Lush Surfaces……..lost skills!

By John Cartwright

Back in the days of thick, muddy, football pitches the game had players who were capable of performing its individual and team skills irrespective of the conditions. Today, even with the pristine surface, players are in my opinion, less able to reproduce the individualism and team-play of the past.

There are numerous examples of both ‘lost individual skills and team-play’; suitable Passing speeds – Dribbling – Heading – Crossing – Running with the ball stand-up Tackling and gathered Sliding Tackles – are missing from the repertoire of so many of our players whilst, Team-play – lacks space appreciation – 2v1 options – Take-overs – Positional rotations etc.  Why have these individual and team ‘arts’ of the game disappeared only to be replaced by ‘robotic’, boring mediocrity?

Well, the answer is easy  —- POOR COACHING ….. it can’t be anything else!


Prior to the introduction of coaching the game, playing it at every opportunity in different settings, on different surfaces and competitively with differing numbers of players was the way it was learned. Those thousands of REALISTIC practice/playing hours have gone, only to be replaced by mini sessions of ORGANISED academic/mediocrity.

I have been lucky, perhaps unlucky, to have lived through the whole period of coaching here in the UK.  Since it began in the early 1950’s I have watched  individual skills be replaced by basic, unrealistic technique practises and games of all numberings be driven by coach organisation and not by player observation and decision-making.  I have seen cleverness at individual and team levels reduced to clumsy, aggressive scrappiness and this is supposed to be the way forward……well, I don’t think so!

During my football lifetime I have been fortunate to see so many of the real greats of the game, both of British and Foreign stock. The opportunity to have been involved in the game and acquire a passion for development has given me the opportunity to ‘play with the game’, and in so doing, visualise a ‘total’ playing quality and to formulate a practical ‘pathway’ to achieve it. Premier Skills Coaching Methods, is a ‘coaching pathway’ from junior to senior level of the game – It is about teaching the game in realistic stages towards a flexible, playing style.

Soccer - Football League Division One - Charlton Athletic v Huddersfield Town

With each season, I have watched and criticised the loss of English talent; yes, without doubt we could easily compete against the best in the world if our players had been developed along a better pathway. There has been too much emphasis on academic-styled teaching methods whilst practises with progressive realism have been disregarded in favour of practical organisation. This organised teaching concept entered the coaching domain from the very earliest days as educationists dictated development. There has been a consistent effect on the game over the years as the look of practises has become more important than their realistic playing content.

The FA Coaching schemes over the years have failed miserably

to connect with the actual playing requirements of the game. Academics, schooled in classroom methods and not Professional football standards, have lead coaching along numerous, unrealistic pathways. The lack of establishing a playing vision for our game has been, and still is, a major mistake in coaching in this country and In its place, we have continually ‘copycatted’ other successful nations. Success has not followed but we still see the same ‘academic hierarchy’ in control of coaching and development here.

In a recent ‘Blog’ – There has to be a better way …. I have mentioned the lack of continuity between practice and playing throughout the whole of our development years. This single issue is so important if players from junior to senior levels are to progressively acquire the skills in conjunction with a sound understanding of the game. At all levels of learning, practises must be immediately followed by games played that reflect practical work. If one does not combine with the other, ability and understanding will be seriously affected and player progress reduced.

Throughout all levels of football learning here, this combination of practice/playing is not recognised and accordingly, we pay a terrible price in lost talent.

The streets, debris and school playgrounds used to be the ‘Wembley’s for millions upon millions of kids and they produced players with skill and understanding here as well as throughout the world. What a great shame for our game that the lush, pristine greenery of playing surfaces of today— such an improvement on the rough, muddy grounds of yesteryear – are seemingly unable to provide the backdrop for quality players to play quality football –  all because we can’t teach the game properly!

48 thoughts on “Lush Surfaces……..lost skills!

  1. Hi all. The photo above of the flooded, muddy field must have been taken at the beginning of this game as the players are not ‘plastered’ in mud aqs wil occur as the match continues. This type of playing surface was normal from October to late March each season. Different surfaces now, but is the game better?

  2. It’s a fascinating question. My instinct tells me that at the very top level watching Messi he is as good – if not better – than anyone has ever been. Whether Messi could have performed at that level against Goikoetxea – ‘The Butcher of Bibao’ or, say, Gentile in Serie A is impossible to say. Imagine how amazing it would have been to watch a youthful Maradona on a carpet-like pitch of today (that doesn’t cause the ball to bobble along): watching his dribble for the 2nd goal v England at WC’86 was absolutely breath-taking given that the ball was skipping up from that terrible surface the whole time.

    These players are outliers, though: exceptional. More generally, for the average player, I think it’s fair to say that the improvement in the pitch has led to a decline in skill levels. Speed rules over everything else. This progression is understandable because a player with pace is highly dangerous. The problem is pace can replace other attributes that are vital for the ‘complete player’. Pass and move (quickly) has been the way for so. I often see our so-called best players play with a lack of game understanding because their pace has got them out of trouble in the past. But then they get embarrassed by playing against someone who has technique and can improvise. And recently, they were embarrassed by players who don’t have that much technique, but are organised (i.e. Iceland).

    From what I have seen, Practice Play is the stand-out methodology to develop an organic coaching community across the land where skill, technique and improvisation can be developed in parallel to pace and the physicality needed to play the game at the highest level today. If a project (i.e. the coaching syllabus at The FA) is demonstrably not working, can someone explain to me why Practice Play is not the building block of grass roots football in this country? Gareth Southgate? David Sheepshanks? Pete Sturgess? Anyone?

