By John Cartwright
If one asks a group of youngsters to play the game of ‘TAG’ …. (players try to run past a ‘guard or guards to reach a ‘home-base without being touched by a guard en route) you will notice interesting situations occurring quite naturally with the group as they attempt to reach the safe target area. What you will see, even from the very youngest players, is their ability to look for the movement of the ‘guard(s)’ and to observe opportunities that arise for them on how to reach their ‘goal’. A fascinating, natural awareness in players occurs as they gauge the movement of the ‘guard(s)’/ (opposition) and make fundamental decisions on where and when to move to avoid ‘capture’ and to penetrate to the designated safety beyond the opposition. Complicated decisions relating to; timing – spaces and distances – speed variations –stops – penetrations – repositioning – angles and combination plays etc. are instinctively made by young children with no previous experience of the TAG game. From this child’s game, significant and important ingredients that should be incorporated into the teaching of football are obviously revealed. Coaches must be prepared to introduce this type of realistic, instinctive practical work into their work schedules to provide the decision-making situations players must obtain if they are to progress in the game — eg ; an instinctive awareness of the ‘chaos’ of multi-movements of others that are taking place; the necessity of searching for space through which to move or penetrate; the running angles across defenders to create space to penetrate or divert back into – (Messi); the decisions to continue a run or to abort it and seek another opportunity – (patience). All of these vital aspects of the game as displayed in TAG must be part of the practical work for players —young or old!
I have always been concerned with the development of the individual first, but the individual must recognize individual ability is also about being aware of support players and combing with them when necessary. The composition of highly skilled talent consists of an ability to assess when singular actions needs supportive assistance. Practice must not eradicate the use of creative, individual skill in preference of simplistic team-play (Two-touch). The unnecessary passing of the ball in practice destroys the vision and touch that players must retain for competitive match-play—-thus the pass-pass-pass boredom invading our game today. The combining of the individual into team play must be recognized as a constant coaching necessity. Players with the ability to find a way through opposing defences as well as being able to incorporate others in their playing repertoire, are in short supply but are in high demand.
Movement with the ball at one’s feet in the competitive game of football is not easy – fractions of centimetres and split seconds determine success or failure. During this piece of individualism the player must, as in the ‘TAG’ game, find the most appropriate route and be able to conjoin with others if necessary, if this is not a constant part of a players practice it becomes a lost art.
Messi, is the obvious example of an individual who has the ability to ‘share the ball’ with others when necessary. We as teachers of the game must take much more responsibility and display more care when nurturing future talented players. We have been given the opportunity to be part of the game of football and we should all be prepared to improve the quality of it. The individual and instinctive qualities displayed in the ‘TAG’ game must be developed in practice and allowed to prosper in competitive games.
Football’s about action, skill and excitement – joy and despair – winning and losing; and all of these involve people. Whether on or off the field of play, the importance of skilful play must be understood and ALLOWED to be developed and used by everyone interested in taking our game forward.