By John Cartwright

At the end of my last ‘Blog’ on this site I finished with an  adapted poem;

Who’s in charge of our struggling game,

the effort’s still there, but skill’s on the wane.

The cupboard’s bare due to complacency and fear,

Whilst hype rules our game more year after year.

Red lights flash warnings each season in vain,

For NEGLECT is in charge of our struggling game.


Over the last couple of months we have clearly seen how true those words are. Throughout the whole structure of our game, from senior to junior levels in various Fifa and Euro competitions, we have produced lots of effort but little in terms of quality – either individually or in team play. How much longer are we to accept the ‘hype’ that blinds most to the poor standard of our game? Unless we change the development and playing methods that have historically and so obviously failed, we will continue to offer effort as our main ‘weapon’ against an increasing number of foreign opponents who display better individual skills and team play at all age levels.

In the first reply to my last ‘blog’ the person commented on my not being prepared to give more details on points I had made. I fully agree that I have not expanded ideas on; – Regulating our Development Structure: Detailing more on Initiatives in development: Explaining what Positive action is required: Changing the Infrastructure of development. The reason I have been so sparing, ‘uncharitable’ and unforthcoming on all these vital issues is not because I don’t have plenty to say, but because I have seen over many years how ideas are plagiarized and introduced indiscriminately into coaching here.  I prefer to keep my ideas on hold until a suitable platform for discussion regarding development problems is arranged. I refuse to continue being a ‘provider’ of fragmented ‘bits and pieces’ to coaching when it’s in need of a total restructure.

Unless a well planned development model is established that provides a solid teaching and learning base in which a visualized national playing style is taught and practised throughout the ‘golden years’, we will never produce highly skilled players able to perform together in team play. Numerous isolated, ‘quick-fix’ ideas and initiatives that have failed has littered coaching and development here and is testament to a lack of foresight and negative planning. It seems difficult for our coaching hierarchy to understand the importance of reorganizing the national development structure. Producing an inter-linked and effective ‘pathway’ towards a national playing vision is urgently required. In so doing, we would all be moving in the same direction, thus allowing our young talent to be taught, practised and played in a more effective and less wasteful way than at present.

To organize a country-wide development structure for coaches and players should not be difficult; much of it already exists but is not utilized productively.  The development ‘voyage’ through all the levels of football learning must be made enjoyable, interesting and worthwhile for coaches and players and not the boring, pugnacious and wasteful ‘nightmare trip’ that it so often becomes. Coaches must be taught to progress their players through development ‘tiers’ each of which should consist of carefully integrated stages that provide a gradual but increasingly difficult competitive test. From schools’ football to senior professional players, the route ‘up the mountain of success’ should be planned intelligently and be both stimulating and physically demanding for all involved, making the ‘climb’ a truly worthwhile experience.

I have recently done some work with two groups of boys: one group were 10-11 years old, the other group were 15-17 years old. All these youngsters were a credit to their families and themselves; they listened, they practised and they worked extremely hard. However, there was a problem that was obvious to all — the boys struggled to perform the work that was actually designed for players of a much younger age! Even more alarming was the fact that this season the junior group would have to play 11v11 in their local league. With such great kids available to our game, it is a disgrace that they have been denied the opportunity to learn and play the game to a much higher standard. The time lost to them during which they should have been given high quality work is not recoverable and the ‘scars’ of football coaching’s neglect is clear to see — to all who open their eyes!

We must accept our ‘football cupboard is bare’ and begin to re-stock it with quality coaches and players. To continue to NEGLECT the obvious will increase the frustrations and failures we have experienced so regularly in the past. Our ‘stumbling game’ is in desperate need of some TLC or the gap between ourselves and the rest of the football world will continue to increase until, ‘the game we gave to the world’ will be a game we have meekly given away.



  1. John Cartwright is quite right to be wary of the amount of plagiarism which is rife in the FA’s Coaching Scheme.I have mentioned before how I have noticed little snippets of his work being included in work done on the FA Coaching courses.This has been going on for many years.More than 40 years ago when West Ham United were trail-blazers in coaching innovation under Ron Greenwood little bits of the coaching work that they were doing started to be introduced on to their courses without any acknowledgement to Ron Greenwood and without the foresight to say to Ron Greenwood – “Look,you know best,you come and take over our coaching scheme.” The people in control wanted to retain their power and stay in control, but they were not averse to stealing ideas which they knew were good and slipping them into their ideas which are out in the open on the Practice/Play courses.But instead of opening the door to John and ushering him in to take over and overhaul the whole Scheme, they pick out ideas and refinements from here and there,put it into their work plans and strategies without knowing how it all fits together and where it all leads because only John knows that.And so what we get from the FA is a mish

    mash, and its been like that for years and looks like continuing for

  2. (continuation of above post)…..
    many years to come.
    The FA now propose to restructure the numbers per side in junior football.Off the top of my head it will be 4 or else 5 per side in Under 7s and Under 8s,7 per side in Under 9s and under 10s,9 per side Under 11s and Under 12s and then 11 per side starting at Under 13s.
    This is good thinking but where are the proposals to change and renovate the actual coaching work? There aren’t any.Bits will continue to be lifted from Practice/Play,i am sure,but there will be no vision and the important thing is that the strength of Practice/play is knowing how it all fits together and and where it all leads and only John Cartwright knows that.
    In 1966 the Football Association was happy to take the congratulations and back-slapping of england’s world Cup victory but it was primarily due to the coaching the 3 west Ham players had received from Ron Greenwood.There was no other club in the country coaching in the same way at that time.But they did not give the job of national coaching supremo to Ron Greenwood, just as they are not giving the job now to John Cartwright and not accepeting Practice/play as the official coaching scheme for the country’s National Association.

