Can Stardom Be Taught?

By John Cartwright

How much of what we see of LIONEL MESSI on the football ground can be associated with coaching? Is ‘star’ quality something that is teachable?  I don’t believe that production-line coaching methods can produce ‘Ferrari-type footballers’. Coaching, especially in the UK, has a history of providing ‘commercial vehicles’ for ‘Grand-Prix’ events. I fervently believe, however, that playing standards can be dramatically improved and  ‘stardom’ can be produced far more for the game than in the past as long as the work that is applied from ‘cradle to professional, public exposure’ is correctly designed for purpose – to produce ‘great footballers’.

There is no doubt that great players of the past produced themselves on the streets and make-do playing areas in all parts of the world, and to some extent, this continues to this day in some of the poorer countries. Many of the playing qualities that were learned on these congested ‘pitches’ during the ‘practice whilst playing’ sessions, have never been replaced by ‘artificial’ teaching methods (coaching). Unlike present, ‘ Press-dressed’ players ‘hyped’ as great, the truly great players usually have a ‘poverty produces player’ label attached. From the distant past of;  Puskas, De Stefano, Beckenbauer, Pele, Maradona etc. to more recent examples, Messi, Ronaldo, Xavi, Inesta etc. all of these players first acquired a natural playing style that was either allowed to develop without being hindered by ‘ academic intrusion’  or they were accepted into  teaching and  playing regimes that were designed to expand their individual playing qualities and not suppress them.

Lionel Messi, is a modern example of ‘poverty produces player(s)’. His upbringing was simplistic in terms of playing education. He played in street games with friends and during these regular ‘competitive’ matches, he learned essential aspects of the game and applied them without outside interference. On his introduction into Barcelona’s Academy, he was nurtured towards his present greatness and allowed to improve his natural playing qualities; he was never guided towards mediocrity and robotic football responses. Today, in the largest stadiums in the world, he applies the same playing qualities he first gathered in the streets of Argentina. The cleverness that is obvious in the way Messi plays should be applauded, not just for what it is, but for what it has been ALLOWED to become !

Organized coaching methods have been too invasive in the development of players. Theory time has overtaken practice time and playing ability has been ‘mis-guided’ to produce a ‘blanket’ ability of mediocrity for the game. This is very noticeable here in the UK; individually skilful players are limited in number and games at all levels are nothing more than copy-cats of each other – there are no English players selected for  the latest UEFA team of the year nominations!!

Premier Skills coaching methodology reflects and reinforces street playing qualities. The important ‘practice whilst playing’ aspects of the street game are fundamental to Premier Skills coaching.  We believe the development of players from young to maturity, is founded on the creation of individual skills and how to use them to combine with other playing partners. These skills are allowed to ‘blossom’ and then spread to ‘cement’ and create an attractive and effective style of play. Football is ‘the beautiful game’; carefully blended with the other important components, it is individual skills  that adds the allure, colour and excitement to it. It should not be forgotten that defending is also a skill and has to be recognized as such. FC Barcelona, have highly talented, individualistic players in all positions and whether in possession of the ball or attempting to regain it, they employ high levels of individual skill and football intellect.  But it is not just individual ball manipulation etc. that is conquering the football world, it is how individualism also allows players to interchange positions and to combine with fluidly and cleverness. FC Barcelona, epitomize the development beliefs and much of the playing style envisaged in Premier Skills Coaching. We know that our youngsters in this country, developed properly, could be more than capable of taking on anything in world football — and win with style.

And so to answer the question, can ‘stardom’ be taught’? my answer is a definite YES, but only if the correct vision is set and a suitable coaching method is used to achieve it!

19 thoughts on “Can Stardom Be Taught?

  1. I think that one of the great lessons of the Practice/Play methodology has been to lay to rest the old football saying – “great players are born and not made”.
    Messi , along with all the old greats like Pele, Maradonna, Di Stafano, Puskas, Best and so many others, was not born with his amazing gifts. He was probably born with a certain aptitude which directed him towards football as an obsessive activity, but he developed his talent and skill from hours spent in an environemt in which his training pitch, be it a street or a rutted, dusty field, allowed him to aquire the ability which has made him one of the all-time great players.
    Only by replicating that ‘training pitch’ for our young players to develop through ‘controlled chaos’ can we hope to see the emergence of similar talent in our own country. In my opinion, Practice/Play is the best vehicle for that to become a reality.