  3. I agree it should be, I’m sure and in fact I know the FA did look at the premier skills ideology.
    If you look at the future game you can clearly see the FA have taken some of johns ideas and printed them into their future game document , safe area and targets area are a main feature in the practise play methodology.
    It’s ok knicking premier skills ideas but you need to see the 1-5 levels , it seems the fa have taken only levels 1-2.
    So how can you implement a vision when you can’t see the ending and how it all ties together.
    I’ve been lucky enough to see all levels and their brilliant from start to finish.
    The reason why the people you mentioned will not answer you is simple.
    If they did it would mean that what they have in place is wrong, they don’t want to admit their wrong.
    John is the best youth coach in this country in my opinion, but the fa see him as an outcast and a threat to them.
    Let’s face it the failing industry that is the fa have had NO success in many a year but people still pump money in to get their badges.
    Why put money into a failed industry , you wouldn’t do it in normal life would you.
    Our football robots will continue to play because they know no better , the coaches who coach them aren’t good enough either.
    If we had great coaches , we will produce great players who in turn play great football.
    The fact is we fall in all of the above .
    WHY ?
    It’s is and always will be about the coaching or teaching of the game.
    All the fa staff are brainwashed in thinking we have great academies producing quality players. Well where are they , I don’t see to many u21s, 18s or 16s that exited me at all from what I’ve seen lately.
    It’s seems nearly all fa staff have become experts in all areas of football , especially in development and elite talent ID.
    Any academic can write a good piece of literature and show an impressive power point presentation, but that’s all it is .
    Can they coach , probably not , can they spot a player, probably not.
    Who are coaching the coaches once they get their badges , answer very few.
    The ones that do look to continue in their development have to travel to St. George’s park , so what if you live in London?
    The money they spent there should of been distributed across the county and has at least 5 main hubs so we can all get to the venues without it costing the earth.
    Getting back to premier skills , I think that one day hopefully that it will be looked at again , but I guess we won’t be here.

    • Steve it wont be looked at here, the only people in this country trying to push it is myself and ? What happened to all those coaches that got involved when Roger and Sam were here in the UK, they all disappeared?

  4. Hi Steve,

    My kids joined a local club this season. It’s the first time they have been involved in a club. Unfortunately, the coaching is not integrated across the club and age levels even though the chap who is running it is a good guy and clearly has a tremendous passion for football and developing all of the hundreds of kids at this club. The lack of support on the ground across the land from the FA is laughable.

    I’ve had playing experience as a teenager up to national level, but finished at 18 and have not been involved with a club or coaching for any sustained period since. This season, I was really keen to help out my youngest son’s age group at upper Key Stage 1. Having been interested in football again over the last few years I wanted to initiate Practice Play across all the younger age groups at this club. It was hard to sell the idea in to the club, however, and my relative inexperience with coaching and motivating young people didn’t help.

    I can see that Practice Play is the best methodology to give kids confidence, a pathway, and a sense of development. Instead of that, my boy had to play games against other Charter Mark clubs whose boys were individually better and could get a good contact on the ball. At his 2nd or 3rd match, he had the ball whacked at him when he was cold and wet it has put him off. I’ve taken him out of that environment for now. The problem is that there really isn’t anywhere safe for him to play near where we live so his chances of getting any development time and improving away form a club environment are severely reduced. I can’t play with him for hour after hour and that’s not what he needs, anyway.

    I never played for a team until I was 9. I played in the streets or on a field opposite the house with my mates. At 14 or 15 I was arguably the best player in the district for my age group. Most of that development was from playing in the street or at the local youth clubs; playing up a few years against people who would give you a whack if you weren’t quick minded about what you were doing.

    I like Gareth Southgate as a man from what I have seen and he seems to have an approach that might be more successful than some expect, but only if he can motivate and inspire the younger England players who were with him in the development squads. How you motivate a bunch of multi millionaires who have a seemingly Jungian collective unconscious that their pay packets are above their ability is another question altogether!

    Southgate’s demeanor aside, the general outlook for football development in this country is thoroughly depressing. The people with the real talent (i.e. quality English players who have played the game at the highest level) are now so rich that it’s hard to see why they would then give of their time to Key Stage 1 & 2 kids within the current coaching framework.

    Instead of wasting all that money on SGP and the regional hubs (& Wembley whilst we’re at it) the FA should have been working with local councils and residents to put in 20m x 15m courts in every available community space in every village, town and city where primary school kids can get access to them. This would give kids somewhere to play. Perhaps the FA could then have peripatetic teachers (i.e. going from place to place) advertising when they might drop in to these areas to see kids in their local areas play scratch games and initiate talent ID in a different way. Maybe these FA coaching roles could be for kids who didn’t quite make it (kids like me?), but who would understand from a young age and the outset that if you didn’t make a professional career in the game your talent and knowledge wouldn’t be lost to the next generation. It’s too late when someone has been released because these kids will walk away from football rather than consider a different option at that point. In parallel those that do make it walk away too rich to want to commit to dedicating their time to the next generation.

    I worked at sports coach UK for 12 months. The FA Relationship Manager there didn’t understand football from a professional level, but, as an academic [PhD holder], thought the answer was to provide coaches with an iPad in the field (other tablets are available).

