Developing a football culture to be proud of!

By Roger Wilkinson

What a great sport football is!  Look at any public park at weekends or summer evenings you will see kids kicking a ball about.  The weekend junior leagues are full of earnest enthusiastic youngsters playing their hearts out under the direction of well-meaning volunteer coaches and managers. Any winter Sunday morning there are thousands of sometimes overweight under skilled but always enthusiastic adults playing all levels of Sunday football.

Attending this year’s cup final also brought home to me the pleasure, excitement and emotion the game at the highest level brings to literally millions of supporters.

Yet, do we really nurture and develop this wonderful asset?

Despite all the positives, am I right in seeing so many ever growing negatives? The kids game is riddled with coaches more concerned with winning than development and parents yelling and berating players and referees a like.

Professional players and managers are overpaid, cheating and constantly swearing at and criticising opponents and referees alike.

Talking to grassroots junior clubs there is often the criticism that their league administrators hammer them with fees and fines, in the Warwickshire league alone it is rumoured that nearly 20 inner city junior clubs folded because they could not meet the financial impositions the league imposed on them.

Charter Standard is often seen as a money making scheme for the FA and that the clubs having strived to achieve this bench mark receive very little added value for their efforts apart from having their coaches complete a less than adequate level 1!! Yes less than adequate!!

At the top level of the game the FA is seen as a mis-managed anachronism lacking ethics, values and judgement and more importantly real leadership.  We spent 10 million pounds on trying to win the 2016 World Cup fully knowing beforehand that FIFA was corrupt and would ask for kick backs but only complained about it when our bid failed.  Are the FA and the government saying that if we had succeeded then the corruption didn’t matter?

We’re paying some patently challenged Italian 6 million pounds to “coach” our underperforming national team. Doesn’t it strike you as odd that our much vaunted FA coaching scheme cannot produce our own national coach?

Trevor Brooking despite being in the job for nearly 7 years has just discovered that our kids are not sufficiently skilled so now we’ve got “The Future Game”.  But have a look at the unrealistic practices for  7 year olds  (the most important development age group )that the “Future Game “manual contains  to see that those in the coaching hierarchy are blissfully unaware of the problems and more importantly unaware of the answers the development of grass roots needs .The FA Coaching Programme is not fit for purpose.

It’s time for change and we should expect at the very  least;


We need a visionary! Someone who understands the game, understands coaching and coach education and who can appoint, train and inspire fellow coaches at all levels. Someone who really understands the importance of grass roots and early years learning for young players

A Gamestyle

A way of playing that is based on great individualism that is conjoined into great team play. As John Cartwright always says “Winning isn’t everything –Winning with style is everything”. A way of playing that every coach in the country can relate to and coach towards.

A Coach Education scheme

That is about developing great coaches at all levels especially  those at grass roots working with kids between 5 yrs and 15 yrs rather than a money making scheme to pay inflated wages and white elephants like Burton and Wembley.

A National club programme

That develops stable, permanent, well run junior clubs .We must change our thinking and  view our junior clubs as junior development centres  linked closely with local schools to provide the facilities, playing time and coaching to maximise the quality of the work , experience and opportunities our young players are subjected to.

More importantly a club/school programme that promotes and employs full time junior coaches working across the whole spectrum of clubs, schools and skills centres to provide consistent top quality coaching throughout the young players development years .

Pro Club Academies 

Players should be going in to Pro club academies at a later age at around 14 or 15! Yes, that late, because the present programme just doesn’t  work –the pro clubs are recruiting kids as young as 8 and by 10 and 11 kids are being discarded as not  good enough and can we honestly say that the early recruitment process is producing great players?

A regional coaching scheme

Headed by a regional director of coaching to service all the coaches in the area with seminars and coaching meetings to up skill coaches. This director more importantly  would liaise with head office and quickly disseminate new ideas and projects on coach and player development.

The regional coaching centre would be based at the local University or College of FE and would provide coach education training facilities with easy access for the local region. These centres would be far more important than Burton because they would localise coach education and provide a greater reach to the masses. Burton as a centre for the game? I can’t see many coaches from Newcastle, Hull, Taunton and Bath regularly attending courses there!

I believe most of my suggestions are common sense and are recommended to support the foundation of the game. If we get that right and start producing high quality, innovative coaches at all levels who are working towards a sophisticated, skilfull, tactically clever gamestyle and are in turn producing high quality skilfull players then the top end could be something to be proud of.


9 thoughts on “Developing a football culture to be proud of!

  1. Having had the opportunity to live and coach on both sides of the Atlantic, your noted improvements sound very similar to the way the USA is run on it’s sub divided regional and state levels, sub broken into districts. Countries express the ‘backward’ US when it comes to soccer or football, but they must be doing something right within their coaching and player development, quarter finals in world cups, the largest youth population of players in the world and many players now at the highest club levels. Yes there are also many cultural issues, but it is positively building in the right direction for coaching education and structure, parents and obnoxious un educated coaches will always be a challenge. Deeper watering and nuturing at the grass roots level will create a stronger more healthy turf. Rather than the ‘astro’ some of us are currently forced to play on.
    I am not saying it’s perfect, buts it a model to look at, if it was not then why would Chelsea, man U. Liverpool, arsenal and a lot of the other big clubs investing in the USA’s developmental future?
    Who hosts the largest soccer/football coaching education convention in the world? The grass is green, although sometimes the glasses are rose tinted!