  2. Hi Steve. I have spent years trying to make our football hierarchy understand how street games (controlled chaos games) were so important in player development. The problem is that those who control and administer development methods here have scant experience and knowledge of the learning process of the PRACTICE/PLAYING games in streets and playgrounds. Modern coaching methods have never replaced the natural learning process of the street —- that is until Premier Skills came on the scene! The problem we face is , how do you re-educate a coaching hierarchy who are fearful and defensive when it comes to changing their long held beliefs? Anyone got any ideas?

    • I so agree with the thoughts of the topic .I’m a novice coach with a love of the game and a hunger for learning which is what led me to find the practice play methodology. I am convinced that xavi, iniesta and messi would never have made it as professionals in the UK. only now that Barcelona and Spain have reigned supreme might players of this size and style might be given a chance . What about playing style or vision ? What’s happening at swansea may influence a few more that you can play with a possession basis to the Game here in the UK. But I fear that could take another 10 – 15 years to bear fruit. Coach education is the way … once enough like minded new breed of coaches has come through I hope also a new set of administrators maybe at the helm. Who will understand the value of change .. not just root and branch promises. And courses lacking in technical , tactical and playing vision and depth. Why are the visionaries like john and his vast knowledge experience and expertise not embraced and cherished….time is being wasted here. But in other countries they will be working at studying systems and methods to produce talent like the best… its like our public transport system highly inefficient, over priced, badly planned and thought out.
      When you get to travel in Europe or Japan you realise how bad ours is.
      Just like when England play Brazil, France, Spain, Germany or holland and I thought Japan and Algeria how poor our quality of football is.
      Practice play methodology offers a ray of hope . made in Britain
      It makes so much sense and I,ve only done level 1.. I can’t wait to do level 2
      We need more courses run please !

  3. Let me ask a question first – Why does “Practice play methodology offers a ray of hope”?

    And please don’t tell me to do a course cos right now I am still no wiser on how it is different from e.g. FA Youth Mod 1 and 2? So part of the answer to John’s question above in my opinion is to publicise it …. and yet I have never come across any form of comparative review.

    I am very interested to hear more about it so help me out here …………

  4. Hi Gary. You’re so correct in the point you have raised– Premier Skills methods of Practic/Playing needs to be spread more widely. To give a quick evaluation of the difference between the FA approach to development compared to that of Premier Skills : we have a progressive, linked series of courses towards an adaptable playing vision and use a coaching methodology that satisfies the need for realism in practice –(a modern concept of street football) ; the FA have no established playing vision, but have however, produced a whole number of courses towards no playing ‘target’ — a journey to nowhere on any ‘transport’ (idea) that happens to turn up!!!
    I know that Roger and Sam have made progress in extending PS work content and method around the country, A real interest in the work has been achieved and hopefully, we will see more followers in the future.
    May i suggest you contact Roger and Sam at the office and they will be able to answer any questions you have on the work and on future courses. Good luck, and i hope you become another of the ‘disciples’ of Premier Skills Coaching.
    Contact numbers are on the web site.

    • Thanks John – as you may have gathered there was a certain amount of frustration in my plea. Publicity will certainly help spread the word and I will definitely get in touch with Roger or Sam as you suggest as I am very keen to find out more about PP etc.

      In one sense I am probably too old to have got involved in coaching but having two young sons (9 and 11) whom I want to see to be given a chance to learn as much as they can during their formative years – part of whether that is achieved in my view (rightly or wrongly) will be down to their commitment (they just love the game) and the QUALITY of the coaching they receive.

      I’m an educationalist by heart and a strong believer in life-long learning – however it FRUSTRATES the hell out of me when I see some of the stuff that masquerades itself as “coaching” at grassroots youth level. There is sometimes very little thought given to what’s being done, often is it age-inappropriate and hardly ever structured with a final TARGET or VISION in mind. As a result, matchdays are focussed 100% on the win at whatever cost!

      I hear the excuse that “we are volunteers” and don’t have the time – but what I see they don’t have is a developmental philosophy – just their eye on silverware, medals and trophies. If they could help the players develop just one new skill each week or so, then at the end of a season each player would have a whole new basket of stuff.

      Like some organisations I have worked in – those without a clear vision have not survived. Based on what I have witnessed so far at a lot of youth coaching is no different – poorly though out and unconnected training/coaching sessions – why does it have to be this way? Ignorance and laziness is no longer an acceptable excuse – yet a club in my view should be setting standards and lifting it over time.

      Yesterday, I watched both my sons train. At the end of each session, I will generally always ask them “What did you learn today” and I get the same response – a blank look. Am I expecting too much? Is all coaching iike this? For too long, perhaps mediocrity has been acceptable, an over-relaxed attitude towards coaching from some, the over-emphasis on trying to provide instant success and gratification to young players, the chase after silverware, the over reliance on taking a drill/session and delivering it without any context or long term vision or development plan.

