The Skills Gap

By John Cartwright

The British Government, have increased Apprenticeship schemes to offset the serious skills shortage we are experiencing in the country’s manufacturing industries.

In years gone by apprenticeships were common-place throughout all types of work; they provided a ‘hands-on’ approach to skill learning and allowed young apprentices an opportunity to learn a trade from the ‘ground upwards’. The apprenticeship period became less favoured as more ‘up-market’ teaching and learning methods took its place. Probably, the lack of a prolonged period of ‘on-the-job’ experience is at the root of the problem. Perhaps our education system, from junior through to upper senior levels, does not provide the type of learning programs for students that encourages individualism and skills.

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Relating the Skills Gap to football, I have been almost a lone activist for decades trying to make everyone interested in the game here more aware of the Skills Gap we have. Although football had an apprenticeship period in the past, the true learning of the game (football apprenticeship) took place throughout the development years when playing in the street and school playgrounds. The competitive, small-sided game played in small areas for thousands of hours each year by youngsters produced the immediate skills required for the game.  THE GAME OF FOOTBALL IS A COMPETITIVE GAME and therefore the ‘tools for the job’ – the skills to play it, should, in my opinion, be taught accordingly. I am not suggesting that competitive practises should be physical ‘scraps’ but players must, from the very start of their football education, be familiarized with the realistic aspects of the game with the use of competitive practises combined with a suitable playing infrastructure.

From improved playing surfaces to medical care, the game has seen big advances. I have seen them all. During my life I have  experienced ‘street football’ and watched its demise as streets became parking lots; ‘structured coaching’ methods that have replaced it have failed to provide a satisfactory teaching formula. Unfortunately, the chaos-type learning of the ‘practice whilst playing’ aspect of the street game has never been understood by those who have been too ready to inject a more ‘academic’ approach into development as the modern alternative. Practice time that once meant thousands of hours involved doing realistic football skills and making immediate football decisions has gone and replaced, in the main, with a teaching culture that has placed more emphasis on practice organization and group(team) structure than developing individual skills and their use in the game.

I my opinion, the Skills Gap, cannot be resolved unless more time is given to the ‘DOING’ of a job rather than to the listening or watching it being done by others. Failure can be a great learning experience but the fear of failure is endemic in the game here as players with limited ability are asked to perform beyond it. This inability creates a lack of confidence in players that produces playing decisions based on safety-first and mediocrity overall.  Team-play is the collective extension of individualism. If skills are correctly taught in conjunction with a gradual inclusion of group, and later, team requirements, the use of individual skills in the game would be fully appreciated by all involved. A great example of individualism that combines when required to do so is that displayed by Barcelona FC. Throughout their team they have high quality individuals who are able to use their own imagination, creativity and individual skills in all parts of the field for the good of the team, or just as well, this individualism is able to combine with team-mates to produce successful end products. Their belief in individual skills even relates to the playing quality of their goal-keepers – they can receive and pass the ball better than most of our back players!!

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The fight to restore more individualism into our game must not dismissed, for team-play needs the unusual within it to satisfy and gel the total qualities of the game. Our support and nurture of junior football must take on a more involved and positive approach; our coach education methods must show much more importance to the teaching of skills allied to a more suitable, competitive playing infrastructure in which display them; the playing levels of our Academy system must be set to provide levels of excellence and not just provide games for numbers of available players; quality young players must be given more opportunities to play at higher levels irrespective of age; playing results must take back-stage to playing quality through the junior years.

Our football Skills Gap is here for all to see as ‘fightball’ not football makes bigger advances on the game with each ‘money-grabbing’ year. We must show more courage and invention in the way we approach the teaching and playing of the game or we will continue to fail. Let’s close our skills gap and produce a game for the world to recognize and applaud; one that incorporates our world-renowned British fortitude but includes the finesse we have as a nation that, unfortunately, we too often tend to conceal in favour of brute strength and ignorance.

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40 thoughts on “The Skills Gap

