Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Football for the Brave

Having listened to Talk Sport on 13/6/11 regarding coaching in England and the UK I thought I would produce a blog about John Cartwright.  For those who don't know John, amongst other things he was Arsenal first team coach, England Youth Coach and technical director of the FA's school of excellence at Lilleshall (the predecessor to academies & centres of excellence).

I have met many coaches, young and old, male and female, professional and grassroots. In my time in coaching I don't think I have read or heard a more convincing analysis of football and coaching in this country than his.   I had the pleasure of meeting him on a Premier Skills coaching course recently.  John has not retired from the game and still actively coaches the coaches through Premier Skills courses.  As far as I know he is no longer involved in the professional game.  I believe this is probably through exasperation as I have recently discovered his critical appraisal of coaching has been consistent over many more years than I realised, probably going back to the 1980's if not earlier.

To give people a flavour of what his views are on the game and how it is coached I have picked out a few extracts (with the appropriate chapter headings) from his book "Football for the Brave" and hope people on twitter see some similarities in his views compared with those often advocated online.

It is my belief that individual skill is the core of good football performance.  From the very start of my involvement with coaching I was determined to champion the skillful player.

Hope or Despair
A 'winning at all costs' attitude infects all levels of the game. 'Winning Methods', lacking skillful performance can be seen in junior games through to international football at senior level. 
A pre-occupation with 'tidy practice' and over organisation has strangled realism, spontaneity and individualism amongst our coaches and players.  The importance of decision-making on time and space in both practising and playing has been largely ignored by the coaching fraternity.  Too much emphasis has been given to 'choreographed' and 'regimented' practice to produce technical ability.  We have not understood that football is not played with technique but with skill.  Our coaching methods have not produced ideas or methods for practices in which kids can develop skills realistically for easy transfer into competitive match-play.

Skill-The Game's Important Core
Skill is pressurised technique.  If it is skill the competitive game examines, surely, players should develop skills in pressurised practices suitably arranged for ages and levels of work.   I find it hard to understand how 'drill routines' supposed to improve skill quality can be used so much when they offer no considerations or decisions on time and space to players.

..Little confidence is shown for players who have skill but lack a physical presence; too often the 'athletic bruiser' is preferred even at the junior levels of our game.

Football is a sideways game
Football in particular is a game that should be played on the half turn (shoulders diagonally set across the field - not straight across it!)
..Playing 'blind' (poor body positioning) hinders performance to the extent that luck not judgement affects the result.  Great players are 'tuned-in' all the time in both attacking and defending situations.  Gaining an advantage over them is difficult.  Their body positioning eliminates surprises and provides them with distinct advantages.  There is no gambling on their part and decisions are made on visual evidence not blind hope.

Be Confident Playing in Tight Areas
The game of football involves players moving the ball and themselves around the field of play; a player or players in one area of the field interlinking with a player or players in another part of the field.  It follows that players should practice what the game demands of them - become confident and skillful playing in small areas and able to link effectively from area to area.

..There has been a significant over-use of unopposed 'drill' practices combined with an explosion in the use of 11v11 match play at too early an age.  This is not the way to produce individualism and high quality players.

Run with the ball in a Positive Manner at Every Opportunity
'Don't run with the ball! Pass it! Give it easy! Who do you think you are, Ronaldinho?'

How often have we heard these damning words or similar expletives screamed at young players?  All too often, talent, in need of encouragement and guidance, receives abuse and ridicule.

Here, both young and even older players are dissuaded from running with the ball to add to the excitement the game offers.  The 'picture' of the game here is only in black and white.  The addition of 'colour' might lead to mistakes!  Failure should always be a concern but not a restriction on the development of young players.  Unfortunately, failure often represents a knock to someone's ego in the coaching fraternity, so simplicity is sought in preference to invention.

Have the Skills and Confidence to Dribble Past Opponents...
So often in the game today you see a player receive the ball to his feet with space around them.  What does he do?  He passes the ball to a colleague who is being marked.  What does this player do?  He passes the ball, and so it continues - pass, pass and pass.  Like factory produced 'clones' - mediocrity prevails.

Where is the individual? Where is the player that can beat an opponent and, in a single instant of individual magic, destroy the best-laid plans and strategies of the most formidable of defences?

This is just a brief flavour of the book and there is a lot more detail about the players past and present who represent 'brave' footballers.  Hope it has been interesting reading and I would recommend all coaches get a copy. 

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