I remember my school days with real clarity, not the lessons or the teachers but the almost daily PE lessons and the fantastic playground football which we played at every opportunity! Those were the good old days.
Now I am a coach and PE teacher I really hope that in ten or twenty years time the players and children that I come into contact with can look back and remember the sessions/lessons with fond memories.
Over the years I have been privileged enough to watch great coaches like our very own John Cartwright, Roger Wilkinson and Mark Fogarty amongst others and can remember with great fondness seeing the Practice Play Level 1 ‘Staying with the ball’ session for the first time and thinking WOW this is the way forward. Something I believe in now more than ever.
The problem is now when I watch some coaches’ sessions remind me of sitting in the classroom, bored out of my brain, watching the clock tick down until play time or dinner time. The football pitch has gradually evolved into the classrooms of old, dull, uninspiring and completely unmotivational.
Classrooms all across the country are now all equipped with interactive whiteboards, laptops, computers and in some cases I Pad2s. Lessons flow with ease, teachers engage children with Q&A, short videos, games and Powerpoint presentations that fly into and across huge whiteboards, whilst gradually increasing the child’s knowledge on the chosen topic. In short the penny has dropped. Teachers understand that the lesson has got to be stimulating, exciting and challenging to enhance learning, this leads to the children learning without knowing there actually been taught!! Further down the school into early years and foundation stage a huge majority of each child’s learning is through PLAY. Yes you read that right PLAY!
Now I am not advocating that you get your players to bring their I Pad2s in but aim to put practices on that excite and stimulate the children. When I observe many sessions now at both grass roots and academy level I am saddened. Saddened for the children, they deserve better.
Many coaches and coaching organisations teach like the teachers of old, with the use of continued repetition (I remember reciting my timetables over and over again) which becomes monotonous to the players and leads to decreased concentration, poor performance and then often leads to group management problems (that’s another blog altogether).
My next biggest bug bare is drills! You know the ones where the player is told (pre meditated outcome) when to look up, when to pass, how to pass, where to run and how many touches to take. I would of loved school and maybe even remembered some of the teachers if the teachers gave me all of the answers, but the exam would have been a nightmare! Now the football match is the equivalent to the exam, what does the player do when there is nobody telling him/her the answers and he/she has to make instinctive decisions based on time/space/player positions etc. The end result is a big fat fail.
Coaching and the practices you put on have to reflect the modern day classroom, with children learning through play, correcting their own mistakes and working step by step to the answer whilst accumulating the knowledge/skills that will result in a pass, not a fail.
To do this you must put on practices where the players and the players only are making their own decisions based on what is happening in and around them! At Premier Skills all of our sessions follow the same formula:
Small Group Practice – usually done with a ball each or ball between two. Players work in ‘tight’ areas and have to take numerous touches on the ball, whilst navigating passive opposition in the form of traffic (other players working in same area)
Small Area Practice – sees a gradual introduction of active opposition, to test previously acquired skills, this then leads into directional play which further enhances the realism of the practice.
Game Practice – Is set up so that players can transfer the small group and small area practices skills in to a small sided game often with an overload through floating players and for the coach to assess previous learning.
The transfer of and correct use of the skills from the small group and small area work in to the game practice will determine the level of progression for the following session.
As John Cartwright regularly says ‘PRACTICE WHAT YOU PLAY AND PLAY WHAT YOU PRACTICE’
Keep that above statement in your mind when you are planning and delivering your sessions! Be like the modern day teacher and let the players find their own answers through play and real practices, not like the coach who gives his players all of the answers!!