Clever Coaching for the Brave

By Roger Wilkinson

I’ve read Football for the Brave more times than I can remember. Even now I go back to it constantly to glean special insights on coaching and player development that can’t be found elsewhere. John Cartwright provides inspirational images and detail that opens the mind of the dedicated coach. His writing has a depth and knowledge you can only interpret if you are a thinking coach. It also possesses the benchmarks to assess your own coaching and to judge if you are bringing through the right type of qualities in young players.

Here I am displaying with inverted commas a small example of the “Football for the Brave” insights and images that push coaches understanding and delivery to a different level.


When developing young player`s we want them to display:

“Skill under pressure and be comfortable under pressure.”

As a coach in progressive sessions when the players are competent we can test them by reducing the practice areas.

We must bring out in the young players “Play in the future instincts” and develop individuals who can play the game “With speed of thought as a protective shield against surprise.”

Coaches can get the players to shout their intentions before receiving the ball to show that they are developing the ability to play ahead of themselves.

Let’s develop outstanding players who combine:

“Imaginative play with positive end products.”

We can use this to develop players who are clever and creative but are successfully using their individuality to link with team mates with passes, take overs or finishes at goal.

Coaching isn’t easy, so understanding and then coaching the hidden extra detail for the young player to develop their individuality is vital.

Before receiving the ball, players must:

“Manufacture correct body positions often on the half turn”

This concept isn’t easy for young grassroots players as their eyes often get transfixed on the ball with their chest facing the ball. THEY DONOT KNOW WHAT IS GOING ON BEHIND AND AROUND THEM!  It`s  important they get side on and learn to look around themselves.


Players must develop the understanding to:

“Receive and re-direct smoothly in to safe space with fast open and closed turns.” displaying “Space and time awareness.”

Work on player recognition of space when turning out and develop their abilities to turn in the tight by using their body to screen and protect the ball whilst turning.

For any player, young or old a:

“Smooth first touch allows for a better second touch.”

Develop the young player’s foot preparation before receiving the ball to enable smooth touch and movement under control into to space.

All these images and detail, if taken on board, will give the coach an advanced perception of the game and use of extra special detail when they are coaching.

When dealing with and coaching running with the ball John has always used unique images and detail that inspires coaches and young players.

When dribbling in the game use:

“Fleet of foot with flexibility of movement”.

Great dribblers use:

“Quick clever touches, feints and dummies.”

Work the young players to get quick touches with the outside of both feet and develop the balance to work across and behind the ball to, change feet, protect the ball and change direction.

Outstanding dribblers are always:

“Running with the ball safe side at speed during positive penetrative runs whilst plotting on the run.”

 It is important for coaches to encourage:

“Dribbling bravery” encouraging “Speed and strength with balance.”

Many young kids when running with the ball look at the ball. Coach them to get their eyes up and scan, in front of and around them, to make decisions on the run like changes of direction, changes of feet, when to screen and to adapt their journey with the ball. Develop dribblers with the bravery, confidence and skill to successfully exploit space for the good of their team

All these images and detail, if taken on board, will give the coach an advanced perception of the game and use of extra special detail when they are coaching.

I use all of these coaching points and images in my coaching. These are only a few examples of the wealth of coach education in Football for the Brave. Now here’s the challenge…….see how many examples of detail and coaching points you can discover.

Believe me it will improve your coaching no end!

22 thoughts on “Clever Coaching for the Brave

  1. All the best coaches have simple solutions to problems which the ‘academics’ tend to complicate. A little while ago, when addressing members of the London Football Coaches Association, who were mainly involved in junior grassroots football, John Cartwright suggested that when taking their next training session, the coaches should set up a normal game in the training area. Playing a game is what youngsters like best, but this time John suggested that every 5 – 10 minutes the length and width of the pitch should be reduced by a yard. At first the players hardly notice, but as the game goes on the players realise that they must adjust to a tighter area. Over a number of weeks it is clear that the players are learning to play with reduced space , with less time on the ball. As time goes by the area can be made tighter and tighter, not too much at first but the coach must be the judge.
    I have heard only positive comments from LFCA members who have tried this approach. A simple solution that anyone can try.

  2. The book allied to watching John coach practically has inspired many of us.He has always challenged our thinking in a positive way. Importantly he not only “talks the talk but he walks the walk. ” Observing him coach is a privilege.

  3. I imagine John Cartwright watching the Clasico sitting in his living thinking , ‘Yes, Yes’ because RIGHT ON CUE, Barcelona’s majestic ‘real football’ winner against Real Madrid had ALL the hallmarks of ‘Football For the Brave’ – Chapter 9 ‘ Keep possession of the ball in all areas of the field – when no attacking advantage is possible’ was clearly shown when Pique hemmed in, close to the angle of his penalty box and byline, receiving after a throw on, clipped a delicious – and OH SO NOT ENGLISH COACHED – pass to Busquets who transferred it to Sergio Roberto who from his defensive position serged forward past two lunging players – ‘Dribbling requires bravery’, then linking into Andre Gomes, waiting for the ‘overlap’ of Alba. Having looked inside, Alba ‘felt’ the ball into Messi -and the little genius, with timing and the know-how to hold his run ‘Finished Positively and Accurately.’