    Football – bloody hell.

    I am really interested in understanding how English football is being and can be improved so that we may one day compete at a major tournament finals. The fix is multi-faceted and not just football related, but unless coaches working with young kids are given a new coaching pathway that is fit for purpose I am yet to be convinced that we will win a major trophy before 2053. Who would bet against me?

  5. Some great comments.just as importantly on all John Cartwright blogs there are gems of understanding for thinking coaches. “At all levels of learning, practises must be immediately followed by games played that reflect practical work”.
    Re coach education there are courses being mapped in the UK for late August/September – keep an eye open for dates/venues on Premier Skills website.

  6. It is ironic that in an era when playing surfaces are like billiard tables compared to those of the past, the actual skill levels, or at least those exhibited by British players, is depressingly low. Even at grass roots level, an increasing number of junior clubs have access to 3G and 4G synthetic pitches. But the fact is that the skills developed in childhood games played on the street and waste ground by past generations, resulted in the development of individualism, and the disappearance of this free play has seen skill levels dwindle with the introduction of the ‘organised’ coaching which is prevalent today.
    About fifty years ago George Best scored a goal for Man Utd against Chelsea in a First Division game at Old Trafford which must rate as one of the finest pieces of individualism anyone in the packed ground that day has ever seen. Best accelerated through the centre of Chelsea’s defence with the ball, as if tied to his feet by elastic. The rain was driving down and the pitch was an absolute quagmire, at least ankle deep in mud, but on and on Best went towards the Chelsea goal. Chelsea defenders were left trailing in Best’s wake but Ron ‘Chopper’ Harris kept up the chase for as long as he could, trying to remove the Irishman’s legs from the rest of his body! But even the Chelsea hard-man was beaten and Best scored an unforgettable goal.
    In that same era I saw a match between Sheffield Wednesday and West Ham at Hillsborough on a day when most of the Football League programme had fallen victim to waterlogged pitches as a result of several days incessant rain. For some reason the referee decided that this match should go ahead, although passing the ball along the ground on most parts of the pitch was almost impossible, with the surface nothing other than a glue pot of mud. But instead of moaning about the conditions West Ham manager, Ron Greenwood, instructed his players to play a game of controlled volley passes above ground level and receiving skills with the upper parts of the body. West Ham recorded a 3 – 2 victory and their approach was an education to watch and made light of the conditions.
    I think that the lesson is that in other eras players learnt the game in ground conditions much less favourable than those which the player of today enjoys. George Best played on the cobbled streets of Belfast in his childhood and youth and so the Old Trafford pitch, for all its cloying mud, probably seemed like a manicured lawn in comparison. The West Ham players, including their 1966 heroes, probably played games of ‘headers and volleys’ in their formative years, as well being coached in these skills at West Ham.
    There are still parts of the world, such as South America and Africa, where young players emerge with special skills and the stamp of individualism as a result of the rough and basic conditions in which they play. But for the rest of the planet, and especially in Britain, we must take a long, hard look at our coaching and develop the Premier Skills methodology to improve our youth development structure.

  7. There is a disturbing trend in development here in the UK;–since the demise of ‘uncontrolled’ football learning of the past those who have been instrumental in producing coaching and development methods since then have failed miserably to understand and integrate its learning qualities into their numerous attempts to find a coaching and development ‘pathway’. Their historical search from school drills in the beginning to the DNA of Performance Philosophy of today, they have failed to understand the importance of individualism that the game is built on. NOT UNDERSTANDING HOW TO TEACH INDIVIDUAL SKILLS FOR THE GAME has brought our game to a point where speed has become the master of the game. One should always remember however, that when driving a car, — THE FASTER ONE GOES, THE MORE LIKELIHOOD OF AN ACCIDENT! Speed without the ability to control it ‘infects’ our game and the sooner we understand this simple fact and begin to appreciate the importance of teaching individual skill above everything else we will continue to waste priceless young players — boys and girls, to become simplistic, speed dominated ‘robots’ —- having neither the skills for the game nor an understanding of how to play it. Our young players must be brought up with an instant ability to recognise and decide on situations that occur in games; they must be capable of deciding on the use of variable speeds as well as possess the skills necessary to play the game of Association Football as it should be played.

  8. Totally agree….i myself have been involved as a young player in the English system….i was an Apprentice late 70’s / early 80’s with Chelsea and saw first hand the lack of Football / coaching knowledge …all that time ago
    My Father also played for Orient Norwich and Brighton…..and he developed he’s ‘game’ in the playground / streets with he’s mates….he was a skilful dribbling Right winger / Inside forward
    The English system has BLOCKED the majority of individual skill / ability with these Coaching Masterminds / Gurus
    Although i very much cant see it happening…too many people have great jobs… the sooner we get back to basics…kids being allowed to discover / develop their skills themselves without being “taught” to be a Team player the better . Otherwise we will continue to produce functional nee robotic players. Our whole system needs a COMPLETE revamp with less Teacher types running the show. Oh to produce a few boys with class..skill and technique !

  9. I’ve only been looking at this blog for a few months. I can sense a strong will to change things from the few on here, but there are not enough voices. There is not enough momentum. There must be many others who are dissatisfied with youth coaching in England and Britain, but if you want change you need co-ordinated campaigns targeting key stakeholders and key organisations in the football business.

