By John Cartwright

Over the past ten years I have watched hundreds of matches; from schoolboys’ games to full senior international matches. My opinion overall on the general standard of performance in those games would be;   ‘FRENZID–FEARFUL–FIGHT-BALL’

I keep asking myself over and over again, “why are performances so often disappointing to watch?”

The players are, in the main professionals and the games at junior levels are played with youngsters prepared and developed at senior clubs by qualified coaches as possible future professionals:  Fitness levels are higher than in the past and medical attention is far superior than the ‘cold sponge’ of yester-year: Players’ equipment today, from clothing to footwear, bears no resemblance to heavy woollen shirts and shorts and the studded co-op boots that used to be worn: the playing surfaces on which matches are now played are like bowling greens and are unrecognizable from the mud-covered ‘quagmires’ so many matches were played on in the past. Yet, so often performances in present day matches fails to register above the level of mediocrity on football’s scale of quality. Why- why-why?


I have given a great deal of thought about the reasons why ‘frenzid-fearful-fightball’ is played and why, too often, it’s the only type of game to watch.

What are the major factors that influence and affect every human action and performance in life – not just in football? Well, I believe them to be individual skill, combined with space and time awareness. Without an acute appreciation of these, it is virtually impossible to live one’s life let alone play football! Before a decision relating to the use of any skill is made, the issue of space and time in which to perform the skill must be quickly assessed; once this has been done, the skilled action and the speed to complete it successfully can also be made.    


The importance of combining the acquisition of skills with space and time awareness in football practice has been alarmingly underestimated.  In the coaching of our young players, suitably arranged, competitive practice has too often been replaced by unopposed, technique practice. Lack of space and time decision-making issues in technique practices creates unrealistic situations for players preparing for competitive match play. This lack of realistic decision-making opportunities has produced technical players who do not possess the skills for competitive football. Players, developed in this way, show an inability to assess situations quickly; follow with an appropriate skill; or have the playing dexterity to quickly change a decision. It has meant that an overwhelming number of players are forced to play a game-style that only requires simplistic skills and basic movements to support their limited playing qualities. The ‘catch 22’ situation is set in motion: — poor coaching, produces poor players, who play poor football.  

The close-marking and speed of players when defending in the game today, forces players in possession to play at the very limits of their ability — and beyond.  One can only expect poorly developed players to produce low standard performances, for in competition they are; unable to make correct decisions on space and time; have poor skill quality;  are unable to assess skill speed correctly; and have difficulty in adapting or changing a decision quickly. In most cases, ‘home-grown’ players on view today, at all levels, are trying to play the skilful sport of Association Football with neither football intellect nor ability.


I have ‘championed’ the need for suitably arranged competitive practice for many years (decades)! The realism of the competitive game must be reflected in practices that are suitably adapted for players at various age groups and levels of development. If practice time is used unrealistically, then practice time is wasted.  The development years fly by too quickly; it is a crime that our raw talent has not been developed in ways that would have seen excellence on the grounds around our country instead of the ‘frenzied-fearful-fight-ball’ we have become accustomed to see.



  1. Some great points John, I believe at the elite level our players have been let down by poor coaching methods as well as too much emphasis put on winning youth matches, rather than encouraging skillful play.

    Different story at grassroots;

    Poor winter facilities makes it hard to get any type of training on some weeks.

    1000s of coaches only involved because of their own child and have little desire/time/money to become a better coach.

    Children dont come home from school and play football like they used to, so less time with a ball.

    Children do not attend training every week.

    There are many many other reasons why players at grassroots do not develop with the skills you mention, it is frustrating but I believe things are better than they used to be. Many many coaches now know having children in lines is not a good way to teach. The use of games is more widespread, although that alone is not the answer, it is at least more fun.

    What is definitely needed for grassroots coaches is what to teach in some sort of order. Young children should learn to be confident with the ball, so running with the ball, dribbling, turning are all important skills to learn early on. What you do see is dads trying to teach passing and moving with 6 or 7 yr olds, or talking about spreading out etc. If the FA would say you should be looking at teaching this in the early years then moving onto that, then at least coaches would have a better idea of what to coach at the different levels…

  2. Hi Dave. Yes, all the points you make create the poor quality we so regularly see in our domestic game. The FA do not have a vision of the playing style that would satisfy the total needs of player and public alike. Without first establishing a national playing style (playing destination) to aspire to, they have continually provided coaching programs(routes)to nowhere!. Without first establishing a destination how can a route be set??? This is why so much waste has occured in time and money over the years. The dreams of millions of kids for years(decades) who wanted to play the game of Association Football up to a high standard have been forced to play to mediocre levels only.
    —- and don’t be misled into believing playing standards are getting better — they’re not!!!

  3. Hi John,

    I do not believe for 1 second that our own players are becoming better. I do believe and know of many youth coaches who have realised that drill based training methods have had their day. I am sure that still thousands of youth coaches will use drills, where kids are standing in lines, my point is that now it is far more common to see children playing far more than they did 10 yrs ago at training. The internet and forums have helped many people understand and change their approach, me included.

    John the real challenge is how do you motivate the thousands of unpaid youth coaches. A dad with 3 kids, 1 plays football, the other 2 are not interested in sport, how do you get him to give up enough time to become an excellent youth coach. With that time he would probably have to take time off work for courses and may have to shell out hundreds of pounds if not into the thousands, to gain that knowledge. With work and family commitments, how are we going to get thousands of youth coaches up to the standard you would like to see?
    I recently asked our U9s manager if he would be interested in doing any more courses. He said he would, but he is self employed and cant afford to take 4 to 5 days off work, pay for a course without having to give up his family holiday.

