By John Cartwright
On passing my 11plus examination I obtained a place at a local Grammar School. The school had a good reputation locally for producing students for Universities and the educational format was set totally towards an academic education. Classrooms provided the daily venues for all subjects – no ‘hands dirty’ approach to learning, just books to read and write in and chalky blackboards to look at – Metal-work, Carpentry etc. were not part of the curriculum. I was never interested in going to University and left school at 16 with my ‘O-levels’ for various subjects but I knew nothing about things that were to become extremely important to me throughout my adult life. Any academic success I had at school derived from teachers who ‘brought their subject to life’; were able to ‘display’ their subjects in a clear, progressive and purposeful way. For me, recognising the ‘linkage’ between learning and its application into everyday life was of paramount importance.
From 10 years of age I wanted to be a pro footballer. At every opportunity, in streets or school playgrounds, I would play the game to improve my skills and, if nobody else was around, I would spend time on my own perfecting my techniques by using walls as rebound surfaces.
These make-do ‘practice/playing’ areas were my classrooms and without realising it I was learning to ‘link’ non-interference technical practice, with competitive, interference during small-sided games. This practical learning combination of technique/skill acquired in street football continued into full match-play at junior and later, senior levels. At the higher playing levels there is a gradual reduction in space and time that forces non-interference techniques to be ‘honed’ towards skills to comply with the increase of interference associated with real game situations.
We have a conundrum in development – how do we, with we less practice time available than in the past, produce players with realistic skills and game understanding for modern football?
Lost learning time will not be regained by continuing to teach ‘by the book’. Academic coaching ‘projects’ of one kind or another have been introduced into our development system over decades, but all have ignored the importance of time for practice and how to overcome its loss.
Emphasis in development has shuttled from one extreme to another – from ‘Direct Play’ to ‘Possession Football’ – ‘classroom, academic leadership’ that has devised and controlled development here since the demise of ‘natural learning’ in the street have failed to realise the importance of realistic practice time to develop the skills to use competitively at the higher levels. The academic learning mentality that has been imposed on development here over the years has seen classroom time – talking and watching, surpass realistic practice time – out on the grass. This ‘clean’ but unrealistic approach to teaching the game has made excellence an impossible target to achieve. Today, players ‘camouflage’ poor playing ability with increased athletic qualities. We have now entered the period best described as the age of ‘Robotic Football’ – a simplistic playing style that reflects the simplistic football qualities of our players.
But this debasement of such a skilful game as Association Football can be over-turned. There is a way to combine time with football teaching/learning and so improve playing standards towards excellence……..Future teaching of the game must relate more to actual game requirements. This process must begin from day one on the development ‘pathway,’ for the work provided for a child of 5-6 is the foundation of his/her competitive ability at 18+ !! Realistic ‘doing’ must become the corner stone of teaching and learning. To begin, a pre-defined ‘playing vision’ must be clearly established with a ‘practical pathway’ to follow. Teachers must bring actuality into their sessions and their players must recognise where, why and how the work at present links with work previously completed as well as the work to follow.
Like the best teachers’ in a school, the best coaches of the game in future must be able to ‘bring their subject alive’; have a clear/realistic program to follow – introduce it with patience – make it understandable at all levels – support realistic practises with suitably arranged games. The loss of practice time can be overcome with skills and game knowledge improved considerably as well.
Finally, let’s make teaching and learning something that players just can’t wait to take part in. It’s a great game. Let’s make English football great to teach – play – watch. Let’s become the world’s best football nation…….. it is possible.