By John Cartwright

Our game at all levels demands speed, speed and more speed from players in training and in match-play. Like everything, the use of speed is something that must be gradually introduced as skills are developed and players become more confident in applying them.  It should be stressed that the constant intensity seen in practice situations here does not reflect the variations in playing speeds in competitive games when fast penetration is stopped but ball possession must be retained.  These frequent changes in playing rhythm from fast penetration to controlled patience must be catered for more realistically during practice-play sessions so that can players quickly recognize them and act accordingly.

Unrealistic and poorly devised practice, in conjunction with an over- emphasis on competitive match play that is often totally unrelated to the playing comprehension of youngsters, is at the heart of our failure to produce skilful players. Young players must be involved in a gradual learning program suitably arranged for varying age or ability groups; they must be nurtured on practices that relate realistically to the game and play match football that relates directly to the practical work they are doing at the time…….. ‘PRACTICE HOW YOU PLAY followed by PLAY WHAT HAS BEEN PRACTISED.’

 I do not see our young players being introduced into the game or progressed through the various development levels in a constructive and efficient way with the result that far too many are lost to the game.

 Poor teaching produces poor students. This is an accepted fact. Providing ‘state of the art’ infrastructure such as facilities and equipment is wasteful if good teaching is not available to use it properly. There has been a noticeable emphasis within coaching in this country to expand the theoretical aspects of the game over practice time……TALKING A GOOD GAME NOT PRACTISING A GOOD GAME. I am not suggesting that theories should be discarded but the imbalance between ‘talking and doing’ must be restored heavily in favour of improved practical work.

We must also discard the casually accepted statement that, ‘Football is simply a team-game’ and replace it with,  ‘Football is a game for individual players who conjoin with others when they are required to do so’. To view the game of football simply as a team game, distorts the whole concept of player development. Football viewed in this way from an early age, deflects the development of individualism as a priority and forces an emphasis on finding and producing certain types of players to play a certain type of game-style. By preferring a combined approach to development during the ‘golden years of skill absorption’ in youngsters rather than committing to a more individualistic approach during these important skill learning years, we have ‘suffocated’ masses of individual talent and have ‘straight-jacketed’ our game to such an extent that futility rules fantasy, ‘simplicity’ has replaced tactical variations, and speed has become a camouflage for a lack of playing quality.

‘Fight-football’ at speed closely represents how we play the game. A give it away – get it back – give it away again, ‘shambolic’  playing style infects our game from top to bottom.  Fear is the ‘Parrot on the shoulder’ of our players who, lacking the skills to play the game creatively, resort to panic and not panache when situations in games become difficult.

The ‘slap-dash’ way in which the game is organized, taught and played here can only bring more and more frustration and failure. Oh, how wonderful it must be to work and play in countries such as Spain, Holland etc. where skill and game-style have been artfully blended together through their domestic and national teams to produce a playing product, that in the case of Spain, now rules world football at club and international levels. We meanwhile, will continue along the same old, mis-guided path, with no satisfactory playing method or development structure to follow – over-reliant on giving 110% effort (or is it now 120%?) to cover skill deficiencies – for ever rolling our sleeves up higher and higher – far too easily satisfied with a sub-standard playing style dependent on physical,  ‘let’s get at `em’ performances that are championed and not critically challenged by our Press and Media, tolerated by our fans and inflicted on our kids from a young age.

Unless we produce and introduce an attractive and effective playing style in conjunction with a much improved development structure and follow with a forceful campaign to gain the support of the Press and public to accept these radical changes to our game, we can say bye, bye  to future success on the world’s football stage…. at all age levels!

For heaven’s sake where’s the ‘balls’, and I don’t mean ‘footballs’, to fight for the future of our game?  Danger-danger-danger, we’re falling further behind and nobody seems concerned enough to shout-radical changes need to be made… now! The ludicrous statements more aligned to self-justification than futuristic thought that are ‘fed’ to us from above, are nothing more than timely distractions. It is clear and positive forward planning followed by determined action that our game so urgently needs, not a ‘sitting on the fence’ approach.