    That takes planning and commitment. And money – not just in football related matters. For example, it needs town planners making space for multi-sport facilities in park design where agility, balance and co-ordination can be transferred from balance beams through different types of aparatus to a small MUGA/ court for toddlers to be able to kick and manipulate a football individually and in a small sided game scnenario.

    You need young leaders/ life coaches to lead people in their own communities to explore how we can get some pride back in to the areas that have been decimated by globalisation. People need to feel empowered and also to be proud to represent and speak for their communities. Football could be a catalyst for all this. Unfortunately, the working classes have been abandoned by both main parties for decades.

    Despite the current political backdrop football remains a vanguard employment industry that is truly global (albeit on the pitch only to date, underpinned by global TV contracts). We need a playing workforce that can compete in that global marketplace.

    To get that workforce we need to re-boot the coaching strategy in this country. We need a new plan.

  10. Hi Peter. i fully agree with you. However, the FA have all the things you mention–from finance to political contacts . I have been involved with the FA during my coaching years and their structure isn’t party to radical changes as can be observed in the recent Govt. attempts to modernise them. One must realise that The FA have lost the total control over the game that they once had–the major influence on football here now, rests with the TV controlled Premier League. The linkage between the various organisations within and outside of the game is poor and so no considered development objective of any real significance gets off the ground.
    I discussed Premier Skills Coaching and Development Methodology during Sir T. Brooking’s ‘reign’ as Technical Director, he was very impressed —— but nothing else happened. I watch as year after year i see our young players fall away as they reach the higher levels of the game and this is directly due to the poor standard of work they have received during their development years.
    The affect of ‘lost practice time’ for our young players has not been considered throughout all of the period since ‘structured Coaching’ replaced ‘the ‘practice/playing’ of the street and players exiting modern football learning are lacking in the realistic playing qualities of individual skills and game understanding—- without these major factors the game becomes an unattainable target to play at any level let alone at he top of the game.

    • Hi John,

      I understand that the Premier League controls the turn styles and has done for a long time now. I wrote to Richard Scudamore about this and his general unwillingness to help England or the FA in a significant way. Here is an extract:

      “…by following your logic, it must be that there are dozens of British men waiting to win the mens’ tennis final at Wimbledon if only Andy Murray would get out of the way! Furthermore, on this England club v country debate I put it to you, Mr Scudamore, that you appear to qualify for the definition of a f***kwit. How do you plead?

      I look forward to your response.”

      I got a response 🙂

  11. How many coaches, often with great enthusiasm, coming off FA Coaching Courses, have actually the required knowledge and know-how, to coach the basic skills of the game? I ask because it has always seemed to me that the Courses are heavy in theory and classroom work, but short in emphasising the mechanics of the techniques, what to concentrate on in the coaching of these techniques and the type of faults which most regularly occur.
    When the FA brought out the three modules of the FA Youth Award I thought that this was going to be a serious effort to equip all junior and youth coaches with the necessary knowledge to effectively coach the game’s basic skills. But this has not provided the content of the courses and from my experience we are getting a collection of more and more games where the thinking seems to be still that “the game will be the teacher”.
    The only time that I have known the FA to make a serious attempt to equip junior coaches with the means to coach the game’s basics was when they introduced the Junior Team Manager’s Award about thirty years ago. This was meant to precede the old FA Prelim Award, which I found was much too theory-based for most of the coaches who took it. The Junior Team Manager’s Award actually broke down the skills of turning, dribbling, receiving the ball, passing etc quite well and a useful video was produced which helped back up the information provided on the course. But a few years later, when the FA revamped the courses with Levels 1, 2, 3, 4 then this new course became Level 1 and the course content became a collection of games with no instruction of how to coach the game’s basic skills.
    Observation and detection of failures in technique and how to correct them are vital in coaching young players, (and often in not so young players), but whilst details requiring observation and understanding are dealt with in aspects of team play through functional practices and phases of play in higher levels, nothing like the same attention is paid to the acquisition of basic skills in early player development.

    • Hi all. We must discontinue using the word TECHNIQUE when talking about football. TECHNIQUE is an action/ability that is performed without interference/opposition. The game of football is a game of interference and the word to describe this opposed action is SKILL. The teaching of skills requires a different teaching and learning format and suitably applied practical realism is essential throughout the whole of the development period —- and beyond.

  12. I like and dislike this comment in equal measure. ‘Getting back to premier skills , I think that one day hopefully that it will be looked at again , but I guess we won’t be here’. It would be great if it was more widely practiced but I just think it’s too niche…maybe it’s time that Levels 1 and 2 were made available online with youtube videos. I know from attending FA courses the instructors aren’t indoctrinated to the point where they don’t signpost to good practice outside of the FA courses, so you’d hope it might be something that get’s pushed by word of mouth?

    I think the whole issue you are facing is a bit cart before the horse…you attract like minded coaches that have maybe started a team at U7/ U8 that was googling around for something to coach because the Level 1 drills they’ve been doing ad nauseam are ‘not developing’ the players. They like the look of the drill and try it but the outcomes aren’t there so they revert back to type or try the next big thing to kick start some development. The real issue is that too many coaches are focused on results, you have to win to be seen to be doing a ‘good job’ and to be viewed as a good coach.
    These coaches will invariably be lost to the Premier Skills family because they’ve not appreciated the ethos, the underlying style of play and the underpining of individualism.

