enhance development. The ‘me’, ‘we’ and ‘us’ which acted as headers for the practical sessions fits into the “Swansea Way” – the foundation phase of ‘me’ and developing skills, ‘we’ in terms incorporating those skills with others, before ‘us’ – the principal identity of a Swansea Academy player who shares the same ethos, from u7 to u23. Player involvement in their own development plan, how to incorporate tactical learning and the benefits of understanding the psychosocial aspects can only be of help to any coach.

Many thanks to Rory and his team for being open on sharing insights into the Academy.

David Sleator

Seminar with Kevin Murphy from Manchester City Girls Academy

On Sunday I attended a seminar organised by the Irish FA with the head line speaker, Kevin Murphy, who is the Technical Director at Manchester City Woman's and Girls Academy.  We were also treated to presentations from Dr. Jonathan Bloomfield on the importance of sleep and Kevin Gallagher focusing on strength and conditioning.  It was a terrific morning of learning and wonderful that it was completely FREE - well done Irish FA!

Kevin began his presentation focusing on the most important factor - mindset.  He is 1 year in to the project at Manchester City.  His previous positions include Glasgow Rangers and Hamilton.  At Manchester City he was proud to say how inclusive they are with the mens team, boys academy, woman and girls.  He believes they are pioneers in England for woman's football.  City are only 18 months old with regard to their woman's team.

Their vision;

To create the best football academy in England which produces players of international standard who can excel at the highest level.

 

Set Up;

  • Regional Talent Clubs (RTC's) in England.
  • Tiers 1, 2 or 3.  Based on clubs infrastructure, facilities, pathways and coaching development.
  • Duel age bands for girls - U10, U12, U14, U16, Development Squad.
  • Based on academic year in England (September).
  • 34 clubs have 'tier' status divided into north and south.
  • Tier 1 - 13 clubs, Tier 2 - 12 clubs, Tier 3 - 9 clubs.  Manchester City are a Tier 1...other northern clubs that are tier 1 include Everton, Liverpool, Blackburn and Manchester United...although United don't have a girls section.
  • U10's and U12's play against boys.  U14 and U16 play in RTC regional league.

Manchester City invite teams in midweek to play games and train Saturday.  They do this to control the environment and level of teams.

U16 is the first competitive league with results published.

The Talent Pathway

England Woman Senior Team

England U15 / U16 / U17 / U18 / U19 / U20

FA Girls National Performance Camp

FA Girls Regional Development Program

FA Girls Regional Talent Club Tiers 1 / 2 / 3

Community Football / Grassroots Clubs / School Football

How we work at Manchester City FC

  • Individualised approach to each player.
  • The importance of the person and not only the player.
  • Imperative to have high work ethics, discipline and organisation to be part of the academy.
  • Access to world class facilities.
  • Professional environment equals professional standards.
  • 82 players in the academy.

 

Talent only gets you so far so they set tasks to find leaders; i.e. formation - sort yourself out; scenarios, 2-0 down, what are you going to do?  The academy is big believers in values.  When school work drops your training drops.  The academy will also organise work shops on time management, stress management, mental health, bullying - they want to develop a better person.

Training Schedule

  • U14's / U16's - 4 nights per week.
  • Includes gym, analysis, nutrition, multi sports.
  • Coaches have a curriculum, not scripted, but more like a theme.
  • Wednesday U16 / Development Squad receive a day release from school so feel what it is like to be a professional full time player.

Our Culture and our Environment

At the club all players shake hands on arrival and departure.  Two key factors is respect and hard work from players.


 

 

Other points that Kevin talked about...

  • Surround yourself with energisers rather than zappers - need to be positive (I love this one!)
  • Discipline!  Asks girls to wear black boots / no make up / no jewellery.
  • Keep humble.
  • Head teachers are invited in to see the football set up at Manchester City so it re-affirms the importance on education.
  • The first team players have a duty to inspire the next generation to come through.
  • Test resilience - need to change in challenging circumstances.

 

Self Analysis

This part of the talk really interested me.  At TW Braga we have used and continue to encourage the players to keep a weekly diary of their sleeping, eating and activity habits.  We also ask them to do a monthly Player Development Plan (PDP) for short and long term goal setting.  At Manchester City they utilise this with the latest app for players.  Once the players have the app on their phone they log on to trek their wellness.

  • How many hours did you sleep.
  • Quality of sleep.
  • Mood.
  • Sore Muscles?

 

Coaches review the data and possibility of adapting the players training.  They also look for a trigger if the player is not sleeping well.  Maybe the player is under stress with exams for example?

It is important that they always review performance.

Ghost Coaching

At Manchester City they often would have two coaches coaching at each girls session.  What they wanted to avoid was one coach working hard and the other simply standing back waiting to coach so they came up with the idea 'ghost coaching'.

One coach will lead while the ghost coach will go across every player to offer advice or say something to them.  This offers more individualised coaching for the players.

There is 12 weekly reviews on progress.  The games are filmed (younger sections every other game).

Good to Great programme

Wrist bands indicate what level each player is at.  There is 12 stations to work at as homework.  Every 6 weeks they come together for grading.  Similar to martial arts and working hard to get to your black belt this is a similar concept.

I love the idea.  This is something we will look to find our more information on when we visit Kevin at Manchester City and potentially look to introduce across our own program.

Manchester City Session Plan
A typical session plan at City begins with a warm up before progressing to a 15-20 minute technical practice.  It builds into a possession and reaction drill before some 1v1 duels.  Finally they focus on team organisation (defence v attack theme for example) then 'free play'.

Although there will generally always be some restriction during 'free play' of a game scenario like a girl or woman sent off and they have to play 7v6.

Every screen around the facility will offer highlights of the academy - both boys and girls, as well as the development squads and first team.  This is broadcast in the players lounge, parents room, reception, etc. it always features all teams.

 

 

Some final points that came up during a question and answer session included the following;

  • U10's play 7v7 / U12's play 9v9.  All players must play equal game time.
  • U14's play 11v11 on reduced size pitch.  All players must play half a game.
  • From U16's game time is based on performance.
  • Maximum of 15 players in younger squads and 18 players in older sections.

 

 

Kevin finished with a great image of 'A Player's Journey'.  It was a terrific and interesting seminar.  Superb as a coach to hear such a open and honest presentation on a professional club academy.  Kevin is a very driven coach demanding standards but very humble.  I thanked him for his time and sharing his content and experiences.  To show the class of the guy I passed him my business card asking him about the app they used.  Later on in the evening I had an email direct from Kevin!  Great day.  Coaches - never stop learning.  To have the opportunity to attend a seminar like this is invaluable.  Thank you to the Irish FA and everyone involved making it such a terrific morning.

Top La Liga Coach, Lucas Alcaraz, To Deliver Belfast Clinic

We are very excited that ex Levante Manager, Lucas Alcaraz, will be visiting Belfast to deliver a clinic open to all players & coaches.  The clinic will take place at Cregagh Sports Club on Sunday 28 February.  The Irish FA will also award 5 CPD credits for coaches in attendance.

Real Madrid's coach Jose Mourinho stands next to Granada's coach Alcaraz during Spanish First Division soccer match in Granada Born in Granada, Andalusia, Alcaraz started coaching with Granada CF in 1995 at the age of 29, achieving two top-four finishes in the third division in his three-year spell but failing to promote in the playoffs.  In the following two seasons he managed in the same category and region, with Almeria CF and Dos Hermanas CF.

In June 2000, 34-year-old Alcaraz signed for Recreativo de Huelva helping the oldest club in Spain return to La Liga after an absence of 23 years in 2002 behind champions Atletico Madrid and Racing de Santander. Even though Recre returned to the second level immediately, they also managed to reach the final of the Copa del Rey, losing 0–3 to RCD Mallorca.

Alcaraz then moved to Racing Santander before spending the following two seasons in the second division, helping Real Murcia get promoted in 2007.  He also enjoyed a spell at Recreativo.

