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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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