    I’m no expert on how you’d get people to adopt but you need to show good practice first and foremost; if you don’t have a club or team in the area then you need show one on line; you need a forum for people to engage and develop ideas and a sense of community to which they keep coming back. In fact I would imagine that if you had Levels 1 to 5 available on an online forum where coaches discussed the methodology you’d develop a good deep understanding. I wouldn’t ask a teacher to go into a class room at year 1 without them fully understanding what they are going to be teaching at year 6, isn’t one of the Premier Skills tenets something along the lines of ” you are coaching the 25 year old footballer but when they are 10 years old”? (I know that’s not correct but I understand the principle.) What harm would it do to over qualify coaches?

    From there you create some of movement, maybe tournaments but it’s just a start.


    “What happened to all those coaches that got involved when Roger and Sam were here in the UK, they all disappeared”
    I didn’t, I’m still here. Just about got over Roger’s poor, poor jokes.

    • “What happened to all those coaches that got involved when Roger and Sam were here in the UK, they all disappeared”
      I didn’t, I’m still here…”

      If you’re still here and still coaching can you advise where I might be able to watch one or more sessions, please? Sorry to repeat, but I was on a mobile earlier and pasted this question in the wrong place (i.e. didn’t reply directly to your post where you might see it and consider responding).

      I have some intermittent experience of FA Coaching (i.e. Coaching Certificate mid to late 90s; L2 course a few years ago). I was not impressed, to be frank, and for that reason – and others – have kept away from trying to coach because I don’t believe in the [FA] product or the system. I don’t want to be a part of that.

      Practice Play/ Premier Skills is a product I can believe in, though. I agree with you that the Practice Play courses would benefit from a bigger budget video production, where prospective coaches and players could get a better sense of the coaching potential. I don’t agree with you when you say it’s too niche, though. Niche how? Niche as opposed to what?

      To pick up on a point made by John earlier, I can see how Practice Play develops skill acquisition (i.e. interference and active decision making in-play), whereas standard FA-style syllabi coaching at junior levels can lead to static techniques being taught. From what I have seen, FA courses do not incorporate the dynamic marriage of motor skills, risk management and decision making in a dynamic environment that is vital for the competent performance football individually and collectively (i.e. good team play). John inferred that the correct basics are not taught early enough leading to a poor general standard at secondary school age, for example, where taking potential players to elite performers is impossible. I agree. It seems to me that we focus on the wrong things.

      Look at our England players at major tournament finals, stripped bare of their improvisational overseas colleagues who they then have to play against. They look lost. I am looking for an answer, but I feel lost in trying to unravel it, too.

      Can you elaborate on what you regard as niche, please?

      • My definition of niche – something that appeals to a small group of people, usually specialised in that field. I would guess that to be true in terms of Premier Skills’ practice play methodology? There isn’t a huge uptake and it’s usually the more informed coaches that like it (that’s confirmation bias I’m sure).
        The insight John portrays on this sight is great and provides good signposts in the murky waters of coaching. It’s good to always come back to and get perspective.

        I think the videos provided by Premier Skills are adequate, especially when linked with the workbooks. I’d just appreciate more to provide depth of understanding. If I have one or two players that are surging ahead what’s the next step on the pathway if I’m only exposed to L2? Should I then revert to FA coaching guidelines?

        Keep up the good fight Peter.

  13. Hi Peter….Children do not acquire motor skills naturally due to the social changes which have taken place over the decades and now many of the games which they traditionally played have disappeared. I have read that Borussia Dortmund in Germany, who have a fine record in youth development, do not take in youngsters for specialised football coaching before the age of thirteen. This is because they want them to experience as wide a choice of sports and games in their early years as possible before specialisation. They believe that there are many motor skills which you develop in other activities which are not present in football but which are vital for their development as a footballer, if that becomes the child’s choice of specialisation once they enter their teens. This contrasts with the approach in England where, I understand, many pro clubs take in children as young as six or seven and in some cases attempt to persuade the parents to pull their children out of other sporting activities at school and elsewhere, so as to purely concentrate on football.
    Much of the early work on Levels 1 and 2 of Premier Skills involves the children moving about tight, confined areas with the ball in their hands. Recognising and finding space is the earliest work given to them to develop the motor skills which would have already been developed at that age in previous generations.

    • Hi Steve,

      We got my kids a gaming machine at Christmas after 3yrs of nagging (they’re now aged 12, 11 & 7). This morning, I found my youngest watching a ‘match’ on Fifa17: this was a programmed game that an observer can watch passively (or actively) rather than the standard interaction one might expect. This surprised me. I asked him if he would prefer to watch the MOTD highlights that were on the TV at that time rather than a simulated game. He said, ‘No – Fifa is better!’ That shocked me!

      My kids and their mates spend social time huddled around a screen with these football games. The local schools, where all the facilities to play safely are located, are locked up and controlled to keep running costs down to their bare minimum. PFI (Private Finance Initiative) and BSF (Building Schools for the Future) have a lot to answer for. A few years ago a MUGA at a local primary school was a good place for kids to have a kick about. Then this school had a refurb and there is now an 8ft fence keeping kids off it outside of school hours.

      My wife is reluctant to let our boys play footy outside on the street for fear of being run over. The fear culture in our society also leaves dark corners of peoples’ minds worrying about abduction, too. All of this together must be very worrying for David Sheepshanks: how is England going to win the World Cup in the next 12 years (as he has pledged)?