In the 2009 summer Alcaraz signed with another team in his native Andalusia, Cordoba CF (second level), helping the side finish tenth in his first season.  In late June 2011, he re-joined Almería – now called Unión Deportiva.

Alcaraz had a short spell in Greece with Aris Thessaloniki FC before returning to his country and Granada, with the club now in the main category.

Lucas Alcaraz was appointed at Levante UD on 21 October 2014, to which he remained until October 2015.

'Tactics in Professional Football...Why Not Kids?' will be Lucas Alcaraz topic he will focus on.  The event will take place at Cregagh Sports Club (Orangefield OB FC) on Sundaylucasalcaraz2 28 February from 12-3pm finishing with a Q&A.  The event will provide a class room session from 12pm & is open to all coaches.  A practical session will then take place on the pitch from 1.30pm (using 2000-2003 players).  Orangefield OB FC would also like to invite you to stay in their club house & enjoy the live Sky Sports game with a drink.  We thank them for their hospitality.

The morning kicks off with a Spanish Coaching Clinic for 2004-2009's from 10.30-11.30am.  The events are open to all players & coaches.  You can find out more & confirm your place by contacting Tim Wareing on; 07740120788 or email; tim@twsports.org - already we have English & Dutch coaches booked in!  We are very happy that the Irish FA are awarding 5 CPD credits for coaches in attendance.  We thank them for their support.

The media & anyone involved in sport can request a meeting with Mr Alcaraz from Friday 26 February to Sunday 28 February.  Simply contact Tim for more details.  Here is our promotional video for the event - click here.

Please share our post, poster of the event & video on your social media channels and with your club coaches & players.  It is not every day we have a top La Liga Manager in Belfast to deliver, educate & network with local players & coaches.  Don't miss this opportunity!

The Secrets to Developing ELITE Youth Football Players

Tim Wareing has released his third book through his publisher titled, 'The Secrets to Developing ELITE Youth Football Players.' Copies are available in paperback or e-book!

Overview of 'The Secrets to Developing ELITE Youth Football Players.'...

Tim Wareing's latest book

Tim Wareing's latest book

Tim Wareing is a highly sought after coach. With over 20 years coaching experience and having achieved the prestigious UEFA European 'A' Licence at the age of 24, his methods and coaching philosophy are known and respected worldwide. He has delivered clinics in Ireland, England, Europe and USA along with his previous two books selling in over 30 different countries.

Tim spent six years at Irish Premier League side, Lisburn Distillery. He held roles as Reserve Team Manager and under 18 Manager. He played his part in developing Youth International Players and players for the first team, before setting up a very successful Academy for the Club.

As opinions changed in the direction the Academy was going, Tim stood down from his role and decided to take a sabbatical. He used the time to recharge his batteries and re-educate himself, visiting some of the top European Clubs, including FC Barcelona, SC Braga, Ajax and PSV Eindhoven, where he studied and exchanged ideas in youth development.

It was in Holland that he met with a top Portuguese Coach, Hugo Vicente, and the pair got talking about youth development. They shared similar philosophies and it was on this trip that two years later would see a new project launch in Northern Ireland.

The frustrations that Wareing had at his previous club are common across Northern Ireland. A lack of contact time with players, unqualified coaches, out dated methods and little to none specialist coaches and staff offer a limited opportunity for players to develop.

Re-energised he began to set up a very special project that would change the way youth football was delivered in Northern Ireland. Young players would come in and achieve up to 10 hours of contact time per week. Not only would they have access to Wareing but also a special talented team of experts. This would include games related training, match analysis, a conditioning coach, goalkeeper coach, education officer and pastoral care.

Players would come from all different backgrounds. Many arrived as broken players who had been told they weren't good enough, while others simply weren't receiving the correct education on and off the field to develop. Wareing would start to create better players, better people, using a new approach that was player and child centred. From conception to champions in 22 months attracted much interest from the National press and Irish Football Association. TW Braga would share their journey on their You Tube channel, @twsportsgroup, to date it has over 640,000 video views! These are the sessions that Tim Wareing used to help develop the complete player, that would improve each individual technically, tactically, physically and psychologically. This book has been specifically designed, so that each session is simple to follow, yet includes the coaching points that Tim offers to his players. These are all of Tim's preferred sessions that he has gathered on his coaching journey through his own experience and while visiting professional clubs across Europe.

'The Secrets to Developing ELITE Youth Football Players' will aid in developing your group of players, whilst having them enjoy their training!

What people think about Tim Wareing...

'One always takes pleasure in following the career and achievements of those one meets and works with on coaching programmes. It gives me particular pleasure to add to the congratulations being extended to Tim Wareing on the publication of his latest book.

He has huge respect in the Northern Ireland football community and further afield. He has fulfilled the expectations people had of him. Expertise, vision and hard work always get results.'

Jack Gallagher, FIFA Coaching Instructor and FIFA Technical Advisor 1979-2007

'Tim Wareing started the TW Sports Academy 10 years ago.

Just 24 at the time, Tim felt there was restricted youth development in Northern Ireland and felt passionately about doing something about it.

Encouraged and supported by his dad to complete his coaching badges, he worked his way up to UEFA European 'A' Licence level.

For six years he coached the Under 18's and Academy players at Lisburn Distillery, when his 'mentor' Paul Kirk was manager of the Ballyskeagh outfit.

While thrilled to be working with the kids, Tim was frustrated by the lack of contact time with the players, believing while he was making progress he could make an even bigger impact with more training sessions.

And so he decided to fully focus on taking his own Academy to a different level.
The acorn that begun with just himself coaching youngsters in the Cregagh area in Belfast, is fast becoming a big oak tree. Now, aided by sponsors Subway, he operates province-wide, employs 20 other qualified coaches and his Academy coaches up to 700 children per week ranging from the age of two to fifteen.

The first to bring a 'Toddler Soccer programme' to Northern Ireland, he has now written this third book. Tim's previous books on coaching youngsters sold in 30 countries. Also he is never afraid to post videos of training sessions on You Tube for the world to see.

He is an engaging character with an excellent pedigree and he coaches kids in the right way. I wish him well going forward.'

Steven Beacom is the Belfast Telegraph Sports Editor

'It is vitally important that children are fully developed as individual players as well as team players. On a recent visit to Northern Ireland I observed the excellent work carried out by the TWSports.Org Group in relation to not only team development but also the individual development coaching given.'

Martien Pennings, Coach PSV Eindhoven (Holland)

'What the TWSports.Org Group is doing is exceptional, it is different from what anyone else in Northern Ireland is doing, you try to bring the kids together at similar levels and start to work on that. At TWAcademy.Org it is all football related and child centered unlike other coaching which focuses on the physical aspect and not the talent.'

Bert-Jan (BJ) Heijmans, Director Dutch UK Football School

'During my time at Distillery FC, I had the privilege of working alongside Tim in his capacity as Director of Youth Football, a position that Tim embraced with his great enthusiasm and technical ability as a first class coach.

During our time together, I watched numerous boys and girls develop, from grass roots players at a young age, to elite athletes, players, and well rounded individuals.

Testimony to Tim’s work is recognised in just some of the players who developed through that structure and under his guidance; Jack Chambers now at West Brom., Josh Tipping now at Chesterfield, Nathan Kerr now at Stevenage and Luke Fisher now at Fleetwood.

Carry on the good work Tim, with your infectious enthusiasm dedication and knowledge of all aspects of the game. Good luck in the future, I know many more will benefit from having worked with you.'

Paul Kirk, UEFA Pro Licence Coach. Former Manager of Premier League side, Lisburn Distillery

"Here at Elite, we are extremely pleased with the professionalism and authenticity TW Academy has offered us over the past two years while conducting our soccer summer clinics in USA. Coach Tim and his team of coaches are highly knowledgeable and bring excitement to the field! The kids are thrilled and have smiles on their faces while learning the game of soccer." I trust coach Tim and the work he has to share with others. This is a great book to acquire soccer knowledge in creating the Elite soccer player. Apply these principles in this book and your players will improve and so will you as a coach."

