By John Cartwright

I’ve recently watched England’s U16 play in the Victory Shield competition. The two games have been against Northern Ireland and Wales; neither have been particularly severe tests in football terms but the usual physical aspects have been more than obvious. What has been annoying is the blatant use of ‘hype’ by the pundits and TV commentators in their comments on the games and of individual players. Both games were won by England, as expected, but if an honest assessment of both games was made one would have to admit that there was neither an outstanding player nor team on view.

The continual overstating of mediocrity as potential greatness is creating false targets for all involved in the game. This ‘hyping’ of performance by commentators with a non-football background or by pundits protecting lucrative contracts is creating confusion.  Greatness and Legends are words used too easily and too often during commentaries we receive on Radio,  TV and in the Press; The swift departure to ‘Coventry’ of Jimmy Greaves, a true great of the game, following an interview in which he criticised the performance of an England team during an international at Wembley, was a clear example of ‘big brother’ controlling what information was to be delivered to viewers.

Our young players are playing to standards set by ‘academics’ and not by those who have had a professional involvement in the playing and coaching of the game. I am not saying that somebody who has not played at the highest level is unable to learn how to coach and teach the game, what I do believe is that the construction of a national coaching methodology and the delivery of coach education should be the domain of those who have reached high playing levels and have followed this with a prolonged period developing their ability to teach the game. A professional pedigree should be a prerequisite to a long-term ‘coaching apprenticeship’ for anyone aspiring to become involved in formulating coaching and practice methodology. Being a nice chap or a former ‘star’ player are not criteria for appointments into the highest echelons of coaching and development.

In combination with football’s ‘academics’ we are confronted by football’s ‘talkers and writers’ who generate ‘hype’ instead of honesty. Their lack of understanding of the game and their overrated comments are made solely in gaining or retaining the interest of viewers, listeners or readers. The reason for this deception and ‘conservatism of the truth’ is due to the age old problem – money!

The games’ at U16 level already mentioned are simple examples of ‘hype’ creating immediate ‘stars of the future’ in games of low quality. These games are ‘camouflaged with hype’ and projected as high quality in order to maintain the financial support of advertisers or they will be dropped as unprofitable.  If one analyses the true content of these two U16 games: – there was no player with a good first touch of the ball; no player able to beat a defender with individual skill; no player able to run positively with the ball; few, if any player who could use both feet – including the goalkeepers; no outstanding header of the ball; passing the ball was very poor; ball possession was abysmal; tackling was often reckless; attacking creativity and guile was non-existent; defending was of local park standards.- so where was the quality that is supposed to be ‘gushing forth’, as we are continuously told, from our Academies? These boys have all been involved in the Academy program since they were about 8 years old – what have they learned—what have they been taught?

Somehow, very occasionally, a young player emerges from the development mire here with individual ability, but what happens to him/her as he/she begins to enter the senior sections of the game?  Well, this player will find that their individual ability is too often regarded as a bane and not a benefit. Too many people, inside and outside of the game, do not appreciate the importance of individualism in the game and become disturbed when it is used but fails to ‘produce the goods’ often enough. The ‘play it simple brigade’, that flourishes within our coaching fraternity, diverts possible excellence into mind-numbing mediocrity they then pat themselves on the back for what they believe is a job well done! We could never produce a Lionel Messi type of player.  Players who have reached anywhere near his standard have tended to be ‘rogues’ who have defied coaching’s ‘academics’, and refused to accept their ‘mediocrity not magnificence’ obsession (depression) of the game. ; – George Best – Paul Gascoigne, are the obvious players who were prepared to play the SENIOR game in the manner they had used through their CHIDHOOD days.  MESSI IS DOING JUST THAT TODAY!

‘Honesty is the best policy’, so the saying goes. It’s a shame that we have not utilized the spirit of that saying when concerning football in this country for—– all ‘hyped’ ability disintegrates when opposed by true playing quality, ………… just look at our dismal record over the past half century…….. AT ALL LEVELS!!

Oh, and to finish, don’t be deceived into believing that one solitary success at any level, should it happen, be a catalyst for further success in the future……….. ‘one sunny day does not a summer make’!   


16 thoughts on “SORRY, – NO ‘HYPE’ FOR ME.

