Who are the players you would pay good money to see?
9 times out of ten it is the most skilful players that come to mind. It is these players that can have you on the edge of your seat gasping for more and one of the main reasons why so many love the beautiful game.
So why is it that despite the joy and excitement that this type of player can bring to football, we try to stifle their creativity at the youth level?
I cannot speak for other countries but here in the UK, our more skilful players are still frowned upon at grassroots level.
On many occasions I have even seen coaches make an extra effort to ‘coach’ the creativity out of certain players to revert to more ‘simple’ tactics.
This might be baffling to some of my international readers but I kid you not this still goes on every week up and down the country.
Why do we still have this take place despite having so much appreciation for more skilful players in the professional game?
Why is it that other nation’s such as Spain, France, Holland, Portugal & South America produce players like Messi, David Silva, Xavi, Neymar, etc and but we produce very few in comparison to our foreign counterparts?
Let’s first take a look at the current culture of the English grassroots game!
Our Culture at Grassroots Level!
Let me tell you about one of my experiences when I supporting was a grassroots coach not too long ago.
My son had just joined a new youth football team and the current coach had asked me if I could support him with the coaching as he had seen some of my videos and posts on Facebook.
Honestly, I was trying to take a step back from sons football on the youth team side as I coach him away from training a lot but the coach in me couldn’t say no so I accepted.
My first game supporting the coach was an interesting one. My reasons for allowing my son to play for this team was the fact that a) my son wanted to join them and b) the coach seem to have a calm manner with kids, but this seemed to change on match day.
It was like witnessing a personality switch and the coach I saw in training was no where to be seen.
“PASS, JUST PASS THE BALL!” he screamed every our players got the ball.
It was like he wanted to kick every ball for them, “don’t mess about with it there” & “get rid of it” he continued to shout from the sidelines as our young players were looking overwhelmed with the all the information coming there way.
The team that we played were a better side than ours and had 3 goal lead before half time.
The coach had turned to me and said “this is awful, they are not listening to anything I say”, I think my response surprised him.
“Is that what you want? for them to follow every word you say?” he looked at me confused.
“Isn’t that what we all want as coaches” he replied.
I calmly responded, “if I feel that the only way to get my team playing the way I want them to play, is to tell them when to pass, dribble or shoot then I know I have failed as a coach”.
At this point the coach looked a little embarrassed with the way that he has conducted himself and it was at this point I knew I had his attention.
I continued to say “if you want to develop players who are independent thinkers then you must allow them to make decisions”.
“What I have noticed about some of the best coaches I have worked with, is that they are very good at helping players reflect on their development, this is where the magic happens”.
Coaches like this can be seen up and down the country along with football parents who embrace a similar culture.
How can we expect to produce creative and skilful players if we don’t allow them to be great?
Power & pace is still the most important prerequisite for a youth player amongst most youth team coaches at this level.
I believe that this is because a player who is ‘big & quick’ carries less risk and effort at the beginning of a child’s development, meaning a higher likelihood of winning football matches in the short term.
The result is that skilful players are having their ‘creativity’ coached out of them.
What We Can Learn From Joe Cole!
Joe Cole was regarded as one of England’s brightest young talents since Paul Gascoigne when he burst onto the seen in 1999 for West Ham United.
Despite eventually playing for England and Chelsea, he was seen as another English player who never achieved his full potential.
When he joined Chelsea, Jose Mourinho (the current Chelsea coach at the time) saw him as a winger rather than a number 10 which many thought was his best position.
This also led to him being played out wide throughout his England career as many saw him as more of a ‘luxury player’ and wasn’t ‘strong enough’ to play down the middle.
Joe Cole was another young English player that was pigeonholed into a role because they didn’t value his creativity, in fact, some say it is a hindrance because he took ‘risks’.
Eventually like many before him his creativity was ‘coached’ out of him and we never really got see the ‘real’ Joe Cole.
What can grassroots coaches learn from this?
What happend to Joe Cole happens to young players in football across grassroots.
Parents often ‘restrict’ their child to ‘one’ position by making it clear to youth coaches what their child’s position is.
The buck doesn’t stop with parents but also coaches as they often like to keep kids in certain positions.
How can we truly know where a child’s best position is at the development stage?
Young players need to experience playing in different positions to aid their development and their size or speed shouldn’t be a reason for not playing them in a certain role.
As parents, we shouldn’t settle for one position but encourage our child to try other positions to help them become a multi-functional player.
As coaches, we shouldn’t let power & pace be a prerequisite for player selection and give players the opportunity to play in other positions to help improve them as players.
Now I have been involved in grassroots football either as a player, coach or dad for over 20 years now and I can honestly say that there have only been a few advances.
Firstly, the introduction of competitive small-sided games at the younger age groups instead of 11v11 was a positive move along with the overhaul of the coach education system.
Despite the much-needed changes to the coach education system, not enough is done to ensure that all coaches who run a youth team go through the appropriate qualifications that they need.
From what I have seen and personally experienced myself, more can be offered to coaches after they have taken their qualifications also in the form of mentorship.
For me, this where I truly benefited in coach education but I had to go looking for it and I am afraid this is what coaches will have to do more of going forward.
As for developing young players, more patience needs to be applied to allow young players the freedom to express themselves.
Coaches are there to set the environment, guide & help the players reflect on their development.
Remember grassroots coaches are there to develop players first and nothing else! If you concentrate on developing players the results will eventually come anyway as they improve.
Parents should be looking to support the child as much as possible with achieving the child’s goals not their own.
This can be achieved through goal setting and working with the child away from training.
- How to help your child play with confidence!
- How to help your child beat players in a 1v1!
- How to teach your child to pass the ball with confidence!
- And much more…