  1. I believe that the advances made in computer technology and video/DVD equipment has advanced too far into football. Not enough work is being done out on the grass. I have no doubt that there are some very clever people around who produce hours of theory with slow-motion play-backs of matches and various pieces of machinery which aid the analysis of matches, letting us know what should, or should not, have happened. No doubt Carragher, the Neville brothers, Shearer, Keown and many more, have a deep understanding of football from their many years playing at the top of the game and bring their knowledge to the fore during their game analysis on TV. But this theoretical understanding counts for little if the raw material is not up to standard which requires hours of the right kind of work being done, to continue the manufacturing analogy, ‘on the shop floor’.
    I think that we are suffering in England now from the repercussions of the massive wages which have been paid to players during the Premier League era. When the present day Premier League player hangs up his boots, in usually his early or mid thirties, he has earned enough from football to never need to do a day’s work again. Why should he go down to the basement levels of the game to learn the ropes of management/coaching at clubs where you might even have to clear dog mess off a public park area before you start training? But this is where the great managers/coaches of the past started out: Shankley at Workington, Clough at Hartlepool, Greenwood at Eastbourne, Allison at Sutton United, Sexton at Leyton Orient and many more.
    This is still a route being taken by many keen, dedicated English coaches but if you look down the clubs in Leagues 1, 2 and the Conference, if is almost exclusively ex-players from those levels who are making their first attempts at coaching/management at the pro game’s bottom end. The difference is that they still need to work and do not have a sufficiently well known ‘name’ to get a pundit’s job on the Sky or Match of the Day panel of experts.
    I often read that a top player with an elite club, now nearing or turning thirty years of age, has started to “do his badges”, i.e. take coaching courses to become qualified. But in the past young professionals, in their early years in the first team, did several afternoons of coaching a week in local schools, which was a much better grounding for their future as active coaches, when the time came to retire from playing. They are then fully experienced to get out on the grass with young players and provide a football education which produces playing development and not theoretical understanding from a TV or computer screen.

  2. Hi Steve. Thanks once again in being interested enough to send a reply. You are absolutely right with your comments and I can remember that at West Ham FC back in the mid 1950 ‘s all the apprentices had to get their FA Preiminary award and we all attended weekly session at Arsenal FC with Walter Winterbottom as our tutor.
    However, it must be emphasised that our ‘real apprenticeship’ had been complted in the streets prior to our signing for the club. Future World Cup winners Moore, Hurst and Peters, we’re all part of our coaching group. Nobody will ever convince me that present development models have made any improvement on individual playing skills that were once an everyday occurrence and practiced-played in streets and playgrounds all over the country.
    Professional football clubs did not have to tell young players how to pass the ball etc. the youngsters had been doing all the skills of the game prior to joining a club. The weakness of street football was the lack of tactical understanding and the finer points of positional play —— this is what was provided at Pro. Clubs for their young recruits. The present development process has turned the tables by laying more emphasis on team play and positional requirements along with fitness. There has been a lack of quality and time given towards the teaching of individual skills and this has forced our game towards mediocre playing standards.

    • Hi John my name is Con Boutsianis. I have read your article and found it very very interesting. I believe that everything you have stated is 100% correct in today’s football we are not teaching our players the basic skills. I am an ex-international footballer for Australia and now I’m running my own coaching business. I would really like to talk to you in person if that was okay with you so we can discuss some of the issues about football. My email is con.footballfirst@hotmail.com
      Skype: con.boutsianis
      Ph: +61 405 830006
      FaceTime: as above
      I would be very grateful for your time as your article is 100% correct.
      Thanks again and I llook forward to your response.
      Kind regards Con

  3. John you have highlighted this problem for ages.We need to develop ‘great coaches’ who have a ‘feel’ for the game.
    We do have ,because of our football culture ,really keen young coaches who are not coach educated properly. Unlike our golden time when Greenwood,Allison,Lyall,Sexton,Cartwright, and Venables were all involved in spreading their insights on the FA courses.Although we see examples from abroad, our coaches do not really understand the underlying ‘make up’ of great players and their essential skills and understanding.This is vital for coaches at grass roots level. They,ve got to know what they are trying to develop !! With the decline of street football grass roots coaches have become critical for player development. Yet if you look at the F A courses for those coaches the instructors ‘lecture a good game’ but often the practical examples do not demonstrate insight or methodology. You have shown the way with “Football for the Brave” and the Practice Play coaching methodology .We must keep ‘Banging on the FA door ‘until our young players are given the opportunities to develop greatness.

  4. Hi Roger. Thanks for your nice comments. I hope the work you are doing in NZ is both satisfying and productive. The Premier Skills method does reproduce the realistic situations once experienced in street football. I have always belived that ‘realistic doing’ is the way skills are learned, understood and correctly applied.
    Perhaps one day the ‘academic dogma’ that is too often seen as the way forward here but has an history of failure will be cast aside for a more realistic developmental approach.—————– one day …….perhaps never !

  5. Yesterday’s Final of the U20 World Cup, between Serbia and Brazil, won 2-1 by Serbia after extra time, provided some fine football, produced by technically good players , all comfortable on the ball and with good technical skills. Of course, they still have much to learn in terms of tactical understanding and decision making, such as the Brazilian defender who allowed the Serbian forward to run clear, instead of going with him, when mistakingly attempting to play the offside trap for the winning goal. But coaching, as they progress into the senior ranks, will iron out such problems as both the Serbians and the Brazilians develop into the finished article.
    Their techncial ability, which they displayed at the end of their youth development years, contrasted with the inferior standard which we see in England with so many of our young players. So many of our young players go into tactical work in the first team squads of pro clubs when the technical skill elements of their game are under-developed. We cannot hope to seriously challenge the best of the foreigners until this situation has been rectified.
    I recall that before the civil war in the Balkan countries, players from the old Yugoslavia were known as “The European Brazilians”. Serbia showed during the recent Tournament just how appropriate that expression still is in their part of the world.

