No Skill…..No Playing Rhythm!

By John Cartwright

Recently I have been watching lots of games involving youth players. These games range from ordinary club teams to professional Academy teams. At games amongst all the various junior levels it becomes obvious how and why the playing paucity we have at the top of the game has occurred.

We are all fully aware of the over-importance we place on winning at junior levels, but what we fail to recognize is how this fixation with results is killing both the acquisition and demonstration of skill in games.  Our game is played at a constant pace – fast, and irrespective of the score-line, games continue from first to last whistle with little concern or understanding of the use of rhythm when playing. I have watched several games in which teams have dominated their opponents and have built up a big lead over them, but irrespective of the score-line, the game continues at the same un-relentless pace. Possession is wasted and regained with monotonous regularity; force is the preferred choice over fantasy and the opportunity to play with style and imagination when possible is ignored.

The wastage to our game from inappropriate and mis-applied coaching methods in junior football is reflected later in the way we play at senior levels. Although the score-line at higher levels is mostly closer, we do not play with rhythm when opportunities do occur and, like junior football, we play fast and furiously in the hope that speed and effort will camouflage the deficiencies in skill and tactical awareness inherited from junior football.  Playing with staccato rhythm is a part of the game we do not concentrate on. Coaching here offers little information on how to control and dominate a game once the initiative has been achieved. ‘Let the battle roll on’, is how we deal with those ‘special times’ in a game in which playing superiority should be emphasised in a skillful and commanding manner.

Skill creates confidence when performing an action. Without skill, a performer is laid ‘naked and embarrassed’ under pressure and fear becomes the ‘Parrot on the shoulder’ advising caution and simplicity. This lack of confidence in the skill qualities in a team generates a lessening in playing options.  A coach will not introduce variations in tactics if he does not have confidence in his players’ ability to use them properly, and when the game gets difficult, players’ with limited skill are unable to cope satisfactorily with those difficulties. The opportunity to exploit time and space and to display rhythm and class is lost -instead of skill making ‘a fraction of an inch – a yard; and a split second – a minute’,  urgency and panic exist in our game forcing simplicity to dictate and control too many  playing decisions.

The playing styles we so frequently see from foreign teams, both at club and at all national levels, have rhythm. Within the framework of their game, their combining of individual skill with team tactics is far more sophisticated than the ‘up and at `em’ playing methods so frequently seen in our football.  Our overseas adversaries create and exploit space and time in all areas of the field and are often prepared to fight to achieve the initiative in games.  They then use their individual skill and combined play qualities to produce a style of play that has power allied to poise, precision and penetration.

As the importance of individual skill with physical attachments  is increasingly recognized by our opponents and over-looked by ourselves, we will continue to play our ‘fightball’ with enthusiasm and frustration – but with insufficient skill and increasing speed…….. continue to concoct a recipe for disaster!


10 thoughts on “No Skill…..No Playing Rhythm!

  1. Rhythm is difficult to coach and requires a real confidence and technical ability from all of a teams players. It is something I tried to develop from my U17 Women’s team at the last World Cup. One very technically gifted player in my midfield was able to dictate the tempo of our play quite successfully.

  2. Foreigners envy us our fighting spirit and ‘never say die’ attitude.Those are the qualities we have always had.We envy them their skill,technical and tactical understanding,and their greater imagination.We seem to find it so dificult to achieve a combination of these qualities.
    Speed and power have been part of British football for so long.It was not always the case but you have to go back many years to a time when it wasn’t.It is perhaps significant that Scotland was still producing skillful,technical players in the early sixties like John White and Jim Baxter when south of the border these type of players of pure skill had already dried up.Because street football in Scotland,even at this time,was still evident particularly in the neglected Gorbals area of Glasgow,then there was still a breeding ground for the development of players of real skill.And George Best of course came off the streets of Belfast.
    Out coaching scheme,through the National Asssociation,has let down our young players because talent no longer comes off the street as John Cartwright constantly reminds us.