  2. Yes, Roger, the whole development system rquires drastic changes with money spent in accordance with well thought out plans that relate to an approved playing vision not knee-jerk ideas that lead to nowhere as has occured so frequently in the past. This sorry state of affairs seems set to continue however, with the ‘roof before the foundations’ saga of Burton. The huge amount of money used to build this site could have been used far more effectively by spending it on football’s foundational ‘tiers’ — County Associations and re-establishing Regional Centres. in this way more people could use local and regional courses more frequently and later, once it became necessary to have an advanced learning centre, Burton should have then been built.
    When we are made to look ‘amateurish’ playing recent internationals against, Switzerland and Montenegro, it’s careful, calculated thought not careless, wasteful spending that is required to extricate us from the mess our game is in.

  3. 14 years ago the FA introduced a coaches association called the FA Coaches Association (FACA). This has recently been replaced by the FA Licensed Coaches Club which is pretty much the same but they have reintroduced the idea, which they initially had with FACA, that you should each year meet your CPD hours (Continual Professional Development) to retain your membership.To achieve these hours you must attend a certain muber of FA organised events each year, such as coaching sessions run under the auspices of the FA or FA Coaching Courses.
    Does attending a coaching session run by an FA Staff Course make an attendee coach sufficiently competent to coach a group of players on what he has just seen? Does this really confront the problems of player education which we at present face in this country?
    I feel that this is something which Premier Skills,with its Practice/Play methodology, can take a lead in here. Obviously, over the last 50 plus years thousands of people have achieved football coaching qualifications off the FA. To keep tabs on ervybody is just impossible. But I feel that this not such a problem with Premier Skills. I understand that it has been running its courses for 9 years and there are 3000 coaches who have gone through the Level 1 and Level 2 qualifications.Would it not be possible to call in batches of those coaches living in the UK,say every 5 years, to put n a Level 1 or Level 2 topic as a ‘refresher’ excersise in an appropriate centre in Birmingham,Manchester and London for a Premier Skills examiner to observe and offer criticism,advice etc? These observation days could also provide the opportunity for attendee coaches to discuss any problems,observations,ideas etc. for the benefit of everyone.
    I feel that this type of ‘Continuing Professional Development’ offers far more practical value to coaches than what the FA is offering which is purely observational and quite possibly of limited value. If the figure of 3000 Practice/Play Coaches is correct then minus those living abroad, (who of course would still be quite welcome), and others who have perhaps lost interest, then I think that you would still be aiming for a figure of 2000. If 2000 coaches are 100% committed to Practice/Play and are continually updating and improving their knowledge and abilities in this methodology then it can only be for the benefit of everyone associated with this approach.

  4. The CPD opportunities are not merely for observation. Coaches can take part in the practices demonstrated or observe and take notes as they prefer.

    They do not necessarily have to be another course on the ladder either- County FAs provide accessible, short (2-3 hour) workshops delivered in a weekday evening to help coaches achieve the hours of additional or refreshed knowledge.

    The tutor / coach usually introduces the topic and involves the audience in some discussion and exploration of the topic before going on to the practical area.

    Following the practical element, where suggestions, questions and discussion are encouraged, there is usually time to sit down afterwards in a meeting room to reflect on and question the whys and wherefores of what has been presented.

    These workshops are not chalk and talk affairs where a principle is dictated or imposed on the attendees by a ‘fount of knowledge’ tutor- they are genuinely interactive with a view to increasing awareness and improving knowledge.

    There are Powerpoint presentations to accompany them and whilst I know the FA will be criticised for their coaches / tutors being “in a classroom” it helps to hit all the preferred learning styles of those present.

    They see and experience the topics presented in a variety of ways which must only help the understanding of those attending.

    Locally in Sussex the County FA delivers around 12 such sessions per year – one of which this year included special guest John Cartwright !

    So does attending a session make someone competent – no, practice to improve makes someone more competent; but by getting people to come together to get new ideas and have an open forum where they can discuss, think about and explore new ideas,the FA is providing true development opportunities for those coaches enthusiastic enough to want to know more.

    As someone once said: “It’s what you learn after you know it all, that counts”.

  5. Steve, the County FA’ s should be the ‘cornerstone’ of coach education in this country. They’re not! They are almost non-existant and unrecognized in a National coaching and development structure that is not fit for purpose and has historically failed to produce talented coaches or players.
    Not until a clear-sighted approach to coaching and development here that incorporates a complete overhaul of the organizational structure along with a total review of coaching methodology will we be able to produce the talented personnel required for our game.
    A grim example of how far we have lost our way when it comes to producing talent was painfully exhibited during the recent U/15 Victory Shield win over Northern Ireland. This was little more than a disgraceful example of wasted time. These players – our players for the future, have been through the FA coaching ‘production line’ for the past 6 to 8 years and have exited it as no more than ‘faulty, commercial run-abouts’, not super sports’ models’– and all the ‘hype’ in the world wont camouflage the difference— not even the suited Sir Trevor’s ‘huffing and puffing’ !!