Javier Perez, Founder and Executive Director of Elite Soccer Training

'I would like to congratulate Tim on this, his new book, and highly recommend it.

I first met Tim on a study trip in Holland, and since then he has changed very little. He is constantly searching for inspiration, knowledge, competence and different views and perspectives on training methods and philosophies.

He has made regular visits to other clubs in several countries, increasing his network of coaches and many other people involved in football, in order to share ideas about the game, and above all, about youth development. I feel that this book is a consequence of his dedication. It is basically his manual, sharing the good practices he has used throughout the years in his successful projects, and I think that this book can be used as an inspirational tool for all coaches at any level of the game.'

Hugo Vicente

Currently working on a new project at Follo FK, Norway. Formerly the SC Braga Academy Director, SL Benfica Youth Coach, Coerver Coaching Portugal Director, also involved in other clubs. Hugo is a top name in Portuguese youth football, and has travelled the world working with many clubs and federations, holding courses, coaching education and workshops.

Order your copy now! Simply follow this link. Available in book or e-book. For more details contact Tim Wareing, 07740120788 or by email; tim@twsports.org

Tim's first book, 'Toddler Soccer The Essential Guide', has sold in over 30 different countries! This stretches from the UK & Ireland, across Europe to USA & Canada, the Far East & Australia! Order a copy from here!

Likewise his second book, '1-on-1 Coaching The Secrets To Improve ALL Football Players - GUARANTEED!' is available to purchase here.

Do You Pick a Youth Team to Win or Develop?

Last year I wrote a blog on 'How Much Game Time Does Your Youth Team Players Get?' & some may have argued it is easy for me to write that but do I carry it through with my own team? Why should you look to share game time? Below is some of my findings from last year & how it compares to what I've done with my own U12 team this season.

The Scenario...

It’s a cold winters morning & your squad of 16 players have been up from 8am getting ready. They meet at 9am to travel 1 hour to the venue. 10.30am they’re doing the warm up for the 11am kick off. So 3 hours have passed by & 11 players take to the field to kick off while 5 others watch on…

This is a common situation in youth football. The scenario I have used above puts the manager against the ‘best’ side in the league. So he picks his best 11 players to play the game which is 30 minutes each way. His team come in at half time 2-0 down. He looks to the bench & simply thinks he has his best 11 on the pitch & the other 5 won’t make a difference so doesn’t make any changes. The 5 kids on the bench are freezing & disappointed, they have all went to training during the week & have been up from 8am…now at 11.40am they still haven’t got anywhere near getting on! Mid way through the second half the manager finds his team 3-0 down so asks the 5 subs to get warmed up.

10 minutes to go & it is 4-0. He replaces the 2 forwards with 2 subs thinking they can’t do any worse. 5 minutes left he replaces a winger like for like. In the last minute he makes the other 2 changes so everyone gets a game. The game finishes 4-0 & everyone is disappointed. They do a cool down & get changed before making their way home. They leave the ground at 12.30pm & return home at 1.30pm. Jonny who has been up at 8am got back into his house just before 2pm…nearly 6 hours dedicated to the team that offered him 2 minutes on the pitch today.

How many minutes each of our players have played to date…

How many minutes each of our players have played to date…

This is common in youth football. So many parents have said to me over the years that their child doesn't receive equal game time while signed up at other clubs. This season was the first time in 5 years that I ran my own team. I wanted to insure ALL of my players received similar game time. I have scanned my record time for my team for you to see. You'll notice against some players there is a second time in brackets. This is to allow for weekends away, suspensions, injuries or rarely a player arriving late. This helps keep a balance.

I purposely keep my squad to 14 players so that I only have 3 subs. I always try to make 3 subs at half time so everyone receives at least half a game. We have noticed a real difference as some players in the summer were behind others in terms of development. With insuring they play similar game time as the rest, in some cases more time, we have noticed a real improvement.

The project is only 6 months in but as we review at the end of the year the game time is pretty much the same. Obviously we only have one goalkeeper hence he is at the top of the list (Dale) while we don't have many centre backs so they also are a little ahead of the rest of the pack.

As a coach or manager do you review game time? Do you try to be fair to aid development for all players? I also want to insure that players don't get complacent either. We ask the subs can they be impact players? Basically they only have half the time to make a difference so can they become an impact player! At the same time we now will balance out the second half of the season. If we feel any player is getting too complacent in terms of thinking they will get a full game so not work as hard they will be subbed. We now ask the question to players, 'play so we can't sub you'. It's not to add pressure it is simply to get them thinking more about their game.

We realise that at a young age players will never have consistency in their games but we always expect the basics of time keeping, appearance, attitude, work rate & always wanting the ball. We offer a positive environment that allows them a platform to perform.

Let us have your feedback to this article regardless if you are a coach, parent or player. My next blog will be based around what the subs can do while waiting to get involved. Below is our end of year video review. Some funnies, tricks, great football & goals after kicking off this project in June. Enjoy!

Player Development Plan (PDP) & Visual Psychology

In everyday life we all have to set goals.  We set targets to achieve results.  It can vary from improving our business to increasing sales in our job or simply using behaviour charts for children!  I remember working in a Travel Agent where there was a white board displayed with everyone's name written on it.  Your total number of sales was written alongside your colleagues.  The month started on zero.  If you made a booking for a family of five & a group booking for 20 you shot up to 25 while your colleagues lagged behind.  It was a nice feeling, but if it was the other way around it made you work harder to improve your performance & reach your goal, especially if there was a reward at the end of it.

Surround yourself with positive visual psychology!

Surround yourself with positive visual psychology!

Football is no different.  All my 1-on-1 students keep a Player Development Plan (PDP).  I also provide a folder with a lot of advice included in it for them.  We then set a plan & goals for them to achieve.

You can make it as simple as you want, write it out by hand or complete online & print it out.  The main topics you should cover include:

  • player's name
  • month / year
  • strengths / weaknesses
  • what I need to improve on
  • how to improve
  • targets
  • short-term goal
  • medium-term goal
  • long-term goal
  • signature

It is important that the player himself completes the PDP, but assist & guide them.  If they have weaknesses, set targets for improvement in that area.  Set relevant homework.

You can see from the examples below, how one of my players has completed his PDPs.

One of Luke's early Player Development Plans...

One of Luke's early Player Development Plans...

You can see his strengths & what he feels he needs to work on.  We then focus on this during our 1-on-1 sessions, but also set homework so he can be working on this away from the sessions.

He also sets his long term-term goal.  This can be anything from playing for a top club to playing for your country, or both!  This is the dream, the goal to aim for.  The important thing is also to set short to medium-term goals so each individual can see, feel & touch success.  Ensure the short-term goals are achievable & realistic.  In this example, he has set a target to score 4 goals & set up 8 goals over the month.  Obviously, the number of games he plays & his position on the team will affect this.  You have to remind the player that he may put in several terrific crosses or through balls but, even if the forward doesn't score, it is no reflection on his own creativity.

I also like my players to have their PDP placed on the wall so they see their targets first thing in the morning & last thing at night.  I am also a firm believer in surrounding yourself with positive images & memories.

I have my coaching certificates on the wall, my last book cover blown up & framed along with images & newspapers clippings framed.  It's not to stoke my ego but simply to surround myself with positive memories.  Then if I have a bad day I can remind myself of what I have already achieved.

This is why I ask my players to display their medals, trophies & images in their room.  This is called Visual Psychology - surrounding yourself with a positive image - just like the image above.

If they have a bad game or disappointing news I ask them to go to their room & take 10-15 minutes, looking around them & reading through their PDP to see how far they have developed.

One of my players came home very upset after a game.  Yet, a short time away on his own, around his positive memories & reading his PDP really helped & completely changed that.