  6. England’s latest FAILURE says it all. How much longer are we going to be hoodwinked by ‘hype’ about playing standards here?

  7. If we could only remove hype from English football then we might have a chance of making some progress. Everything in our football is hyped up out of all proportion because everything is governed by money. No-one at the National Association ever gives an honest statement about the parlous state of our game because that threatens the cash rolling in to pay off the crazy extravagances of the rebuilt Wembley Stadium and the white elephant of the under-used and unnecessary coaching centre, stuck out in the middle of nowhere.
    Someone involved in the higher echelons of the FA Coaching hierarchy should admit with total honesty, just how bad our football has become. That would provide us with a start to begin the rebuilding process, instead of these stupid statements, as being made made at the moment in the England DNA workshops, that the aim is World Cup victory in 2022.
    Italian football at the moment is impoverished and forever riddled with corruption and bribery allegations. Half the clubs in Serie A struggle to afford a tin of paint to brighten up their grounds. But, by all accounts, their Under 21s last night, in their win over England, showed that THEY STILL PRODUCE PLAYERS.
    For all the hype, we don’t.

  8. Hi all..
    How much longer must we wait before the FA decide that the long-running saga of poor coach education they have produced is not suitable for purpose. The ‘cracks and structural defects’ in development from foundation levels to the ‘ roof’ ‘ of our game have been obvious to all for a very long time.
    I have heard, time and time again, numerous so-called reasons for our continuous failures, but nobody seems to have the guts to state the true reason —– but I will —-We’re not good enough because we don’t teach the game properly and we won’t improve until we do !

  9. I have read that professional players, or certainly leading players in the Premier League, when they decide to do their ‘coaching badges’ in preparation for life after playing, are entered by the FA straight on to the Level 3 (UEFA ‘B’) stage. In other words, they completely miss out the work and qualifying procedure at Levels 1 and 2.
    This seems to me to be a severe indictment of the FA’s Coaching Education Programme. I can only assume that the FA believe that a leading player would find no benefit in doing the work at Levels 1 and 2, after they have progressed as a player through the Academy System, and then into the worlds of professional and international players.
    Anyone who has coached football at even the most humblest of levels, knows that there is a world of differerence in playing the game and teaching, i.e.coaching, it. That holds true whether your playing experience was in the local park every week or else at Old Trafford and Stamford Bridge.
    I am absolutely certain that if a player holding a hundred England caps, Premier League Championship and Champions’ League winners medals, did a one day Premier Skills Level 1 Course, he would learn some key technical points which, in my experience, are never covered on FA Courses, but,even more importantly, he would learn the Practice/Play methodology of how to coach in the unique way , much more closely aligned as to how the great players learned in the past in the street.
    Remember, the players now nearing the ends of their careers and considering stepping into coaching, were born too late to have learnt in the street either and came through a system which has never addressed a methodolgy to compensate for the loss of this vital part of football learning.
    It seems to me that the FA are saying to the professional players – “Don’t worry about how to coach the skills of the game because you already know about that from your playing days. Get onto UEFA ‘B’ and then UEFA ‘A’ and even if you don’t actually go into coaching you can get work in a TV studio and pontificate about tactics.”
    Perhaps i am being overly critical of the FA Coaching Education system and maybe someone has good evidence to relate of practices and coaching exercises to support this. I am sure that many others besides myself would be very interested to hear from anyone who has something to say on this.

  10. Hi all. I heard Dan. Ashworth, say on radio yesterday that irrespective of mistakes by players and lost matches, there will be no changes to the game-style of possession football by England teams.
    In my opinion this dogmatic tactical approach is as incorrect as that of Charles Hughe’s ‘Direct Play’ ; both impose a one-tactical method on the game.
    The acquisition of time and space in football is something that must be earned and tactical variations are vital in order to counter tactical ploys of opposing teams. Earning the right to play and dominating a game at senior levels requires skills and game understanding. Skills must be introduced from the earliest years and tactics applied gradually according to age and ability of the players. By 16, I believe a player should be well acquainted with the skills and tactical aspects of the game; physical maturity is still to be acquired.
    It seems that the history of our player development since the inception of organised coaching has made the mistake of ‘putting the cart before the horse’ and placed too much emphasis on team-play at junior levels and not on skills and game awareness. Now, when these game aspects should be well ingrained in our young players, they are having to be taught too late.
    I have watched games in which our young player of 16+ have tried to play from the back against teams who have closed down and pressured them. Our players have not shown any appreciation of the playing variations required to offset the tactical strategy against them and have suffered defeats unnecessarily.
    The use of short passing possession football and longer forward passing are both important in the game—- if used at the correct time. Are we to experience another period of academic mis-direction that followed that of the ‘Direct Play’ years? I hope not.

