Patience in Coaching

By John Cartwright

There is an attitude amongst coaches that is becoming a major problem when teaching the game; that problem is lack of patience. All too frequently I hear or am asked about the next stage of the work when the present work is still far from complete and not fully digested by young players. By progressing too quickly the coaches are leaving areas of work behind that have not been fully understood and therefore not used naturally by players.

A program of work should not be seen as something to exit as early as possible. Continuous assessment of players against suitably organized opposition that is set according to the level of work under practice should be part of every coaching session. The ability to verify the understanding of the work under practice is vital for the coach and is best scrutinized when players are involved in competitive situations. Unrealistic practice is not only waste of time, but it also provides false standards for real progress to be ascertained.

Coaches who ‘leave the ground soft behind them’ are deceiving themselves as well as those working with them. All work should be thoroughly completed before adding a new aspect to it or entering a higher phase or level. If ‘solid ground’ is left behind it allows future work to be established on firm foundations. Any progression attempted without a firm foundation to support it will leave gaps in the development structure that will create problems for players as they become involved in the game at more senior levels.

Premier Skills coaching methods are a re-invention of ‘street football’ in a modern context; players practice what they are expected to play and play how and what they have been practising. There is nothing better than playing the game, therefore, it follows that all practice should be as realistic to playing situations as possible. Recognition of situations when playing in competitive games must comply with those situations already practised or presently being practised or confusion and indecision amongst players will occur.  Coaches must learn to introduce details of work more cleverly and more gradually so that the desire to change the teaching process too frequently is not necessary. Because an aspect of work was attempted in one session does not mean that another aspect or a completely different piece of work should be undertaken in a following session. If the coach has not assessed a satisfactory improvement in the work attempted he/she should continue with the same work content but might readjust the methods (increase in space – decrease in opposition) until the players can comply with the demands they have been set.

Variety may be ‘the spice of life’, but in coaching terms it can often mean changes that are untimely and subsequently, unhelpful to coach and players’. The need to have a multitude of different practises to maintain the interest of players can become an almost impossible task. Random work methods lacking continuity are a blemish on the coach and become a burden on the shoulders of players working with him/her. Through the gradual erosion of careful continuity during practice time in order to appease impatience, players exit their most formative years without fulfilling all the necessary playing requirements – adding to the piles of simplistic players only able to play a simplistic version of football that already dominates our game.

16 thoughts on “Patience in Coaching

  1. Hi John,

    The point you raise about coaches assessing progress under competitive conditions (either practice or matches) is a key one.

    I have heard coaches make the comment “he is getting better at that” in reference to developing a certain skill. However often the coach is basing that evaluation on performance during simplistic training exercises that lack the pressures and decision making of a game environment. More often than not, if they evaluated the performance of that particular skill in a match it would still be “suspect”.

    Of course it can be tempting for the coach to make this comment as a way of reassuring themselves, and others they are accountable to, that progress is being made and they are doing a great job!

  2. Hi John, I agree that some coaches will look to vary work too often/soon, but some of that is down to a lack of knowledge or experience in how skill is developed.

    I think some coaches will always look for the ‘next piece of the jigsaw’ because they are desperate to learn and improve their overall knowledge too.
    Sometimes, at least as a coach, having a better undertsanding of what the next level of complexity is, in a programme of work, will help them understand where their players are currently in terms of their competence and understanding and may actually help them realise there is still work to do on firming the ground, before they move on.

    Also, I think it has to do, a little at least, with what Rinus Michels says, in his book Teambuilding, about coaches wanting to show their competence by varying the work, when, in fact, more repetition of the current level of work is required. (RepetiTION doesn’t have to mean repetiTIVE )
    Again, for less experienced coaches, it is often that they haven’t yet been shown/or learnt how to vary the current level sufficiently, so that players do not become bored or under-challenged.

    Certainly there are still coaches/managers/parents around who feel that their young players should be able to replicate what happens in the pro game and so try to move things on too quickly…but it’s not called LONG TERM Player Development for nothing !