  3. (continuing from above posted comment)……
    …….many years to come.
    In the next couple of years the FA plans to restructure the team numbers in junior teams.Under 7s and under 8s will play 5 per side,under 9s and under 10s will play 7 per side,under 11s and under 12s will play 9 per side.11 per side will start at under 13s, and so the full 11 per side game is delayed by 2 years to what it is at present.
    This is a good move if the practical problems re local councils being co-operative with their pitches can be ironed out.But what about the coach education and how we teach our young players right down to the youngest ages?Is there to be a wholesale improvement in that area?
    Last Sunday Uruguay played Mexico in the Final of the FIFA U-17 World Cup.I understand that Uruguay has a population of about 3 million whereas our population in England is about 60 million.Uruguay has won the World Cup twice,admittedly the last time was in 1950 but they often get through to the 1/4 finals and of course last year they reached the semi finals and are often prominent in the Copa America and International Youth tournaments. Technical skill levels can only be improved by good coaching and John Cartwright has emphasised often enough how we are failing in that direction.

  4. From the matches which I have seen in the Womens World Cup, the teams which have most impressed me have been France and Japan.The French play the same kind of attractive, technically skillful game as the men and the no. 14 is particularly impressive with her vision and clever play.The game style is the same as that played by the french men for many years and so clearly is the product of the same kind of coaching.
    But the Japanese are a real revelation with the way their game style is possession-based.They have clearly worked extremely hard on developing this quality and game understanding.I have not been aware of this game style being so pronounced in the play of their mens’ team in last years World Cup in South Africa.I recall them playing some good football in their final group game against Denmark which they had to win to progress, but in the round of 16 knock-out game against Paraguay I recall they played very negatively and lost on penalties.
    The way that the Japanese womens team have played against Germany in the 1/4 final and against Sweden in the semi final leads me to believe that they have used the womens team to introduce a new game style into their football in the way that I said in an earlier post could be done in this country with our womens team.It will now be interesting to see how the Japanese mens team develops and to see if the same ideas and methods are carried across from the womens team.
    whatever the cae, i wish them the best of luck in the Final against the USA.

  5. Hi John After studying for the last fours years the way English football is been taught to our youngsters i decided to teach my son who is now 7 years old in what i know to be the correct way of teaching my son with all our training sessions based on SSG with touch and control at 7 years old he is Technically more developed than most 10 year olds i have seen. I myself been from a rugby background had to gather information over the last 4 years from various places i also do not hold any FA qualifications or attended any courses my son as never played against others teams until 8 weeks ago and here are the results this is just a small snip it of the footage i have and will post more when i have the time. Your comments would be greatly appreciated.

  6. “in which a visualized national playing style is taught and practised”

    This phrase particularly resonated with me. Visualization is SO important. If players cannot see themselves playing the skilful technique-based game in their heads, they will not be able to do that on the pitch. Most children will be exposed to the kick-and-rush game throughout their development, not only whenever they are training and playing, but also every time they watch their local team playing, be it conference level all the way up to Premiership, and of course the national team. No doubt there are some exceptions, but the vast majority of football that English kids are exposed to is kick and run, and that’s what they will try to copy.

    Good job that a new generation will at least be a bit more exposed to teams like Barcelona through satellite TV. However what is required is not only a coaching change but also a culture change.

  7. James Micallef rightly says that “what is required is not only a coaching change but also a culture change.”
    However, I think that the two go hand in hand.The majority of coaches/managers in grassroots football (and above) at all ages are essentially passing on what they learnt when they played. If they did FA Coaching Courses then this line of thought was actually re-emphasised rather than replaced by the information they received on the courses.The largely English obsession with a direct and physical approach was projected together with,admittedly, an element of tactical detail.But cleverness and subtlety disappeared from the English game many,many years ago and,along with other elements, the FA Coaching Scheme failed to address this.
    So James Micallef is right to call for a culture change but we need leaders who can bring about this change in culture.Our National Association should take the lead but they continually fail to do so. So it is just John Cartwright,and the others who run the Premier Skills coaching network,Practice/Play,who point the way.
    On Practice/Play Level 1 courses I have seen instruction given in encouraging and teaching young players to back-heel the ball.A piece of clever play commonplace in South America and continental Europe but not here.I have never been on an FA Coaching Course when the back-heel has been coached and in the really ‘dark days’ anyone attempting it on a course was derided and humiliated. So,of course, on playing fields up and down the country any enthusiastic amateur, (child or adult), who attempts a back-heel,or any other clever,unorthadox piece of play,is met with scorn and laughter.
    So is it any wonder that cleverness and subtlety is not part of our culture?

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