      Mr Sheepshanks – I, for one, will not forget…

      • Hi Peter…These home video games certainly seem to be a problem when we want young people to be outside playing sport, especially football. But I suppose our continental neighbours have the same problems in getting their children away from the computer screens and they are still producing quality players. As ever, the solution is in providing the level of coaching as that in countries like Germany and Spain and this is where we need Premier Skills to be accepted as the leading coaching methodology for youth development in this country.

      • I’m intrigued as to who currently fits the premier skill vision of the type of player you want to have?
        I don’t watch a lot of football these days, so I’m not sure these days apart from Messi, Ronaldo Aguero, who fits the bill.
        Saw a tweet yesterday that lallana was brilliant yesterday.

  14. Hi all. When I decided to write the Premier Skills programs I believed it could be recognised by the FA here as a better way forward for development. However, i was wrong in expecting a radical change to coaching to occur here. Both Roger and Sam attempted to bring the methodology to the attention of the general public but overall the task was too difficult. I released Levels 1 and2 but I have retained Levels 3-4-5. as I was concerned about bits and pieces of the initial programs being used in an un-cordinated way.
    There is a real need for development here to be openly discussed.
    Experienced activists in the game — past and present, must be selected to establish a realistic development ‘pathway’ forward.
    Both practical and suitably adjusted games that follow must be designed to mould together and create a gradual realistic pathway towards a playing style that complies with both our football culture whilst absorbing appropriate aspects of the game from abroad.
    Premier Skills methodology was my way to find a ‘pathway’ forward for our game. I believe it should be examined more fully. I’m sure there are ‘football brains’ in this country who can discuss, modify and improve on my initial developmental ideas.

    • Hi John,

      I have been wondering about doing an academic piece of something on football. Maybe an MSc and then PhD in sports coaching might be the way in which your ideas could be captured and developed for future generations? I may not have the right personality to be a great coach, but I think I could produce something of worth on coaching theory that might help. I already have a degree in Sports Science and did the Science & Football Diploma at Liverpool John Moores in the late 1990s. I could develop these ideas via the Carnegie Coaching facilities in Leeds.

      I am interested in looking at the theoretical side of football coaching to help shape coaching development and players (more than being a coach myself). My own ambitions to coach would change if I could get a local club for a pilot scheme for a longitudinal study of the benefits of Practice Play coaching methodology, but that would involve someone upskilling me in the coaching of Practice Play, of course.

      There was an interesting piece in the news in the last few days about how a man from Nottingham started AC Milan:

      Generally, as an introduction, I would like to look at the coaching lineage from the outset when colonialist football pioneers ventured across all continents. Then, I would like to focus on how different coaching philosophies here in the UK have developed the game at home and what might have happened here if the governing body had followed a different path (i.e. Malcolm Allison’s Soccer for Thinkers and a lineage that might have been established from Allison’s ideas through to the present day. Yes…, I know that your method has been distilled from aspects of what MA thought).

      An academic piece such as this might help us to see the picture: to rediscover the correct pathway for this nation’s football passion to manifest itself in skillful play and skillful players once again. Or perhaps it’s too late: as a relatively rich western democracy the desire to forge a skilful football nation is now beyond us and we’re too far down the automated travelator already..(i.e. Fifa17 football robots now more interested in the online game)? I hope not!

  15. Hi all. Everything in football is supplementary to SKILL and we don’t know how to teach it. What I’m saying may seem a difficult statement to accept but nobody will convince me any different. It’s about time we took more time developing skilful players for EVERY position on the field.

  16. Pep Guardiola is trying to produce a team where the players can interchange positions with no problems and without disrupting the team. He achieved this at Barcelona and to a large extent at Bayern Munich. In England we have had specialists in certain positions for a long time because they have been developed with a limited skill range from a young age. Central defenders Pique and Boateng expanded their skill set considerably through Guardiola’s coaching at Barca and Bayern. We still largely think that if the centre half is strong in the air and a good tackler, then being able to play with the imagination and inventiveness of a midfield player is unnecessary. I have noticed recently that at Man City, Stones is passing into midfield and then continuing to follow the ball forward into these advanced positions to join in the play as it develops. Let’s hope that before Guardiola moves on from the English League, he passes on his methods of how he teaches the secret of all-round skilful players.

  17. Hi John…I think in many ways our football has gone back from how it was forty to fifty years ago. Bobby Moore was as good as anyone in any part of the world in bringing the ball out of defence to set up attacks and continue going forward to support these attacks. But although Moore was the best, he was not a unique example in England. Even in lower divisions, teams had at least one central defender who “could play a bit” and was not embarrassed by being in possession of the ball higher up the pitch. But then we started developing central defenders who played like sentries, standing upright and straight in permanently defensive positions, without the know-how and skill level to initiate attacks and venture further up the field.

  18. Hi Steve. I grew up and moved through the the same school and club development structure as Bobby Moore. None of us received anything regarding a football education of any substance —–the work had all been done in the streets, school playgrounds and on red ochre pitches. The skills, basic tactics and positional play was established in the main by the age of 16
    I failed to establish a regular first team role due to damage to my lungs from TB that I had contracted as a youngster—those boys who played with me went on to reach the game’s highest levels —- all from street beginning !