      With the changes in youth football just about to start to hit the mainstream from next May onwards, I believe the time might just be right for another evolution/revolution – Practice Play – to piggyback off the above – but its needs its overarching strategy promoted widely so that more folk can hear about it and talk about it. The medium is there using modern technology e.g. Twitter/Talksport/Radio 5 Live etc. So why should the Olympics be the only thing we talk about in 2012!!!!

      Don;t just dream it ………..make it happen …………

  5. Hi Gary, further to your question and expanding on Johns answer. I am very very priviliged to be apart of the Premier Skills set up and regularly teach on our Practice Pay level 1 courses in the West Midands. Over the last 6-9months in partiular we have had tremendous success in raising the profile of Premier Skils and am delighted to say we are accumulating a large range of what john called ‘disciples’ these disciples range from new to vastly experienced coaches as well as parents.

    The reason why it is so difficult to talk about and explain the pratice play methodolgy clearly is because it is unique, there is nothing else out there that compares to this.

    The last thing we say on our courses before we deliver the pratical work is ‘the proof is in the pudding’ we conentrate on what matters most what happens outon the grass. We have never in all of our courses ever had anyway disagree or not back the work we do. This is the biggest factor behind our sucess but the FAs reluctance,inability and refusal to seek guidance from Johns truly genius approach all further enhances our evergrowing reputation.

    So become a disciple and you’ll never ever look back

    • Hi Stephen – thanks for this. Am not sure I get why it so difficult to explain etc. as I do have as my reference point e.g. the FA Youth modules 1 and 2 plus the bit of coaching I have done supplemented by plenty of observation and reading. The other question that comes to mind is why exactly are the FA reluctant to ask/seek guidance if as you say the Practice-Play approach is genius.

      Since you mention the word ‘disciple’ then John 4:44 seems apt i.e. “a prophet hath no honour in his own country” so maybe John needs also to consider taking the concept abroad – if he hasn’t already – so that he will then ‘accepted’ in England at a later date!

      As ever I very much look forward to learning more about Practice-Play ……

  6. Hi Gary and Stephen. I must confess that the praise you both give me is great to read but a little embarrassing at the same time. Roger,Sam and many others involved with Premier Skills over the last few years have been very influential in taking the concept of Practice/Playing forward.Our biggest concens have always been ; improving the playing quality of the game here – devloping inspirational coaches – developing talented, creative and exciting young players.
    The problems with the FA are simple to explain; — it is too embarrassing (both financially and professionally) for them to accept that their programs have continually failed to provide the playing quality and success expected: — a serious question has to be asked,- are those involved with coaching and development at the FA fit for purpose? In my opinion the answer to this important question is a firm….. NO! With this in mind, we continue to develop the work at Premier Skills and find that detached bits and pieces of our programs turn up in FA courses — strange isn’t it !

  7. Hi John, yes I was in the meeting with sam and mark when mark mentioned about some of the content on certain FA courses been very similar to the PS work, what staggers me even further is that they have tried and faied to adopt these elements without having an understanding or delving into the methodology.

    This is another perfect example of why they are not making any progress in providing a suitable coach education programme for all coaches to produce good players never mind top quality players.

    During all this the Premier Skills train continues to gather pace

  8. Watching some of the African Nations tournament recently I started to wonder why is it that in the last 40 years not one of the ‘world’s greatest’ players come from the African continent.
    You would have thought that with millions of players playing ‘street football’ a new African Maradonna, Pele, Zidane or Messi would have emerged. Is it maybe proof that great coaching is actually necessary to produce great talent?

  9. Hi Dan. My own belief about the point you make regarding the lack of playing genii from the African continent is that there has been a big supply of talented players from poorer parts of the globe but, as i said in the ‘blog’, it’s how these players are developed once they leave their natural learning backgrounds that suppresses their talent rather than improves it. THE CLEVERNESS IN THE WAY MESSI PLAYS SHOULD BE APPLAUDED, NOT FOR WHAT IT IS , BUT FOR WHAT IT HAS BEEN ALLOWED TO BECOME. His ability was recognized, nurtured, extended and allowed to fulfill all its potential. Can we honestly say that about coaching and development here as well as in many other parts of the developed world —-probably not!

  10. Re Dan Barton’s comment about the African continent not turning its wealth of natural talent into true world stars, this is not actually true. You have to take into account the naturalisation of players by European countries. Zidane was actually born and raised in North Africa but was subsequently given citizenship in France and naturalised a Frenchman. This was also the case with many other French players of their successful World Cup and European Championship winning teams like Viera,Djorkaeff and, a little further back, Tresor.
    In the sixties, Benfica reached the European Cup Final five times, winning it twice, and Portugal finished in 3rd place in the 1966 World Cup. The stars of each of these teams were Eusebio and Coluna, who were both born in Mozambique. This is a Portugese African possession and so both qualified to play for Portugal.

