Technique or Skill – The Answer. By John Cartwright

Age old questions amongst coaches are: What is the relationship between technique and skill? and How should they be used in a practice session?  In this article John Cartwright addresses these questions and more importantly provides answers! 


by John Cartwright  

 Once  Association  Football became a game to be learned, the methods for acquiring the ability to play the game well became the centre of  a heated discussion that has continued ever since. With the demise of Street Football and its casual approach to learning, organized coaching methods were introduced to replace it. The learning of the game moved very quickly from realistic, unfettered involvement in the streets, to a more structured process designed along educational lines. 

The definition of the words; technique and skill, is indeed difficult to describe and all forms of work and play can employ some aspect of either. My own definition of these terms in relation to Association Football revolves around the interference of others in the performance of an action. Therefore, I believe technique is an action performed without the interference of opposition, whilst skill is an action performed with the interference of opposition. The involvement of opposition affects the time and space decisions made by a player and correct   judgement of these forms the basis of a successful completion of an action. 

Conflicting arguments have produced a series of beliefs as to the way the games skills should be taught. 

  • Techniques through unopposed drill practices.
  • Small-sided games with limited information provided.
  • A technique practiced followed by the gradual inclusion of opposition.
  • A practice-play method suitable for the very young to senior levels that includes opposition in various forms along with area size adjustments from the beginning to provide players with realistic decisions on space and time throughout the whole of the development period——and beyond.


You don’t play against opposition with technique, you play with skill! The game of Association Football is a competitive sport and therefore, it demands the need for a realistic, skill-centred approach to the teaching of the game. To practice a technique without the examination of challenge is to have spent wasted hours in producing a talent that does not satisfy the real needs of the game.  A rebound surface is useful when practice partners are unavailable, but is best used with ‘opponents’ so that alongside contacts of the ball, space and time decisions can also be made. The infatuation with ball juggling for hours on end that supposedly improves a player’s touch, produces just that ball “jugglers “ not talented footballers for the game. 

The game of football has ‘exploded’ as a viewed, as well as a played, sport over the past half century. Money has poured in and with it has come numerous opportunities for entrepreneurs to cash-in. Coaching is one of the areas of the game that has experienced a host of commercial initiatives; some good, most not so good. The confused situation between technique and skill is obvious in the number of variations and methods on sale in coaching courses, books, videos and DVD’s.  

I’m a strong believer in the ‘practice-play’ method of development. I should do, I produced it! The Practice-play development model incorporates the teaching of skills, tactics and understanding of the game in a realistic and progressive way — in a nutshell, Practice-Play is a modernized version of street football. 

Playing the game is what we all love to do. Even when age becomes a debilitating influence on our performance we still like to think we can play, even for a brief amount of time. The playing of the game is the fun part of the game, therefore, the practising of the game should impose the same enjoyment and practice should emulate playing as much as possible. Within a playing atmosphere the different attributes between the technically gifted and those skilled for the game can be easily seen. The former has difficulty to readjust to quick-changing situations, whereas the skilled player is able to anticipate change and adapt more readily. 

Until coaching produces players with more ‘natural’ ability the game will continue to suffer from a lack of individualistic quality it relies on to make it exciting to play and watch. There should be no compromise over the issue of technique versus skill, football is a skilful game, so develop the skills it needs by practising the way it is played! 

  John Cartwright is a founder of Premier Skills and the Practice Play methodology.  For more information about the Practice Play methodology contact:

8 thoughts on “Technique or Skill – The Answer. By John Cartwright

  1. After another woeful display by England footballers at a major tournament, the FA should swallow their pride and give John Cartwright the job of director of youth development.
    Mr Cartwright is a fantastic coach who, after all, is only stating the obvious, i.e. English footballers aren’t skillful and it’s been this way for many decades.
    Why can’t we coach our children and teenagers to play like the Spanish and Brazilians? That way we will eventually get professional footballers with fantastic skill levels, thereby improving the quality of football which England play. Will that ever happen????

  2. Finally someone has stuck their neck out! Look at the traditions of West Ham, Liverpool and Forest during the Clough era. OK, football has moved on significantly from then but not only do modern English players not have the technical ability they also lack the footballing education that came through at clubs like these. Short passing and ball retention was the mantra at these clubs. Their demise does not detract from the vast number of quality players who graced their youth and first teams then progressed to the full England set up…..
    The dominance of Alex Ferguson’s teams in the 1990s has not helped the English disease because Man United’s game has almost always been geared to success at a very fast paced level which honestly does require natural born, almost unteachable instinct rather than strategy. The success of early Wenger (1997 -2001/2), Houllier, Mourinho & Benitez (as allegedly more “cultured” foreign managers) compounded this complex issue by honing a superior counter-attacking model based on a rock solid defence.

    If only the English FA could mould a happy medium between the Spanish method and the German system we could have something worth talking about in 10 to 15 years time. Maybe it will be too late and the game will have moved on again? Who knows……..

  3. Why is nobody responding to these comments? Who is the orchestrator of the conspiracy of silence? What is wrong with everybody, when will somebody stick their head above the parapet and shout?! This has been a pressing issue for years. Messers Hansen, Lineker, Barnes, Hoddle & Waddle etc have been muttering in the background for over a decade but little has changed. Where is the strategy from the FA? What is the Premier League doing about it? Answer: nothing……

  4. A very interesting article and one I fully agree with. I am a futsal coach and believe this game addresses a lot of the points John mentions in his article.

  5. u know what my memory of watching friends kids play youth football in england is in my mind?
    watching kids with frostbiten toes coming out of practice shivering and told that this will toughen them up.. make men out of them.

    football is played with shorts, not ski equipment yet because of some antiquated obligation not to interfere with cricket it is played in the wintery months and NOT in the summer.
    maybe the solution comes from canada where those indoor domes are sprouting everywhere to counter their weather hindrance.

    Ive played a few games early in spring and late fall when the temperature is close to freezing and even though Im used to snow and -30c weather, it is harder to control the ball, to feel your limbs, etc…

    i remember seeing those kids shivering and telling myself that this can NOT be enjoyable for kids. dress them up for the cold and send them skiing, snowshowing, sledding and boarding… i have no problems but this obsession with winter football HAS to figure into the equation.

    you can get used to the rain in england just like others can adjust for snow but at the age the kids should be learning the skills needed for football, there is the self inflicted bonus of frozen fields and frozen toes to contend with.

    why not just have them play barefoot?
    just imagine how much more manly those kids will be after suffering through it..

  6. I haven’t seen Practice Play myself, so I can’t have a view on it. The logic of it sounds good. Likewise those who have strong views on BSS & Simon Clifford should take the time to study his methods & see kids in action, playing FDS in which acquired technique is translated into skill as outlined above. Then their views would have more weight & could be taken more seriously.

    Aside from that, I agree with much in above article & look forward to seeing Practice Play for myself.

  7. Have been fortunate enough to work alongside John four or five years ago. Learnt an awful lot in such a short space of time. His philosophy has stayed with me. Although I’ve had to gain FA qualifications to get jobs in football, from children to ladies football at a high level, it is my learning from John (practice play etc) that has given me success. He also told us a wonderful story about Bobby Moore. Thanks John.

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