Comparing the same player's PDP from December 2009 to March 2011 you will see new strengths added, less evidence of weaknesses in his game & his keepie-ups go from his early target of 37 - 38 to being able to do 100!  In the same folder, we also have invitations to the National County Excellence meetings & report cards.  Also details on his performance with his club & attendance at the Liverpool Academy.

Player Development Plans work - have your child or players keep a record & goal set from today!

Comparison of PDP from December 2009 to March 2011 - look at the improvement!

Comparison of PDP from December 2009 to March 2011 - look at the improvement!

Guest Blog by Matthew Nickels on IFA CPD in Association with Seaview Enterprises

Matthew Nickels is a coach with TW Sports & attended a CPD event organised by the IFA in association with Seaview Enterprises.  Below he shares his notes from what was discussed in the morning session.  The event took place at Seaview, home of Crusaders FC.

Introduction

Nigel Best opened by discussing the evolution of Grassroots football.  His central focus was on comparisons with the same on the continent.  The most prominent countries he mentioned were Spain, France & Portugal, as they have continuously generated high quality players over a sustained period.  Belgium was also mentioned based on the players generated in the current 19-22 age bracket.

Observations from a study visit were given.  At 4 clubs visited, that were not even top flight clubs, each had their own 4G pitch provided by the local council, free of charge. This was used by all their age groups, 4 times a week, with each age group having 2 outfield coaches & a goalkeeping coach.

With rates of £60 plus per hour for similar facilities here this is not possible.  The IFA are encouraging effective coaching to maximise the limited contact time, & Pascal is developing the new Youth Certificate.  Nigel believes the Youth certificate is degraded by coaches refusing to do anything non UEFA.

The current level 1 is also being revised due to concerns over how technique is coached.  Age specific methods of coaching technique will be included in future courses.

In study visits games are attended.  This is an important part of learning systems of play.  On a TV screen you can only see where the ball is, however, when at a live game you can also see what is happening where the ball is not.

Nigel concluded the introduction with comparisons between a development coach & competitive coach.  He asked those present which they were, or indeed if they were a bit of both, but warned suppressing the competitive coaching element was difficult & important.

What technical aspects are increasing/ decreasing in top level football?

More of…

-          Fast Transitions/ breaks

o   Arsenal selection of players influenced by speed over 30m.  When defending there is usually only 1 left forward.  Success in transition depends on speed of support.

-          Combination Play

o   Barcelona often look like they are going nowhere with 1 touch passes.  However this draws the opposition and they then exploit the space created.

-          Screener

o   1 or 2

-          Match Intensity/ Tempo

o   Coaching better technique provides players the ability to take in more visual cues & therefore make better decisions.

o   Analogy given of driving a car.  When a learner you have to look at the gearstick, the pedals & even the wheel.  You can’t take in the information the mirrors are giving you.  After practice this is not required & you can even monitor your mirrors subconsciously.  4 sources of information, constantly updated without focus.

-          1 Striker

o   Coach single striker roles, don’t expect to deal with being marked by 2 defenders

-          Defending 4-5-1

-          Attacking 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1

-          Tactical Flexibility

o   Coach player understanding of roles

o   Prepare multiple systems

-          Middle to front attackers

o   How do you mark between the lines

-          Long Diagonals

o   Now an important technique for a modern CB

-          Technical Quality

o   Technique on its own is not sufficient, application of technique under pressure is what makes it game relevant.

Individualists

Less of…

-          Back 3

-          Sweepers

-          Man to Man Markers

-          Less Space (make quicker decisions based on less time)

-          Predictable movement (i.e. running straight lines up channels)

-          Defenders on the posts

-          Set Play Frequency

-          Twin Striker Play

-          Less Offside Decisions (deeper defending)

o   Coach centre forwards to play behind the defenders

§  Out of sight

§  Creates further space for midfielders

§  1 yard head start when attacking in wide positions

-          Advanced Pressing

o   Triggers

o   Pressure high up the pitch is for Barcelona only.  Their interplay is short, they are always compact.  When they lose the ball in the final third there are 4 or 5 players to press collectively early.  This is difficult to replicate in other styles of play.

-          Long Ball Back to Front

o   Described how some centre backs will mark channel side to intercept, with their partner covering the goal side.

-          Rigid 4-4-2

-          Comebacks after conceding first goal

-          Midfield schemer

Transition (counter attack)

-          First Pass Forward

-          4 types;

o   Classic - back 3rd to front quickly to 1 or 2 attackers

o   Collective - regain in midfield area & group attack with 4 to 5 players

o   Advanced - retrieving ball high up & a few attackers exploit

o   Solo - individual creates by running from around half way line

-          Fast break Principles;

o   DEFENDING - disorganised; space behind; low numbers; square passes

o   ATTACKING - interception; reaction time

o   THREE PHASES;

§  Trigger - i.e. clearance, interception

·         6 seconds to exploit

§  Transfer - running; passing; combinations

§  Target - Shot

-          Counter the counter attack

o   Quickly reform

§  Midfield at half

§  Defence around 25 yards from goal

o   Press Ball

o   Midfield Screener

o   Defending Deep

o   Technical Fouls

Awareness

-          http://www.vimeo.com/36972053

-          Don’t just coach a player to look, what they see is what is important.

How To Coach Toddler Soccer

Clubs are dropping their entry age while English Academy set ups are starting to look at children younger & younger through fear on missing out on the next 'big talent'.  For those working with toddlers, or if you prefer, under 6's you need to remember the most important factor & that is fun.  This is children's first introduction to football & the most important aspect is for them to fall in love with the game.  As a coach you need to adapt, lose your inhibition & become an entertainer!

3 years into kicking off my football development programme I was unique.  Not just as I welcomed children in from the age of 5 (most other clubs / organisations were 6-8 year old) but I then introduced a revolutionary way of introducing young children to football from the age of 2.  Call it vision or call it fluke but the programme simply came about from younger brothers & sisters being disappointed that they couldn't play football when they dropped their older brother or sister off to our Mini Soccer sessions.

With this in mind I started to plan sessions for younger children & called it 'Toddler Soccer'.  My first port of call was Google to see what advice was out there to work with such young children.  I didn't find very much.  So I went about planning a programme using the first set of kids as guinea pigs to see what worked & what didn't.

Ronaldo & Messi vs Toy Story & Finding Nemo!

One thing that was obvious to me with children aged 7 & above that they were motivated with pro players...Messi, Ronaldo, Rooney & co.  But children aged 2, 3 & 4...what would they be motivated in...who did they look up to?  Well, with having children of my own I only had to look at what they watched on TV, who they talked about.  I soon came to the conclusion that if I used familiar children's television programmes we would be on to a winner.

We have children as young as 2 dribbling the ball close to them so Dr. Evil Porkchop doesn't steal their ball.  We have them dressing up with crazy cones for ears & heading the ball as Mr & Mrs Potato head.  We have them checking their shoulders looking out for coach, mummy or daddy trying to steal their ball & the fun factor of them roaring like Rex the dinosaur!  We have fun passing exercise of them being Nemo & knocking down the mini traffic cones...or should I say rocks at the bottom of the sea bed before Bruce the Shark catches them!

Over the past number of years I have written a book on the topic as I have received requests from all over the world regarding my programme.  To date the book has sold in over 25 different countries!  Below I will share with you some of my hints, tips & games for you to try out with your young kids!

How do I start?

Toddler SoccerWhen working with a group, get the toddlers to sit in a circle.  Ensure that adults kneel down with toddlers so that you are speaking to them at their level.  Always start with introductions e.g. ‘I’m Coach Tim & this is Coach Ronnie’ as they may have forgotten your name or be a new member.

Relax & build a relationship with them.  Ask what kind of week they have had.  What did they do at nursery?  Comment on new shoes or T-shirts.  If they think that you are interested in their lives they will be more inclined to work with you.

Finally, do a simple listening game so that everyone gets ‘tuned in’.  Do silly things such as getting them to put their hand behind their ear & tuning in to Coach Tim FM!  Another idea is the ‘Stop, freeze’ game.  Toddlers run about & then freeze when the whistle is blown.