  11. In response to Gary Garvey “why does premier skills offer a ray of hope”
    I like yourself am a parent to football mad children Boy 17, girl 11. My sons early introduction to structured team football u11 was terrible. First game coach screaming negative comments, telling kids he would take them off if they made that mistake again… kids left on the sidelines the whole game because of this adults overzealous pursuit of winning. Poor quality coaching just designed to produce a result.. Needless to say my son stopped. Then my daughter asked to play for a team so i tried again for both off them. My son joined u14 team with a good coach i researched and observed to make sure it would be the right environment, My daughter joined a boys u8 team with a parent running the team . very fair positive coach with rudimentary coaching. After a loss where the coach was making sure everyone had equal playing time and the opposing team scored when our strong defender was subbed Two other parents vowed to take over the running of the team.. Hence things changed my daughter became unhappy … So i started researching. She got asked to join a center of excellence so in my pursuit to help my daughters development i have done FA level 1 and 2. A week after doing level 1 i did practice play level 1 and was struck by the amount of detail that we were being asked to think about! a program designed from its inception to get our players to think in the future etc… Even after doing FA level 2 i have not been shown how to build in this level off detail… I will go on to do FA youth modules 1 and 2… I Am researching Roger wilkinson one to one DVDs, Coerver and BSS,
    But if Practice play level 1 is anything to go by levels 2,3 etc will have me enrolled.. ias soon as the courses become available
    Can “we produce Superstars” ? In my opinion We have it all to do…. the grassroots structure is over concerned with League tables points and prizes and Screaming parents..
    It needs to be about providing the kids with the best thought out and delivered methods of long term development… How often do i hear kids being told to pass, pass pass when its obvious the child would like the chance at emulating Messi Ronaldo etc..
    . Does our culture nurture this kind of creativity i don’t see it in my experience. we don’t seek the extravagant. our football culture reveres hard work and passion.above imagination and flair .. you hear it on radio shows when England has again under performed and i don’t see the development methods thus far producing it… We have had he academy system in place for how many years. Were are our Zidanes, Ronaldo’s, Messi’s, Silva, Iniesta, xavi. This tells you our develop system does not work and what i’ve seen in centre of excellance football tells me i need to educate myself and help my daughter maximise her potential…
    The Ethos of premier skills Chimes with what i believe we should be seeking to produce in our players

  12. Robbiewiz – sounds we have something in common. I joked with someone recently that I would write my own version of Jim White’s book “You’ll Win Nothing with Kids” – but the difficult part will be ensuring I keep on the right side of the libel laws!!!

    Despite being labelled a novice footballer by my Level 1 assessor, I still feel I can tell the difference between good coaching and the other stuff – and that’s partly because of my learning and development background, education, etc. having designed hundreds of hours of courses for classroom and online delivery – plus an insatiable hunger for more information on football coaching. Hence my plan is to take my Level 2 is May/June for credibility purposes etc.

    I was lucky enough to do both my FA Youth Awards with my local league club and also their centre of excellence coaches – and we had John Allpress from FA there also whom I enjoyed listening to. Some of the very simple stuff they taught us is just ignored when I see the same old drill trotted out week in week out – even my 11 yo this week during a break in training told me it was boring doing the same thing over and over again. That really gets my blood boiling cos to me it’s just either lack of basic preparation and/or combination of no overall vision and path towards that vision or not knowing when to seek advice.

    That’s why when I first heard about PP that it just grabbed my attention – and when I get a break from work – will contact Roger and Sam at Premier Skills just as John C has recommended. I would love to do them at some stage so at the moment I am trying to understand more about what the courses entail etc.

    Time to go back outside to clear some more snow off the driveway…..

  13. Are these courses nationwide? I notice that they seem to be ‘up north’ or in the midlands.
    having been a keen reader of the blogs for some time and involved in coaching i have always wanted to get booked on a course. But due to my work comittements and travel i have never been able to get book on.
    Is there any other ways to obtain and learn these methods??

    • I am an FA Level 3 coach of 15 yrs experience…I can honestly say that Prem Skills Level 1 was worth more to me than the FA stuff. With Prem Skills you ‘always have a reference point to go back to. The courses buuild on top of each other logically. I am also a Theology student so I know the importance of sound argument. Try to argue with the FA hierarchy and you will experience a master class in evasion an logical fallacy; the art of Yeah but!!!

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