For NEGLECT is in charge of our stumbling game.



  1. Fantastic stuff! Your description of the way English football is played & taught chimes precisely with what I have seen at all levels of junior & adult football. The good news is that like reforming alcoholics, many of us now recognize we have a problem which they say is half the battle. The bad news is that we are still a minority albeit a growing one.

    My own son has benefited from BSS training under a wonderful coach called Stuart Owen in Harrogate for the last 8 years & I have been amazed with what can be achieved with very young players. Have a look on BSS Harrogate website to see for yourself. If your interested I would be happy to send you our latest newsletter to illustrate the work Stuart is doing.

    I am trying to get hold of your book on street football. It is not available on Amazon. I will keep trying.

  2. In this country we need to develop a national playing style.The Football Association,through its Coaching Scheme,should state what this is.So then we would have a vision of what we are aiming for,a concept that John Cartwright has called for on many occasions.The recently introduced FA Youth Award would have been a good vehicle to have projected this vision.This Award is aimed at coaches working with children at all levels but has unfortunately proved to be the usual mish mash of ideas,some good,some bad and some ‘lifted’ from Practice/Play.Another opportunity lost.
    In the European Under 21 Tournament earlier this summer England so often fell into the trap of hitting hopeful long balls for the front players to chase.This was particularly the case in the opening match against Spain.It was a hopeless tactic and we were so lucky to escape with a 1-1 draw.I have read in the official FA Coaching Publication that a delegation of senior FA Staff Coaches not long ago paid an official visit to Spain to study the coaching methods at a number of their leading clubs.After that Under 21 match I was wondering what they learnt. Following the Tournament,at which England failed to qualify from the group stages,the coach was given a further 2 year contract.Taking into account England’s performances,which were severely criticised around Europe,what are we to conclude from that?
    Were the Football Association happy with England’s performances in the Tournament?Do they consider that the primitive,unintelligent tactics were the result of poor coaching the players receive in their clubs?

    We need answers to these questions from our National Association and then the root and branch reform to our coaching structure that JohnCartwright

  3. (contined from above post)…..
    is calling for.
    In the meantime, we continue to flounder around in the wilderness.

  4. I am watching in despair right now the fifa under 20 world cup england v argentina. I,ve only got 20 min in and can’t believe how rudimentary englands football is. Long ball after long ball from defenders as soon as they get the ball. How quickly do the midfielders try to get the ball forward with a high ball hit over the top. If a player has the ball in the midfield area how far away are there support players most off there options seem to be 15 yards or more away and going away..
    This can only be poor coaching and playing philosophy that leads to such a poor quality of football..I have been standing on the sidelines watching my kids play for 4yrs now and some of what i have seen and heard beggars believe some as has been spoken about on this site and much worse. so that i have started taking my coaching badges.
    I played football as a kid and represented school club district and was at a pro club at 13/14 but drifted out the game to another sport due to some of the issues that have been raised about our obsession with winning, size, strength and speed. I went on to train with an amazing inventive groundbreaking coach, even now 30yrs latter people tell me they can see i trained with this coach. Thats how much effect coaching can have i found articles on john cartwright in search of the questions raised in my head from watching english footballers play… where is the high level skill inventiveness, imagination , flair. I have taken fa level1 and practice play 1. what a difference ! the detail in practice play was fantastic and thats only level 1
    If there are any practice play coaches around Croydon , surrey or surrounding areas that ,i can meet and observe i would be most grateful
    Fantastic Blog I’m a convert

  5. Hi Robbie…I coach an Under 13 team in Eltham,S.E.London (not so far from Croydon) together with Baz using Practice/Play methods. It would be good if you came to a training night to observe and offer observations etc. Also, we are hoping to start a talent centre,possibly in Dulwich, and we would need additional qualified,locally-based Practice/Play coaches like yourself.
    My email address; stephen_haslam@hotmail.com

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