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!

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.


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.


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


§  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



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

The State of the Game

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

When will attitudes change in youth football?

Lisburn Distillery

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

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

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

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

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

The Irish Premiership

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

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

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

Pay peanuts get monkeys...

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

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

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

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

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

We have become so structured it stops development...

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

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

Parents you need to take a stand!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Professional Level

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

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

Is Your Child Getting Their 60 Minutes A Day?

Hold onto your seats because the Government have found out what prevents child less & exercise more!  Although over the past number of years we have seen local Council's put up more 'No Ball Games' signs & charge higher commercial rates to use public facilities to operate classes for children by skilled coaches.  At the same time schools are investing less time for children to get active in school through the demise in P.E..  With health & safety issues children in many schools are not even allowed to play in the playground.

Signs like these have our children playing less & less in the streets

What is the Government doing?  Well through the Public Health Agency they are launching a bold new campaign to get the 60 minutes a day message across to parents, carers & children.  This autumn, all primary schools in Northern Ireland will receive...

Well this is the point you expect them to say they have invested money for qualified coaches to come into schools & get children active through falling in love with a sport.  You know, they get motivated & then want to do this sport away from school as well...or maybe they will invest the money in educating teachers within each school to deliver a structured programme for kids to enjoy & get active.  This sounds great & sounds so simple but the Government & Public Health Agency have come up with their own answer to get children active...what?  Well they are producing a book!

With almost three quarters of 8-11 year-olds in Northern Ireland not getting the recommended 60 minutes of physical activity each day we need more than a bloody book by the Government!  We need the Government to support & promote the quality organisations & coaches out there currently operating physical activity classes not work against them.

Carrickfergus Borough Council.

2 September 2010, I was in court for running an award winning Toddler Soccer & Mini Soccer class in Carrickfergus Leisure Centre.  In short the Leisure Centre closed down to be re-developed.  We had been operating our class for boys & girls aged 2-13 for 4 years.  Even when the Leisure Centre closed we continued our class outdoors on hard court tennis courts & continued to pay the same rate we had always done.

Then the brand new centre opened & we moved inside again.  At the end of the first month we received an invoice double to what we had been paying.  I brought this straight up with the Council.  We had councillors informing us to pay what we had always agreed to pay & what was agreed on our signed booking form.  Even though I had sent cheque payment for what we agreed they would not accept.  This ended up with the Leisure Centre staff refusing entry to our 2 year olds.  They stood crying in the rain not understanding why they couldn't play football.  We had a council that would not allow their residents to walk through their door to play football.  They no longer allowed a group that always paid their bill straight away, not taking the 30 days credit facility, who operated in good practice - qualified coaches, background checked staff, child protection, first aid & insured to continue their programme.

So in their wisdom they took us to court!  I honestly can't put together in words how stressed, disappointed & frustrated I was to say that I came from Northern Ireland.  A country that has many evil people who have carried out such brutal things but here I was...a football coach getting children active & trying to make a honest living being taken to court...makes you think!

The Result...

The judge was shocked at the findings...

  • She could not understand a Northern Ireland Council that was against an organisation that operated classes for children to get active.
  • An organisation that insured their programme was operated correctly (qualified coaches with all child protection issues put in place)
  • A business that paid their bills early & operated all year round - 'surely this is the kind of user that centres love'!
  • A council who went back on their word & doubled the hire rate by scribbling down new rates at the top corner of my booking form AFTER it had been signed.
  • The 'Sports Development Officer' who wrote the new rates could not even read his own writing at the court case to confirm what he had written!

So the case was thrown out & the court ruled in my favour.  The cheque which I had written with the agreed rates months previous was eventually cashed.  Yet I was still not welcome back in the Leisure Centre & had to take my programme 'underground'.

Northern Ireland

Other studies in Northern Ireland have found the...

  • Standard of health in general is lower than the UK average.
  • Numbers dying from heart disease in Northern Ireland are amongst the highest in Europe.

So this is why that I am so frustrated in the way the country is run.  People in Northern Ireland don't like seeing anyone succeed...the powers that be hate to see anyone challenge them or think different.  They feel threatened & insecure.  That is why you see so many, 'Jobs for the Boys'.  You know, jobs that become available that legally these organisations have to advertise but you already know they have been filled with the usual suspects that continue to offer the same crap they have been for too long.