Now introduce the game you are going to do.  Keep instructions short & make sure everyone can hear & see you.  Always ask if everyone understands & repeat if necessary.

Coaching Style.

It is best to be vocal.  Tell the story so that each child can visualize what is happening.  Use different tones to tell the story.  Make each session an adventure!

To get the toddlers to interact, start a sentence but get them to finish it.  When you are kneeling down & they are sitting on their ball listening, then begin the story.  ‘Ok, we are in the jungle today & we are Diego & Dora.  Our ball is the little monkey from Dora the Explorer…what’s his name?’  They reply ‘BOOTS!’  It is great to have the toddlers join in & give feedback, then you know that they are fully engaged.  I once had nearly 50 passers-by stop to see what the heck was going on!

Always demonstrate.  Make your language child-friendly & break skills right down.  Don’t stand & demonstrate a skill such as a drag back to the toddlers as you would to ten year olds.  Paint the picture instead.  Ask them to imagine that the ball is a puppy & he wants to roll over & have his tummy tickled.  Can we put our foot on him & roll him backwards?

Get a more able toddler to demonstrate a skill as this will encourage his peers to have a go when they see that someone of their own age can do it.  Give lots of praise.  Be vocal & use the ‘high five’!

Lose your inhibitions!

This is of prime importance.  Forget about parents & passers-by watching you.  Get down to the toddlers level.  Kneel down to speak to them, use funny voices & pull funny faces.  Bring these sessions to life!  Remember, the coach who leads the programme will determine how successful it is.

Try to get inside the toddler’s head & use as a starting point what they like to see, hear & do.  Those who have children should find easy as they will be up to date with the cartoons they like to watch.  But do not rule out young coaches.  I find that they can relate well to kids.

An example of a silly thing to do with the toddlers is to turn a small traffic cone upside down & place a ball on top of it.  Then tell the toddlers ‘Well done!  Now have a big ice cream.’  Add to the fun by making funny noises while squirting pretend strawberry sauce on the top of the ‘ice cream’!  We also put discs (small cones) on top of our ears to look silly & pretend to have supersonic hearing!

My session notes…

This is a great warm up game & so simple for young children to follow.

Body Parts

Body Parts

Emphasis

Session on ball familiarity.

Set-Up

Use cones to mark out a 25 x 25 yard area. All players have a ball & stay inside the area.

Objectives

Players start by dribbling the ball around the area. The coach will call out different body parts. The player must respond by stopping the ball with that body part, e.g. right foot, ear, chest, knee, etc.

Progressions

  1. Add extra fun by getting them do 'disco dance' like mum & dad by giving quick commands like, 'right knee, left knee, right knee, left knee, right foot, left foot,'. They could also clap their hands at the same time.
  2. When they get their chest on the ball get them to put their right arm out & pretend to fly like Super Man!

Coaching

  • Keep the ball close to your feet, take light touches.
  • Keep the head up & look for space.

You can progress the session to a fun game featuring their favourite Disney movie or cartoon characters!

Roary The Racing Car

Roary the Racing Car

Emphasis

Dribbling, skills & turns.

Set-Up

Session takes place in a 20 x 20 yard grid.  All players have a ball each.

Objectives

All players are racing car drivers & the ball is Roary the Racing Car or another character from the show.

Encourage players to 'drive' (dribble) around the race track (grid).  They must keep their race car (ball) under control.  Encourage use of both feet.

Introduce different skills & turns.  Players perform toe taps to start their engines.  To drive around the 'chicane' they perform the scissors.  To reverse they perform the drag back.

Also add in fun extras that toddlers love.  If anyone is in their way get them to beep their horn.  Or ask them to put their lights on when it is getting dark, simply make a small twist with your hand & a funny noise to switch them on.  Or if it rains they must put their wind screen wipers on waving their arms.

Use your imagination & have some fun!

Progressions

  1. Introduce mini gates by using cones.  Players must dribble through all the different mini gates.
  2. Use cones for traffic lights.  Red = stop, orange = get ready / start engine, Green = GO!  Get players to get their heads up & watch the signals.
  3. Introduce different speeds like granny speed (slow), mummy & daddy speed (fast) & Roary the Racing Car speed (super fast).
  4. Add more traffic signals.

Coaching

  • Good dribbling skills.
  • Use of both feet.
  • Keep head up.
  • Skills.

You can order my Toddler Soccer The Essential Guide Book direct from The Soccer Store.  For a free taster just visit; www.ToddlerSoccer.Org/book

The European Approach

I really enjoyed writing this for The Soccer Store.  If you require any soccer equipment make sure you visit their website!

Why do our European neighbours seem to produce more technical gifted players that seem to play with so much flair & creativity compared to our home grown talent?  Over the years I have visited Holland, Spain & Portugal to see how they develop their players from grassroots through to pro clubs.  What is the relationship like with players, parents & the link from Pro Club to Boys' Club.  You will be surprised with some of my findings...

The UK

I have been fortunate enough & made to feel very welcome with a number of top pro clubs in England.  The facilities are second to none but one problem I noticed straight away is the location.  Many of the training centres are in the middle of nowhere so unless you drive you can't get there.  Talented children from low income families may struggle to get to the venues.  This was commented by a club official when I visited Derby County.  When we arrived at the training complex I commented on how nice the first team players' cars were...he laughed & informed me they were the parents cars!

Coaches should always look to learn & evolve

Coaches should always look to learn & evolve

The other factor is the schedule.  Children are in school all day & then when they get home they are trying to do homework before Dad leaves work to get them to training on time...many occasions families struggling to eat dinner together.  So location & schedules are a problem but as we look closer at how a child starts playing football & progresses what is the typical learning experience?

Although the FA are improving education & development for clubs it will take time to filter down to grassroots.  For too long children start playing for their local club run by volunteers who aren't qualified.  This is not a dig at those people who give up their free time to cater for young people but the FA, the professional clubs within the area & those members in the club should do more to improve a child's first experience.

For too long training for children in the U.K. involves a number of laps around the pitch before coming back in for long winded conversations with the coach before doing long boring line drills.  Too much emphasis is on fitness & the adult game rather than a child centered approach.

Then when it comes to the game children as young as 9 are playing on a full size adult pitch with full size goals.  The 'coaches' scream instructions to the kids.  When they aren't doing it the parents join in.  The shouts of 'pass it' & 'get rid of it!' put pressure on the child.  If a child tries something different like taking on an opponent with a bit of skill that doesn't come off they get shouted at for losing the ball.  This is a culture that is teaching children to play in their comfort zone & not take risks.  As coaches are telling a child how to play the game, what to do in training all it is doing is creating robots that can't think for themselves.  How can we create exciting players that play with flair, creativity & imagination?  We have done it in the past.  As a young child I remember the magnificent squad England had under Sir Bobby Robson that went to Italia '90.  They got to the semi finals only to be beat on penalties by the Germans.

Let's think about that for a minute.  In that squad we had exciting flair players of Chris Waddle, Peter Beardsley, John Barnes & the entrance of a young Paul Gascoigne.  These were players that could change games.  Add in the grit & determination of Terry Butcher, Stuart Pearce, Bryan Robson with the goalscorers of Gary Lineker & David Platt coming from midfield.  For too long the nation stood still & we never evolved.  In every walk of life you need to keep moving forward & looking to develop, to evolve, to create.

Spain

I suppose the Spanish are one of the best nations to look at first having won the last 3 major tournaments.  I spent a week in Barcelona viewing their famous youth set up.

While a host of other top European Clubs spend millions on players hoping to buy success Barca continue to develop their own home-grown players.  Messi, Iniesta & Xavi all came through the Barca Academy & cost nothing.  Barcelona’s youth Academy, which in Spanish goes by the name of ‘La Cantera’, meaning the quarry.

