I have been asked to give my opinion on the work that young players should do prior to the beginning of a new season. I will not go into specific work aspects as this will take too long to cover in this ‘blog’ I will simply say what I believe should occur during the important development years.
Before any attempt is made to develop young players one should first have a formed a vision of how one believes the game should be played here and then create a plan of action (age-specific programmes) to achieve it. We must also establish exactly who we consider to be young players before any discussion on types of training is discussed. The Law requires a person to reach the age of 18 before he/she is considered an adult. In football we tend to make the assumption that youngsters are able to attempt heavier/more difficult work-loads much earlier than 18. The mistaken misuse of competition from an early age along with 11v11 games introduced too soon to young players are both serious faults in our development.
Preparing young players for pre-season training should not be attempted until they become involved in competitive match-play at 13/14 plus; up to this point their ‘season’ should be a yearly continuation of the practical work programmes that they have followed from the beginning of their development years. The introduction of the full game must be carefully prepared for and young players should not be ‘thrown into’ games’ of this type and ‘positionalized’ before they have first acquired a high standard of individual skill and game understanding. The early attempt to ‘copy-cat’ the senior game with unskilled and tactically unprepared young players who rely more on effort than ability is verging on child neglect and we should display more adult concern at this stage in our development of youngsters. The playing of competitive games at all levels should correspond to the work being covered during practice (play what’s being practised). We must understand that the use of designated numbers of players for games at varying age levels…..4v4 to 11v11….. can only be of real benefit if the work supporting these games has provided players with the necessary qualities required at each particular stage in their development.
Pre-season training with older players involved in competitive matches should also contain the continuation of the work programme that they have followed from the start of their development. Much of the basic requirements of the game will have already been covered in these earlier levels of the practical work and these will provide the foundation for more difficult practical and tactical work involved at higher programme levels; but also there must be a gradual introduction and increase of physical work.
Coaching isn’t easy. At the vastly important foundation stages of the game the coach should have more than a basic qualification. This early stage in the development of youngsters requires a coach, in close conjunction with a Mentor, to have a deep understanding of the game and to have devised a playing vision; suitable programmes of work at each age category as ‘pathways’ towards the playing vision; bravery to follow the ‘pathway’ (player development not just winning matches); timing of the introduction of work; patience and demeanour.
We have a very long way to go before we begin to produce skilful, intelligent, powerful, exciting and ‘inquisitive’ players for our game and this will only begin happen after we re-think and remodel our coach-education and player development methods. Surely, after the debacles over the summer months with our U/20 and U/21 squads finishing at the bottom their qualification groups and returning home early from both major competitions, the time has come to dispense with the failing development methods we continually ‘tweak’ but never fully re-design………..but don’t hold your breath,……. ‘it aint gonna happen’. Very few have taken the risk to draw attention to our long-term football demise; there has been a disgraceful lack of courage by many to speak the truth about our failing standards because of the fear of being reprimanded from above and ‘sent to Coventry’; the use of ‘hype’ to cover poor performances; greed and selfish attitudes — have all resulted in little of any consequence being done to make the significant changes that are so necessary to our game !!
Let me shout the truth as I have done for the last 40 years about our playing standards …. WE AREN’T GOOD ENOUGH BECAUSE WE DON’T TEACH THE GAME CORRECTLY AND WE AREN’T GOING TO GET BETTER UNTIL WE DO !