Frightening Failure

By John Cartwright

All readers’ of the Premier Skills ‘blog’ over the past few years will have noted my deep interest in the development of young players and for the game itself.  I have been critical of the coaching methodology that has been used over many decades by our national association. I have become extremely concerned with both the results of their long-term control over coaching and the direction they have recently taken with yet another ‘tinkering’ with development methods.

I watch all levels of the game here and have done so for the past 12 years. I see no overall improvement in both individual playing skill or team qualities. The latest input into development is more concerned with the elite end of the learning process with the introduction of EPPP and as with Burton -St George’s  we are told that it will take ten years before we see the ‘fruits ripening’ on these ‘questionable trees’!  We have been told several times before that ‘ideas’  emanating from the FA’s coaching dept. would eventually lead to a surge in player quality;  Lilleshall National School, Centres of Excellence and Academies are just some of those expensive failures.

Our football hierarchy have consistently failed to understand that —- CHILDREN MUST FOLLOW A GRADUAL PATHWAY OF LEARNING METHODS. – from NURSERY TO UNIVERSITY! That pathway in the past was provided for football by youngsters ‘graduating’ from the University of the Street’ but since the demise of the street game structured coaching has provided that pathway and unfortunately, that pathway leads to nowhere!

When will we realize that the work done at 5/6 years of age is the ‘foundation’ for players of 20+ ? . The latest ‘gimmick’ of playing more competitive games at the u/21 age group with players who have not acquired the ability to play at this level is ridiculous.  Due to their exposure to the deficiencies in development methods from a young age, players are unable to produce playing qualities that are necessary for senior football; — once again, we have put ‘the cart before the horse’ and concentrated on the senior end of the game instead of the junior end and are then told we must wait for a decade before positive results will occur. I do not believe any such progress will happen and, after several years of frustrating failure, we will once again have another piece of useless ‘tinkering’ set out before us as the answer to our failures.

HELLO THE FA!! It’s about time the development system here was scrapped and a better thought-out version put in place. Greatness is something that is nurtured to prominence over the years, it is not something that can be achieved overnight. We must concentrate more carefully on the early development years to provide the platform for high standards later. The consistent failures and poor quality playing standards that have become a regular feature in our football can only be repelled by the introduction of a better coaching and development structure allied to an intelligent games’ infrastructure from junior to senior levels.

Week after week, it is frightening to watch ‘labourers’ trying to do the work of skilled craftsmen and unless our game is prepared to make the thorough changes required we will continue to follow the other nations of this kingdom down football’s road to obscurity.

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14 thoughts on “Frightening Failure

    • Hi Ian. I will give a quick answer to your question: Establish a national playing vision; create suitable coaching programs from junior to senior levels to attain that vision; devise a careful playing infrastructure that combines learning stages with playing stages — LEARN WHAT IS TO BE PLAYED AND PLAY WHAT HAS BEEN LEARNED throughout the whole development period.
      Ian, look at the Premier Skills programs and see how they link together towards a playing vision with suitable playing requirements set on the ‘pathway’ towards that vision. One cannot reach any ‘goal’ unless it has first been established as a target to attain.

  1. My kids practice on great 3g surfaces but play on mud filled bogs. Better facilities, educated coaches and understanding when, how and why kids learn. Key principles in development.

  2. “A better thought-out version” is definately the Premier Skills Coaching Scheme methodology.
    I have been on many Premier Skills courses and have never met anyone who did not think that the Level 1 course was vastly superior to the Level 1 on the the FA Scheme. Since this is aimed at coaches working with ‘early years’ players then if it could be adopted nationally as an essential requirement for anyone coaching or managing a junior team, then i am sure that we would start to see standards improve.
    I don’t believe that the real problem in the 5-12 age group is the ‘win at all costs’ mentality. I have seen coaches/managers running junior teams on the continent who also show a desperation to win. The real problem here, I believe, is that when it comes to the crunch, too many junior team coaches go back to the training/coaching methods they recall from their day but those methods are no good. The FA Coaching Scheme does not hit that point home hard enough. They pander to the “keenness and dedication” of people who give up their Sunday mornings to run kids’ teams. So we get this waffle about “get into football” which means over-weight middle age men kicking each other into the air on 5-a-side courts. And eventually many of those middle age men start to run Sunday morning kids’ teams.
    The FA’s Level 1 is a waste of time and money for everyone concerned. In my opinion that is the most important course which the FA run and if they don’t get that one right then it does not matter how good or bad the rest of their courses are, because if we don’t get it right with the people working at the youngest grass roots end, then nothing will be achieved in the future.

    • I also believe that the FAs level 1 is a massive waste of time, I really can’t see how the ‘fun’ unrealistic games they use prepare young players for the next levels of work. I attended a UEFA B refresher course last week and the group of players who were used ‘county U15 players’ struggled with the work massively as they didn’t have the ability to stay with the ball indervidually, this is another case of the FA putting the cart before the horse.

    • Hi Steve. Too many inexperienced ‘coaches’ working unscrutinized and using inappropriate coaching methods at the most important stage of development –the start — can only produce one thing for our game ………… DISASTER !!