    • Hi John

      In agreeing with you, I can see the point you are making, and I didn’t hear Dan Ashworth’s comments myself, but I do believe it is easier to add the ‘arts and crafts of the game’ into a possession-based game style as opposed to Charles Hughes’ Direct Play.

      In fact, it lends itself to a mix of football when appropriate or required, and that in itself, necessitates (it is essential ) the younger player to learn a range of kicking skills – using both feet – to tactically make the decisions when to play short/middle/or long. And also needs the other supporting players to constantly take up positions to receive the ball.

      The great teams of the yesteryear mainly- all had variations; one thinks of Brazil ’70 with the long passing of Gerson – to Pele for example, Netzer/Beckenbauer of Borussia/Munich and W.G, Di Stefano and Del Sol of Real Madrid. Koeman of course was a great exponent of the long ball for Cruyff’s Barcelona. West Ham’s Booby Moore would lay up to Hurst et al for third man movement.

      Liverpool in their heyday mixed it up.

      Predominantly, it was with these teams a shorter passing game, but then came the longer ball. As a caveat the French criticised English football by saying ‘ English football non-prepare’ (pronounced non pree-praray) This of course was criticism of CH’s controlled or should I say followed era! The long ball without sufficient preparation.

      As you say it is too dogmatic, but I would say a better dogma ( as a concept) even if the application must have some refinement and game understanding.

  11. I went to watch training abroad for the first time in 1977 at clubs in Holland and West Germany. I also took in matches in Belgium and France, in addition to these two countries, and when I got home I went through my notes with a friend who had being studying foreign coaching methods for many years and who had arranged permission for me to view the training at FC Twente and FC Cologne. I was enthusiastic about what I had seen and my friend understood this enthusiasm for the superior techncal play which i obviously preferred to the faster, more robust English style. However, he pointed out that much of the football i had seen, involved passing and possession movements which led nowhere and, when observed for a length of time, would be no more productive or stimulating than the typical English long-ball style, which was gradually being advocated in that era on senior coaching courses at the FA.
    A blend of the styles was required at the time and it is precisely the same situation now. The FA is now committed to building from the back and the keepers seem to be under instructions to distribute the ball by a short throw or roll out in all the under-age teams. But there appears to be a lack of correct decision-making because I have seen teams get into trouble by trying to play out from the back when the opposition have squeezed the space in England’s defensive third. But there is now space further down the field, available from a longer clearance but, from what i have seen, there appears to be a reluctance for the players to make these decisions themselves.
    It is one thing learning from the best of the foreign teams and coaches; that is laudable and what all student-coaches should be doing all the time. But we should take the best bits from the best foreigners without losing our own strengths and qualities which once made us feared by even the best teams abroad. I think here of our heading ability, which was once second to none, stemming from briliant wing play. But this now seems to be disappearing from our game and i think this is because we are focusing on other aspects and allowing this previously strong quality to gradually disappear.

  12. Hi all. By implementing a game-style that requires high skill and game understanding when players have not received this type of work throughout their ‘Golden Years of Skill Learning’ (6-12) is typical of the mis-directed approach we see so often in our football development.
    The whole development process here is ‘cockeyed’ —- development priorities are not taught at times that corresponds with age or playing demands. The failure to produce a clear vision for our game and the appropriate work to achieve it is a continuing blight on our game. I have tried to bring this to the attention of our coaching hierarchy for a long time and although bits and pieces have been used, there has been. little attempt to create a coaching ‘pathway’ because no satisfactory game – style has been set out.
    We are still copying the playing styles of the latest successful national team –not the present World Cup winners — Germany, but Spanish possession football ! It seems that we have overlooked the change in Spanish Football as they have had to modify their game-style to overcome the tactical problems of teams ‘parking the bus’ or using full ‘pressure’ against them..

    • You have to let it play through a few 30 min spaces to get to the 4 mins in.. if that makes sense. Very good though – really worth listening to.

      • Hi Brazil, only on a mobile, if on a pc you can click right on the link.
        Mobiles are the worst way of watching the web.

  13. A few years ago John mentioned about tag games and I said I use them a lot.
    I don’t have any superstars in my teams, but have seen massive improvements in almost every child. Constantly working on running with the ball, twisting turning away from defenders, has been been a theme of mine for two years. Some of these players have only been with me for 5 months, training once a week.
    Weekend gone we held a 3 team U7 tournament, we lost every game. Now my squad is made up of year 1 and 2 boys and we played year 2 teams. One team has a pick of 90 boys and I think they brought their best group, all boys who seem more developed than ours. However the only players that would consistently run with the ball were mine, yes they lost it a lot, physically they struggled against the bigger boys and they don’t fully understand when to release a ball at that age, but given more time you can see how the boys are turning into players that can excite you. Amongst the calls of pass it were a soiltary take him on, which was mine.