  1. We can produce highly technical players who can be integrated into teams & play at the highest level. We have the same raw material as anyone else. So why aren’t we doing it. It isn’t our kids fault. Given the right coaching program, they will work as hard as anyone else. So, come on the coaching fraternity come up with an agreed program that has the aim of producing the players we all want to see.
    This coaching program must start at beginning not half way through a child’s development. Kids need to know how to kick a ball properly before they get involved in drills & tactical systems. Most English players can’t kick a ball properly with either foot or shoot consistently on target. That is root of our problem, I would suggest. Teaching kids to do the basics or fundamentals of the game takes a lot of time. Very few coaches in this country have the patience or inclination to do it.

  2. Laziness breeds mediocrity. The UK has a lazy culture where the television and the internet are much more likely to captivate the youth than a training session on a rainy Monday night. Great article as usual John!

  3. If there’s one thing sadder than the unnecessary hyping of 14- and 15-year-old players it’s unfounded and over-the-top criticism of those very same players. Did you actually watch the Under 16 matches in question? If you had, you would have known that hyperbolic statements like ‘there was no player with a good first touch of the ball’ and ‘attacking creativity and guile was non-existent’ bear little resemblance to the football that was on display.

    I’d rather not name names (for fear of being accused of the aforementioned hyping) but feel I have to do so in order to reinforce my point. Did you not think that, for example, Crowley – five-foot nothing and playing a year above his age group – showed, at the very least, ‘a good first touch of the ball’? (Notice you set the bar at ‘good’ and not ‘great’ or ‘outstanding’.) Did you see Mason Bennett’s through-ball for the first goal against Northern Ireland as a sign of ‘no attacking creativity’? Or watch the trickery of Ojo – someone else playing above his age group – during the build-up for the third without being able to acknowledge the individual skill involved? These were only a few players amongst the many who stood out. Sure, the performances weren’t perfect – at points they were noticeably shakey – but for young players making their international and TV debuts this is only to be expected.

    Ten years ago, the ‘young English players are overhyped’ opinion may have been deemed controversial; nowadays it’s the standard line, regurgitated by numerous people recalling their own long-gone childhood experiences spent on over-sized pitches. It also seems to be a somewhat out-dated view. Everyone knows that we still lag slightly behind Spain and Germany (although contests against them in the younger age-groups are fairly close nowadays), and that there are still a number of improvements to be made, but can you honestly tell me that Wilshere, McEachran, Morrison, Barkley, Redmond, Sterling, etc. all coming through at around the same time is not a sign of progress? No one knows what – if anything – these players will go on to achieve, but their abilities and styles of play are not something we’re used to seeing from a group of English footballers. It would be nice to see a far greater number of players of this ilk, but at least it’s a start – a reason to be optimistic. After all, benefitting from improvements in a youth system takes many years of work.

    Ultimately I think we all want the same thing, which is English (and British) footballers that can compete with the best in the world on a technical level. One thing’s for sure though: writing-off these young players before they’ve even got started is not the way to go about things.

  4. COERVER COACHING! I’m a coach in the US and it’s a great program that has a great progression and methodology, but what I find is that most kids can’t do the basics and it’s hard to teach skills and basics…basics have to preceed skill.

  5. Hi Veray. Football is all about opinions, what one person believes is good another thinks isn’t. I admire your defence of the players who recently represented their countries in the Victory Shield games. These boys have been selected as the best for this Competition from thousands of kids from all over the United Kingdom. They have all been involved in Academies or have received coaching from a very young age (7/8) until this age 16. Do you honestly believe that the standard of play in these games, both at individual and team-play levels, displayed the necessary qualities for the future? Unless a player possesses outstanding playing ability by the age of 15 he is unlikely to become a player of real talent for the senior game. This is what we see so much of in the senior game here; mediocrity termed good.
    When one sees the difference in playing skills and tactical intellect that is expected from young players from other parts of the world, one can realize the huge gap in development styles and targets set by other nations from ourselves. Yes, we may win a game here and there at various levels, but overall the trend will be negative. Too often in the past we have won games at junior levels by physically overpowering teams, however, our overseas opponents ‘cash-in’ on their skillful upbringing later as they mature to combine strength and speed with skills and game intellect.
    I don’t believe we are giving our young players the best opportunity to reach their full potential as players. I have been saying this for many years and there is nothing to make me change my mind when i watched the games televised recently.

