Friday, 11 November 2011

Non Competitive Games - Do they work?

I have spent the last 16 months coaching teams at the under 8  age group within the revised FA framework of no league tables. Whats your experience, does it work? Are coaches more aware of long term player development? Are adults changing their behaviour at youth football games?

If I had been asked this question towards the end of last season I probably would have said that the changes have had a positive effect. 10 weeks into this season and I'm not so sure. One thing has changed for me since then, this year we are playing against effectively 'A' teams, last season we where playing against 'B' teams and although there still aren't any points at stake, the adults (coaches and parents) involved with 'A' teams have a greater desire to win games.

Most weeks I see coaches rely on a single player to influence the game for them, to the extent that they take all the set pieces, including the goal kicks for the keeper. the corners from both sides, a free kick anywhere on the pitch becomes a shooting opportunity. I still see players not getting even half a game, I still see 7 and 8 year old players being chastised for making mistakes that the grown ups would never had made if they had been playing....yeah right!! 

I started coaching 8 years ago and the same problems still exist now that existed then. Is it any wonder when, in my experience, there are still far more old level 1 courses available than the new FA youth modules for coaches taking their first steps. A new approach to coaching kids that is being promoted by the FA. 

I was talking too a dad at my sons school the other day, his son plays for a team that are having a lot of success winning games, but at the expense of long term player development., he summed up youth coaching for me in the UK, when he said "His (the coach) heart is in the right place". There are coaches who are doing things with good intentions, but the reality is that he possibly doesn't understand how children learn or the physiological aspects of coaching children and the benefits that a focus on long term development can have on young players. They stopped learning when they finished there course.

So do Non-competitive games help? For me not much has changed, taking away league tables hasnt changed the behaviour of those that needed to change. Hardly surprising when the name alone doesn't work. There is no such thing as a non-competitive game for most kids, kids want to win, whether on the park or in the playground. The problem comes when adults feel the need to help them win. But for all the problems that exist I wouldn't want the tables brought back. 

I wont pretend that it is easy for coaches to follow a path of long term player development, with parents moaning about why Johnny isn't playing striker and why Jimmy is getting to play the whole game despite being the best player, having to put up with  fellow coaches boasting about their league position at club meetings. 

But having had success, if you can call winning leagues with kids a success, by putting development before results at an early age in the years before playing 11 a side and then seeing the team win promotion 3 years running and with most of them playing at Alliance league level now I will continue down the not so trodden path of LTPD whilst playing competitive league organised games and hopefully look back in a few years and see I made the right decision again. 


Graham Goddard said...

Firstly Andy, thanks to @coachingfamily for telling me about your excellent blog. This post really struck a chord so I wanted to post a comment. It's turned out longer than expected, so apologies for that, but hope readers get some value from it.

I coach my son's U8s team and although I've only been in the role for less than 12 months, I'm learning fast about the best ways to work with young kids to help them develop, have fun and enjoy the game.

I'm shocked by some of the stuff I've seen on match day, and recognise the need for education and change. Twitter has shown me I'm not alone in my views, and there appear to be some progressive coaches out there with the right ideas about teaching kids to play football. I've also followed the Future Game roadshows and hope the FA's proposed changes will be embraced by the majority of the grassroots game.

Within our team, I am fortunate to have a fantastic group of parents. Not only do they commit their time to bringing the players to training and matches, but they also sell tea/coffee and home-made cakes to raise funds. They are all supportive of the players and coaches and I've not seen a better behaved group of adults at another club.

However, in recent weeks I've started to see a lowering of pitch-side standards amongst adults on match days, both at matches involving our team and other teams at U8s.

Last weekend I had an opposition coach shout criticism at a 15yo referee from the touchline, just because the coach disagreed with a decision. I had an opposition adult shout in the loudest possible voice (think Bob Hoskins or Ray Winstone x10) negative criticism of players who are only 7yo. He called one of them a donkey. Increasingly, we are seeing opposition teams use two coaches, patrolling up and down opposite sides of the pitch, barking constant instructions onto the field. This results in an increase to the overall noise levels. From the car park, you would think there must be a adults Cup Final being played, not an U8s friendly.

I cannot imagine this makes the players feel anything other than confused, and on occasion even intimidated. As a kid, I don't ever remember it being this bad.

Graham Goddard said...

I do have one theory as to why things have got worse over the last few weeks.

When our season began, the League Fixture Secretary was unsuccessful in pairing together sides of equal ability. This resulted in some very one-sided games. I found this disappointing on a number of levels, but when there is such an obvious mismatch between the teams, the adults connected with the losing team soon realise the game is up and are not overtly critical of their players. Similarly, the adults connected with the winning team are not over zealous in their celebrations. In the end, everyone feels a bit sorry and embarrassed.

Contrast that with recent weeks, when after some seeding of teams by the Fixtures Secretary, we are experiencing much more even contests. Consider a team that has been comprehensively beaten in their first 8 matches, who all of a sudden find themselves with a chance of winning. The excitement, opportunity, and desire to win the game begin to spill over on the touchlines, and suddenly this has become a must-win game for the adults, a chance to be victorious - it's become like a adults Cup Final.

And it's the same for the teams who had it easy for 8 weeks. My players have told me repeatedly they don't like easy games. They want to play against stronger opposition. Mine are a good side, and the opposition know it. So suddenly, even though we don't have league tables, these games become the ones the players want to win. They put more effort into their performance, and as much as try to play down the importance of the result, they put themselves under extra pressure to win. Emotions run high on and off the field. We see euphoric goal celebrations, and for the losers, it's often tears.

As a coach, it's difficult (almost impossible) to completely control the environment. Making your assistants and parents understand the consequence of their actions and moderate their behaviour accordingly is part of the answer. But that needs to be adopted by the opposing team, and unfortunately my experience has been that most opposing teams play to win at all costs.

The responsibility of the Fixture Secretary also cannot be overlooked. My personal view is that teams should be seeded where possible to create competitive games. It shouldn't be left to the coaches on the day to recognise that it's not working and try to re-balance the sides to make if fair. That's okay in training, but players have joined a football club to learn the game, play in matches, wear the club shirt and feel part of the team. Splitting them up and putting them on a team with some strangers to play against their mates isn't the way forward.

Having talked with the parents we've decided that whenever possible on match days, we will stand on the opposite side of the pitch to the other team and their coaches. We will try to deter the opposition from having coaches patrol both sides of the pitch. Separating the adults might help to reduce the overall noise level as people are not stood next to each other and competing to be heard. And in the event of abuse or unsporting comments being shouted from the sidelines, it enables the referee to detect which side they originated from.