  3. Why do players come out to training? There can be many answers to this question: Friendship, education, social interaction, fitness, ambition. The list could be endless, but I would suggest the main reason is the love of the game. They just want to play. This is something as coaches and administrators we cannot, but sometimes do, forget. There has to be an end to every training session and that end should be the game. If all our players practice, are drills and activities, this is what they will become good at: Controlled areas specific to only a fractional part of the big picture. We have to let them play their game and evolve their training session into the final product. As you break your session in to phases, the last phase should be about a twenty minute game, or longer, with very limited coaching. Sit back and watch your players, enjoy thier creative abilities, see who continues to create the bridge from the practice session into your teams’ game. Are they crossing over the training session? If not then your time is being wasted and a different approach may be required. If they are, which players are creating the direction and leadership? From a coaches’ point of view, one can never under estimate the positive influence of a technical player who can use his skills to improvise and leave an impression on his and the oppositions team, he or she might not be the most tactical of players, but they could be the link between the bench and the pitch. This is seen by allowing the game to be our teacher.
    Finally, what does the player remember from the session? Often, it is the last thing he did. If it was playing the game and having a great time with his friends: He will want to come back. If it was running up and down a hill around cones, then……………What would you rather be doing?

  4. Hi Neil, thanks for your reply. I fully agree with you on the importance of playing a game at the end of a session to provide a ‘picture’ of the understanding of work completed. However, as i mentioned in a recent ‘ blog’ i posted, this game to ’round off’ a session must provide the players with a close similarity to the practical work they have been doing. By careful and gradual introduction of aspects of the game throughout the development period, the players and the coach will have a clear understanding of what has been achieved and what needs to follow.
    PLAY WHAT YOU’VE PRACTISED is a format for game sessions that coaches should remember.

  5. Hi Neil.One of the main things that I have learnt from the Practice/Play courses is the way in which the exercises build up through the sessions from Small Group Work to Small Area Work to Game Practice.So there is a continual progression and everything naturally leads to a game.It is the progression of establishing the techniques in Small Group Work with the gradual introduction of opposition to the directional play in Small Area Work and then this transfers into a game.The quicker the players pick up the work in Small Group Work and Small Area Work then the time given to those activities in subsequent weeks will reduce and the Game Practice time will get longer.
    When the coaching methods are predominantly by the use of drills then the players tend to be in situations where they are being programmed to produce pre-conceived responces.In my experience the players need a game as a relief from this and is often a ‘carrot’ dangled in front of them by the coach in order to get them to work harder at the drills which he wants them to work on. “The better you perform these drills then the sooner we shall be playing a game” is often to be heard during training sessions in grass-roots football and quite possibly in higher grades.
    I find that in Practice/Play coaching one of the key points that is being given to the players is decision-making which is not there in so much drill-based coaching.And so I find that the players are to quite an extent becoming responsible for their own development because they find that having to make decisions is vital if they are to become exceptional players,and that can mean being exceptional at a grass-roots level as much as in higher echelons of the game.
    I admit that I worked on drill-based coaching methods for many years because I did not know another way.I learnt from coaches who were far better coaches than I could ever hope to be and I still have the greatest respect and admiration for these coaches.But the introduction to Practice/Play methodology has shown a different way which I believe is closer to the heart of the game and and when I go on the Premier Skills courses I find that the other coaches also feel the same way.