  6. Last week a short-list of 23 names was drawn up from which the World Footballer of the Year will be picked (Ballon d’or). From 23 short-listed just one Englishman – Wayne Rooney. This is a disgrace and yet another indictment on the country which gave football to the world in its organised form. Just one Englishman but seven Spaniards!
    John Cartwright’s book is entitled “Football For The Brave”. More and more that word “Brave” is becoming vital in football, and especially in regard to coaching. We are all now fully aware of Guardiola’s bravery in the philosophical path which he follows in his coaching of Barcelona. But there is another coach in La Liga who deserves honourable mention and it will be interesting following his work closely in the coming months. That is the Argentinian coach of Athletic Bilbao, Bielsa. Last Saturday, in a televised match which I should think that many people who follow this site saw, Athletic and Barcelona drew an excellent match 2 – 2. Admittedly, the second half became a bit of of a lottery with so much surface water lying on the pitch, but the first half, I thought, was superb. Athletic really took Barcelona on. Bielsa has no time for negative strategy and his tactics of continuously pressing Barcelona high up the pitch with a really attacking formation, gave the Champions real problems.
    In the 2010 World Cup, Bielsa coached Chile and it was unfortunate that in the round of 16 they met Brazil. But in all their matches Chile adopted adventurous tactics, high pressing and always looked to fully exploit the high skills of their players, individually and collectively.
    We need to be braver in our development of players and then in the way that we set them up to play once they have come through the development system. I believe that Spain is now reaping the rewards for their bravery, following the brilliant development process they have instigated, in the same way that Holland did in the great days of Ajax and the Dutch national team. Barcelona,Spain,Ajax,Holland, and now Athletic Bilbao. They all have one thing in common – they are built to attack!

  7. Steve, once again i have to congratulate you on your interesting and intelligent comments on aspects of the game. It’s people like yourself who the game needs to inject honesty and integrity into the development of our younsters.
    I have been a continuous critic of the coaching scene here and because of that i have been ‘deposited’ in |Coventry many times. However, i refuse to accept that we are unable to produce better quality players than we have been doing and i will continue to be ‘a thorn’ to our ‘fightball’s hierarchy.
    I have no joy in making the negative comments about the poor qualities displayed in the recent U/16 games mentioned in the’blog’. I have seen too many kids go down the same track to football oblivion who were once described as potentially ‘great’. This country is NOT producing talented players. Let’s be honest for a change and instead of making unrealistic comments about standards, begin to make fundamental changes, long overdue, to our develpoment methods. Only by taking drastic action will we attain the type and quality of player able to play attractive and effective football —- not the ‘FIGHTBALL’ we are served up with at present!

  8. Great reply Steve.
    The list of the 23 players is:

    Eric Abidal (France), Sergio Aguero (Argentina), Karim Benzema (France), Iker Casillas (Spain), Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal), Dani Alves (Brazil), Samuel Eto’o (Cameroon), Cesc Fabregas (Spain), Diego Forlan (Uruguay), Andres Iniesta (Spain), Lionel Messi (Argentina), Thomas Muller (Germany), Nani (Portugal), Neymar (Brazil), Mesut Ozil (Germany), Gerard Pique (Spain), Wayne Rooney (England), Bastian Schweinsteiger (Germany), Wesley Sneijder (Netherlands), Luis Suarez (Uruguay), David Villa (Spain), Xabi Alonso (Spain), Xavi (Spain).

    16 European players, 6 South American and only 1 African player made the Ballon D`or list of 23 players, which makes the 1 Englishman sound a little better. Interesting to note not 1 Italian player has made that list.
    I had a look at that list and took a guess that the African and South American players would have had the experience of proper street football, but I also know that Ronaldo developed his skills from kicking around the streets and juggling up and down steps outside a local church. If you look at that list and pick out the players with real flair, Ronaldo, Neymar,Messi, Aguero they have one thing in common and that is they grew up playing like children, not afraid, never told to keep it simple (or did not listen), pass pass pass is always what we hear here at evey youth game. Creativity is not developed around passing squares or told to pass the ball with the non kicking foot by the side of the ball. It comes when our young players develop a love for playing, being allowed to experiment and fail without pressure. Children need great coaches, but they also need to be children first, experimenting, playing, developing gradually and allowed to play without coaches & parents instructing every time a ball is kicked.