  3. Totally agree and the analogy of craftsman is a fantastic one. Giving an average carpenter a state of the art piece of kit isn’t going to make him much better at his trade. Investing more money in his training and development making him a better tradesman would lead to a highly superior individual who can utilise the better equipment to a higher standard.

    Personally, I find the older groups I work with are conditioned whereby adding 3 white posts at the end of the pitch, completely changes their psychè. Their mentality completely changes from retention of the ball into forcing the ball closer to the goal often resulting in an error costing their side possession. Competitiveness is a test of skill so why drop younger players into competition without developing their skill first?

    • Hi Kevin. One gets the same response from youngsters when a ‘hittable’ target is introducesd too early along their learning pathway. To do anything properly one has to spend adequate time in preparation. Football learning is no different.

  4. It’s funny you wrote about this today John because I was just trawling through the archives and shared the article from November of last year about the most critical skills we should be imparting into kids from age 5. The FA have unfortunately started in the wrong place with St Georges. I have argued many times and lamented that they didn’t spend the millions on providing safe places in local neighbourhoods for kids to play football all the time. That would actually transform things massively without having to overhaul the coach education programme even though that desperately needs changing as well. The shame of the coaching education programme is that they teach you how to pass a course rather than actually enabling you to coach. I actually had an instructor say that exact phrase to me when we disagreed about an assessment and I was very surprised to hear it. As I’m currently on an FA goalkeeping course, it is all too fresh in my mind that the coaching levels aren’t working as I watch level 2 coaches struggle with the absolute basics such as demonstrations and allowing observation time. I suppose there is a large amount of responsibility on each individual to actively seek to better themselves if I’m being fair, but a great starting point would be to show things on the courses that can actually be used in a game realistic and progressive fashion. In a perfect world, their would be a mentoring system in place where clubs have a lot more presence in grassroots for both coach and player development, but that seems light years away unfortunately. I hear that they have this system more in place in Spain which doesn’t surprise me at all. They are an excellent example of a country who knows their football identity and has the planning in place to continue to produce technically brilliant, tactically aware players time and time again. If only England could get to a place where a player of Santi Cazorla’s quality wasn’t good enough for the national team. Sadly, I think the FA does have a football identity and it dates back to their very roots which is hard working, athletic players with not much tactical intelligence or skill. It’s just not an identity they are comfortable with.

  5. Hi California Waiting. When the foundations of a building have not been correctly laid the building will incur continuous damage as the the base breaks up. This is the problem we have with development here; the coaching foundations have not been correctly laid and so everything that follows starts from an unstable base. ‘Tinkering’ with the cracks is only a superficial attempt to remedy the development problems —– the coaching ‘structure’ needs demolishing and redeveloped from a more solid base.

  6. I think that practically everybody will have had the same experience as Wayne Vaughan, who found that the Under 15 players who were used on his course had not received the appropriate coaching in their early years. The failure to work on individualism up to the age of 12, as outlined on the Premier Skills courses, means that as the player gets older the obstacles to them being developed into team play are enormous. Unless the necessary technical skill to protect and govern the ball has been fully developed earlier on, then it is extremely difficult for the young player to conjoin with their team mates and introduced to team play.
    Somehow, children must be encouraged to play their recreational, ‘pick-up’ games in tight ,congested areas. If they are kept in tight corners of play grounds from their earliest days at school instead of going out on to the vast, open areas of playing fields,that would be a good start. They should then be kept in those tight areas through all their early years, with a consequent improvement in technical skill and the ability to ‘play under pressure’ would develop naturally.

  7. In my opinion, England’s performance against Sweden last night showed that we have only one strong point in our game, and that is what contributed to our two goals. Namely, the delivery of well struck crosses into the danger area for forward players to attack. Young and Gerrard delivered superbly struck deliveries behind the Swedish defence for Welbeck and Caulker to score from but
    we never kept possession by working the ball skilfully through congested midfield areas.
    We only look dangerous when the ball is out wide and crossing opportunities are possible.
    From my own observations, we have put a considerable amount of training time into coaching forwards to attack crosses. This has paid dividends due to all this work and for so many years the English game has been built on crosses. But other countries have improved considerably in their ability to deal with this threat from the flanks and their central defenders and goalkeepers are more than ready to deal with this approach.
    Unfortunately, we have been too slow to work on a possession, probing game to create opportunities through opponents’ defences on the ground. If foreign opponents have worked to combat the dominant English approach , then we should work equally hard to adapt our game to solve the problems which they present to us.
    There is a laziness in the way we confront the problems set before us. Our defending has become very poor. Sweden’s second goal was another example of the defence squeezing up when the midfield opponent in possession was under no pressure. I see this so many times with our players who are supposedly at the elite level. So Shawcross was caught too tight on Ibrahimovic when he received the pass and was easily turned for the big Swede to make it 2 – 2 and set them on the path to victory.
    Unless better work is put in every day when our players train, then international success will continue to elude us.

  8. Hi Steve. You are absolutely right in your comments. I must, once again, direct the responsibility for our playing failures to the coaching and playing methods used in this country. Without good learning and playing methods the result will always be —- mediocrity camouflaged by effort and ‘hype’.

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