Tuesday, 1 April 2014


Driving home from training today I had a call from somebody in grass roots. "Guess what happened Tone"? I’m like, oh here we go then.

This is U11 9v9 Football and I have coached them before as a favour. I had already told the manager and the parents that they need to set the expectations if they want me to help because I am not coming along to help you win games. But if you want to develop players (which might mean you win games) then I’m happy to help. However, you need the coach and the parents to buy into a philosophy and be committed to it. 
When I coached them before I noticed the terminology and timing of words of the coach needed addressing. I asked him to resist the constant drone of shouting and coaching/jockeying. I explained that 3 sessions coaching his players is not going to give him a solution. What I can give him is ideas and perhaps change his own outlook and approach. That could indeed provide him with success, once we agree what 'success' looks like.

So, back to the call. Well, the ball is in the defending area near the goalkeeper and the last defender but their under pressure. So decision to make by the goalkeeper and the defender. Also communication required between them to be successful in safely dealing with the threat and even perhaps get back on the ball quickly in a better angle and launch a counter attack? Either way, good learning opportunity as albeit the ball is in a dangerous area, they have the main threat in control, the ball.

At this point, like we see often, the coach takes control of the situation. He shouts on the pitch "PICK IT UP", then repeats it as load as he can in quick succession. "PICK IT UP, PICK IT UP". This is a big burley man and I think most people would do as he demands. Of course, he's shouting at the goalkeeper, but the ball is at the feet of the defender. So, a little 10 year old lad, panicked, scared, confused, desperate to please. What does he do? He picked it up! Brilliant, what an obedient lad. Except he’s the defender. The whistle blows, "Penalty" shouts the ref “Hand-ball”. The lad is devastated. The coach is irate engulfed with anger. "What did you pick it up for"? The little lad shrugs his shoulders. He confused. The penalty is taken, GOAL! 2-2. His team have 'thrown-away' the chance of the win and the disappointment is too much for the coach to bear. He is beside himself with the actions of the defender, so before they kick off again, he subs him! The lad doesn’t kick another ball. He is tugged and left alone on the side line to consider the consequences of his poor decision. During the team talk afterwards there are suggestions angling toward the reason they didn’t win. The lad is at the back of the group crying.

This situation is so frustrating, this coach is not professional no, but needs educating urgently. There are so many things wrong with this episode I don’t know where to start. The only person that should have been subbed was him, the coach! The lad did exactly what he told him to do, literally, that’s what kids do. There desperate to please! 

I hope the coach concerned reflects on what he did. He has ruined a little kid’s day and from a football perspective is hindering development. Let the kids make decisions themselves, maybe discuss it after with them if you feel you need to, for me, had the lad made a decision on his own, let’s say did something, lost the ball and they scored normally. I might have even spoke to him away from the group to not highlight it further and shown him. Maybe set him a new challenge once I have confirmed his understanding. But the way this was handled was so wrong on so many levels. In particular because the boy only did what he ‘thought’ he was told to do.

Of course the answer for this is the youth module for these guys. A great course which covers all the aspects of the holistic approach to development. The reality is though, this guy and I suspect many others will never attend the course. This will be due to time and money and perhaps a general rejection of change. Whatever the reason. This has to stop, now! Either with the introduction of a mandatory course that must be studied, perhaps even a home study which includes videos and questions to prove they watched it. Or, we introduce something like I suggested previously where coaches can be encouraged to coach the coaches for reward of CPD and monetary reward to a club to off-spend against equipment.

I’ve said before that it’s great to see all the change at grass roots and Rome wasn’t built in a day. But, I still keep seeing/hearing examples like this which is no different to 10 years ago.

Tony McCool

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