    The great players over the years usually come from the same few countries, Brazil, Argentina, Holland, Germany, Italy and now Spain. Brazil and Argentina have a culture of street football, it is not uncommon to have queues of players wanting to play at midnight. I have been told by coaches who have gone there, that the coaching is no different to here, except they allow the children to play more. Holland have a very structured system, where grassroots are closely linked to the pro game, but they have used small sided games since the 70s. They also take youth coaching far more serious than we do. Spains recent success is well documented and most of there best players have come from 1 club. Pep said in an interview we dont do much different in terms of coaching to everybody else, except we let them play more. A recent study of academies in the UK said that they favoured the coach led activities, structured, only 35% of that was games.

  9. Hi england66.
    I think that you are spot on with your comments, especially with the creative instincts of young players being removed from them at an early age. In so many cases, football is being presented to children as essentially a passing game. I am often given a group of children to coach, and when I put them into a possession session they immediately assume that I want them to part with the ball as soon as they receive it. I hardly ever find anyone who wants to stay with the ball and produce a clever piece of individualistic play.
    This is why I think that the Practice/Play methodology is so vital. Staying with the ball is what is stressed from the beginning, with the aim of penetrating the opposition defence when the opportunity arises or protecting the ball from challenges in

    tight areas.

    beginning. But not staying with the ball for selfish reasons or personal
    glory. staying with the ball to penetrate the oppositiin de

  10. continuation of previous post…..
    I always remember on the first Practice/Play Level 1 course which I did, John Cartwright got a group of the coaches together, and from his hands he threw the ball to one of the coaches and said “what are you going to do now?” Immediately, the coach threw the ball to another coach, who threw it to another one, and the ball continued from one set of hands to another. As John said, he had never told anyone to move the ball on to someone else, but it had been an instinctive reaction. He said that this was an English characteristic, and if we had been Brazilian,Argentinian or Spanish, then it would not have been such a natural inclination to part with the ball.
    This is the starting point from day one on the Practice/Play courses and I feel that it should ingrained into the football DNA of our young players.

  11. Recently, I holidayed in Italy and spent a weekend down in Naples. On the Saturday morning walking through the dock area I passed a small artificial enclosed pitch, ringed with seats. This would have been around 9.30. Playing without an adult in sight were ten or so twelve year old boys. The pitch was 30 X 15 m with goals set a yard off the back markings. The kids just played with no outside influences. The best two were the two small boys; one in particular who in the ten minutes I watched produced individual tricks – flicks, back heels, little control volleys, dribbles, feints, bent passes, one touch lay-offs – In effect, you name it he tried it. Plus he worked hard to get the ball. He played backwards, off-square, forwards and linked with one-two movements. He was exciting technical pretty good. I have mentioned the following point to Steve Haslam in regards to Practice/Play as an additional aspect so I wonder if John has any comments. I wonder if any thought in the PP is the provision, to allow players to ‘just play’ with an almost ‘ghost coach.’ To effectively, almost remove the prying eyes an adult must bring to a practice?

    On a further point I saw Napoli vs Parma and the following evening the Rome Derby and what became apparent – to me once again – is that all the teams have individuals who can manipulate the ball and if need be take an opponent on and out of the game. Once Roma went down to ten men, Lazio pushed their attacking midfielder Hernanes out left to run at (and down the side and across) the right back. Clearly he possesed the dribbling skills to do this – BUT IT WAS ENCOURAGED – HE PLAYED LIKE THE KID WITH NO INHIBITIONS!

  12. “Often the result is confused with the situation” Johan Cruyff. England 1-0 Spain. This quote rings so true after yesterdays sickening game.

    Que the madness from journalists, football fans and even the kids. At the last world cup Switzerland beat Spain in a similar fashion, got men behind the ball, defended, defended, failed with the ball and somehow with the aid of luck, nicked a goal. Chile and Spain got out of the group because of their superior ability with the ball, Switzerland went home!