Has football in NI moved forward?Irish Football Association

I once went for a job in front of a 10 man committee with the IFA to be a Grassroots Development Coach.  I had a good interview but never got one of the positions.  I received a letter saying that I was one of the stronger candidates but they would not be taking me on board but I can organise an interview for feedback.

I did organise an interview for feedback but it was the biggest joke & waste of my time.  Upon walking into this individuals office I found it to be a complete mess.  Even though this meeting was scheduled he was in no way organised for me & couldn't find my notes from my interview.  Going through piles of paper work & hunting around like a bloody headless chicken I know he just picked up any file & let on it was mine!

My review & feedback was as follows; 'Question 1 was good as was your answer to question 2.  Question 3 not so good & question 4 good'.  What!  I asked why my answer was not so good to question 3 & was simply told some made up crap that I challenged him on as I know I covered the exact point he was getting at.  He seemed very uneasy when I challenged him & was dismissive.  He then simply tried to conclude the meeting & finished with saying, 'hopefully you got something out of this'.  Of course I replied straight away saying no.

Later in the year a child attended my own programme whose father recognised me from my interview.  He sat on the committee & told me that I wasn't offered one of the positions due to being over qualified & with what I had started with TW Sports (my coaching company)  I still to this day believe that all they want is robots that won't challenge their judgement.  Don't get me wrong there is some great coaches within the set up but I wonder.  It needs such a bloody shake up.  I remember meeting one of the Grassroots Development coaches in the Council offices.  He never likes talking to me & openly tells me he hates me & that my programme with Toddler Soccer is against the law as under 6's shouldn't play football!

I've also asked about getting involved with the Elite County programme but they like to keep that 'in-house'.  So for a UEFA A Licence coach with over 15 years experience who has developed a successful Academy at an Irish Premiership Club + an award winning programme can't get a look in within the County set up...what does that tell you?  Maybe it is because I am opinionated & speak out...they don't like that.

What they fail to address though is why so little of our youth talent is making it in the professional game.  Also the failure of our national team.  I am sick of hearing the same post match interviews of, 'we'll dust ourselves down, pick ourselves up & fight & battle'.  The excuses that we are a small nation.  Let's talk facts.  Why not improve the education & the technical ability of our players?  One fact we can't get away from is the failure of beating Faroe Islands away during this campaign.  This is a place that has more bloody sheep than people!

Prevention better than cure

I travelled to Holland 2 years ago and listened to a very interesting presentation by the Mayor of Oss.  I compare how the Dutch Council’s compare to our Council’s in Northern Ireland…

Prevention better than cure...Oss is a city with 9 villages and small towns.  With 77,000 inhabitants & 125 nationalities, the Council insures plenty of activity for all.  The facilities on offer and sporting opportunities on offer is too much to mention in this report.  Although one fact which I will mention is that they spend €256 million (£233m) on sports funding each year.  On average they will spend €69 (£63) per person per year on sport!

How refreshing to see a Council wanting to provide for the community and work with sporting business’, sports clubs and organisations.

The Dutch Council was shocked that my local Council, the capital of Northern Ireland, Belfast, does not promote my sports development programme.  I have touched on the subject before but Belfast City Council and a number of ‘our’ Councils will not support private run organisations – even my own award winning business.

Don't get me wrong SportNI have provided great facilities across Northern Ireland but are they affordable for user groups & are they being used by the qualified & experienced coaches to develop local talent?

Belfast City Council & the Alliance Party

It has been refreshing to see the Alliance Party take an interest in my programme.  Naomi Long, Chris Lyttle & Judith Cochrane (MLA's) have taken time out their busy schedules to come along & view our programme.  They love what we do & are trying to support us through contacting Council's & the Minister of  Culture, Arts & Leisure.

It is going to be a long road.  I need to speak out.  People & organisations won't like that but they already hate me so it makes little difference.  Recently funding was put in place for me to operate in the lower Falls area of Belfast with low income families in an initiative to get fathers playing football with their toddlers.  The Education board stopped funding after consultation with the Irish Football Association as they say it is against the law for under 6's to play football.