  19. The blogs tend to be about poor FA coaching methods and how we dont create great players, so can we determine who this conversation is aimed at? Is it the elite end or the whole of football, as there is a massive difference. The elite end is seen as professionally run by experts in their field, where kids and parents will generally cling on to their every word. the whole purpose is to develop players to play as professionals. Where as grassroots is seen as somewhere to play, learn and have fun with your mates. The environments are completely different to work in.

    Street football is not in my opinion why you had many 2 footed players with good skill levels. It was down to the hours you put in. If Johns generation played street football for 2/3 hours a week you would have had the same issues we do today. If today’s generation played the hours they did years ago, we would have some very talented players and add in the videos of the worlds best players skills at your fingertips, this generation could be really special.

    Another thing football is not about creating great players, first and foremost it is about developing a love of the game, spending time with friends, having fun and for the vast majority of us that is all it ever will be about. The social side to football gets lost in football coaching blogs and through the desire to develop players skills, we lose sight that we are dealing with kids that do not think like us and want to play the game as they know it, just as street footballers did by making goals from jumpers.

    Other Issues
    1: Kids want to play the real game, with GK and strikers and defenders, on bigger pitches and goals. Take that away and you lose kids to other sports.
    2: Parents want to watch their children play the game as they know it.
    3: Young children are not out playing, unless it is an organised training session.
    4: Young children are not allowed out without adults and adults dont want to go out playing football, or have the time.
    5: Costs to train 3 times a week is too expensive for many parents.
    6: Far more choices for kids these days, so less playing time.
    7: Youth leagues cater for the majority and are on the whole run under FA guidelines.
    8: Football coaches will not all agree in one method of coaching.
    9: Kids scouted too young and specialise in one sport to early.
    10: Many youth coaches are not passionate about coaching at the grassroot clubs.

    • Hi Dave. I think you are misrepresenting ‘Grassroots football.’ I totally agree with you about enjoyment, but this is why kids played football as they did for thousands of hours in streets etc. All of the points you mention are correct but if our national sport is to survive it must find a way that brings the points you make together. Times have changed the whole concept of learning and football is no different As you say, there are so many reasons for kids not to be involved in sport and not to spend time practice/playing—–it is football”s modern dilemma.
      Learning the game and enjoying the game whilst learning is vital if kids are to partake in an activity and continue with it, that”s why I produced PremierSkills—it is about practising playing in a suitably age related manner. Our football “hierarchy’ have no conception it seems of the points you make—costs, travel distances, limited parental participation, etc. have been disregarded because those who control our sport do not understand it’s ltrue teaching and learning format.
      Lots of small ‘unusable’ areas must be offered by local councils within their boundary in which kids can meet and play in small groups —or even alone practising their sport by retuning a ball against a wall, into a basket or towards cricket stumps marked on the wall. These areas, because so many could be close to homes (a necessity for new build construction sites) would bring back the private practice time lost to sports.
      School playgrounds and gyms should not become vacant areas at the end of a school day but be used to occupy children in sports. Games of sizes suitable for varying age groups must be played with parental involvement, but these games at the very junior end need to be focused on enjoyment whilst play/learning. These situations will produce, just as the streets of the past did, a variation of individual responses —–playing for just fun—-playing/practising to reach a higher standard whatever that might be.

  20. Hi all. What a sad nation we have become; our national football hierarchy have been unable to provide a realistic replacement for the game’s long-term, natural learning of the past. The important foundations of development today are lacking and subsequently, any onward ability and game understanding is reduced. We play the game without distinction at the top because we haven’t introduced it properly from the bottom!
    We have not recovered lost practice/playing time nor have we recognised the vital importance of individual skill and how to teach it in a realistic way. Learning the game by the book, computer or DVD is not how greatness is achieved, it is through gradually introduced, suitably adapted ages/areas and realistic practice/playing time that determines the decisions and actions on which high standards are founded.
    In the past an ‘Oxbridge’ education for football was acquired in ‘the University of the Street’. Today, the increased use of modern technology has not improved the skilful qualities of the game, Athleticism has ‘camouflaged’ their loss and our game has suffered as a consequence.

  21. On March 2nd 2017 the Daily Mail reports ….”England’s top academies are awash with talented players of African origin and FA chiefs want to give themselves the best chance of ensuring those players pursue a career with England”.
    These African players learned the skills of the game in an environment which disappeared from this country almost sixty years ago. Is our National Association now admitting defeat in the battle to develop our own talent through a methodology that has resulted in fifty one years of international failure?

    • not a surprise about african players being more skillful. all the greatest players in history have learned their skills on the streets not academies just look at brazil’s success & all the best attacking players in the world today are south american

    • Hi Steve and Jason. As Nigel Farage brought the attention of the British public to the limitations of membership of the European Union and has been mentioned for a Knighthood, perhaps I should be mentioned for a similar award for drawing attention to the importance of ‘StreetFootball’ and the limitations of present coaching and development methods here. —– Only joking about the ‘gong’ but not about our ongoing coaching ‘nightmare’.

    • Hi Steve,

      Did you read this piece on the BBC website:

      An extract:
      Nine of the 11 starters in City’s 2015 FA Youth Cup final team that lost to Chelsea were born in the city. Two-thirds of City academy players are now from the Manchester area.

      I tried to get in to the CFA shortly after it opened for a snoop around, but I couldn’t get past security on the gate. This BBC piece seems to be saying that the MCFC Academy is full of local, home grown young players. This surprised me: I expected their academy to be hosting predominantly African, S American and even Middle East Aspire players having a go over here on an exchange programme.