    It started with Pique’s what we might term bravery – for me it’s that their mindset is so totally different …the foreigners (players,coaches, and fans) do NOT THINK LIKE Johnny English…or those in other English Speaking countries…Busquets knew that a simple ball was required, and ability, cleverness, football intelligence took over…

    We must get away from lumoxes at the back whose only merit is that they can destroy… we must pick footballers – with the physicality to defend, but also with the nouse to play…Beckenbauer comes to one’s mind, Baresi another and Maldini; close to home the great Moore. As John says in that Chapter 9 in an attempt ‘to overcome pressure play, defenders [British and whoever it influences …for f**** sake] played the ball quickly and as directly back into their opponent’s defending area and with the rest of their team; pushed up quickly to return pressure on their opponents ( page 64). John also writes, ‘We will never achieve world-class standards until back players become better footballers and increase their attacking options from back areas’.

    But also Roberto’s run displayed ‘Penetration from back positions into midfield allows better possession of the ball to be achieved throughout the team. It also provides more options to both the man on the ball as well as those off it (page 65)’.

    Thank you Barca, and thank you John because at the very top of the game, the best favour ‘Football For The Brave.’

  4. Hi Brazil 94. Thanks for the your comments. I have been a ‘fan’ of Barca. for many years —they have the ‘guts’ to play the game in a way they believe in—–started back with Rinus Michels followed on by Johann Cruyff and continued with Pep and their present manager.
    I recently watched an u/23 game between two Premier League teams and heard the infamous shout from a ‘coach’ to one of his players that has been the ‘death-knell’ of so many of our young players–“DON’T DRIBBLE, PLAY IT SIMPLE”. —- here was the crux of the loss of individualism in our game and the imposition of ‘robotic’ football standards on our game. Coaches should be advising on correct decision-making and not curtail creativity for the game.
    I have spent my life in the game trying to convince our coaching organisations –Regional and National, that football must not be considered as just a ‘Team Game’ but a game for skillful individuals who can perform singularly or combine with team-mates as the game/situations demand. Producing players with these game qualities is the ‘art’ of coaching/teaching —- how and when to use these two aspects when they become necessary in the game. Barca. have reached that pinnacle of individualism/combination quality in their playing style………… why can’t we?………..( answer: …..
    ……………. because we don’t teach the game correctly throughout the whole development and senior playing stages!

  5. John, Great to get your concurrence…it just stood out so much following Roger’s latest blog offering…they played in a beautiful brave way… and made it pay…The ‘game’ itself is better for it! So much in the match was like reading off the pages of your book … BRAVO for spelling out the way.

  6. Regarding John’s comment above about the ‘don’t dribble’ comment from a coach – I am utterly dismayed at the general lack of dribblers in the game these days – having grown up watching and having an appreciation of the likes of Best, Morgan, Marinello, Johnstone, Coppell, Robertson, Waddle, and a hundred others and large passages of play are all pass, pass, pass. Hardly anyone goes by anyone these days and is perhaps a key as to why defences seem so secure – if you can get past a player, you create an overload; someone else has to leave their ‘station’ and all of a sudden there are openings.

  7. You are so right Steve thats because the “street” allowed them to do it. That is why the right coaching is so important . To quote JC ” Great coaching is a contradiction in terms ,great coaches produce natural players !!” That is why the images in the book can lead coaches to produce this type of player.

  8. There will be more chance of encouraging young players to take on and dribble round opponents if we can coach them to combine well in order to create 1 v 1 situations. If the ball can be switched quickly from the right to left, having pulled the opponents over to our right hand side of the field, then their right back, on the opposite side, can be left isolated and our left sided attacker, having received the ball from a quick switch of play, has a great opportunity to take him on and dribble round him in a 1 v 1 and seriously threaten their goal. We should be looking to create as many 1 v 1 situations as possible in a game and then English players with the ability to beat an opponent could return to our game.

  9. Hi Steve. The movement of the ball around the field is not seemingly a problem in our game. 1v1 situations abound but unfortunately, our players have neither dribbling ability or the inner confidence to take on the opportunity. Inevitably the ball is played backwards or returned across the field to yet another unfulfilled 1v1 situation. So often tactical systems find players who are not skllfully able to utilise 1v1 situations, they are more prepared as defenders and not skilful attackers. The early developmental mistake of positioning young players creates the later inability of them being able to produce the necessary skills necessary to take-on opposing players.
    Once again, it’s all about poor development methods that have spent more time on forging ‘robotic’ team-play instead of developing individualism that is able to combine with others or ‘go it alone’ when an opportunity arose.
    Perhaps, one day ‘the penny will drop’ and our ‘Academic football hierarchy’ will learn about the real game of football.

