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!

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 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 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.


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?


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

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.

RIP Mini Soccer

'You only need to use one foot as you'll be a left midfielder'  Local coach to child aged 4.5

What happened Mini Soccer & the enjoyment in kids football?  I notice it with my own programme that toddlers finishing our Toddler Soccer classes are bypassing our Mini Soccer sessions so they can get straight into the competitive world of senior football aged 5.  Do parents not realise that children need to develop their football ability & understanding the same way as they need to progress in school?  My report will annoy a few 'coaches' & clubs but I want that.  I want a bloody reaction as I've never seen youth football so poor in over 25 years involved in football.

My philosophy. centered on the European approach, continues to be successful when developing children.  It seems to good to be true...maybe it seems so simple that I insure well planned sessions that focus on the child.  Maximum touches, plenty of 1 v 1's developing to small sided games, encouraging freedom & creativity but offering education & development all in a fun environment.  Put simply we develop the child in the right way insuring a good technical basis along with game understanding that we adapt to suit the age & ability.

Make it a fun environment for children to learn in

I have over 15 years of coaching experience, I hold my UEFA A Licence & have a passion to keep on developing as a coach & passing that information on to my players & team of coaches.  It does come with a price.  My programme is not free.  I have invested thousands of pounds into my business & it is self funded through the parents & children that support me.  This makes me the big bad wolf.  Why?  I can't access any funding.  I am a hated figure by many at the Irish Football Association, Sport NI, Council's & many individuals.

People reading this outside Northern Ireland will not understand.  If you're not that experienced & have a lack of knowledge, little equipment & poor training methods then the powers that be love you.  The secret is to not be fully qualified & plan poor sessions.  So if you turn up late with little equipment, have a bottle of water for your first aid kit & have kids stand in long lines & operate crap training you are in.  If you say you are doing it voluntary & then use the magic words in Northern Ireland which is, 'cross-community', bloody hell you have won the lottery!   You get loads of funding & support.  You also get reduced pitch fees.

If the powers that be concentrated as much on the poor training methods as they did on child protection we wouldn't have anything to worry about.  Don't get me wrong child protection is important but why then ignore the poor standards of coaching?  Although child protection does get ignored after a course & background check come back complete & successful...another box ticked but why so many individuals then get away with shouting, screaming & swearing on the touch line go unchallenged?  This is child abuse but we'll cover that another time...that's a blog piece on its own!

But try to operate a programme like mine & you are the anti Christ of youth football.  I mean charge for good football coaching?  You can't do that when everyone else is giving up their time to do it voluntary.


Don't get me wrong, there is a place for volunteers in football but it isn't the head coach of a youth team.  Oh, & before everyone jumps on the bandwagon of saying that it wasn't for these volunteer coaches so many kids wouldn't get playing football...listen it depends what you actually want.  I want my child to play golf & the piano.  Do I want to send him to someone who is not qualified.  Let me make it simpler.  Here is what would happen if I sent my child to a parent that isn't qualified to teach him how to play the piano like in football;

Does your child stand in a long line waiting a turn?

  • There is no music books so he can't read music
  • He goes for a warm up by running around the piano - he's not allowed to play it!
  • He stands in a line for ages while watching everyone else get to play one note...after waiting in a line for 2 minutes, or longer, he gets to play one note then goes to the back of the line again.
  • The piano teacher wants to show off so starts playing not allowing any child to get near child goes to play a lovely chord so the teacher quickly closes the lid of the piano.
  • The child is hurt & needs first aid treatment so the teacher provides a bottle of water.
  • When the child tries a new chord or uses the peddle the teacher screams at him & tells him to play it safe...just use one hand & don't try anything fancy.
  • This same teacher gets frustrated when his student can't perform in Carnegie Hall on his own...he simply looks at him, always, for guidance as he can't play on his own with freedom, creativity & confidence.
  • The unqualified parents son gets to play on the piano longer than your son.
  • Due to basic techniques not being taught the child can't perform to the expected level.  The teacher will not except responsibility & instead looks at replacing him through his poor teaching methods with another student taught properly by another teacher.

Poor Coaching Methods

Okay so I am I'm going over the top but honestly I have seen such poor methods & yet little seems to being done to improve.  The unqualified coach who turns up with their initials emblazoned across their top & 'COACH' written on their back then shout Premier League instructions to their 5 year old players.  I've heard it all before;

  • Pick it up
  • Switch on
  • Play in the hole
  • Switch
  • Double up
  • Squeeze

Something which I created as Academy Director at Irish Premier League side, Lisburn Distillery, has turned into a monster.  When I brought talented children into the club at the age of 6 they had already 2 years good practice in my Toddler & Mini Soccer programme.  We continued their education concentrating on the technical side of their game, plenty of 1 v 1's & small sided games.  This was all done in-house & really developed their games.  What other clubs have done by taking my successful blue print have created a monster.  Gone is the age appropriate training & in comes the 5, 6 & 7 aside 'mini leagues'.  The competitiveness comes out of everyone & the development in the kids is forgot about.

It is clear to me that things will not improve short term so who needs to take the stance?  Parents!  Don't rush getting your kid into a competitive club.  Let them develop & enjoy their football.  Let them learn the game away from the pressures of uneducated coaches & don't fall into the trap of shouting parents screaming about their 5 year old who is going to be the next big thing.

I've seen it all before.  The potential in children can be lost along with their enthusiasm by idiot coaches & parents.  Support your child but in the right way.  Let them play.  It's a common sight seeing parents & grandparents watching their young children take their first steps in football.  But over the years less parents watch their child as they get older because that Premiership dream gets further away for the parent.

In Northern Ireland we are light years behind any other nation.  Clubs wonder why talented kids they send over to England often come back.  Let's hazard a guess of a combination of lack of training, crap training & poor youth development planning is maybe a factor.  Add in the other factor of just playing a game...especially when it's on a massive pitch & kids hardly touch the ball & that may give you an answer.  Kids in England train minimum 3 times a week aged 9-13 & when they start to hit 14 they can be in up to 4 & 5 days per week.  In Northern Ireland we can't train more than once a week or you know why?  Well the best excuses I often here is; we'll burn them out & then the old funding issues.  Football is a business nowadays & until Northern Ireland & the Irish League wake up to this I really do think it will be RIP Irish League & Northern Ireland football.

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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