    As a fan of youth football, I want to be excited and win, not win without skills.

    It was a year 1 boy who won a tackle in front of his own goal, ran across the pitch chased by 2 players, nipped the ball between them, beat a third only to have his shot saved. The work I do is consistent, no swapping and changing every week and if I did, my boys would not have moved on as much as they have. The kids count success in goals, as do the parents, but I was looking at the work we do in training, relating to the game.

    The skills gap is easily closed with a consistent coaching theme and a coach with a clear vision.

    • Hi Dubs. I congratulate you on both your ‘ bravery’ to teach the skills and also to set a constructive football pathway for the young players you have with you.
      I don’t know if you have seen levels 1 and 2 of Premier Skills Coaching, but the gradual increase in difficulty and decision making that they contain provides a learning experience that develops individual skills and introduces combining with others —–when necessary!

  14. Hi all. It would be disrespectful not to congratulate our women”s international, team on their efforts to reach the final of their World Cup in Canada. They certainly showed tremendous spirit and togetherness in all the games.
    But football at the top levels needs more, it needs team-work for sure, but it also needs highly skilled players with creative qualities. This England team, like so many English teams lacks players who are different; players who have an ability to see and do the unexpected. Our women”s game is a version of our men’s game ….. effort, but lacking that special ingredient….excellence!
    It is no surprise that our two senior teams…men’ and women’s, lack that special ‘edge’ in their game as their development has followed similar coaching methods. Surely it must be apparent to all that the similarities in their failings relates to the development methods they have been involved with and this must change if we are to reach the top.

  15. The best football i have seen so far in the Womens’ World Cup, up to and including the semi finals, has been played by France. I have usually found this to have been the case in most womens’ tournaments which I have followed. Their game style mirrors the characteristics of that which has been typical of their mens’ teams for many years: good, controlled passing movements with the ball being passed smoothly from one player to another, with the emphasis on stroking the ball rather than over-weighted kicks.
    Most teams play in the same way as their mens’ teams and so England, though they have have performed with admiral spirit and determination throughout the tournament, have recorded disappointing stats in terms of passing accuracy.
    The most interesting case in my opinion , however, is Japan. Where the vast majority of female teams are set in the same style as their mens’ teams, Japan are different. Their possession-style of play has been adopted because the Japanese coaches, in control of their womens’ game, decided that this is the one best suited to their players. It is not the way that their men play. There is now a growing strength of opinion in Japan that the men should adopt this game style into their play and so it is a case of the mens’ game in that country learning from the womens’ version.
    That is how the womens’ game should have been developed in the first place and can lead to all-round improvements globally in the standards of play. It was a mistake to imitate the mens’ game from the outset and it is particularly disappointing that in England, when the explosion of interest and participation first occurred, that a different game style was not introduced by the FA Coaching Department, specifically dealing with the womens’ game, from day one.
    I am not suggesting that Japan have a perfect game style, far from it, and England were most unlucky to lose the semi final, especially in the cruel way in which they did. Also, although Japan keep the ball well as they move up the pitch, in the final third they often lack penetration and imagination, and so they have to address those weaknesses. But they have shown creative thinking, by approaching the playing of the game in a different way from that which their mens’ teams have traditionally done.

  16. Hi Steve. Some time ago i wrote a ‘blog’ about womens football and said how disappointing it was that they had not attempted to produce a more appropriate game-style than that which reflected our mens game .After watching the brave and spirited performance of our women,,the ‘magic’ ingredient missing was —‘class’ — something that is essential if we are to win at the top flight.

  17. Hi all. We have, in great amounts, an important football ingredient — ‘fighting spirit’! Without this fundamental playing requirement success is virtually impossible. Our teams, both male and female, display this attribute magnificently. This spirit — ‘earns the right’ to govern performances, but without sufficient levels of skill in our game we are unable to achieve any benefit from dogged performances. Our game is, so often. just a ‘fight’ without skilful qualities to produce the ‘knock-out’ that winning demands.
    Team fighters without individuals with flair can only produce mediocrity —- not gold medals!

  18. Tony Mowbray once was quoted as saying, “I spent 15 years heading and kicking it as I was told.Yet When I was 14/15 I was the best player in North Yorkshire, I was beating 6 players and scoring a goal. Somewhere along the line, somebody coached out of me the ability to beat six men, drop my shoulder and bend it into the top corner. I could do it for fun as a junior. I was scoring 10 goals a game.
    For four years after breaking into Middlesborough first team at eighteen, until the age of 22, I just thought football was a slog, a fight every week on bad pitches, fighting to try and win one nil or keep a clean sheet. At the time we were at the bottom of the 2nd division and every game was a fight for a young guy just breaking into the first team, I had four years of that.”

