By John Cartwright
“John!” the loud cry would come from either my mother or father; it’s time for bed and school’s tomorrow. Thousands of hours were taken up in the street, school playground and wartime debris, for these places were the learning grounds of the footballers of the past. These ‘mini Wembley’s’ provided competitive, small-sided games of football with realistic football decision-making — a football ‘apprenticeship’— that taught the game without the pressure or intrusion of parents, or later, would-be coaches. The loss of this informal but positive way of learning has meant an enormous change from the ‘natural’ development of young players to a more ‘pressured’ format. The ‘structured’ take-over of development has been unable to recreate a satisfactory coaching methodology that can recover the loss of practice time, nor the practical realism to learning suitable for all ages. Equally destructive has been the ever growing emphasis on winning and not learning — now inadequate practice is followed by a win-win culture that has resulted in the disastrous acceptance of mediocrity being accepted as greatness!
The couple of evenings a week and a game at the weekend is the sum total of ‘practice whilst playing’ that most of our youngsters now receive. In many cases parents have become both a ‘taxi service’ and ‘escort’ for their children at evening training sessions and weekend matches. This inclusion of the parent(s) at coaching sessions and matches has not been dealt with as astutely by football in general as it should have been; often there is animosity between parents and coaching staff that escalates to situations where a parent and his/her child are excluded from further involvement with a club. Strained relations between parents, staff and clubs should not be a feature throughout the development years and more thought must be given to the matter.
I have seen attempts by clubs to limit the involvement of parents from the actual sessions in which their children are working. In some instances the parents are placed well beyond the actual working area and so miss the information that is being given to their sons/daughters. I have also seen parents restricted form entering a training area and left to stand outside throughout a session. This attempt to reduce the parents’ influence on their children regarding playing matters is, in my opinion, a lost opportunity to increase the understanding of the game to parents. The parent is with a child for much longer than the coach or teacher and should therefore, be in a position to offer good advice or even join in with ‘football homework’ with him/her. Our game is in crisis. We are not producing players through the present development methods in both numbers and high playing standards. Parents need to be closely associated with development issues and be instructed along with their children. Even the occasional ‘football know-all’ must be given the chance to see the game beyond his/her personal, limited vision of it. The understanding of the game and the advice given to young players by both parents and coaches must correspond equally or distortions can affect the learning progress of the child.
When I was Academy Director at clubs I made it feature at each evening coaching session with our young schoolboys to bring all the parents together and, whilst sessions at different age levels were ongoing, I would either discuss with the parents what was being coached or I would delegate a staff member. At games it was important that the parents understood what their youngsters were trying to do and be able to discuss the game — the pluses and minuses with staff members. It was vitally important that parents were made aware that the junior games were not just to be won, but that the work being delivered during weekly coaching sessions was understood and being produced both individually and in team play during games by their children.
Coaching isn’t easy and every opportunity to find ways to assist in creating better teaching and learning opportunities for our young coaches and players must not be overlooked. The ‘home-bred’ player must become an integral part of our game. The continual flow of talent, young and old from abroad must not be allowed to continue as at present. We must take our ‘heads from out of the sand’ and begin to see the game and the way we teach it in a different light. Most certainly, the involvement and education of parents on the teaching and playing of the game must be given a much higher level of importance by all those involved in our game’s future.