  10. Real academics study the detail, the precision needed for quality…because in all fields of human achievement people have shown a thirst for knowledge, of improvement … in the creative arts they’ve honed their ‘individual’ skill set to act in a group, dance in a group, or on their own. Picasso the great innovator was a superb artist before embarking on cubism etc…

    True football academics are like you John as you break the detail, and reform the individuals to go back into a team game .

    • Hi Brazil 94. You are correct to mention the importance of detail when teaching a subject and how to GRADUALLY introduce suitable practises that show how to combine with team-mates when necessary as well as introducing SUITABLE tactical aspects.
      The correct TRANSFER of realistic practical work into competitive game situations should provide a follow-on assessment guide that allows coaches to form a clearer, realistic ‘picture’ of their players understanding of the work under progress. The ability to assess whether to move practical work to a next stage or to continue with present work is vital, for unles information is seen to be understood by players through realistic playing a move to more advanced work may be beyond their ability at the time and will cause confusion and have a disruptive effect on learning progression.
      The reason many coaches fail to create a suitable, realistic development ‘pathway’ is due to the poor quality of coach education they receive. Detail, must be carefully introduced — the correct type for each stage of work along with a gradual increase in realistic difficulty. The teaching of the game that ignores realism in the main, is time wasted —- and time is ‘precious’.

  11. Excellent Brazil its all in the detail and the recognition of detail.Understanding ,decision making and skill must be conjoined from day one of the development programme again to quote JC “when working with a 7 year old you are not working with a 7 year old you are working with a 23 yr old in the early part of their playing career “

  12. Love this from Michael Beale currently coaching at Sao Paulo with Ceni:

    “I’ve got a huge desire for individual development and fine-tuning players. I don’t believe in saying there’s no ‘I’ in team. There are 11 individuals in a side and I think it’s more about fuelling the individual than tactics.”

  13. Chelsea have now won six out of the last eight FA Youth Cup competitions, at the under 18 age group, hammering Man City 5 – 1 last night, 6 – 2 on aggregate. They are turning out some excellent players and their coaches say that most of them are eligible for England. But progress into the first team at Stamford Bridge still remains slow, with no one from these Youth Cup triumphs since 2010 having established a regular place in the first team. Going out on loan, in this country and abroad, remains the most likely way for most of them to play senior football in the foreseeable future. Is it not time for a minimum number of home-produced players to be named on the squad sheet for each match? Unfortunately, as long as short term targets are set by the clubs and their managers and coaches are only assessed by the number of trophies which are put in the cabinet, then this is unlikely to happen.
    I thought that Chelsea were impressive with their change of pace, pressing and the intensity of their play. Their movement with and without the ball was also very good and they looked very well coached. Their coach said in his interview that most of them have been together since the age of seven or eight so their development through the different age categories looks to have been good. I think it is vital that this development continues, and with players of this potential it is also vital for the England team.

  14. I want to ask ‘ARE WE REALLY BRAVE?’ Do we – coaches and players – believe in this way of playing in our hearts and souls or are we half-or-superficially brave?

    For me one of the most telling aspects of Cartwright’s book is his introduction.

    Referring to his personal inspiration the ’58 Brazilians of Didi he says ‘this was how I knew the game should be played: skilfully and athletically. There was a rhythm in the way Brazil played the game; there was a harmony in the way they combined, and their individualism was pure music.’

    While the quality of back players on the ball with their subtle passing , overloading and linking is vital if we are to be BRAVE, coaches continually turn a blind-eye when the ball is kicked long to alleviate pressure in their defensive third. In his book , this ‘to and fro football has never really been eliminated from our game. The long ball is still the preferred pass from our back players even when time and space allow for other options to be used.’ To their credit – or discredit depending on where you side on this – the very best – Barcelona especially under Cruyff and Guardiola, Brazil, Cruyff playing for Ajax and Holland, coaching Barcelona, etc … virtually always sought to build the attack even under pressure, believing that being ‘ordinary (another of John’s ‘introduction’ words – hopefully not taken out of context) was not part of their playing vocabulary.

    We MUST coach our back players to play like the Beckenbauers and Maldinis, governing the ball, having the feints, dummies and screens, with excellent support around the ball to play out of trouble. WE CAN ONLY DO THIS IF WE ARE BRAVE and prepared to turn our backs on the FA constrict of ‘Safety outweighting Risk’. WE MUST BE BRAVE AND TEND TOWARDS RISK. Our back players must be able to play out of corners. To play effectively out of central positions. Crucially, the goalkeeper MUST be a footballer because the moment it goes back to the custodian, the players in close proximity need to QUICKLY make ‘safe receiving angles’, allowing for the ball to be played out.

