Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Grass Roots & Pro Football Clubs need to work better together for a common GOAL

The 'game' has come a long way and despite all the criticism I have seen first-hand the improvements in Elite football. I’ve also seen massive steps in Grass Roots. I do think however that more still needs to be done in grass roots to help coaches. I know all the things The FA did in recent years like charter standards but it’s just a qualification, like a coaching certificate. To me they don’t mean anything if you don’t carry out those actions on a regular basis. 
Of course Nick Levett has worked tirelessly and I fully support his efforts and changes he was instrumental in achieving. I know The FA is also now employing evangelist type roles to promote the future game. The trouble is, not all coaches want to change and see this intervention as interference. 

The Grass Roots Training Session
I was training myself in my local park this week and there was an U11 team training nearby. He did his warm up, "left hand down, right hand down, jump" etc... Then they did some other running, about 15 minutes gone and they still haven’t kicked a ball. So, they now started their first practice. Two queues of 7 players facing each for a passing & receiving session. Players waiting at the back for ages before they get there two touches. I couldn’t help watching out the corner of my eye and thinking, this guy is a good guy, he has given up his spare time and he is passionate and genuine in his intentions. But I would love to show him a session, an idea that’s all, but one that would get all the players moving and allow him to get more realistic coaching points out. But what stops me is the fear of rejection. I know this guy knows me, therefore I know he knows I work in an Academy. In the past I have had my ear bent by a grass roots coach who accused me of 'poaching' players when I said "well done, some cracking players there". So this guy may well just think I am being ‘big time’ and poking my nose in, making him look stupid and me thinking I’m better than him. Well I don’t, I get help all the time, I watch others at QPR all the time and always learning. Anyway, it got worse. The coach became frustrated because the quality of the passing was not as he wanted. So, he introduced punishment, for the whole team if one player made the mistake, so peer humiliation. I was horrified; this was like an FA Youth Module video of ‘how not to’. A player made a mistake, "everybody stop, 5 star jumps". So, now even less time with their foot on the ball and also humiliated. There was also massive lack of any coaching point, not one actually, just told to get it right. Worse was the wait till your go, you could see the worry mounting as the players got closer to the front. 
Then there was a game straight after this. Before the game the 'best' two players were highlighted and called 'Playmakers'. You can only score, if you go through this play maker. See, that’s how I know he is deep down a good guy with good intentions. He wants his team to play football the right way and through midfield not back to front, but he just lacks the knowhow of how to achieve and has put a completely unrealistic rule in and lacked the key components like movement. Of course I also wasn’t a fan of the highlighting to everyone his best players. A rod for his own back with parents in the future there and negative psychological feeling for all the other players.
Then came the KO punch. There was some good passages of play, the lads were keen to try and pass and were encouraged to do so. A little winger picked up the ball and before he received it, he checked his shoulder; he knew therefore that there was pressure so assessing the weight of the pass he instinctively stepped in as a disguise letting the ball cross his body, lost the player without touching the ball. He then took his first touch across that defender making him check his run. He was now away and running. I stopped mid exercise for the first time and watched thinking, "hang on a sec". He engaged the next defender, slowed down, used both feet, instep, outside Giggs like and after a shuffle skipped past the next defender who then fell over. Now slightly wide of the goal the centre back was on his way and with no room he feinted to go inside, did a step over, rolled it with his studs and now found himself facing the goalkeeper, who was the coach. Struggling to slip it past the adult frame it was saved. My eyebrows were now higher than my forehead. Brilliant, not even 1v1, this lad did a 1v3 and it all must be raw talent, because I haven’t heard one of them coaching points. Then the coach said something to move my eyebrows even further up my head for very different reasons. "Oi, this is not a one man show you know, you should pass that. " 
I was thinking afterwards about the most successful England team in my lifetime, whilst it had defensive solid players it was also balanced players like a very young Paul Gascoigne along with Peter Beardsley, Chris Waddle and John Barnes. Players who in my memory could do what I just seen there. Not relying on strength and speed to get past someone, but using great technical skill. Something a certain Lionel Messi possesses in bundles. I bet none of the above 5 players were never told not to take people on either. Especially as they probably did it naturally in the street without a coach. 
So, in the end it was clear to me that this guy needs help. But is I approach him he will probably think I just want to scout that player. He may well be one of the guys that embraces help and advice but in my experience there are many that won’t see it like that. They see professional clubs as ‘them and us’. I think this guy should be invited into to Academies. This would help everybody but how do we get over the first hurdle. He may be like the many that see pro clubs taking his players as a bad thing and no doubt, in some cases that might have been the case. We have to change the mind-set, these coaches should be embracing the pro clubs but this has to be a two way street, clubs have to be better to. I have many examples in my mind of how clubs can help grass roots more and improve that link. The goal of both should be very single minded in my view, finding individual talent and giving that person the best possible path to be successful and produce a player capable of drifting past defenders like Gazza and Barnes did in the past.

