By John Cartwright
What do I mean by a DEVELOPMENT PATHWAY? Well, Practice/Playing is the Pathway. Its route begins at Junior level and gradually follows ‘steeper’ Practice/Playing demands through to Senior levels of the game. From the very beginning, there must be a direct association between what is being Practiced and subsequent Playing methods.
Development here in the UK does not blend Practice with Playing – instead of a game being a ‘test’ of the Practical ability and understanding that is being worked on, Playing generates little or no opportunity to employ the Practical work being undertaken at the time.
The game’s basics must be set out from day one and individualism MUST take pride of place at the ‘starting gate’ and remain an important feature of Practicing and Playing as further stages of development are introduced. Learning time (Practicing whilst Playing) has been reduced dramatically over the past 50 years as street games have disappeared! These small-sided games were competitive and provided a constant ‘stream’ of football situations that required both individual ability for defending and attacking and ‘team togetherness’ (tactics) all based on ‘realistic’and competitive playing situations. This ‘chaos-type’ learning of the past has been replaced by reduced Practice time and over-organised and un-realistic coaching methods that have failed to provide the qualities of skill and game understanding that the game of football needs. So what is required is a compromise – street-type learning must be re-established but in a modern context.
Learning must be acquired by gradual Practice/Playing stages — suitably arranged opposition and working spaces that become more equal in numbers but less in space as players move up the development stages from Junior to Senior levels.
As each stage is Practiced along the Pathway, so the work already completed should be integrated along with work being newly introduced. These new aspects must engage smoothly and when games follow there should be a consistency with what is Practiced with what is to be Played. During the junior period (5/6years to 8/9) ‘winning’ should not be set on the number of goals scored. The results should be according to the work Practiced – targets can be; areas to reach – highest passes made – cones set in various spaces through which players must penetrate with the ball to ‘score’- cones to ‘hit’. etc. etc. The normal goal with a ‘goalkeeper’ is NOT needed as a target until later development — and then, small goals and ‘Rush Goalies’.
The stages of development must comply with the age, learning and playing capabilities of those involved. As each stage is completed the next stage must gradually introduce new aspects of the game with variations in Playing ‘targets’ to increase both ability and tactical qualities. This development process continues along the whole ‘Pathway’ — from basics to senior playing requirements.
We must rid ourselves of the ‘fracture’ between Practice with Playing. The teaching of the game must be adjusted and a gradual, carefully organized and realistic approach to football learning must be up if we are to improve development and achieve success .
Finally, I have stated this so often over the years; PRACTICE WHAT YOU ARE TO PLAY AND PLAY WHAT YOU HAVE PRACTICED.