Start of a youth team session at Barca

Start of a youth team session at Barca

Other players to come through the Academy include Cesc Fabregas, who Arsenal took away at the age of 16 (has since returned),  Mikel Arteta from Everton (now Arsenal) & Liverpool goalkeeper Pepe Reina.  Ex Barca manager, Pep Guardiola, also came through the Academy.  In his first season as manager he helped Barcelona win every competition they competed in, 6 in all, including the Spanish League title, World Club Cup & the Champions League against Manchester United.

Against United in the Champions League final, 7 of Barca’s starting line up were all produced from the Academy.  Goalkeeper Valdes, defenders Puyol & Pique, midfielders Busquets, Xavi, Iniesta & forward Messi.

When I visited Barcelona I loved the fact that the training complex was beside the Camp Nou.  The club has a boarding house that accommodates the older boys from the Academy.  Boys from the age of 13 or 14 that live outside the city are housed here so they don’t have to worry about travelling to and from training.  Typically they will train for 6-8 hours per week along with playing a game.  The club insures they also develop their lifestyle & attitudes along with their football education, preaching the importance of healthy eating & early nights.

The boys live, sleep & eat together.  Each morning they are bussed to the best local schools.  Barcelona stresses the importance of finishing their education to the boys.  They return at 2pm for lunch & siesta, with training early evening.  They do their homework in a library with access to private tutors & have a games room with table football, pool & PlayStations.

The boys have 3 objectives when playing matches.  First, they must be the more sporting team, committing fewer fouls & being less aggressive.  Then they must try to win by playing very well, more creatively than the opposition, with attacking football.  Finally they need to win on the scoreboard.

Reina and Arteta were great friends at the Academy.  Although Arteta suffered from homesickness & cried himself to sleep many times.  Iniesta also had problems with homesickness after moving from central Spain to Barcelona at the age of 12.   Saying goodbye to his parents at the end of each weekend would become a mini-drama.  Although Iniesta only had to look out & see the Camp Nou to remind himself of his goal to play there.

Messi arrived at Barcelona from Argentina with his family at the age of 12.  He had a growth deformity and no club in Argentina would pay for the drugs he needed to treat it.  It is no surprise that Barcelona took on Messi unlike in England, where size, strength & the ability to throw your weight around is highly prized.

The model of Barcelona is that 50% of their team should be from the Academy, 35% should be the best players from Spain or Europe & then 15% from the top ten players in the world.  Although the Barcelona Academy is so successful it is also producing players who are among the top ten in the world.  This season their starting XI has included a team made up of academy graduates!

The Academy has 12 boys’ teams.  In the Academy each squad has 2 coaches & there are 23 or 24 players in each group.  At least half of the coaches have a UEFA Pro licence.  The club provides the budget, around 6 million Euros per year, & is fully responsible for the academy facilities & training programme.

The qualities that Barcelona look for in a young player is pace, technique and someone who looks like a player.  The speed of decision-making, the way he approaches the game, the vision to pick off a long pass – in other words, the mental qualities to go with the technical ability.  The emphasis is on speed.  When this speed is combined with top-quality technique, then they believe they have the ingredients.

From the age of 7 to 15 everything is about working with the football at the Barcelona Academy.  With the very small boys, the most important thing is to control the ball very well, to have the ability to run with the ball & to think very quickly & execute their passes very well.  They use the same playing system as the first team, so all the youth teams play 4-3-3 formation.  The development teams have to play attacking, attractive football.  Barcelona believe if they do everything well, the winning comes as a consequence.

Every team I witnessed dressed exactly the same as the first team, right down to the youngest age group.  All sessions focused on ball work.  A high percentage of the time at the start of the sessions was given to the children to play with the ball.

Sessions also featured plenty of 1 v 1 duels.  Again, the kids were given a lot of freedom.  No lines, no cones or coaching area.  The concept was simple.  Half the group started on the throw in line with a ball.  They were partnered up & had a duel with their team mate to get to the other side using turns & tricks.  A slight competitive edge was introduced with scoring being kept between the boys.  The boys were given the freedom to dribble from one side to the other going forward, back, left or right.  It was realistic & fun as everyone was involved.

Sessions developed to passing & possession games.  Plenty of shooting drills were evident throughout all age groups.  All sessions finished with small sided games.

The older sections became more tactical but was set in a relaxed pace but roles were given to each individual.  Although lost in translation , coaches talked to their players in a calm voice.  All the players from the youngest group up applied themselves & were all comfortable on the ball.

They also like to keep an open mind & expose players to different playing roles as part of their education.  They work intensely on the individual skill, but also on group play, including each line of the team.  They train the Barca way which involves fast movement of the ball, player mobility, use of width, & a lot of fast, effective finishing.  They watch the passing movements of the first team as they provide the role model of the youth teams.

Another factor which helps continue the development of young players is that Barcelona have a ‘B’ team.  They play in the lower Spanish League. This helps the club continue to develop young players between the ages of 18 & 21 in a controlled environment.  In England the FA prevent Premier League clubs from having feeder teams in other domestic leagues.

The Barcelona model is based on a number of people providing specialist skills & all working in the same direction, with the same objective: to prepare players for the first team.

Other European Nations

One thing that struck me when visiting the European clubs was their openness & welcome they offered.  Especially in Holland, a nation with 'no secrets' that wanted to work with all coaches.  The relationship from professional clubs to grassroots clubs seemed so much closer.  Yet listening to the pro coaches the concept was simple & refreshing.  At PSV Eindhoven they informed us that they had links with a number of grassroots clubs, as does all Dutch Pro clubs.  They regularly visit the clubs & offer coach education & session plans.  This helps the grassroot coaches deliver better sessions & in turn help develop better players.  The junior clubs know exactly the level of player that the senior clubs require as they visit the academy on a regular basis.  So when they feel they have a talent they contact the club to come & watch them.

At PSV Eindhoven the Academy Director gave us a presentation on the blue print to their academy!  On another visit the first team manager talked to us for 30 minutes.  Players posed for photos, signed autographs.  In fact at the PSV training complex they are happy for coaches & fans to visit.  On my last visit I sat drinking a coffee while watching the first team train only yards away!

The academy players are transported from their homes to the training complex & school.  This offers opportunity for them to train twice a day without missing out on their education.  I watched the pre development squad train.  It happened to be their last session of the season.  After the session they were all given a signed poster from the first team & a letter from the club.  My Dutch friend translated the letter.  It was coming direct from PSV Eindhoven thanking them (the player) & the parent for their commitment & hard work.  I found this so refreshing, a top European club thanking the child & the parent!

Portugal

Although it is common for these pro clubs in Europe to be so respectful toward the player & parent.  My good friend, Hugo Vicente (ex Benfica & now assistant academy director of SC Braga), explained that without the parent they don't have the child so the respect is there.  Although I often remember some of the great stories his Benfica Academy Director got up to.

In a staff training meeting he brought one of the staff up to the front & slapped him on the face.  The dazed coach looked at him as he said, 'you weren't expecting that'!  As he went to slap his face again the coach was ready for him so this time he kicked him!  The member of staff received a slap on the face then a kick to the leg!  Why?  This was his way of asking his coaches to preach to their players that he wanted them to play with creativity, to improvise, to play with surprise!  Simply put if a player always attempts the same skill there is no element of surprise for the opposition & they can prepare to expect it.  But the coach who was hit on the face was expecting the same thing again as the hand moved toward him then in a split second he got kicked!  Expect the unexpected!?

The same Academy Director had a novel way of dealing with parents shouting from the touch line telling their kids what to do.  In England the parents are told to stand behind a piece of rope normally 50 yards away from the pitch.  In Portugal it is different.  If a parent shouts or tries to coach their son they simply sub their child!  This way the club don't need to speak to the parent the kid does it for them as they don't want to be replaced.  Although on one occasion they had a repeat 'offender'.  The Benfica AD went up to the father before kick off & passed him a Playstation remote control.  The puzzled parent looked at him & was told, 'If you want your kid to shoot press the 'X' button, hit 'O' for pass & the 'triangle' for tackle...now shut up'!  Brilliant!

