Friday, 20 May 2011

Are you a Coaching Socialist or Coaching Capitalist?

Over the years football coaching has seen many changes and for some the creation of a lucrative business.  Some may argue that the larger coaching companies were started to 'fill a gap in the market'.  Those that concentrate on the development of technical skills argue that the players developed through the traditional route of schools, clubs and latterly academies and centres of excellence (using standard FA coaching techniques) did not have the sufficient technical, one v one and attacking skills in comparison to young players from countries such as Brazil, Holland and Spain.

Its easy to see why there was a gap in the market, England has not been producing the number of skilful footballers that should be expected of a nation who's national game is football and the fault for this could arguably be aimed at the problems with football governance in England, particularly since the introduction of the Premier League.  However, the attempt to fill this gap seems to have created a business centred, profit motivated approach in some coaching organisations. I am sure that these organisations have a player centred approach in its core ethos but arguably this has been overridden by the need to make money and maximise exposure of the 'brand'.

Of course there isn't anything wrong with earning a living from coaching, we all need to. Indeed many individuals have set up small scale coaching schools that operate in the local education system where, quite frankly the government have forced teachers not to be involved in PE and school sport and created a need for qualified coaches who in effect replace the now almost defunct primary school PE teacher.  I do question the ultimate commitment of the larger coaching organisations that are effectively a brand just as McDonald's and Subway is.  They even operate the same business model in the form of selling the brand in the form of a franchise.

My concern is when commercial organisations use their methodology as THE answer and THE solution to the perceived weakness in the skill of English footballers.  Don't get me wrong, there is the need to improve on skill acquisition but how this is done, how it is charged for and who provides it is the key to the development of players.  In a perfect world all coaches from grassroots to elite will have been educated using the same methodology producing excellence throughout. The FA would be responsible for the hiring and deployment of coaches to spread the word in a coherent and consistent way. The reality of course is very different which is why parents and players will seek (quite rightly) all alternatives to learn and improve.

I have always had a strong belief that ALL methods of coaching should be considered and even then, just around the corner there will be a new coach with new ideas, a new method and progression in research and best practice to help improve the coaching of youth football in England.  We can't stand still, rely on what has always been done or stick to one particular style because it is perceived to be THE best option for youth development.  Stagnation in ideas, governance and leadership is the reason why football and the skill of players in this country has resulted in the problems we have today.

Football practice in general and the amount and quality is the key to excellence, but I don't believe that some forms of isolated technical based training advocated by the franchise model are as effective as a game centred programme.  Game intelligence skills such as the awareness of time and space, keeping possession and playing through the thirds, overloading to gain advantage and recognising what to do in transition are key to indicators of skill in the elite footballer and cannot be replicated in isolated skills based practice. 
Some isolated skills training ideas can be less effective and are based on the creators intuition, tradition and the ethos created by the organisation rather than quality, evidence based research.

Research by Liverpool John Moores University has shown that practice conditions scientifically shown to facilitate skill acquisition include:

  • Random practice in which a number of different football skills are performed in a random order (the opposite being blocked practice where one skill is performed repetitively).
  • Variable practice in which there are a variety of skill outcomes such as distance, speed and direction (the opposite being constant practice where the same skill outcome occurs on each attempt at the skill).
  • Transfer appropriate processing occurs in practices that cause the players themselves to make decisions that match those made in the environment where the skill is to be performed.  In a football match, players must make decisions based on the actions of the opposition.
Some of the 'game intelligence' or 'game reading' skills that develop as a function of extended exposure to scientific evidence based practice:
  • Visual search skill is the ability of players to use their eyes to extract important information from the playing environment (eg, player about to receive a pass looks around searching for positioning of team-mates and opponents).
  • Anticipation skill is the ability of players to anticipate another player's action.  Anticipation is guided by visual search, but is also guided by skilled players' ability to: (i) recognise advance postural cues prior to another player's action; and (ii) recognise meaningful structure within an emerging pattern of play.
  • Decision making skill is the ability of players to decide which action to pursue in any given situation (ie, if X event occurs, then I performs Y action).

Sink or Swim
Because the FA have a comprehensive plan in place in the form of the Future Game publications along with the Young Player Development Review and the Premier League's Elite Player Performance Plan all coaches including commercial organisations will need to evaluate their current methodology and ask themselves is it 'fit for purpose', does it include best practice based on evidence based research and more importantly is it right for youth footballers today and producing the footballer of the future?


Skills training as advocated by commercial coaching organisations should be seen as a valuable contribution to football development where players can use them positively to improve skill and technique.  However, they should not be seen as an all encompassing method of producing excellent footballers.  Players will not be successful simply by learning certain skills based moves in isolation.  They need to know how these moves are best used when playing football and being exposed to a variety of game realistic football scenarios in their training.  Heading the ball is a good example of a crucial game specific skill that is rarely seen in certain coaching methods.

So, if your son or daughter is involved with training with a commercial (lets not forget these companies are there to make a profit) coaching company see it as a positive contribution to the development of youth footballers but not the solution to the development of excellent footballers.  This takes exposure to a range of coaching and self training, along with playing the game, learning about the game, learning to love the game and all aspects of the 'four corners' for football.

Players will need to have acquired fundamental movement skills and ball familiarity and basic technique before more complicated skill based moves are introduced.  Also, players need to know why they are performing a certain skill, where it can be used, when it should be used and how to use it in a game of football.  Arguably they need to understand the basics of the game first, simple ideas such as keeping the ball away from an opponent, moving the ball from one end to the other with the aim of scoring, stopping their opponents from getting the ball and stopping opponents from scoring.

Finally, to answer the question, do you provide coaching on behalf of the footballer or do you provide coaching for the purpose of making profit regardless of the quality and relevance of the organisations product?  Are you a coaching socialist or a coaching capitalist?

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