  6. The Holland team which has just won the UEFA Under 17 Championship in Serbia has provided many examples of good technical and tactical intelligence.The England team came up woefully short in comparison.Stewart Robson,commenting on Eurosport,has laid the responsibility at the door of the Acadamies for the serious lack of game understanding.
    In the Final on Sunday,Holland showed their qualities in a nutshell with their first goal.They kept possession in the German half whilst probing for an opening.They patiently kept possession until the opportunity came to play the ball along the floor into the German box.That resulted in brilliant individualism from the Dutch centre forward who back-heeled the ball into space in front of the German goal for a colleague to score.Stewart Robson commented that possession on its own is not enough;it must result in penetration.Which it did with superb effect.
    Holland won the Final by 5-2 and it will be interesting keeping an eye on the progress of those players in the years to come.Stewart Robson also provided an interesting insight into the Dutch coaching system in an earlier Eurosport broadcast.The commentator mentioned that it was surprising that Holland,bearing in mind all the outstanding players that they produce,do not win very many championships in youth football.Robson said that the reason for that was that in Holland they work with young players in their formative years purely on improving their technical skill and game understanding.Once that has been developed and perfected then they turn their attention to physical work and conditioning.This therefore often puts them at a disadvantage in youth tournaments against bigger and more physically prepared teams but of course in the long term they produce so many outstanding players,being all the more remarkable for such a small country.
    Unfortunately,here in England,as was evident in this tournament,our priorities are in the reverse order.

  7. Hi Steve. You are a remarkable person. I admire your football insight and deep, deep interest in the game. Your comments regarding Holland’s victory at u/17 level was spot on; they prepare players properly–developing the foundations first before adding the ramparts. I have just done a session before Academy personnel and was shocked at their lack of understanding of the important difference about the content of practices.
    When i see older youth players have difficulty with practices designed for much younger players, it is obvious why we need to ‘paper over the cracks’ at later stages and our players do not develop on as in a country like Holland.
    There is a lack of quality in the development process of our young players and It is obvious for all to see, but fear and false prestige from those in charge of our game’s ‘raw material’ is delaying vital changes.
    At the junior end, when will we appreciate the important fact that, IT’S NOT WINNING THAT’S IMPORTANT, IT’S HOW YOU WIN THAT’S IMPORTANT’. Will we never see the light?
    Whilst we, in practice, STOP at ‘the traffic lights’, our foreign rivals are RACING AWAY up football’s motorways!

  8. I have just come across this site mainly as I will be attending a course with you soon .
    I am a football coach but not from a football background ,and it has always amazed me the souless football that is played at all levels .
    It lacks energy ,drive ,”noise about it ” and the way coaches teach it,so robotic .

    Kids even the big ones have an energy about them ,what is the first thing all the grown ups do on a coaching course ?,they start messing about with a ball,then another joins in ,then another group sets up ,banter develops ,energy ,rythmn life .
    We have it in our game ,the second you let kids be in free play ,creativity ,innovation ,daft rules they make up as they go along .

    Then fas finest coaches suck the living daylights out it ,such a very simple game that people talk a load of overcomplicated jargon rubbish about to sound important ,whilst really saying nothing at all .

  9. Hi Whitekitgirl. I enjoyed reading your comments as they fit perfectly into the way PRACTICE/PLAYING was initially devised and how it develops players in the ‘chaotic’ fashion of street football games.
    You are so right when you say that ‘coaches’ have turned practices into structured, boring monologues, more aligned to academic classrooms than realistic football played on the grass.
    Unless we produce high quality individualistic players capable of working difficult situations out when necessary, we will continue to produce simplistic players who are unable to deal with difficult situations because of lack of playing talent. — NOT THE PLAYERS’ FAULT, BUT THE COACHING METHODS USED DURING THEIR DEVELOPMENT.
    Enjoy the Course and become another PREMIER SKILLS convert.

  10. Rhythm. I’m not sure how on a wet, flooded pitch in the middle of January that its even a possibility. We do not have the facilities or climate of Southern Europe. On average we are taller, faster and stronger. When lads get picked up at a pro club then facilities improve. But for the majority its all about trudging in swamp like pitches from November – March. I feel if we had the resources to build more astro turf fields then our first touch, passing and rhythm would improve. But until then it will be long ball, crunching tackles and an old school British style of play for the vast majority of the kids not on the books of a pro club.

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