    Obviously, situations arise where the back player receives a heavy ball, or lacks immediate support, and is under real pressure… and in these cases it is EASY to give the players an ‘OUT’… pragmatically allowing or encouraging defenders to play ‘the ball as quickly and as directly back into their oppenents defending area’…However, this OUT is often constantly applied BY THE ENGLISH (and those who speak the same language) – others do sometimes but not so overtly – and is readily accepted by coaches EVEN THE BRAVE! Indeed the crowds ( English speaking ) seem to want it…one is reminded of the GREAT Neil Franklin, who went to the break away Colombian league in the ’50’s, who gave his Director’s kittens with his playing out from the back… BUT Franklin was BRAVE, just as Beckenbauer couldn’t be anything else!

    If we are ordinary, if we follow the FA dictates, if we ALLOW our defenders , especially our Central players to be ordinary, to be the SAME, then in effect ARE WE BEING THE SAME? While championing BRAVERY are we in reality Wolves in sheep’s clothing??

    Do we as John says ‘kill the music’ a little too regularly.

    It’s all in ‘Football For the Brave.’

    BUT, and this is a big But…Do we seek to ‘ keep possession of the ball in areas of the field ? Do we seek to KEEP THE BALL?

    Let’s follow John’s belief in his introduction ‘ that individual skill is the core of good performance’ and that there is ‘harmony in the way [our players – my words ] combined’.

    Or shall we just let our back players get away with murder creating a game style in part that is NOT VERY BRAVE!

  15. Hi Brazil94…..During the first few minutes of a recent Premier League match, the Liverpool keeper, Mignolet, with the ball at his feet, performed a Cruyff turn inside his penalty area to beat an opposing forward who was closing him down. He evaded the challenge by the fraction of an inch and his team were extremely close to going a goal behind in the opening minutes. This incident occurred in a period of the season when Liverpool were conceding goals through avoidable defensive mistakes which had contributed to their League title hopes evaporating. There was nothing gained territorially by what Mignolet did. He could have picked the ball up and thrown it quickly to the feet of one of his team mates to launch a counter attack. There is a difference between being brave and being stupid. In my opinion what Mignolet did was being stupid but, fortunately for him and his team, on this occasion he happened to be lucky.
    In contrast, an episode which I would class as both brave and brilliant play, took place in the recent Germany-England international. In the 51st minute the ball was passed back to the feet of German keeper, Neuer. Immediately, he was pressed by Vardy and the England striker angled his approach so that he forced the keeper to play the ball to the left of his defence. There were three Germans in that area, but five England players were arriving in a high press, having shuffled across the field in the accepted manner. The Germans kept calm and positioned themselves quickly in a triangle. They passed the ball between themselves, evading the English challenge, and then released the ball forward into an area of space that England had vacated by their press. The German centre half, Rudiger, was free to spring forward onto the ball and move unhindered into England territory. Germany had drawn England players into the area where the ball had been forced by Vardy’s initial pressure, but had turned the situation to their advantage by exploiting the space which England had left. I rate this piece of play the highlight of the season and it came in the 51st minute if you recorded the match onto a disc.
    I think this is the kind of bravery we need to see in football, allied to skill and game intelligence.

    • Hi Steve. The main thing that you are mentioning here is DECISION-MAKING; both are completed successfully and require playing confidence. i agree that Mignolet’s decision was unnecessary and safety is a priority in such situations. The second situation stems from the players’ individual skill, their confidence and the playing culture in which they have been developed. Here, safety means distance clearances because our players have been told to perform in this way throughout their development years. Confidence to play the game and to make correct decisions is unlikely to be part of British football development because learning the game from day one is about making decisions on the basis of fear and not foresight.

  16. Hi Steve

    The first is obviously stupid!

    The second is an example of ‘foreign’ bravery… which they often demonstrate… and highlights points made by John.

  17. Thanks Steve

    Agree quite brilliant…loved the screening, and the clever subtle in-ball …a clear example which reposes the question…would we be brave…or would our defenders at least at one of two or three points kick it long?

  18. I am siting here, in quiet contemplation drinking a coffee thinking about how in the country of Shakespeare of that mellifluous verse, the absolute magnificence of his language , the English and the poor buggers who’ve copied them, can play or advocate such a debased version of Pele’s beautiful game.

    How on earth was this allowed to happen and propagate… why was Charles – the Brazilians have got it wrong – Hughes NOT CHALLENGED sufficiently.

    I am reminded John C of the old saying ‘ you can’t be a prophet in your own country’, but please John keep trying, encouraging us to be BRAVE.

Leave a Reply to Roger Wilkinson Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s