Juggling education & training can be a challenge

Juggling education & training can be a challenge

It isn't always perfect in Europe.  One problem they have in Portugal is the balance of school work to training.  School times vary in Portugal.  Some mornings start anytime from 9am to 11am & lessons can go through to 5pm, although they have a longer lunch break.  When I met with a young player called Pedro from the U13's it was nice to speak about his schedule & experience.

A typical day for Pedro starts at 7.30am.  Wake up call, shower & breakfast.  The club will then send a car or club bus to take Pedro to school at 8am.  Lessons will start at 8.30am & continue through to lunch at 12pm.  Pedro will then head to a restaurant before returning to school at 1.30pm.

In Portugal they have extended lunches but school can finish later.  On this particular day lessons didn’t finish to 6.30pm.  He then travelled back for an evening training session with Braga U13′s at 7.45pm.  The session was shorter on the night we were there, it lasted one hour.  Pedro then showered, changed & head for a meal at 9pm.  Club officials would insure the young players are accompanied to restaurants.

Pedro arrived home to start homework at 10pm before bed time at 11pm.

I must stress that this schedule is variable.  Some day’s school finishes at 4pm & home work can be completed then.  On other days lessons will start later so Pedro can have a longer rest.

Personally I was surprised at the long days.  Pedro admitted on this particular day he was feeling tired but I was impressed at the same time how the club monitor their young players.

Schedule

The club will always arrange transport for players that are away from home.  This includes too & from school, training & meals.  At meals they will always insure, especially the younger players that they eat with a club official or the U19′s.

Although Pedro lives away from his family & misses them he simply told us he adapts.  He lives in an apartment owned by the club with 3 other boys & looked after by a ‘Nanny’.  The adult will look after the boys.  Generally the boys will partner up & share a room each.  He will see his family generally every weekend.  If he has a game on the Saturday his father will come along to watch the game.  After the match Pedro will travel home with his father & return on Monday morning.

The club try to send all the children to the same school so they can adapt a schedule to suit their training sessions.  They eat together so that the club can control what they eat & when they eat.  The players will generally eat red meat on Monday & Tuesday, white meat on Wednesday & then pasta, etc. thereafter.  The nutritionist talks with the restaurant to adapt & suit the weekly programme.  The boys’ height & weight are recorded every month too.  The club also has 3 Doctors to attend to any sickness.

Players, at this level, will generally train 4 times per week.  The U19′s will train every day & also receive wages.  The accommodation, schooling, transport & food are all paid for by the club.

Braga has psychologists that work alongside the club.  If a coach knows he will be releasing a player the psychologist will work closely with that player but not obviously tell him right away.  The club will also try to find another club for the player.

Summary

The first thing that I picked up on from my first visit to this club was the family feel it had.  Everyone greeted each other with a welcome, smile & hand shake.  This is very positive & creates a real togetherness.  The set up is very impressive.  All sessions concentrated heavily on the technical side of the game.  This includes use of the ball along with pressurised drills & sessions.

Personally I was surprised at Pedro’s schedule when I was talking to him but I suppose we have to consider that this was possibly his busiest day.  Other days of the week had later starts, or earlier finishes or a non training night.  Although in some cases it is no difference from a child living in the UK that has to juggle schooling, homework, meals, transport & training.

The big difference I feel is the interest they take in each individual child.  The club record everything from school work to eating habits & from training to simply monitoring their height, weight & rest.  Also for the players living away from home.  The effort they put into for accommodation, transport & duty of care.  Then the long term development & future of the child is put as most importance with every last detail thought of – even if they unfortunately have to let a player go.

It was nice to sit & have a meal with one of the players at this age group.  It also, I suppose, shows how quick they mature as in Pedro’s words he simply ‘adapts’.  He obviously enjoys what he does even if he does miss being away from his family.  I found all the Braga Academy players to be confident young players that behaved & worked very hard in all sessions & games.

Europe v UK

Overall I think the relationship with grassroots & professional clubs is so much closer throughout Europe.  England at times can seem to have a massive gap in that respect.  The focus on ball work, dribbling & small sided games is evident but to be fair England are now rolling out a programme right down to grassroots to focus on this.  I feel the major problem will be converting the old school at the bottom.

Data from the 2008 UEFA Coaching Convention shows that England has 1,759 B Licence coaches, 895 A Licence coaches & 115 Pro Licence coaches.  France has 15,000 (B), 2.400 (A) & 188 (Pro).  Spain has 9,135 (B), 12,720 (A) & 2,140 (Pro).  While Germany has 28,400 (B), 5,500 (A) & 1,070 (Pro).  Although the FA's acclaimed & highly respected Nick Levett has responded to say that each Football Association roughly develop the same amount of coaches per annum & that the results weren't realistic, i.e. The Spanish apparently awarded many 70 year olds with their B Licence who most likely no longer coach.

At the same time the UK has a mentality of having 8 mini clubs within each club.  Although they share the same identity through badge & colours they compete against each other rather than forming a strong youth system.  There is many stories of parents falling out with coaches & taking their son away & starting their own club!  I feel there is too many clubs which result in too many unqualified coaches resulting in a poor youth education for the player.

In Holland they generally only have 1 or 2 clubs for each village or town.  Many clubs with have 100 teams within their set up.  Rather than U9, U10, U11, etc.  They have A, B, C, D, E, F & G.  'G' being U10 but they could have 10 teams at that age group, i.e. G1, G2, G3, G4, etc.  G1-G3 teams will be the most developed kids playing against other clubs G1-G3 teams.  While G7-G10 will be the late developers, the recreation players, etc. who will play against players there only level.  This means the Dutch will very rarely have a game that will finish with more than a 3 goal deficit.  They also play with a lighter ball on reduced playing fields.  They have 15 & 16 year olds refereeing the games while parents use the games as a social event.

When I took my academy team over to Holland many of my parents were shocked that the kids played in such a relaxed atmosphere.  The main voice you could here was the children's voices.  Parents stood & chatted while watching the game.  All the clubs ask in return is what can you offer when you register your child.  They mean what time can you offer.  You could have someone volunteering 4 hours per week that will simply assist with kit or working in the bar area.

I can't stress enough, if you are a coach you need to visit Holland to see what I mean.  The Dutch are so organised & the club we visited hosted over 50 games on that Saturday!  This was from children to seniors including women's & an over 65's team!

The coaching style across Europe is simple.  They encourage the players to think for themselves & let the small sided game be the teacher.  They get away from the 'stop / stand still' tactic to coaching within the game & summarizing at the end.

The Future

Certainly it is not all doom & gloom.  Manchester United are renowned for their way of thinking.  When they play 8 v 8 they will ask the opposition can their 4 subs play Manchester United's 4 subs a 4 v 4 game so everyone is involved.  The focus on the technical side of the game is improving at all levels.

A recent visit to Watford FC & the Harefield Academy was very refreshing.  Nick Cox is the Watford Academy Director.  It is very interesting listening to Nick & seeing the thought process & the importance of everyone at the club to the school backing the concept.  The typical English Academy system will have boys going to school as normal then returning home to start homework, eat dinner & then to be transported by a parent to training.  This adds a busy schedule to each individual boy & adds pressure to the family life.  It is not uncommon for a father to return home from work early & to eat on the way to take his son to training.  Nor is it uncommon for that child to be up at 7.30am on the morning & on the go all day to 9.30-11pm at night.

Watford made many visits to European Academies to see what suited them best to move forward as a club.  The Dutch Academy set up was one of choice, especially a club called Willem II.  They have a similar set up in terms of stadium size, club structure, fan base, etc.  The big difference in the Academy structure was the club would work in partnership with a school.  This is what Watford FC based their concept on.  Although it was not copying the Dutch club they would simply set up an academy to best suit Watford FC & their Academy players.