    • Hi Steve. I recently did a three day session with u/17 boys who are starting at College. The problem we often face as a coach is taking over a group of older players and not knowing where they are in terms of ability and game understanding. I used the three days as a ‘FAST-TRACK’ opportunity to esablish what ability they had. It was amazing how much learning had been missed during their development years. It was also amazing how quickly they responded to the work over the three days and the difference that became obvious by day three in their THINKING about the game and their PLAYING of the game.
      I am in the process of writing a ‘blog’ on the method of work i used over the three days and it will be interesting to see what coaches think about it .

  3. Steve you make some valid points, but possibly the biggest fear for coaches is children get bored with the work and constantly ask when can we play a match, so they bow to pressure from the children. I think we are all guilty of moving on to quickly or just doing fun games for the sake of it at some point.
    Tweaks to the games are all that is needed usually, as an example with 6 yr olds this week I simply added balls on cones to the pitch, which they had to try and avoid knocking off, in staying with the ball small group work. This forced them to stop,twist, turn use outside of feet and plot routes and the kids really enjoyed it. John is spot on with his assessment, very few coaches carry on the same work week in week out, until they are ready to move on.

    John how do you cope with the massive differences in abilities that we get, especially at grassroots. A group of 10 may have 4 ready for the next stage and 3 or 4 so far behind, that it is unlikely they will catch up in the next fewyears, how do coaches cope with this?

    • Hi Dave. This is a problem that all coaches at junior levels experience. One must ask the question; what do players with lesser ability require for them to play with more confidence? The answer is MORE SPACE AND TIME. This can be provided both in practices and in the games that usually end sessions. At Premier Skills, we have anticipated this problem and have introduced ‘SAFE AREAS ‘for players to move into to receive or take the ball and in which no interference from opponents is allowed. These areas during small practice can be placed both inside or on the outside of the actual practice area; they can also be set out within and on the edges of the actual game area.
      I believe that young players should play games with these areas available to them rather than the over-competitive type of game that our youngsters have been involved in for decades . Space and time correspond with eachother; the better player requires less space and time, the weaker player needs more space and time in which to play. Both levels of ability can play together, it just needs coaches to provide the opporunity for them to do so.

  4. David, I think the key point you make is children getting bored. Children play “the game” because it is fun. Modified versions of the game (a la Prem Skills) certainly help but children get really bored with repetitive drills which, coincidentally, have little to do with the game.

    Having said that even players with whom I have worked for 3 years and who know everything we do is game related, still ask for “a game” !

    The other way, is to play a game to start with and then revert to the ‘practice’, before coming back to the game again later – or the whole-part-whole method.

    • Hi Steve. what you say about players preferring playing to practice is absolutely right. This why street football was so important in the past; it was practising whilst playing !. This is how Premier Skills coaching methodology is fashioned —- all the practices have the element of play produce realistic playing situations.

  5. Hi Steve. Have just completed the ‘blog’ you mentioned. I hope you find it interesting and helpful. I certainly enjoyed working with the boys in this ‘experiment’ and i was extremely surprised at the improvement in their play on the final afternoon.

  6. In Premier Skills Levels 1 and 2, the goals have been taken out of the work, (Small Group Practice, Small Area Practice, Game Practice), and replaced by gates/circles to score points. John Cartwright has said on many occasions that he would like to see the goals taken out of football in the junior years because a game with goals destroys a lot of the work which has been worked on, i.e. the kids become obsessed with hitting long range shots as soon as they get the ball and the essential work which has just been practiced, such as passing and receiving, is not evident.In other words, as John says, in this situation, the coach controls the coaching, (the practice element), but the players control the game. Of course, the coach should control the whole session. The game, wherever it is inserted into the session, is a test or examination of the work which has been practised. As, of course, is the match at the weekend.
    In my experience this is a problem, particularly with older children/youths who have been conditioned to think of the game as a ‘reward’ for good performance during the coaching part of the session. In many cases, they have not been made aware that the game is vital to the aims of the session. Even though the Game Practice, where you now have directional work to score through gates, offers competition and challenge of a game,I have found that this very often does not satisfy the wish of the players for a game. Also, they have always been used to a goal big enough for a keeper and so a very small goal, so as to encourage them to work their way in really close,does not suffice.
    If you get the children at the very beginning of their football playing experience, then you can instantly mould them into the habits which you are aiming for. But i do find that removing the goals is one of the biggest problems if not the biggest.

