Sunday, 2 February 2014

A Grassroots Coaches Review of "Inspire the Game"

Given the speakers at this event I wasn't sure if the target audience was going to be more geared those coaches working at the Elite or Professional level and wondered what knowledge I might gain that would help me in my role as a grassroots coach. Nothing is worse than travelling across the country to attend an event for your own learning and development and coming away with nothing from it. I needn't have worried, because despite the number of coaches in their club attire there was just as many grassroots coaches in attendance.
The morning sessions were focussed around developing the talent of the future. Cardiff City academy manager Dick Bate was the first presenter to take to the stage with a talk on what football may look like in a few years’ time, Backed up with a lot of statistical analysis on the speed at which the game will be played both from a technical and a decision making perspective. Players at the top level will need to be making decisions lightning fast and the analysis showed a clear link between an increased number of passes giving a team a greater chance of winning games.
Dick also talked from a coaching perspective about the need to keep players attention and stimulate their curiosity. He used the following acronym to sum up how coaches can prepare themselves for the future:
Ask yourself what knowledge, what attributes, what skills, what experiences do you need to gain as a coach to improve for the future game? 
Next up was Nick Levett an experienced presenter responsible for the development of youth football at the FA as well as part time Academy coach at Fulham FC. His experience showed in both his style and PowerPoint presentation. Nick talked about developing the next generation of football players. My notes summed up Nicks presentation quite nicely:
 “The game gives you memories. The game gives you clues not answers”
Ask yourself are you creating memories or concentrating on winning trophies?
Matt Whitehouse, author of The Way Forward, spoke about the need to develop players with skill, creativity and intelligence, Following Matts presentation I wrote in my notes – Spend more time developing players in 1v1 opposed situations rather than unopposed.
Leadership under Pressure was the title of Crewe Alexandra youth coach Micheal Jolley. He spoke about coaches needing to have clarity in their objective and an understanding of the steps they need to take on their journey. Luck plays a massive part in football, but as coach you still need to know what you need to learn and what you need to do to achieve your objectives. His presentation also seemed to reinforce Matts talk with the need to make players training as close to match day experience as possible,
Renowned Sports Psychologist Dan Abrahams talk on Mindset and coaching was interesting to hear, especially his adaptation of the FA four corner model and how the physiological corner influences the other three corners. It got me thinking how each of the other corners has influenced grassroots coaches’ direction in recent years:
Physical – for many years seen as the trait of English football and the player of choice for Academy’s
Technical – Coerver, Brazilian Soccer Schools, to name just two styles that have influenced grassroots coaches
Tactical – Small sided games, 4v4 and 3v3 etc a more recent example of a grassroots training trend
But it’s not surprising as the psychological side is the least understood by grassroots coaches. Do we insist on the right Mindset from our players? For example encouraging them to experience confidence and focus during our sessions. Do we know our players story? Do we shape their story?
Co-organiser Jed Davies, author of the Tika Taka handbook talked about player development philosophy. Again one thought provoking line from my notes summed up Jeds presentation
“Steal ideas don’t copy them”
By all means steal other coaches’ ideas, but don’t expect to use them to the letter and expect them to work for you. Adjust them to match your philosophy. Does your playing philosophy match your training methodology? Does your training methodology reflect the match day implementation?
The next two presenters spoke about the tactical side of the game. Wigan Academy manager Tim Lees spoke about his philosophy and shared insights into the coaching of young players at the academy. What was interesting about Tims talk from a grassroots perspective was that they do very little unopposed work in their sessions. In the last session Louis Lancaster, Watford Academy coach, presented his work on the tactical methods Bayern Munich have used during their recent successful campaigns, a presentation that I would suggest anyone with an interest in football to watch.
After each presentation there was time to ask questions of the presenters and there where also plenty of breaks to allow you to network with other coaches. It was also nice to see all the presenters stay and listen to their peers.
The main message I took away from the event was that no one has the golden solution to our problems, but everyone at the event was happy to share ideas presenters and attendees alike.

