Self-Awareness Pt 4: The U21 Coach

the advice I would give ‘Me’ – the u21 coach

The next step in my journey is the position of U21 Coach, which I would hold for the next 3 years. I would have the opportunity work alongside the current Assistant Manager of England, and former 1st Team Manager of Fulham and current Assistant Manager of Wales.

As I continue this reflection process the six pieces of advice I would like to give ‘Me’ the U21 Coach would be:

Embrace the Challenge

The U21’s is a difficult squad to manage due to the inconsistency of the playing staff and the uncertainty of which players you will have in the training group from one day to the next (I will elude to this in another piece of advice). It can often be a challenge when preparing for the games, especially with the last minute additions and withdrawals. Therefore, how you manage the individuals, and the team will have an impact on how they perform within both training and within games. Consider your message, keeping it simple and engaging in order to get effective get your ideas across to your players.

taking-a-risk

Prepare for the Unexpected – Be Adaptable

You will arrive for your session with the intention to work on a specific topic, with a specific number of players. You will come across those managers that prepare in advance and let you know what players they will be giving you and what they will need from you, which will give you time to prepare. On the other hand there will be those other managers that leave it until 10-15mins before training starts, after you have set up and are ready to begin. Unfortunately, there is not much you can do about that that is the order of the food chain. Therefore, always be prepared to adapt for changes at the last minute and expect the unexpected. Prepare for the unexpected and always have a contingency plan. This will test not only your creative ability but also your ability as a coach to not allow your emotions to take the lead.

Awareness of the groups within the group

Empathy and awareness for individual players are going to be two keys skill sets required whilst working with this group. Take the time to observe, notice and ask questions. Within this one group you will have many other groups who are at different phases of their career displaying different types of behaviours and emotions. For example, you might have players who have just moved into the U21 squad, players who are not quite good enough for the 1st team squad, players that are not wanted by the 1st team management, players who are looking to get out on loan, players that are returning from injury and players that are coming up from the academy looking to prove themselves. This will challenge your skills of coaching and management of players.

Winning and Development

This is a challenge within any competitive environment, but especially when going into this phase. There has been a change in the structure within the development program of professional football going from reserve team football to U21football. The U21 program is still used in a similar fashion, providing game time for those senior players not in the 1st team squad or those players returning from injury. This can have an affect on managing the desired outcome of the game. Be prepared for that so manage and prepare for a variety of expectations from both a development and a winning standpoint.

Encourage the Players to Take Control

There is a danger that players, especially within the current environments are becoming very dependent on the club and staff. Make sure you encourage players to take responsibility, to take control of their own destiny. Have those conversations with them, guide them, coaching them and support them so they take the lead. After all it is their career, their future and they need to decide what they want to achieve and how they are going to achieve it. They need to be the driving force using their passion, perseverance and desire supported by you as coach to provide them with a program to that will help them work toward their goals. After all, look at how you got to where you did.

Take advantage to learn from the experienced Managers you work alongside

This is going to be a great opportunity for you, working alongside two very good people (who have become friends of yours) with great experience from playing through to coaching and management. They will embrace, encourage you to take a lead, support and guide you along the way. Make sure you take every little bit you can from this. Don’t leave any stone unturned. Notice, observe, ask questions and appreciate such a great opportunity.

 

Who is Coaching the Coach?

I must confess that most of my blogs have been and will continue to be focused around the development of the player. I make strong reference to how important it is to ensure we create a player-centered environment and for me that is essential. However, as we focus on the development of the player, the question I pose is who is helping to develop the coach? Who coaches the coach? After all, if we want to provide the best learning environment then surely we have to ensure the coach is doing his job.

I am sure many people will say that there are coaching courses available, which provide opportunities for CPD and sure enough these opportunities further our understanding and help us pass an exam, giving us the required qualifications. These courses will help us learn from others experiences and present new ideas that we can bring into our own coaching environment, but these opportunities are sporadic; once every few years or once a year if workshops and in-service training are available. These are courses and training days to further our knowledge, but they are not providing us the consistent feedback, the coaching that we require to coach our coaches. Players are coached every time they take part in a session, whether it is the environment the coach creates or the feedback coaching points delivered. So I raise the question again, who is coaching the coach?