Some might say I’m wrong. All coaches at grass roots embrace clubs and the FA development courses. Well I know first-hand that is not the case and hear it every single week in my local club. To further back this up I was listening to talksport yesterday. On Talksport Drive they were discussing the player potentially moving from West Brom to Chelsea and as part of that the whole Academy process and debating where this player would be better placed for his future. A grass roots coach called in and I think Adrian Durham missed his hidden attack at his local clubs. He said something like “Local pro clubs come round here tapping up our players” See, there is my problem, he has accused West Brom, a great club of ‘tapping up’. I would see the west brom scouts going to a Birmingham V Walsall game chatting to a player and his parents encouraging them to West Brom as ‘tapping up’. But a player scouted to go to West Brom would surely be success? Not just for the player but also for the coach. The only real measure of his success surely? Not winning the league but developing a player that went on to play in the premier league, maybe even England?
But this guy sees his local pro club as a thorn in his side, that is all wrong on both sides. What can West Brom do change that and what can his club do change it because like many he would then try and hold on to a talented player to, what? Help him win the league? How many amateur leagues did Gazza, Beardsley or Barnes win and who actually really cares? It’s the semi-final of the World cup we cared about and not qualifying for the next one.
He also went on to say something about this player not owing West Brom anything, when Durham asked what he meant he said that this player would have been paying for years to play for West Brom. Then the subject was moved on. I didn’t hear the end but I think this again slipped under the radar yet such a damming comment. I don’t know West Brom inside, only aware of its fantastic reputation. Therefore I would be amazed if this lad has been paying to play for them. I think the guy is referring to the level below Academies where I do know some clubs charge for this level. Most refer to it as ‘Development Centres’ and these do normally have a games program. Even at Luton Town I was aware of the massive reliance on outside investment to keep their famous successful Academy going because it cost them circa £3,000 a year per player to keep it going. But players were not asked to pay. However, there was part funded development centre that would not survive without charges. So, it’s my view that this guy must be referring to a development centre and I do know that sometimes grass coaches feel that players are taken from them to these, when they should be playing for their club. Perhaps pro clubs need to sit and listen to their grass coaches on this topic and do more to support them. Having been on both sides I am sympathetic to this.

So this gentleman seemed to be evidence of this negative feeling towards pro clubs and I would like to see this broken down for the good of development.

The solution
I have a possible solution that would enable an approach to coaches in a non-critical way to avoid them being offended in any way. All clubs and coaches want equipment, kit etc. and have fund raising ideas. The charter process is document based and un audited as far as I know. I have seen many bad examples of coaches with that logo stuck to their forearm. Including the guy I seen marching up and down the line, 3 yards on the pitch, smoking to calm his nerves! I would just focus on the coach, help him or her. Could we have a reward scheme that is like a grant? A catalogue of equipment that instead of pound signs next to the kit it has points. Points that are awarded to an individual coach, not the club. The coach can obtain these points by simply attending certain events. Some tell me that they don’t have time even to attend TheFA courses so whilst points should be rewarded for the fantastic Youth Module’s and FA Courses, they should also be given for attending Academies and watching pre-arranged sessions laid on by the club as in-service for grass roots. Also even by attending certain games that the club allows as this would show a different match day style from coaches and parents. They also could invite coaches to come to their team and coach from clubs, this would be signed off with points awarded.

I think the new EPPP system should include a section of reward based on allowing club coaches to come in and witness coaching sessions to get new ideas and think about a new style and approach. After all, surely it’s in the clubs interest to have the best possible relationship with its local community coaches. They could even lay on a once yearly presentation showing how they will be scouting, the methods, club ethos and open it up for feedback so they can perhaps work closer with them and break down those barriers.

I think this would be another massive step and in reality could mean that I might have had a promotional leaflet in my car. It describes the development point’s scheme and I could have offered that to the coach. It would have been a great positive start of conversation that would be hard to be received as negative. It’s like a thank you to all those unpaid grass roots volunteers. That guy might think yes, I could do with some new kit and some session ideas would be useful. Ultimately we could then see him congratulating that little lad after beating players and seeing his success as seeing him in the Premier League, or even lifting that elusive trophy.

Tony McCool

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