    England won yes, Spain did not create a lot yes, Spain were not at their usual level yes (friendly), but Spain were still so much better with the ball and dominated the ball, and were technically superior.

    Any grassroots coach who does not use this game to educate his/her players is responsible for England’s lack of skill with the ball. Any coach who jumps on the public bandwagon off “we beat the world champions” without realizing the FACT that England were SO POOR is a SINNER.

    As a grassroots coach I have a responsibility to improve my players skill level and understanding of the game. I will use this game to educate our players about Spain’s ability with the ball and England’s LAUGHABLE ability with it. I will show the players the situations when England got the ball off Spain, the poor counterattacks they launched because of poor movement, inaccurate passes, over hit passes, under hit passes, delayed passes, inability to run at and beat defenders who are on the back foot and I will have to somehow tell our players that Phil Jones is not actually really that good despite both commentators going on about him during the game like he is the most skilled footballer of our time.

    England cannot win Euro 2012 playing that way, hoping to nick goals against technically superior teams while England show an inability with the ball. Some might say Greece won Euro 2004 like this. This is not entirely true. Yes Greece were defensive and did not boss the ball however there were games in that tournament where when they did win the ball they were able to sometimes keep it and launch effective counter attacks and control the game. England does not have same skill level of the 2004 Greece team.

    Before the game I told myself to focus not on Spain but on England when they nicked the ball from Spain. The results were shocking.

    – on average put 2-3 passes together (despite Spain not pressing to their usual standard)

    – England GK and defenders including Ashley Cole (best left back in the world!) just kicked ball forward = Spain regain possession.

    – Theo Walcotts attempted dribbles and runs with the ball were done with no awareness of the spaces to attack, no awareness of Jordi Alba’s body position and with no ability to manipulate the ball in tight or open spaces.

    – In fact all the England players were just so direct with their decision making except for Scott Parker.

    – Parker when pressed, shielded the ball, turned with the ball, did sharp cuts with the ball and kept it individually only to give it to someone who couldn’t.

    – Phil Jones in the first half had a couple of situations where he had yards and yards of space with the ball and yet was unable to make any kind of decision. When he did make a decision it lacked skill, because he over hit, under hit passes and he was unable to run with the ball effectively with an guile or trickery. (It does not matter that is a defender playing in midfield or that he is young – Lucio, David Luiz, Daniel Agger, Sergio Ramos, Gerard Pique, Thiago Silva).

    – If Jones is poor with the ball when he has 30 yards of space in front of him, how will he be when he has 2 yards of space!

    – Darren Bent wore the no. 9 shirt and yet couldn’t perform a trick back to goal or in a 1v1 vs Pique.

    – Danny Welbeck came short to play one-twos with Milner, A.Johnson and Downing. When he received the ball he over hit the return pass out of touch. The crowd applauded when he kicked the ball out of play.

    This list could go on and on, and yes Spain were not at their usual level and the another Cruyff quote could be used for them “well, you can’t score goals if you don’t take a shot” I just hope youth coaches in the UK don’t focus on the result but the difference in ability and IF YOU DON’T THEN YOU ARE RESPONSIIBLE FOR CONTINUNG THE NURTURING OF COWARDLY INCOMPETENT FOOTBALLERS.

  13. Hi Dav. Well, what can one say about your reply to the ‘blog’ — simply you are so correct in what you are saying. The obvious frustration you show is how so many of us feel about or game and the direction, or lack of it, that is shown. Mourinio, summed up England’s performance well v Spain ” how can you win when you don’t touch the ball?”
    Keep doing what are the correct things for your young players; they will thank you for your honesty and good football sense later. Good luck.

  14. Great article below which blames Englands coaching philosophy for their failures.

    Possess the ball – a new philosophy by Craig Foster

    One of the challenges facing this country, and particularly the FFA in their quest to make improvements in the long term to Australian football, is to develop a culture of football, which is almost the complete opposite to where we are at this point in time.

    A culture, which values the ball over the athlete, skill over strength, and football intelligence over graft and effort.

    We will need to develop intuitive players who are adaptable during a game by instinct not input, and the natural precursor to this of course is first to develop intelligent coaches.

