By John Cartwright
The building of a house is a good example of planned progression. The customer’s vision of the property is set out by an architect on drawings. From those drawings the development methods to be used to construct the property, its costs and the time to completion, must be planned in a careful and organized manner or mistakes to the structure and delays will be incurred.
From start to finish the various trades must be brought in to do their job at the appropriate times. Disruption and disorganization in the building process must be kept to an absolute minimum by good project management if the house is to be built as required.
With the plans (strategy) the builder can begin. It is always possible for the builder to make changes and adaptations during the building period to improve or modify the property with only limited interference to the work schedules that have been set earlier.
Even after the house has been completed, modifications to it are always possible and parts can be added, removed or improved over time. However, these later changes would still be required to comply with the original plans of the property. Only when it was necessary to demolish the original property and build a new one in its place, would a new vision require a new set of plans (strategy) to be drawn.
A playing vision (playing style) for football also has to be seen first in the mind. Attractive, exciting, and effective playing of the game should be essential aspects of that vision. Once a playing vision, is agreed, the plans to achieve it can be organised accordingly.
Any forward-thinking National Football Association should be expected to establish their country’s own playing vision. This can be done in conjunction with a selected group of experienced, professional coaches, and discussions amongst them to formulate such a vision should be a priority. Once a suitable playing vision has been devised and accepted, planning to achieve it can be started. The route from beginning to final product can now be carefully organised and managed. Progressive, age and ability-related coaching programs can now be written that follow a designated route forward. These programs must educate coaches, at all levels of the game, on how to teach progressively towards a desired playing vision, and in turn, these coaches must progressively teach the players how to play towards a football vision. Importantly, it should never be forgotten that the ‘footballing public’ also need to be introduced to new changes in playing methods. The public are the paying customer and like the purchaser of a new house should be fully aware and appreciative of the product they are paying for.
It might seem over simplistic to point out the obvious but, unless one knows the destination, one can’t plan the journey! However, it is perfectly true. By selecting a destination first, allows a route to be established and a time can be assessed for the completion of the journey in accordance with any required stops along the way. Football coaching is often guilty of not establishing a destination (playing vision) first, and therefore, it becomes lost in a myriad of ‘side-streets’ leading nowhere. From the early formative years, into adolescence and then onwards to senior levels of development and playing, practice must proceed in a systematic and co-ordinated way towards a pre-determined objective —- as the builder follows his plans for a project through to completion; football coaching must build in the same organised and progressive manner towards a designated playing vision.
The use of random football practices, like random building methods, should be evaded like the plague if the production of quality players able to play the game to the highest standards is to be achieved. Too many development programs have been designed by ‘coaching cowboys’. The Do It Yourself experience makes the difficult look easier than it actually is and it has often been proved that there is no substitute for professional trades- people.
Age and ability-designed programs must form a progressive learning structure towards an agreed playing vision. Each program should build onto the work completed within a previous program and should consist of topics that progressively cover; skills in att/def; tactics for att/def; goalkeeping, as well as, fitness; diet; laws of the game; etc. The practices used for each of the playing topics must not only be progressive, but competitively realistic as well to satisfy the actual playing needs of the game. Coaching must begin to realize that football is a competitive, military-styled game requiring competitive skills, not choreographed techniques to play it.
Why practice unrealistically? Why spend valuable time learning actions that will be unsuitable in the hurly-burley of a competitive game? Players are expected to play against opposition, why not learn those actions by practicing them against opposition from their earliest involvement with the game? From Warm-up through to full game, each individual practice session should reflect, as near as possible, the competitive skills and tactics of an actual game suitable for the age and playing qualities of those involved. This does not necessarily mean physical contact at all times, but certainly means quick and individualistic decision making by players at all times through the deprivation of time and space during the various practices.
Planned progression must feed its way through every stage of the development process from very junior to senior levels. There must be continuity within each session, with practices complimenting each-other. From ‘semi-active’ opposed warm-ups, to organised, ratio-opposed work, to small–sided games, to full practice games at the more senior levels, the ‘flow’ of practices must provide calculated and systematic forward progress in understanding and performance. Each session must be a ‘building block’ for sessions that follow throughout a program of work. Likewise, each program must develop forward from the work already completed in earlier programs. Building in such a way from a prepared plan can allow for modifications to a development model over time as deemed necessary without disturbing the forward momentum towards a visualized playing style.
Had a more professional and visionary approach been taken with our coaching and development methods, the wastage in time, money and effort would not have occurred. ‘Home-grown’ mediocrity is the result of tinkering and not tackling the reasons for the long-term demise in our football fortunes. This situation is unlikely to change here for the better, for the ‘hype’ that tries to camouflage a paucity in talent, cannot produce quality on the field when it matters. To this very day, those who stand at the summit of our football structure, have little understanding of the needs of our game and how to achieve them. A quotation from the Bible sums up the situation best; ‘ where there is no vision, the people perish.—- says it all about our game doesn’t it!