Saturday, 11 January 2014

Possession with Purpose

Objective: Possession with Purpose (This session is one I adapted from a session posted on twitter by Gavin McLeod (@GavMac21) Cincinnati Saints NPSL Head Coach)

The Set Up: One or two pitches (dependant on numbers) 50x25 

Ball Work - As the players arrive partner them up and get them playing Panna, Players score a point for each time they nutmeg there opponent

Pass and Move Unopposed: Split the players in two and play in separate halves of the pitch. The play is unopposed with players pass the ball in their group and move into space. Those not in possession should also be constantly moving into what they feel is the best space. So the picture is constantly changing for the player in possession.

:We started the exercise off by getting players to roll the ball to each other along the ground. Once the players understood what was expected they then had to pass the ball, if they could, with a maximum of two touches. Other progressions included using a passing sequence (short, short, long). Then finally made it competitive by seeing team could make the most passes in 1 minute.

Keepaway: Using the same as the previous exercise play this keepaway game (5x3, 5v2, 4v2 etc)


The objective for the team of five is to retain possession in their own half of the pitch, whilst 2 or 3 players from the group try to recover possession. The attackers get a point for every time they complete five passes without the defenders getting the ball, or the ball going out of the grid. If they defenders gain possession they should look to switch the ball to their free team mates in the other area and move back to provide passing options for their team mates. 2 or 3 players from the team that lost possession now go and defend in the other.

Four Goal Game:  A regular game but each team has a goal in each corner they can shoot for. 

As well as helping to improve basic techniques. This game also helps to improve a players vision. The use of four goals means that players will learn to use the space on the flanks by switching play. As a result the game should increase awareness and encourage players to play with their heads up, rather than looking down at the ball all the time. The team without possession need to play smart because the extra goal will make it seem like they are playing a player down.

Normal Game: Focus on the skills learnt in the session, giving particular praise to players taking players making decisions that enable their team to maintain possession.

Saturday, 9 November 2013

Vision and Awareness

Objective: To give players lots of opportunities to make decisions (adapted from a session on

The Set Up: Magic Rectangle - The overall pitch size is 45x35 yards with each corner square 15x15 yards.

Possession with Interference - This game is played ideally with two teams of four. One of the teams has a ball each, the other team stand around the outside of the square.

The players on the outside have to pass their ball around the area. The players on the inside have to dribble their ball to towards the outside players and block them form making a pass. This should encourage the outside players to play with their head up and exploit any space that is created. As a progression the players on the outside can be allowed to move into the square to receive the ball, then either check back out of the square with the ball or pass it to a team mate.

You can make the game competitive by giving the dribblers a point for each time they block a pass and give the players on the outside a point for a certain number of completed passes.

Below is a short video clip of some of grassroots players getting used to the game. Its not perfect, but then we are not looking for perfection, we are looking for enjoyment and learning.


Making Runs: Two small target areas are added just outside the squares used in the previous game. Place a player in each target area. To start two teams of 3 play with a ball each in the square play bi-directional passing the ball to their team mates and eventually to the target player who returns the ball for them to attack the opposite end. players should be encouraged to create space to receive a pass.

To progress the game and make it competitive take one of the balls away. The game still remains bi-directional but each team receives a point for transferring the ball from one target player to the other. Dont forget to rotate the target players.

Below is a short clip of grassroots players playing the game.


One - Nil Game: This game can played small sided (i.e 4v4) or with larger numbers like a normal game. The basic rule of the game is that you can only win by one goal.

The game is played according to the usual rules, with the exception that when a goal is scored, the team that scored must just try and keep possession and can’t score into the goal. If they do, the goal is disallowed and a goal kick ensues. If the other team then equalise the score is reset to 0-0 and both teams can try and score. 

This is an excellent possession game and also allows a team to play out time by keeping possession.