    As Johan Cruyff once said, how can the student be better than the teacher?

    So, to produce outstanding players we need excellent coaches who have an understanding at the highest technical level.

    This is indeed a long-term project requiring tremendous improvement in our licences and methodology, but in the meantime one area that can be addressed is to continue to advance the understanding of the football community, particularly at the grass roots level, of what represents ‘good football’, and of the importance of a philosophy of play based on possessing the ball.

    Yet when we talk about a culture of the game and particularly a philosophy of play, all those reading this with a good understanding of the game will know that all around us are signs that at present our national philosophy is deficient.

    For instance, visit any junior club around the country and you will see more running than playing, and most players being encouraged to play the ball forward as soon as possible, regardless of the quality of the pass or any evaluation of the option chosen.

    In other words, there is a predominance of lumping the ball forward for big, quick and usually strong kids to chase, to the detriment of players who prefer to hold the ball and build up play in a slower and more intelligent manner.

    This is a by product of a poor football philosophy inherited from England, which values fast play over good, and which manifests itself in poor youth coaching.

    But this is a short sighted strategy which is anti player development since, whilst this may win games for now, this style of play produces technically deficient players who will be learning nothing about how to play the game which is precisely, and only, what junior football is for!

    And not only is it boring for the players, enforces results over fun and enjoyment and therefore arguably produces a larger drop out rate of youngsters in the early teens, it is in fact also ineffective once the players mature and their physical strengths converge as adults.

    Every junior club in the country should be teaching their coaches to appreciate that until the very late teens, the total focus must be on producing players who understand and can play the game, that is to say they can control and manipulate the ball with great skill, maintain possession both individually and collectively, intelligently construct an attack and respond well in defence, and that teaching these principles of play fundamentally must take total precedence over results.

    And we will only be starting to improve when every youth coach is judged on the quality of players he produces, not on the amount of trophies he wins.

    We must all recognise that effort and running alone don’t win football matches, technique, skill, and intelligent players do. That is why Brazil and Italy have nine World Cups between them, Germany three and Argentina two. Because their football cultures, and their philosophy of play, are based on these characteristics.

    If you want absolute confirmation of the need for change, this year take a look at the Under 14 or 15 National championships where tour best juniors come together, and you will see that I am right.

    These championships are shockingly low on teams that are both technically (that is the individuals are capable), and tactically (the team works together, demonstrates good cohesion, and can solve problems collectively), competent at keeping the football for long periods.

    Or, better still, take a look at our national teams.

    Both the Joeys and Young Socceroos who failed at even the earliest Asian pre-qualifying stage could not keep the ball, clearly neither could the 17 girls. In fact the only team that played with any reasonable tactical skill was the Under 20 Young Matildas, as yet our only youth age team to qualify though Asia, who were intensely trained to do so and proved, as did the Socceroos, that when our teams are well coached they are capable of adaptation.

    This inability to play to a high level is a factor of both culture and philosophy.

    And it remains a fundamental problem even at the highest senior levels of our game.

    In the last few weeks you might have noticed Sydney FC struggle for long periods to keep the ball against pressure, likewise Adelaide United against the Vietnamese, and the best sign of what our poor philosophy of football and no insistence on playing from defence at junior levels produces, is to see Australia struggle to play under defensive pressure against China in the second half of the recent international.

    So, enough of where we are, let’s explore some key elements of a good philosophy of football.

    Here is a start for any youth coaches and parents interested to know where they now stand, and in what direction they should be heading:

    1. To play the ball on the ground at all times, which requires both supporting play and good technique;

    2. To play short passes, which requires players to support each other in attack and defence, and is harder to defend and anticipate;

    3. To play only longer balls in response to a movement by a team-mate not in the hope of one – to move and ask for the ball after which the pass is delivered;

    4. To play longer passes, and particularly those in the air, predominantly only when there is no closer option and always into the feet of an attacker, never just into space for them to chase;

    5. To discourage young keepers in kicking the ball long unless there is no other option (and even here one can almost always be manufactured) and at all times have the keeper roll the ball to a team-mate so the team can begin to play immediately from the back;