So even though my Toddler Soccer programme has won awards & I am author to, 'Toddler Soccer the Essential Guide', that has sold in over 20 different countries this programme was cancelled.  It was cancelled by the same people who talk hot air about getting children active!

Along with this I have had to deal with Belfast City Council not allowing me to hire Leisure Facilities provided for the rate payers that reside in the City.  Even if I do manage to get past the bookings officer and they accept a booking from me, in one of Belfast’s 11 Leisure Centres, they will charge £100 per 45 minute slot per week.  Yes you did read that right…..£100 per week!  If that is not enough to hinder me thinking about starting a programme for children that will develop their football skills along with their social skills and improve their health they charge a further £2 per child attending!

So for me to take a group of 20 children I would have to pay Belfast City Council £140 per week.  Or, if you like, £840 per 6 week term.  That would result in charging each child £7 per 45 minute class!  But how do I pay my coaches, insurance, equipment, petrol & support my family?  Well I would have to charge more!

Honestly, drug dealers get more freedom to operate in Belfast than my youth development programme that is open to all.  This country will never change; it will always remain a culture of, ‘who you know’ and ‘who you are’.  Although the lack of support and hatred I receive from Councils and Sports ‘Development’ officers is a compliment.  They are jealous of a successful programme that is run by a talented group of coaches – its competition!

I can’t find any information on what Belfast City Council spends on sport and leisure.  Although some interesting and confirmed facts that I found on their website (Belfast City Council) and from the Belfast Telegraph include the following;

  • 11 Leisure Centres operated by Belfast City Council.
  • £41 million loss in last 5 years, despite more than £50 million of rate payer’s money invested.
  • Not one Leisure Centre made profit or came close to breaking even.
  • Between 2002-2007 £53 million of public money was put into keeping the 11 facilities open.

Belfast City Council also claims the following;

  • Giving young people a sound start in sport.
  • Encouraging and supporting good relations.
  • Promoting physical activity and leisure.

Personally I can’t agree with any of the statements above.  They will argue back that I’m a business & I’m out to make money?  Well of course I need to make money; I have a family including 3 children to support!  Maybe Belfast City Council want higher poverty rates throughout the province.  Maybe they just want private ventures like my own to help recoup the millions that they are throwing away through poor management.

I could offer a long list of benefits what TWSports.Org offers through their inclusive and innovative products that are open to all.  That introduces toddlers from the age of 2 to sport.  Educating the importance of a healthy lifestyle; children and parents mixing socially; giving children more responsibility & freedom to be creative and develop their technical skills – oh, and developing young coaches and offering employment in the middle of a recession.  But that sounds too good to be true.

I am realistic that my programme is successful due to the hard work that my staff and I put in but more importantly the continued support we receive from parents, children, schools and other Councils and organisations in Northern Ireland that want to work with us.

I hope the Alliance Party can assist in us to develop our programme so we can reach out to more children & parents across Northern Ireland.


Our European counterparts who actively invest in prevention rather than cure is refreshing to see.  They insure they get kids active while we as a nation send a book in they send a coach in!  The money & cuts from sport (especially within schools) will mean further money being spent on hospitals to 'cure' the problem.  With more 'no ball game' signs being put up around the country & parents not allowing their kids to play outside due to 'stranger danger' is resulting in a ticking time bomb.

Even in my own son & daughters school they ban skipping ropes & footballs due to health & safety.  Will we start to see parents out live their children?  That is one serious concern.

I got a tweet the other day from someone that used to live in Northern Ireland who has moved his family to Australia.  'Pathetic small mindedness & religious/political influence has completely ruined Northern Ireland.'  Although my blog may highlight the negatives & it certainly won't make me many friends but I simply wanted to share the ongoing nonsense that I personally have to deal with on a daily basis.

How Many Touches Do You Get?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Arsene Wenger, Arsenal Manager.

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

IFA National County Programme (2 hour training session)

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

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

Overall touches - 224.

Dungoyne FC Club Training (1 hour session)

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

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

Overall touches - 307.

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

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

Warm up, 20 minutes.  162 touches.

During game, 60 minutes.  80 touches.

Overall touches - 242.

1-on-1 Coaching (1 hour session)

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

Overall touches - 699.

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

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

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