The main positives for club, school & player include;

  • Increased contact time for training with the boys.  From an average of 3,500 hours to 9,000 hours (approx 10-12 hours per week but up to 15 hours available)
  • Greater Academic support & discipline – less conflict between school & club.
  • Prime time training – day light & on grass (indoor 3G dome available too)
  • Better home lifestyle – more family time with less inpact, i.e. transport & finance.
  • Professional lifestyle – more training, less late nights, regular meals, less hectic.
  • Better relationship with players – get to know them better.
  • Optimum time for education & sport.

Typical Day

Below you will find a typical schedule for a Watford Academy player attending Harefield Academy.  Classes are mixed, i.e. not exclusive to all WFC players.

  • 6.45am – Pick Up
  • 8.15am – Lesson 1
  • 9.15am – Football Training with WFC Academy Coaches
  • 11am – Lesson 2
  • 12pm – Lunch
  • 12.30pm – Lesson 3
  • 1.30pm – Lesson 4
  • 2.30pm – Normal day ends
  • 2.50pm – Study (home work / support)
  • 4.20pm – Day ends
  • 4.45pm – Football Training with WFC Academy Coaches

So you can see as a nation we are moving forward.  It wasn't so long ago that Manchester United produced Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes, David Beckham, Gary Neville, Phil Neville & Nicky Butt.  Although important to research other nations & see what they are doing it is important to find the right formula that suits the UK.  For me a closer link to grassroots & more contact time to players is a massive start along with more qualified coaches & focus on CPD.

How Much Game Time Does Your Youth Team Players Get?

It's a cold winters morning & your squad of 16 players have been up from 8am getting ready.  They meet at 9am to travel 1 hour to the venue.  10.30am they're doing the warm up for the 11am kick off.  So 3 hours have passed by & 11 players take to the field to kick off while 5 others watch on...

This is a common situation in youth football.  The scenario I have used above puts the manager against the 'best' side in the league.  So he picks his best 11 players to play the game which is 30 minutes each way.  His team come in at half time 2-0 down.  He looks to the bench & simply thinks he has his best 11 on the pitch & the other 5 won't make a difference so doesn't make any changes.  The 5 kids on the bench are freezing & disappointed, they have all went to training during the week & have been up from 8am...now at 11.40am they still haven't got anywhere near getting on!  Mid way through the second half the manager finds his team 3-0 down so asks the 5 subs to get warmed up.

10 minutes to go & it is 4-0.  He replaces the 2 forwards with 2 subs thinking they can't do any worse.  5 minutes left he replaces a winger like for like.  In the last minute he makes the other 2 changes so everyone gets a game.  The game finishes 4-0 & everyone is disappointed.  They do a cool down & get changed before making their way home.  They leave the ground at 12.30pm & return home at 1.30pm.  Jonny who has been up at 8am got back into his house just before 2pm...nearly 6 hours dedicated to the team that offered him 2 minutes on the pitch today.

Development

How do young players develop if they get less time on the pitch?  Surely the players who are behind their team mates should be the ones getting more game time?  As Academy Director at Irish Premier League side, Lisburn Distillery, all coaches had to report to me once a month.  Although I worked with the players & coaches on a weekly basis so communication levels were always good from the coaching team to parents & players.  They had to use an online system I had created to record all the details.

This included everything from appearances, minutes on pitch, goals, rating, information on performance, behaviour, training attendance & time keeping + presentation.  Our monthly meetings offered an opportunity to review all this.  I had to receive all team managers squad information on the Monday so it would be up to date & offer me time to review before the staff meeting on Thursday.  Below you will see examples of this information...

Always record everything & keep on top of it...

This is going back to our U10 squad in season 2007/2008.  At that time in Northern Ireland we had 7 aside or 11 aside on offer to play.  The level to which we played (Irish League Academy) we played our first season at 11 aside after playing a season at 7 aside.  Although what was nice was we could still play our boys in Mini Soccer.  You will see the players in the list with the symbol 'M.S.' indicated they continued at Mini Soccer & played briefly at 11 aside.  We discussed this with them & their parents.  The end result was another 4 months in Mini Soccer would develop them more & offer more game time than at 11 aside.  Likewise we also brought a younger player to play up a year to offer a taster for him.  By the end of the season 5 younger players would have played a year up to experience the step up from 7 to 11 aside.

The rest of the squad you can see averaged 640-780 minutes playing time from a maximum of 840 minutes at the time.  We played 30 minutes each way & had played 14 games at this stage.  One player I had put an * beside to indicate he had to play catch up as was on 565 minutes.  Although you should always monitor sickness, injuries, holidays, general attendance, suspensions (although hopefully not many at U10!) as well as this will have effect on playing time.

Idea

The first team manager, Paul Kirk (Pro Licence), said to me at the time, 'Tim start with your less developed players so they gain more playing time then put on your more developed players on the second half.  What this offers is a challenge for them.  As rather than starting at 0-0 they may be introduced to a game 1-0 down.  This means they need to raise their game.'

This always stuck with me & I have always passed this onto my team of coaches.  You need to always set challenges for your players.  My younger age group found themselves winning 8-0, 12-0 & 18-0 every game so I moved them up an age group to get tighter games.  Done them no harm as after losing a few games they soon started winning against boys older than them.  Technically they were better players but short term they weren't used to the physical side of the older boys.  They soon caught up!  This is why I like introducing boys playing a year up.  Youth football has got too structured.  When was the last time you played street football & asked the year of your opponents birth year?

Subs?

Insure they don't stand about doing nothing.  You will see from a previous blog post 'How Many Touches Do You Get' the importance of using a ball within your warm ups.  Why not play 3 v 2 on the side of the pitch or ask the other subs to join in & play 5 v 5?  Let kids just play.  While they are playing 3 v 2 or 5 v 5 they are receiving far more touches with the ball than what they would in the 11 v 11 game.  But the most important thing is that all 16 children play for the full hour + their warm up every week!

Your Thoughts from Twitter & Facebook...

'This is a tricky one for sure Tim & will vary massively depending on levels & age.  At the Coerver Youth Diploma I spoke to one of Port Vale academy coaches.  He said from U12 up all of their training & playing time is orientated towards the top three players.  The club's stand point is why should the best 3 players have their playing time reduced in the hope that others can catch up.  It creates an environment in training where the other 90% players work their chops off to get that playing time.

Of course at a more recreational say U10/11 level players need exposure to playing time in order to put into effect what they have trained to do.  At younger ages I always try even playing time.  But if we did that with our U14 national league team players who put the work rate in would dip as they think 'why should i bother if so and so puts half the effort in and still plays?' - therefore we say to the boys that playing time is related to their work rate /ethic in practice & when they play.  If they practice half assed their team mates see that if affects their playing time.  I always remember Mourinho talking & playing in a way that makes you untouchable & we twist that to relate to work rate & ask them to graft on the pitch in a way that makes them impossible to take off & easy to pick the next week.'

Gary Fowler, Northern Ireland National League

'Rotate, rotate, rotate!  Some players (& parents) don't like to but it has so many benefits; experiencing the responsibilities, pressures, skills required & emotions of playing in other positions is paramount to building a 'football brain' especially at an early age.  There's so much to be gained from rotating players'

Pumpherston United FC

'At our club we guarantee all players up to U15 will get at least half the playing time each month.  I have a decent spreadsheet to record it & helps coaches immensely so they can see who needs playing time.'

Darrach Teague, Cliftonville Academy FC

'Imperative to insure parents have full understanding of aims.  Pressure to win at all costs often prohibits effective rotation.   Often the group is split between the parents of those more advanced & those who need the game time to advance.

One interesting observation of mine is that those 'stronger' players often ignore those playing to develop & try to do more on their own.  Results in loss of shape, poor team performance & a general step back in development of the group.'

Upton United FC

'Parents all pay same fees.  I put attitude & attendance at training as to who starts, but fair game time for all.'

Aaron Graham, Coach

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