      Can you or anyone corroborate the assertion that Man City’s Academy is full of local players (i.e. 66% born & bred in Manchester)?

  22. The announcement of the death of Tommy Gemmill brings to mind a remarkable feature of the Celtic team for whom he was an attacking left back, which today would be referred to as a wing back. He was a member of what was the first British team to win the European Cup in 1967 when they beat Inter Milan 2-1 in Lisbon, Gemmill scoring the first goal, and became known as the “Lisbon Lions”. What was so noteworthy, however, was that every member of the Celtic team was born and raised in the East End of Glasgow, where Celtic are based and their stadium stands. Areas such as the Gorbals, from where countless outstanding players emerged for decades, have now disappeared and no-one would want a reappearance of the poverty and deprivation that was prevalent there for so long. But as in so many parts of the British Isles, the massive redevelopment of such areas has also seen the disappearance of the wealth of football talent which was once produced there and the coaching development ideas since then have failed to replace.

  23. John, Steve, Dave W, (open offer to all on here): Anyone going to the England game Sun 26th?

    If yes, does anyone fancy meeting up before or afterwards for a chat about the game and how we might bring on some substitutions for the ‘decision makers’?

    I might be in London Monday night, too, if that is a better option….

  24. Hi Peter. Sorry, but I will not be able to meet up at Wembley. Hope you see Steve there, he is a great guy and an interesting ‘football man’ to talk to.
    Have an enjoyable evening ——- John

  25. The FA still seem to be in denial concerning the reasons why we have problems in producing players of imagination and creativity who can
    help the England team to play at the same level as the top drawer international teams.
    Chief executive, Martin Glenn, has been reported in the press making unfavourable comparisons between the England men’s team and that of the women. But this is because, he believes, “the women are less brittle”. Glenn goes on to say “The women have a stronger sense of team identity. It has never been easy. You get strength through adversity. We have worked hard with sports psychiatrists and the science team to create that identity”. But Glenn goes on to say that “In Gareth Southgate, we have now got someone who wants to create the same identity in the men’s team and I am really confident we will have that”.
    No mention of technical deficiencies, either in tactical understanding or skill performance.
    I would not for one moment down play the performance of the England women in achieving third place in the 2015 Women’s World Cup in Canada. But it was an achievement that drew mainly on the team spirit and never-say-die attitude of the players, vitally important qualities though they are.
    Gareth Southgate must work hard to instil that same attitude in his men players as Mark Sampson did with the women. But all coaches in England have a responsibility to help produce the quality of player required to finally bring about some long awaited international success in the men’s game.

  26. I think that Jermain Defoe deserves his call-up to the England squad for the forthcoming matches against Germany and Lithuania, at the age of 34 and four years after his last cap.
    So many of today’s English born strikers seem to be selected for their physical qualities of physique, strength and power. But Defoe’s game has always been built around quick,well timed, darting angled runs into space behind defenders. Plus good finishing skills in and around the penalty area. His success is poof that an attack can be led by a physically small player who has the skills and game understanding of a striker. I think there could many more players with the potential to be effective strikers but find themselves put into midfield positions because of physical considerations without looking at their other qualities.

  27. Hi Steve. The main problem with our front players is twofold — service to them is usually very poor and secondly our front players tend to be better athletes than skilled footballers. There is no better example of athleticism ‘camouflaging skill deficiencies in our game than the limited number of quality ‘up front’ footballers.

  28. In my opinion, last night England gave an improved performance against Germany because they were more relaxed in possession of the ball and played with more patience. At all levels , English players are too rushed and anxious when attempting to build up attacks and this problem is only made worse by the crowd willing the players to get the ball down the field towards the opponents’ goal, as quickly as possible. But last night England were calm and measured in their approach and created chances which unfortunately they failed to take.
    That was probably the best that England have played during the last twelve months, in fact their best performance since the last match against Germany when England won 3 – 2. That game was also away from home and this seems significant because, in away matches, there is not the same pressure put on England from the crowd to launch gung ho attacks on the opposition goal as soon as they gain possession, as there are in home games.
    Last night in Dortmund saw some promising performances from a number of young England players and they gave a good account of themselves and showed that they can play and adjust to that level. Crowds can make or break players, especially young ones. If the players have shown that they are capable of playing with patience then the spectators must also view the game with patience and, if so, I think that it will help the England players and therefore give English football a better future.

    • Definitely a better performance in the 1st half. Although was hoping to see lallana run past players more. Both teams look like they have been coached all their lives, need that individuality to shine through.

  29. Hi Steve and Dave. I have become very conscious of England’s performances in ‘friendly’ international games. Making judgements on whether we played well or poorly is often dependent on the quality and selection objectives of the opposition. The game against Germany looked suspiciously like our opponents were ‘trialing’ certain players in the first half and were more ‘result’ minded in the second half.
    Our media coverage tends to over-praise performance levels to increase viewing and sales figures. There are still ‘faults’ in our play — We still do not use glaring opportunities to ‘overload’ attacking situations when they are available. There is no player who has a consistent ability to ‘open-up’ opposing defences and gaps. The pass-pass-pass’ mania neither recognises nor exploits penetrative opportunities enough. I am yet to be convinced that we have players or a playing style thar can match football’s ‘hierarchy’ in a ‘real’ game.

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