A good friend of mine, who I have recently been working with, brought the idea of coaching coaches to my attention and gave me a different prospective in the way in which we should work together as coaches. He is a coach who works with coaches, and coaches the coaches to coach each other. A mouthful, but hopefully you understand where I am coming from. He encourages, for example, us as coaches working together to build a positive working relationship and to consider how we are perceived, how to feedback to one another, reflect together and help each other to improve as coaches, educators and people. This in turn will ensure that we provide the service / program that our players require. In order to achieve this we need to establish a clear philosophy that we as coaches all believe in and are working towards. This requires us to not only work with one another on the planning and delivery, but during the reflection and the review stages.

Without going into too much detail and providing just enough to provoke and encourage food for thought, and of course generate more business for my friend I want to draw reference on my own personal experience. This process has encouraged me to look at things from a different perspective, ask questions that I may not have asked before. It has definitely improved the working relationship I have with my peers. Developing the confidence to feedback and accept feedback because as a coach I want to continue moving forward, developing and becoming the best coach / player developer that I can. Which in turn, will enable me to provide the optimal learning environment and development program for the players. Through this process Ihave been developing and will continue to improve upon a new set of skills. Especially, working with others, building confidence to accept and provide feedback. Ultimately, we are all working towards the same goal and therefore, it is paramount that we build that relationships that enable us to create environments that develop successful coaches thus develop successful players.

I conclude with this, focus on providing a player-centered environment and program, but take time to develop coach-centered program to help progress the coaches. Try to surround yourself with people who have a similar philosophy, ideas and goals. From this, relationships can develop, and coaches can work with coaches. Remember; help develop the coach to help develop the player.

 “The more I learn about myself, the more I understand you.” Kevin Poriot

Playing With Friends

I recently came across an article that drew reference to a study that had been carried out on the amount of time that children spend playing outside compared to their parents and previous generations. The research found that the parents, as children during the 1970’s and 1980’s were spending no fewer than two hours outside per weekday and no less than nine hours at the weekends regardless of the weather. Whereas today, children are spending on average an hour a day on a weekday and fewer than five hours a day at weekends.

Although this is relevant to children of all ages, children aged between 5 – 12 years are going through some of their most critical stages of development, which are influenced by the environments and activities they are exposed to. Therefore, how are allowing children to spend these critical periods of development in front of a screen as oppose to playing outside where they will be developing their physical, cognitive and social skills. Which will enable to not only become better athletes, but will enable them to carry out every day activities more effectively. When children play they learn to interact, observe movements, be creative, mimic actions, develop motor patterns and improve visual senses to mention just a few, and this is all part of their development. If, however, they spend most of their time sitting down, in front of a 2 dimensional screen then they won’t get the chance to develop the above and therefore are we really providing them with the start they require?

As children develop it is important that they learn to interact and play with friends, within various environments. I want to put forward a case that I believe has helped players develop from the previous generations, the generations where children spent a lot more time outside playing with friends, which gave them the opportunity to develop the required skills to play such sports as football. When children play football or any sport with their friends, they are free to try and express themselves. They are given the platform to implement new skills, work things out, be independent without a coach instructing and placing fear in a player. This environment provides them with the opportunity to make their own decisions, make their own mistakes and willing to fall down, pick themselves up and try again. They will play with friends of all ages, sizes and numbers on a variety of different sized pitches on various surfaces using a range of size balls. All in which will provide them the experiences they require to improve their overall development as a player. They will learn from others, inadvertently coach each others by observing, mimicking, encourage each other to try a new skill. They will have the chance to pretend for that moment to be their favourite athlete, carry themselves in the way that their idol plays, try skills without worrying about being shouted at, celebrate the way their hero does when they score a goal. Within all of this and for me, which is the most important thing, they will have fun, enjoy, practice more, work harder and learn. Therefore, playing with friends is arguable one of the most important, yet withdrawn activities that a successful player should have as part of their program.