    • Unfortunately the pressure to win starts from the earliest age. With style when the first question is did you win ? Parents more upset than their children if they lose . Parents trying to influence game style to achieve results . You can be fighting an uphill battle. But more and more people are coming around to the idea that you can have an attractive style of play and be successful. I like the phrase winning with style.
      yes I loved the fighting never say die battling qualities England’s women portrayed but I was dissapointed with the game style because I have watched English women’s club teams play better more positive braver football and there are the quality of player to do it.
      I have a daughter in the system so have seen a lot of the work at junior levels and quality of player. There is some good work going on . But I believe the coach education does not equip the coaches with sufficient detail about player qualities needed to develop absolutely elite players. So unless your lucky to have an enlightened coach your quality as a player will have to come through in spite of the system not because of it. I’ve done the fa courses there is some good in the youth modules but befuddled development programme conflicting messages from fa level 1,2 to youth modules and a non linked progressive structure means you have to link it together yourself like Lego and not enough technical detail. John cartwright talks so much sense his programme comes from a great perspective “staying with the ball” and “combining with others when necessary” absolutely do not teach and unless we do start to appreciate skilful creative tactically flexible and astute players in every position we won’t produce the players of fantasy that will be ball on d’or winners.
      it’s no coincidence that Barcelona have 3 south American forwards with unbelievable skill.

  19. The French Under 17 team who beat Austria 1 – 0 last night in the UEFA Tournament shown on Eurosport, were strong, powerful athletes. They dwarfed their opponents in terms of physicality but Austria probably had the cleverest player on the pitch in forward Horvath. Co-commentator, Stewart Robson, made an interesting remark when he said that it looked to him as if France were giving priority to recruiting strongly built, athletic players in the first place and then later turning their attention to their developent in game intelligence and understanding.
    If this is true then I find it a depressing situation. Surely we want players, in the first place, to be judged and assessed on their levels of technical skill and then their education in game understanding. To be fair to France, their Under 17 team, which won their UEFA Tournament at that age group a few months ago, were good players in the strictly football sense and not physical specimens, and Stewart Robson acknowledged this. So, hopefully, this is not a sharp change in direction by the French Football Federation, who have always been among the game’s purists, and the ‘whim’ of the person in charge of their Under 19s, who will hopefully be brought back into line.
    However, I have heard that there are some clubs who actually scout competitors in athletics meetings with a view to approaching those of exceptional speed and power and suggesting that they come to their club to see if their athletic qualities can be transferred into a football environment. I seem to recall that, a few years ago, the rugby player, Danny Cipriani,was given a game in a QPR reserve match. Thankfully, the experiment went no further than that on that particular occasion.
    But if scouts really are attending athletic meetings, then this is a most depressing situation.

  20. Hi All. Martin Samuels (Daily Mail) wrote a piece yesterday about the poor Technique of the English women’s team in their World Cup performances. Their passing stats. were particularly poor — almost the worst of all the nations there.
    I would be amazed if our ladies were asked to pass the ball in a non-competitive (technique) situation would not be able to score extremely high stat results. It is a clear sign that technique practises (no interference) are unsuitable as a learning method for a game that involves interference and that it is SKILL practises that contain interference that should be the teaching and learning method for interference sports. Practice what you play and then play what you’ve practice !
    The competitive game requires much more than pure technique as so many other decisions must be made when involved competitively. Technique does not include the instantaneous demands and questions the competitive game requires ……. so let’s start developing our young players by supplying them with the correct ‘tools for the job’ …… the SKILLS to play the game!!

  21. We can’t pass and retain possession under pressure. I believe that’s because we don’t practice in pressured situations, decreasing size of area and increasing playing numbers of opposition as the work develops. I recall that about 25 – 30 years ago, when the FA brought out the Soccer Star Scheme, which focused on coaching some very important techniques, the emphasis was on testing the players’ speed as they developed, rather than their ability to perform under increaingly pressurised situations. So counts were taken of, say, the number of turns which could be done in a minute, rather than the abiltiy to perform under increased presure. So interference was missing, even as the player developed.