  7. Steve, You make a valid point. Children play the game because it is fun. The game they like to play has goals and so they want goals in order to play ‘the game’.

    No matter how long or how often you actually, or subliminally, tell or introduce the notion that elements of the game are being addressed in practice, the majority (not all) of the players I have coached simply do not see ‘the game’ unless there are goals.

    The more studious players will see the relevance. But even where I have used 4 goal games, as an example, to emphasise the principle of switching play, players will still ask for a ‘real’ game where there are two centralised goals, one at either end of a pitch.

    Again, I find the game-practice-game approach helps to reduce the clamour, but I wouldn’t, for example, propose to use the whole-part-whole method every practice session.

    Is this specifically an English/British trait or does anyone here have experience of the wider world (Europe/South America) to know whether (especially) young players still clamour for a ‘game’?

  8. Street football is all about the game for the kids…where ever you go…Plain and simple…it is a given that any group with by default opt for a game with goals.

  9. I think that it is worth re-emphasising, because when I have attended many Premier Skills Level 1 and Level 2 courses I have found that quite a number of the attendee coaches are not fully aware of it, but the coaching area, i.e. the 24 yard x 15 yard coaching area, does NOT constitute a mini pitch but is , in fact, a SEGMENT of the pitch. Similarly, so are the other coaching areas which are set up on Levels 1 and 2 – they are segments. When I attended a recent Level 1 Course in Hornchurch, the instructor, Steve Roberts, said that those measurements, 24 yards x 15 yards, are not plucked out of the air, but John Cartwright has calculated that in any match that is the area in which most of the players are involved in during most periods of the match. I had not previously been aware of this.
    I mention this because i have found that many players initially regard the coaching area of the Premier Skills work as a MINI-PITCH, (as in a game of mini soccer). I have found this a problem when moving into the Game Practice because they often start hammering towards the opposite gates/circles to score a point as they would towards a goal, which have been taken out. Getting the young players to appreciate that it is a segment of the pitch, and not the whole pitch, I find is vital because otherwise I still have that ‘cavalry charge’ to get down to the enemy end. Once the message gets through about the area being a segment then the play rounds, proper use of safe areas, and appreciation of ‘start again’ situations, start to come out.

  10. When you watch kids play football without adult interference they will often vary pitch and goal sizes, change sides around to make a game a closer contest and referee the game themselves.. They are always practising the game no drills or lines as we know and always with opposition… .. Just as premier skills advocate

    The local community scheme in my area run football sessions 3 night’s a week where all they do is provide balls, bibs , cones and nets for the five aside goals ..What I find fascinating watching is that very often the kids from ages 7-17 will often turn the goal around so that they have to score in the side netting end …. The smallest part of the goal
    They will often play world cup as individuals or if there are to many players then they will form pair’s.. so often you will watch games where they play. 2 v 4/6

    As john and roger say we as coaches have to be clever.. we can set the rules of the game to bring out the theme of play we are trying to develop… And drip feed the progressions in detail as the games we choose are developing
    For this is what kids will do in setting the rules for there games they make up..

  11. I asked a father , how come your son is not attending premier skills sessions anymore ? His response was he finds it boring since it’s all repetitive work and kids want more . It’s a challenge for all junior coaches to keep them interested and motivated to learn more. By adding little challenges to trainings and also explaining to the kids why they do certain drills and how it will be used in the game , you get more of their attention.

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