Play a match? No thanks!

By Stephen Roberts

Growing up I was a street player, I was raised in a quiet cul de sac that led to an entrance of a Junior School, so when school was finished for the day the road was virtually deserted. We played 3v3, 4v4, 5v5 or whatever we had at our disposal with the fencing all around used as goals and a rebound surface.

Those games were fantastic, we learnt to deal with the ball and understood the importance of hitting the target when shooting (the fence was a nightmare to climb) and all of the kids in the road were good players and competition was fierce, just how we liked it.

That cul de sac was our own little Wembley, to such an extent that none of us played for clubs until we were 13-14years of age, the occasional school game was all we played.

A footballing education like above has now gone. Compare this to now! We have coaching organisations working with players from as young as two and small sided structured games for under 6s I believe in most areas if not under 7s.

Is this helping our young players on their footballing journey? I am not sure! Lots of you out there reading this will be saying, yes but with the introduction of smaller pitches, non competitive matches, 5v5, 7v7 and 9v9 that this will not happen anymore! I personally agree with lots of the FAs latest proposals so please do not accuse me of bashing the FA, but are organised fixtures of any kind (competitive or not) helping our younger players become better individual players.

One thing that worries me is the huge number of young players that are playing for teams from such a young age without the skill foundation required. It’s like a child doing their A levels before their GCSEs.

I have stolen a quote from John Cartwright about matches:

‘Competitive games throughout the whole of the development period should be an EXAMINATION of practices completed or underway, not a MATHEMATICAL EXERCISE in the gathering or losing of points’

This leads me to Roger Wilkinsons article on November 14th 2011 titled Critical Skills, Roger talks about a checklist of critical development skills, what a great idea!

Instead of a giant of an 8year old dominating the small sided game outmuscling the other players, with little emphasis on his skill capabilities we must work with this player on these critical skills, a skilful player with game understanding is a must.

When I watch small sided games I think back to my own ‘little Wembley’ and the big eight year old defender who dominates the small sided game would have certainly been picked last and almost certainly would have found himself in goal!!

However hard you work with your young players during your practices the urge to get the ball forward during games as quickly as possible to those shiny white goals is one that many young players (nor parents/coaches on the sidelines) can not overlook and this is not conducive to possession based football hence why the giant eight year old often dominates the game. How can we expect a boy of 6-8 years of age to be patient when parents and supporters can not be?

I really believe that by holding our young players back from games and letting them develop the necessary skills through realistic and challenging practices that are not traditional goal orientated will help to develop a more thoughtful and possession conscious player which can only be a good thing firstly for the individual player and secondly his team when he decides to play.

My biggest piece of advice to anyone out there working with young players would be to forget about the goals, during the early development phase and adopt the Premier Skills approach of ‘gates as goals’ individualism, skill and ball retention even at such a young age will improve drastically. You will be on your way to producing thoughtful, skillful and cunning INDIVIDUALS.

The great Michael Jordan said all he strived for was his team mates and himself to improve by 1-2% every year and the results would take care of themselves! If we adopt this approach and think about our use of small sided games football will be the winner. Lets Develop not destroy!

5 thoughts on “Play a match? No thanks!

  1. Hi Stephen. Your article hits the ‘target’ that the street game had countless football ‘treasures’ that have not been recognized and introduced into development programs here — except by PREMIER SKILLS! The practising ‘route’ towards our pre-established playing vision is constructed on the PRACTICE/PLAYING situations that the street game consisted of — PRACTICE HOW YOU PLAY THEN PLAY HOW YOU’VE PRACTISED. Simple, but seemingly too difficult for our football hierarchy to comprehend.

  2. “My biggest piece of advice to anyone out there working with young players would be to forget about the goals, during the early development phase and develop the Premier Skills approach of ‘gates as goals’ individualism. Skill and ball retention even at such a young age will improve drastically. You will be on your way to producing thoughtful, skillful and cunning individuals.”
    I quite agree with this,Stephen, but I find that goals are a magnet to kids. Trying to find a substitute is extremely difficult, if not impossible. Using the gates as outlined on Levels 1 and 2 of Practice/Play, in the main part of the session is fine, but i find that the young players always want their game with recognised goals to finish the session off with.
    When children run out on to a deserted football field with a ball, they always head for the nearest goal. One child goes in goal and the others fire shots at him. It always happens, no matter what their ages are.
    I think that the main hope of an improvement in standards is to build on the Premier Skills methodology and involve the parents, older brothers/sisters etc. in the coaching process, with them taking on board the practices, which they can be shown in the ‘1 on 1 Coaching’, during the times when you, the coach, do not have them. The 1 or 2 hours a week which you have them for is not nearly enough to effect an improvement, but if they can be “shown how to practice” then that weekly coaching time can be increased considerably with a consequent improvement.

  3. I have been following this website for just the last few months, but have become quite devoted. The conversation about development, and the comparison of the norm of structured and coached practice versus street ball is so worth our time here in the U.S.. I coach at the college level, and worked in a small club for years before being fortunate enough to work for the college that employs me.
    Much of what Stephen mentions is very similar to what we try to employ with our college as well as youth programs here in our small town. The development of possesion oriented football is possible if we can leave the goals out of the game, and encourage use of gates and non-directional play. This is true problem solving…
    The late Andy McDermid (Ex-Arsenal youth coach), who some of you may know did us all a huge favor by coming to Durango Colorado, and Fort Lewis College. He left us with a few pieces of the puzzle as far as development, and although we are trying to win games at the college level, we do so by keeping the ball.
    Many tiimes when first introducing the games/training methods that we use, we get a number of on lookers (players, parents, coaches) wondering what we are up to. I think surprised at the hand ball variations, and development of very simple techniques that we attempt to turn into tactics.
    I think what I am trying to get at is that, I find myself struggling to not over coach. Although I have seen someone like Andy, run so many sessions that allowed a sort of guided discovery in the true sense. This term gets thrown around like its a cookie cutter method, but most of us don’t truely have this highly developed skill. This, as I have seen in Andy’s sessions would have the combination of that street as well as coached feel. He could always leave the progressions out of the excercise, but the game and the players would naturally find the next step, and they could feel and be creative in finding the so called “ah ha” moment.
    How do we as coaches create this environment? I think it is up to us in this country, because it won’t happen in the streets. They don’t play in the streets, or in the school yard. They days of the slide on one side and the two trees on the other as goals is unfortunately dead or close to it.

  4. damian you are right street football is dead!

    Firstly can i commend you on your approach to the game and am sure that your style and way of playing will equip your players to go on to be successful individuals.

    Having worked over in the states briefly myself ten years ago i do think that with the right guidance usa could go on to be a super footballing nation in the next 8-12 years and will leave england behind

    your role as a coach is to gradually increase the players knowledge and skill level with a series of practises that continue to challenge the individual and enable them to learn by doing not by being told

  5. Stephen, thank you for your comments. This country is making an effort at it, but our club system is, or has become a big obstacle. It involves so much money that. first it limits those who can participate, and second it forces coaches to coach for results. The college scholarship is what makes clubs popular, and the coaches and players are pressured by the money that parents invest.
    Players bounce from club to club to regain top team status. Clubs steal players from one another, promising college placement.
    And worst of all kids don’t know how to play a game if a coach is not there to tell them how. They don’t play, no one will form teams and make rules to get the games going, they are so programed to listen and wait for direction. Seems as if all this direction from coaches has killed problem solving to the point that instagating a game is like solving a rubix cube!

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