    I beleive the pro clubs should do far more than they do to help youth coaches, like they do in Holland. Although in Holland they tend to have 1 large amateur club in a town, where in my small town we have 5.

  4. Interesting points David about the logical progression from dribbling skills as a base.Working as the head coach of a newly formed soccer school I have researched Italian and Spanish methods.

    The Italian FIGC I believe commisioned a German called Horst Wein to create a coaching plan.I use this as a basis for the coaching plan for the younger age groups 5/6 and the slightly older 8/9 year olds.Plenty of exercises with a ball to develop dribbling and also awareness of colour/ and time in a fun type environment.

  5. In the days of street football,or later playing with one’s friends in the park,you enjoyed the game because there was no pressure.That is no pressure to win,no pressure to keep your place in the team.In those days usually the first team that you played for in organised team football was in your last year at junior school at the age of 10.Before that you had played for years in the street or waste land areas for hours on end with friends and with no adult involvement.I recall the introduction into an organised team situation at 10 as an enormous culture shock and and not at all enjoyable.Being placed into positions which seemed restrictive and regimented in the control of the school teacher it lacked the fantasy and joy of free expression that we gained from our street games.
    The only difference now is that children start in teams at a much younger age and it is someone from outside the school environment who is their first manager/coach.
    What really grasped my attention to the Premier Skills approach in the first place was the concept in Level 1 of ‘staying with the ball’.I think that for as long as I can remember children have been encouraged/demanded to part with the ball at the earliest opportunity.That is my recollection from back in the ‘fifties in schools football up to the present day with the thousands of junior club teams which proliferate all over the country run by people who give up a great deal of time and often in fact money.
    It goes without saying that the street football of post war years is long since gone but children will still play their own games albeit in a different environment and by that i mean on grass with proper footballs.But whatever the circumstances I believe that in the first place a child’s natural inclination when they get the ball is to keep it and I think that it is vital that the Premier Skills initial approach of ‘staying with the ball’ must really kick in immediately in this initial phase by ensuring that this great desire to stay with the ball does not leave them.
    Even at the ages of 9 and 10 I am finding that the kids I work with in schools can’t get rid of the ball quickly enough.They have joined junior clubs and the wrong messages are already taking effect.
    I would be interested to hear other coaches experiences down at this level but, as well as introducing the Premier Skills methodology I have found that when playing a game I introduce the rule that everyone must take a touch before passing/shooting/clearing etc or it is a free kick.”Take a touch” I shout constantly and gradually i think that it is improving the games from being ‘kickball’ into something a little more like ‘football’.

  6. When i first decided to write the PREMIER SKILLS coaching programs the concept and method i used was based on street football. PRACTICE WHILST PLAYING formed the crux of street football and nothing produced by the FA coaching and teaching dept. has managed to replicate the phenomenon that was street football. The majority of football interested people under the age of 65 do not know nor understand the important issues involving the street game and its effect on individual playing qualities — the ‘younger’ element amongst us were mostly lost to the street game as football spaces were lost to traffic and constuction by the mid/late 1950’s
    PRACTICE-PLAYING is stret football in a modern concept. Find out about it and use it! — i’m sure you’ll find it both DIFERENT and BETTER in your search for improving players and their playing of the game.

  7. Only 6 comments on this Blog. Do most of you like what you see or have you become so absorbed with the mediocrity on display that you are not prepared to demand much, much better standards in the future? Without those changes now – (it might already be too late), we will certainly not pull ourselves from the ‘football pit’ we now thrash about in.

  8. Interesting interview with Xavi in todays guardian.He talks about what young players are taught at Barca-the first coaching points are keep your head up and look for space.Xavi like Pedro and Andres Iniesta also talks about the “rondo”-basically piggy in the middle as a staple diet of the Barca training system.This ties in with the previous comments in the thread about the need for training young players under pressure to achieve optimum results.

  9. The pre-match hype for the televised match on February 14th,Fulham v. Chelsea,centred around chelsea’s new striker,Torres,and whether he could improve on his first disappointing appearance against Liverpool.But for me,and i’m sure many others who have been following john cartwright’s very interesting blogs and have read his book – ‘Football For The Brave’- it was the performance of Chelsea’s new Brazilian centre back,David Luiz,that provided the greatest interest.
    It was the feature of his game where he pushes forward into midfield to support and join in attacks that was really illuminating. He wasn’t content to just clear his lines and stay back to ‘look after the shop’.He made superb interceptions,distributed accurately and intelligently and,when possible,wemt forward to join in the play.The most memorable scenario of the match was when he executed a brilliant overhead kick near to the Fulham dead ball line to put over a dangerous centre when everyone thought the ball was going out of play.
    His performance resonated with points which John cartwright has made on many occasions with the need for central defenders to go forward to join in attacks but which we rarely see from English players.I always felt that Rio Ferdinand could have done this.i recall his first match for England when he was a young west Ham player against Cameroon.He started an England attack and ran forward to receive a pass just outside the Cameroon box to hit a shot which went just wide.But over the years ferdinand’s forward runs became less and less frequent until he became an orthadox centre back,albeit a very good one.
    What do the Brazilians do to produce a centre back like Luis?I have read that in Brazil the kids just play until they reach 14 years of age and then for the first time they are given positions.So does this help with their all-round development?In england of course we often fix kids into positions at the age of 10,often younger and if a boy is big,strong with a hefty kick then he could well be facing a lifetime at centre back.
    Everyone who saw the fulham-Chelsea match could see that kuis needs to learn about his decision making on when to make tackles and not sell himself, but that should come relatively quickly but his superb technical ability came in those vital formative years.

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