    • Hi Steve. There have been an enormous amount of ‘tweakings’ to FA coaching programs since they began in the early 50’s but very little progress in the skill development of players has occured. There has been lots of academic terminology and numerous litery attempts to teach the game —all with little effect on improving playing standards.
      The standardisation of coaching since the demise of Street Football has delivered exactly what standarisation can only deliver —- sameness! This is what our game has become and it is only bolstered by the inclusion of foreign players.
      Hyped terminology, not realistic truth regarding our playing standards, has created false levels of ability in an attempt to camouflage the real sub-standard qualitiy of our game. We retain the ‘fight’ instinct but the skilful aspects of the game have not been acquired….. ‘Fightball’ is the result.
      Not until we recognize the importance of individualism and how to produce players with high playing qualities in all positions on the field will we begin to be genuine and not false challengers for the game’s top honours.

  22. Hi all. Well, we’ve just had a great example of the importance of ‘class’ in sport. This time it’s Tennis that’s supplied the obvious answer to our misguided approach to the playing of the game of football.. Federer v Murray at Wimbledon yesterday showed how Federer’s, tremendous win was a shining example of creative,imaginative individualistic skills destroying Murray’s, very good, but less polished game.
    Murray, is a fine player, but as in football, it is that extra level of skill and game awareness that propels the very good into the realm of greatness. The lack and appreciation of true, skilful ability affects so many aspects of our life, not just our sport in this country for we have become satisfied by mediocrity and falsely call it great or legendary!
    The necessity to create development methods that can achieve excellence in all areas of learning should be the aim we set ourselves. Excellence — greatness, call it it what one likes, but not until we recognize and accept that good is not great will we be able to elevate our sports’ performances to the level that produces gold and is not satisfied with anything less.

  23. I have recently heard a senior member of the FA’s coaching staff address a group of professional academy coaches of clubs in the Premier and Football Leagues, on the neglect which he observes regularly in matches between academy teams that he watches on a regular basis.
    He specified two areas which he drew particular attention to and stated that they require immediate attention. Firstly, he said the the ball is continuously being played forward into midfield areas from the defence to find a midfield player. Too often the recipient is positioned in a square, closed body shape , instead of half turned and thereby able to check his shoulder. Far too often the ball is needlessly set back when it could have been turned forward to build up the momentum of a fast, penetrative attack.
    The second point concerned the all too prevalent habit of a player in a forward position going down the same line as the player in possession of the ball, instead of coming off that line and changing the angle of his position to his marker which enables him to screen the ball on receiving it and also allows the passer to give him the ball on his ‘screen side’, away from the opponent if he follows to mark tightly.
    These are basic technical skills which are addressed and worked on in Level 1 of Premier Skills.
    If the young players in our academies, who presumably are the cream of England’s young talent, are not receiving this basic, but vital, instruction then clearly there is a serious deficiency in the coach education which is being given to academy coachees.
    Unless this situation is addressed then how can we properly develop our young players so that they can compete on an equal level with the the young players of Spain, France, Germany etc.

    • Hi Steve. It has been said for a very long time by those of us who have spent a lifetime in the game that —the very best coaches should be working with our young players, not just on their arrival at Academies, but prior to that — from their earliest involvement with the game. This has not happened and subsequently, our football is built on weak foundations.
      The Premier Skills programs were not just put together in a ‘blind’ attempt to ‘hit the development market’, they were set out in a careful way to provide a gradual learning pathway from junior to senior level. This ‘pathway’ follows game learning requirements that are set towards a playing vision that, because of the structure of each level, allows for suitable adaptations to that vision as required over time.
      Too many Coaches working with young players do not possess the necessary football knowledge nor experience to be working in the important foundation period of the game. The early Coaching awards they attain do not provide a satisfactory basis of knowledge for their involvement at such an important time and they should be under constant guidance whist working alongside more experienced tutors.
      I believe our development methods are inappropriate for the teaching and playing of the game. The theory aspects are useful but the practical work does not provide a carefully constructed, realistic approach to the teaching of the game that will produce excellence in performance. Standardisation is something that applies to large commercial projects for it is about ‘production line quantity’, not ‘hand-built quality’. It is quality coaching expertise to produce ‘football’s Ferrari’s’ that we need to see in our game and not the present ‘traffic jam’ of ‘second-hand players’ that offer no flair or excitement to the ‘Beautiful Game’

  24. Hi John and Brazil94….
    I perhaps need to clarify that the recent chat given to Academy coaches by a senior FA Staff Coach took place on the opening few days of a UEFA ‘A’ Licence Course at which I was kindly allowed to be an observer, having failed in my own application for the course.
    I entirely agree with John when he says that “our football is built on weak foundations”. The weak foundations, in my opinion, start with FA Level 1. The technical content is inadequate and unchallenging for both coach and player. The contrast with the work on Premier Skills Level 1 is extreme because the work here is detailed and requires close study and practise. But after taking the time and trouble to do this the coach is much better equipped to effectively coach a group of young players and eventually progress through further Levels of the Practice/Play Coaching Scheme.
    With reference to the UEFA ‘A’ LIcence Course, I was surprised that a number of the candidates at their clubs worked with players of quite a young age, where the matches are played with low numbers teams. I was under the impression that the ‘A’ Licence was a test in coaching in 11 v. 11 situations which would not be relevant to these coaches.
    Also, nearly 40 years ago , when the course was known as the Full Badge, I did the course but before your application was processed you went on a weekend Preparatory Course when each candidate put on a coaching topic and the senior Staff Coach gave his thoughts on how you performed and whether he felt that you should proceed on to the course. On the recent course which I attended, the candidates did a session on the first few days for the staff coaches to get an idea of where each of them was currently at in their progress as a coach. I would have thought that the old method of aquiring this information on a Prep Course prior to the ‘A’ Licence is a better arrangement for everyone.