  6. Roger you make some good points, what is currently on offer is not good enough and changes need to be made, especially for the elite players, as it is these players that are looking/hoping to make a career out of the game. What is apparent and for me the biggest problem, is the lack of time spent on educating coaches. Even with a national game style, coaches especially those at junior levels who volunteer, have no mentors to follow/ help them along the way. No coaching programme can turn a complete novice into a great coach overnight, it takes time and a lot of time at that. Young players need thousands of hours to develop there skills, novice coaches need hundreds of hours to become confident enough to coach a game style.

    Too many seminars, coaching courses work with adults, when it is children that we work with. Coaching adults that want to learn has very little resemblance to coaching children, who just want to play and have the concentration of goldfish. How many times have we as coaches come out from a workshop and thought that was brilliant, I will go back with my U9s and use that, only for it to fall flat on its back, kids think differently, behave differently is it any wonder what works with adults fails with children. I have seen a few FA workshops and 1 or 2 have been with children, it was alarming to see these academy coaches struggle working with grassroot kids.

    Our game needs an indepth coaching course for those who are serious about coaching, within that coaches will work towards a game style, working with grassroot children, elite players and adults. The course could be over 3 years and have a lot of practical work at junior club level. These coaches then can move into local FA centres, academies and mentor junior club coaches.

    The FA youth module awards are a big step in the right direction and they should look at making this the 1st step into coaching for the amateur club coach, why because the novice coach needs more than just what to coach, they need info on how to create the right environment, how children learn, develop and managing differences between abilities in the same squad. Currently new coaches pass the FA Level 1 and come out just as clueless as when they went in.

    What the FA still need is the vision which Premier Skills rightly bang on about.

    Germany have adapted and I believe they are back on the right track at international level, how likely is it that England will change there set up?

  7. Thanks David for making me feel a little better about coaching for children. I really felt as it wasn’t until the Youth Level 1 that I grasped more fully what was required of me. With hindsight, whilst the FA Level was a decent introduction, especially child safety and environment, it did seem to dwell on drills rather than anything resembling a vision of how UK football needs to evolve. You are spot on with the contrast between the courses and actually coaching the children. I returned from Youth Level 1 thinking that all would slot into place and then fell flat on my own ego. On the courses, the other students are there to help you through – with some training sessions with our U8s I still think I’ve got their attention until half way through. I now have every sympathy with teachers for the work they have to do to make their lessons educational and fun – though they, at least, have many years of training. Pre and Post Level 1 coaches are typically self-motivated parents with a passion for the game and should be given more opportunities to progress in a coaching model that fits a central vision; this may include more theoretical work and also challenge pre-conceived ideas. Maybe the FA don’t have a vision; maybe they see it as too contentious to raise at courses? I’m still new to the politics but I’m incredibly well versed in the wrongs of English football in the last 40 years – by just living through it!

  8. Hi Chris. I was impressed with your comments for several reasons. In particular, your honesty regarding the difficulty of working with young players and also your obvious concern with regards to the direction, or lack of it, that prevails throughout the development of players here.
    The concerns you express are exactly why we at Premier Skills introduced our Practice/Playing Programs that develop players towards a playing vision. Unless one establishes a target to achieve/reach in any undertaking, how on earth can one plan a route forward?
    I sympathize withyour present uncertainty and your questioning of the methods used to develop players here. At last i feel there is a groundswell of discontent with the historicaly failed methods that have been in use and ‘tinkered’ with for decades by our FA. Our youngsters deserve a better chance to achieve/reach higher playing standards.

    • Re Steve The Seasgull’s Comments…. I am not saying that all the FA’s CPD sessions are valueless but I feel that it is a cosmetic exercise of limited value. Perhaps my suggestion of Practice/Play coaches to put on a session, which would be observed and assessed,say every 5 years, is a little impractical but I am trying to think of a more mentoring-structured idea which Dave Williams suggested is missing in the present FA Scheme. Because the Premier Skills Coaching Scheme is a much more recent inovation than the the FA Coaching Scheme then I just wonder if the opportunities exist to improve the approach which the FA Coaching Scheme has followed for the last 50 – 60 years.
      There is plenty of scope for adapting the idea. For example, i know that in Dave Williams’s club there are many team managers/coaches who have done Level 1 of the Practice/Play award. So obviously Dave can mentor them and assess them from time to time when they do their sessions, offering help and guidance. If a coach is working in an environment where he is the only one using Practice/Play methods then I would suggest that every so often he and other coaches in a similar situation could have a get-together and a suitably qualified Practice/Play coach could watch them put on a session and give his observations and help.
      I just feel that this approach is potentially better than the CPD idea of the FA and my experience of that so far is that,besides all else it is not being very well administerd.

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