From my own childhood I can recall a typical day when at school: I would be getting into school early, first thing in the morning meeting friends to play football, which had been pre-arranged the day before. We would meet in the playground, it would often be with a tennis ball with ‘jumpers for goal posts’ (bags in our case), and this would range anything from 1 v 1 to 5 v 5 or even a 1 v 2 depending on numbers. This would carry on up until the bell rang for the start of school, therefore it was important to get in real early so the game would be longer. Summer months were great because of the light mornings and generally good weather. It was made a little more difficult during the winter with dark, rainy, cold days, but that never stopped us. In those days we had a morning break between classes that lasted 20mins, there was no surprise that this involved football, it would usually be the game continuing from before school and that would carry on throughout the week. Then at lunchtime it was the big game, the game we had planned for, and from what I recall at Junior school (7-11yrs) we were playing international games, Northern Ireland v France. We had even made up programs for the fixture, time of kick off, current league standing and the name of each player we individually would be taking the role of. It would often only involve a small number of players, maybe a 3 v 2 or 3 v 3. I always preferred being on the 2 against 3 because of the challenge. I never enjoyed dominating games, I liked the drama and challenge of being an underdog and having to work hard to win, it felt more of an achievement. There was quite the build up to the game, especially in the mornings, planning during class, discussions about where the game would take place and about getting out as soon as the bell went, often avoiding lunch to ensure we had more time to play. In the afternoon we would have PE, which involved a range of sporting activities that included cricket, rounder’ and athletics. I used to enjoy playing any sports, as long as I was outside. Then in the afternoon we had another 15min break, that would normally involve typical playground games and yes, the lads played hopscotch as well. After school we often played in the playground waiting for parents, or in the park, as parents would walk groups of children home. which we would negotiate with them by suggesting they could talk and have a good catch up. Although, I know my mother did not need an invitation as she always enjoyed chatting with her friends. ‘Another 5 minutes’, which always led to an hour, which was great because it meant I could with my friends. On some days we had either school football training or a game. Other days we would schedule to go round to a friends house, for tea, which usually involved playing football or others sports in the garden.

Therefore I ask this question, are we giving our children the chance, the best possible opportunities to become not only a creative footballer and athlete, but also a creative person? By providing them with opportunities to ‘play’ and to be free in an environment, which is led by them and not by coaches. The environment, that surrounds us by positive peers that can influence, help educate and shape the person we become. If you have ever read the book ‘Bounce’ by Matthew Syed he draws reference to the environment and situations that led him to the career he had in table tennis. We need to do more as parents, educators and coaches to provide our children to best chances to develop some of the required skills that help them perform in the sporting arena and perform in life.

‘I am always ready to learn but I don’t always like being taught’ Winston Churchill

Coaching Goalkeepers to Defend……Why Not?

Do we ever coach Goal keepers how to defend, for example in 1 v 1 situations, not to get beat, force a mistake and even make a tackle?

Over recent years, as the game has changed with the rules, tactics and the type of player, the expectations and demands of a goal keeper has evolved. By this, I am referring to their ability to use their feet and to distribute in order start attacks. They are required to manage back passes, maintain possession of the ball and play as the 11th outfield player. It has become a big part of their training, managing the ball, opening out to change the direction of play, clipping the ball into full backs, travelling with the ball outside of the penalty box to distribute and build from the back.

On many occasions a goalkeeper is required to play outside of their penalty box, for example, clearing a through ball using their feet, body and even their head. On some occasions goalkeepers are caught coming out to close a player down to prevent them from a goal scoring opportunity, without the use of their hands. In fact, this even occurs when a keeper has gone to defend a player inside the penalty box, and the opponent has their back to them. In doing so, they are required to defend the player, holding them up, enabling others player to recover and help defend. However, on numerous occasions they will come out with impulse, placing themselves in a situation which results them going to ground early and potentially catching the opponent and conceding a penalty or a free kick depending where the incident takes play’s, which can often result in a red card.

If this is the case, then why are we not teaching our goalkeepers how to defend, coaching key principles, their approach to the ball, distances, body shape, decision-making when in a 1 v 1 situation? The role of a goalkeeper continues to evolve and the goalkeepers themselves are required add more skills to their game and surely defending is one of them.