  25. Hi Steve

    Just a couple of points and observations:

    To me it seems incredulous that the key points that you mention, identified by the Senior FA Staff Coach were not followed up in discussion by the attendees, with their responses and THEN his suggestions on HOW to rectify the problems? – unless they were?

    Surely, these two points are worked on to some degree by various professional academies/clubs…inasmuch, that you yourself will have seen this – sometime, somewhere in your travels – however, maybe not recently!

    Trevor Brooking has talked about the ‘screen side ‘ and ‘half turn’ positions. So one would think that this information has filtered down into the Academy system while he was still in his role of Coaching Overlord?

    But, it would appear that if these vital coaching points – and others are being ‘worked on” – for some reason they are not becoming ‘part and parcel’ the young players’ game. This perhaps is the crux; that the bedding down is not taking place…surely a case of emphasis and coaching methods.

    Did you have an opportunity to privately speak to anyone at the UEFA Course about the issues?

    • Hi Brazil 94. I believe that the answer to all of your questions relating to player development falls back onto the failure of the FA to create a development methodology that connects properly from top to bottom. The difficulty that Steve, encountered stems from this lack of continuity through the programs. What is needed to be taught to players as they move through the different levels is not being correctly introduced —- or introduced at all!
      The DNA of Performance Philosophy — (Game-style in real football talk) — as set out recently by the FA, is an attempt to establish a playing vision. Establishing a forward vision is fine, however, those who are involved probably fail to understand how to create the development ‘pathway’ and do not use the necessary ‘building blocks’ for each section — the result is, —- a ‘patchwork’ mess with holes along the route!
      By the way, i wonder where they got the idea of having a playing vision for our game from?

  26. Yes, as John says, the FA Coaching Scheme is a mish mash where the various levels do not link together properly. This, for me, is one of the great strengths of Premier Skills, i.e. the way that it all fits together. As I have said before, I understand that if you have played at a certain level, you can go straight onto Level 2 of the FA coaching route, and even straight to Level 3 in some cases. This is not the case with Premier Skills, however. As you progress through the levels you see how it all connects and the connection with the initial work at Level 1 is always there.
    From what I see and hear, I believe that the sports science side of football in player development, has beome far too important. Many of the old tried and trusted methods have been dispensed with without sufficient thought. I think about the scrapping of reserve team football in favour of Under 21 Development Squads. For years we had no doubt that young players benefitted enormously from playing with and against good senior players. This was achieved in reserve team football. Obviously, senior players who sulked because they weren’t in the 1st team were a liability and of no use, but there were many others who knew that their best days were behind them and performed an invaluable job in the reserves playing alongside the best of the Under 18 team. I recall that Ron Greenwood used Ron Boyce at West Ham in this role, after the midfield player’s knee problems ruled him out of 1st team contention for the last few years of his career. And there were numerous other examples of this in reserve teams around the country.

  27. I am no great fan of the Premier League supremo, Richard Scudamore, but I agreed with him this week when he got up the backs of a few people by saying that it wasn’t the job of the Premier League to support the England team. If we want to see more English players in the leading Premier League line-ups each week, then the development process must be improved so that the clubs turn their attention away from the players on offer around the world and start using the young English players in our clubs’ Academies.
    If the players are good enough then they will get their chance but the amount of foreign players in our clubs’s youth teams shows that they think the young talent is better to import from abroad. In the Final of the UEFA Under 19 Tournament earlier this week there were a number of players on both sides, Spain and Russia, who had played several matches in the first teams of their clubs. Coaches involved in the development of young players must be improved in England and then the first team managers must have the courage to give them their first team chance when the time is right.
    i understand that there was not one player in the Spanish squad from Barcelona. This proves the good level of coaching and development in Spain across all clubs. Although their domestic championship is confined to only one or two teams with a realistic chance of winning it, their coaching capabilities are much more widespread and they reap the benefits at international level.

  28. This is one of the best articles written. Thanks god someone is using common sense. I have been coaching and developing players for over 10 years and John is 100% correct!
    You don’t see a tennis coach starting off by playing matches…

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