By Dave Williams
Great coaches make the work look easy, Roger Wilkinson and John Cartwright are both great coaches. A comment was made to me from someone who had seen them coach for the very first time, “they are the best coaches I have ever seen”, I wont argue with that. Over the years, I have seen demos, seminars from experienced coaches, thought “that looks great, I will try that with my team”, only to find that I was unable to get the same reaction with my players. Why, because either my players we’re not ready for the work or I was unable to coach it properly. The foundations had not been laid for me to build not only the players, but myself as a coach. That became clear to me after attending Practice Play Level 3. Now I would feel comfortable coaching PPL3 after seeing it once, to a group that are ready for it, because the previous levels have prepared the coach and player for the next level of work.
When I First attended a Premier Skills course, the one thing that stuck in my mind above all else, was Roger Wilkinson explaining how a coach must have a vision of how you want to play the game. “When you are coaching a 5 year old, you are actually coaching a 25 year old at the start of his career!” That statement is how the most successful academies operate, they believe in their style of play and children are taught how to play the game, guided by the end vision. Without it is like driving from A to B without knowing where B is. Premier Skills gives you a map to B in 3D.
On my journey to Level 3, I still have 1 & 2 in the backseat telling me turning right/left, running in, get through the GAP – for those who have not done any of the courses those are some of the references to coaching points that stay with you the whole journey.
When I arrived at Level 3, it was good to see so many other coaches on the same clear but long road ahead. The first day was run by Roger Wilkinson. Roger worked on staying with the ball through the thirds, gradually increasing the difficulty, adding layers to the work. Roger later moved onto passing and receiving, once again still linking in all the previous work, keeping to the style of play in all the work he showed us. Within the day we were shown Whole-Part-Whole methods of coaching, working with back players, to midfield to attackers and how we can make our play fluid, lots of rotation, bringing players from the back to the front, such as Alves or Busquets do for Barcelona.
On day two John Cartwright took the session, starting with kicking variations he took the work from Level 2 and progressed it once again, showing us using a rebound surface and without. John was encouraging players to be creative, using the outside of your foot, putting spin on the ball etc. The last topic was Heading, which is the first time it has been introduced into Practice Play. I did wonder how John was going to bring heading in, without using a “drill” and keeping to Practice Play methodology. John managed not only to keep the practice within the style of play that he set out all those years ago, but he also managed to make it one of the most fun sessions of the weekend. Goalkeepers which are so often forgotten at training, were also included.
Over the two days, the football that was played by the young coaches was entertaining, unlike the England v France match last night. We saw them running across the pitch, using take overs, starting again, screening the ball, playing on the half turn, building out from the back……..and all this from grassroots coaches. The coaches showed an understanding of the work, the shouts were happening, players looking to keep the ball, looking to penetrate, but it was not just pass, pass, pass then over the top, the coaches had learnt that playing with style, intelligence and patience is so important for our game.
To sum up PPL3 course, it was superb, the tutors showed a deep understanding of how the game should be practiced then played, without anyone standing in lines, or around the edges. The course work is simple to set up, some practices coaches put on need 5 or more different set ups, which wastes time, none of that here. But the real test is not whether I like the work, will the young players like it? The most important question to a young player and the most frequently asked is, “when are we going to play a match?” Children ask that less with Practice Play, WHY? The clue is in the title.