    6. If, at any time, a youngster has no option to find a team-mate, they should be encouraged always to keep the ball. This may mean shielding it, keeping it moving to wait for a pass, or to dribble forward to attack an opponent. At no time should they be told to kick it away regardless of the position they play or where they are on the field, and if the child loses the ball they should be encouraged to try again;

    7. To encourage players to express themselves through their football and recognise that everyone is not the same, and shouldn’t play so. Some play fast, others slow, some play simple, others read situations and find more complex solutions, and some have enough skill to individually dominate a game, while others can only dream of doing so, but all should be allowed to find their own game not forced to conform to a uniform way of playing;

    8. And, to SLOW DOWN, or more specifically, vary the speed of play during a game, which requires a team to hold the ball. After working to recover possession, every young team should break forward only if they have an advantage in attack, otherwise they should slow the play down and possess the ball, back and across the field, resting and starting to position themselves in attack to take advantage of overloads in numbers, or weaknesses in defence. Youth coaches need to understand that the object of football is to keep the ball and to score goals through breaking down a defence with passing and skill, not by booting the ball forward hoping for a defensive mistake.

    And of course a change in philosophy has ramifications for youth training.

    It means that at youth levels, the only suitable training sessions should be completely with the ball, with every player touching the ball between 500 and 1000 times, refining technique and 1 v 1 skills, learning the game principally by playing in small games of 2 v 2, 3 v 3, 4 v 4, 5 v 5 and overload practices such as 4 v 2, 4 v 3, 5 v 2.

    In this way good coaches can coach the key moments when in possession, the opponent in possession or the changeover, build awareness in the players to aid understanding and decision making, and allow the players to develop a fee for the game that comes only from thousands of hours playing it.

    But at the same time the uneducated coach – such as the voluntary parent supervisor – can, by playing these games, give the players a structure, which aids their learning process without having to coach specific points of play.

    All fairly straightforward, but a long, long way from where the bulk of our young teams are at right now.

    So, how do you know where your club or coach stands from a philosophical point of view? One of the best ways is by their instructions to the players.

    If the coach encourages players to slow down and relax on the ball, to take their time, to possess the ball, to support each other, to play together, to take opponents on, to take up positions at angles to each other, to circulate the ball quickly around the team, to play one and two touch football, to create triangles and diamonds in their play, to pass backwards when no forward option is rational, to use the goalkeeper to maintain possession, to read game situations and play away from pressure not into it, and to recognise and create numerical overloads, they are on the right track.

    If you hear a coach telling players to ‘get rid of it’, ‘clear their lines’, ‘get it in the box’, ‘get stuck in’, ‘don’t play at the back’, ‘don’t take risks’, telling a keeper to kick the ball long or players to ‘hit the channels’, run a million miles.

    Your child is in danger of becoming a boring and uninventive player, and is most unlikely either truly to discover the joy of playing the ball, or to even excel in the game against other players who have spent a decade or more possessing the ball.

    And as to the physical aspect and all those coaches who want to make their young players run instead of learning to manipulate the ball and the game itself, yes, at the elite level players are very strong and often gifted physically like Thierry Henry and Kaka, but just like these two the best are footballers before athletes, and value technique over physique, because they recognise that runners don’t make it to the top any more in football.

    And don’t forget that Australia has always been physically strong, but we only started to improve when Guus Hiddink finally told the players to keep the ball, to play out from the back (or in his words, ‘to start the attack from defence’), to use space more intelligently through better positional awareness, to stop hitting the ball forward in hope or desperation, to understand how to utilise the team’s spare man to keep possession, to support the ball possessor in attack, and to be patient and play in all directions in the build up phase until in a position to strike at the opponent.

    These are the principles, which underline the correct philosophy of football, and the very ones every junior club and coach should be required to teach.

  15. HI Stuart. In repy to your comments about allowing younsters the opportunity to ‘just play’, i suggest you look at our coaching programs at Premier Skills and see the way we introduce playing the game to very young players and how this is progressed through successive levels in a Practice/Playing methodology.
    Premier Skills’ work is all about realistic practices adapted from street football. The whole of the work programes are relevant to age/ability levels and progress in difficulty with each level towards a playing vision of the game that i considered practical, from those invoved in the game as well as those who just watch it.

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