Coaching, How I Got Started and What I Believe On Rotating Positions
Years ago, I decided that, having a love of football, I’d attempt to put something back into the game. Volunteering was the start, but where exactly? Referee? Linesman? Groundsman? I’ve always been particularly what you’d call ‘hands on’ which continues to drive the people close to me crazy, but maybe that could be diverted into positive actions. I’m a decent footballer, not world class, but can kick a ball and know a thing or two about tactics and I’m good with people. I thought coaching sounded perfect as this allowed me to help with grassroots football, apply that hands on attitude to good effect and it was something I thought I knew a little about. To add to that, you hear of footballers and other sportsmen and women talking of influences coaches have had on their lives. Which I could directly relate to on a couple of occasions.
As a youth footballer, I was normally deployed at right back or centre half. I was pretty quick, often winning school 100 or 400m events. However when I hit the age of about 14, I like all teenage boys eventually do, hit a dreaded growth spurt, although it was minor and later than the majority and at the time I knew nothing about them. Suddenly I couldn’t run as quick or judge distance as effectively. Subsequently a couple bad games and I was dropped for the remainder of the season’s matches and never to play again until the following school year. I’d “lost it” a senior figure in the school added.
The second example was after playing almost two full school years following my return to the team, never missing a game, when the school football teacher decided to pick his team in order of height and being the smallest in the dressing room, he’d barely read the first name off the sheet when it hit home I’d been dropped for the cup final.
So the two examples made my mind up. After being negatively affected by two previous coaches, I was going to make sure I would be a POSITIVE influence on players I coached. So it was time to watch some coaches in action and some youth football.
After watching a few coaches in action and a few games, an incident I’ll never forget occurred. “Jonny” as he will be known, was playing right midfield in a seven a side mini soccer game when suddenly he found himself being counter attacked by an on rushing bunch of kids, his mates nowhere to be seen having attempted to nick a goal from a corner, leaving Jonny to defend his half. After following the attacking players and the ball into the left side of his half, the look on Jonny’s face was one we’ve seen on a child’s face a thousand times, like when they enter the living room on Christmas day or a room full of mystery. Because it was a look of unfamiliarity, of surprise, of “how’d I end up here??” To cut it short, the opposition scored when Jonny misjudged a tackle allowing their player through on goal which he calmly took advantage of. The coach preceded to scream “I’ve left you back there on a corner for a reason, don’t dive in!!” or words along those lines.
I didn’t need a psychologist to tell me that Jonny’s brain was in unchartered territory which affected his decision making, technical approach and attitude. All because he’d never been given exposure to a situation a position swap may have prepared him for, or a calmer approach from the coach. It was clear from earlier in the game Jonny was normally doing the running with the ball, silkily weaving his way through defenders to slot the ball home, not left in one on one situations in defence, not learning to adjust his body position to tackle, not learning to slow his opponent down until his friends arrive to help. And why? I have my own thoughts, maybe Jonny’s coach wanted to win at the expense of total development? Maybe Jonny was deemed “too good to defend”. Maybe Jonny’s dad wanted him to be put in his position from an early age and left there until he became a “specialist”. For whatever reason, the outcome was negative in this particular instance. The spectrum of Jonny’s development was not given the opportunity to broaden.
I was intrigued. Firstly, how can we even attempt to coach players to stick to a position when in 10 years time, that position may not even exist. English football for decades, long since the days of “W-M” or the 1953 Hungary lesson, grew up on the basis of 442 was the bees and the rest of the world would be left behind its stability, solidarity, all round ability and safety. We’ve since seen that theory quashed. For example, Barcelona won an unprecedented 6 trophies in a single season including the domestic league and champions league without one “classic” striker in the majority of their games never mind two and England’s rigid 442 has been humiliated and labelled “kick and rush”. We’ve seen managers play a different formation every week at top clubs, a 4231 could be a 433 the next and a 451 at half time. Where would a player who’d played just off the front man his whole career, fit into those systems? Maybe he would, maybe he’d be kept for 442 days…how many of them will there be in 10 years? How many times have we seen a team attempt to win the ball back high up the pitch using the attacking line as the first form of an aggressive press? Defensive experience for these attacking players will surely only be of benefit in this regard?
Secondly, given the frequency of transition between phases of the game and positions that players make now (full back overlap, defensive midfielder appearing as a sweeper, ‘trequartista’) how can we say with confidence that speciality in a particular position will be enough for a child’s total football development?
For me, a complete exposure to the variables that football offers is essential during the golden age of development, when kids can be kids and solve problems on their own. I strongly believe this is being discouraged at many grassroots venues throughout the country despite our best efforts, the conversations frequently begin with “what was the score?” rather than “how’d your kids PLAY?”
Maybe coaches are scared to experiment and allow kids freedom and learning opportunities for a number of reasons. Parental pressure, their own desire to win or the fact results are kept at such a young age in England in comparison to some other nations (I recently heard of an u8 team publishing their league table on their website) forcing coaches to prioritise performance and results to stave off relegation or the best kids leaving for “clubs that win things” .
Whatever the reason, amongst other things, we want our youth to be as completely developed as much as possible right? Personally, I feel that’s one of the main reasons I coach.
Some further reading and sources of info:
“It is suggested that early diversification has the potential to promote a broader spectrum of developmental experiences and outcomes than early specialisation” – To Sample or to Specialise? (Cote)
“early specialisation in one sport, although leading to elite performance, has important costs in terms of enjoyment, injuries and drop out” (Beamer, Côté, & Ericsson, 2004; Wall & Côté)
The Benefits of Sampling Sports During Childhood – By Dr, Jean Cotéy Dn Sean Horton, Dany MacDonaldy Scott Wilkes