THE BIG QUESTION IS BEING ASKED: DO WE OVER COACH AT THE VERY YOUNG AGE LEVEL?
A personal view from an Academy coach at the world famous Manchester United. Coach Tom Statham, a long time academy coach, gives his personal opinion where we are going wrong. I agree with many of the great points brought out in this article, and I also feel we coaches in this country have to understand the age group that we teach.
We don’t need to complicate the young minds with too many obstacles but just let the kids play the game. (The game is the best teacher).
The key to being a better player is technical development in all areas of the game. I think somewhere out there in this great country we have a young Pele, Messi, Ronaldinho, or Ronaldo. We just have to find them, and we will.
Street soccer: A young Ronaldinho learning his trade.
John Napier: In England they are saying the system is broken, where is the next great batch of young players coming from? The country is not producing the young talent needed to keep up with the rest of Europe, South American and African Nations; the country’s young players are lacking the technical abilities of these countries. The mighty English Premier League is made up with over 65 percent foreign players, with some top ranked teams fielding not one English player in their starting 11. (That fact alone cannot be ignored).
Sir Trevor Brooking
, a former England International and a gifted soccer player with West Ham, says we must start getting things right with the youngest children if we are to produce players, who are not lagging behind the other major European countries when it comes to technique and skill levels. Tom Statham
an Academy coach at Manchester United
is in total agreement and has some great thoughts on the issue.
Tom comments that the heart of the problem is that adults run youth soccer in England and bring with them adult ideas, rules, values, tactics and pressure. Many children only experience soccer at an official club training sessions where enthusiastic well meaning coaches deliver complicated activities, instructions and tactical talks. These look and sound great and will impress parents, yet they leave most kids confused, frustrated and bored. Tom continues to say that conventional coaches and coaching are much more appropriate much later in a child’s development.
JN: So where does that leave us here in the U.S. when we want to help the young 8, 9 and 10 year olds with their development we have to teach them. Are we over coaching them? Do we take the fun out of the game? Do we make it far too complicated for the young mind? Are we as club coaches to blame for not letting kids express their creativity? Do we put winning games as more important? There are a lot of questions to be answered!
Tom explains that our very youngest players need facilitators and helpers to guide and support their progress. He holds these views after researching what some of the past GREAT players did before the age of 11, and without exception their early years were free of adult intervention, formal coaching and structured games. Skillful, exciting players such as Matthews
developed on the streets, parks, and waste land close to where they lived. They played with older and younger kids, with balls of various shapes and sizes, many of which were homemade. They played on their own, 1 v 1, 3 v 3, 10 v 7, anything they just played hour after hour. We also know that the above players were and are all world class players who probably had such natural talent as a kid; the game may have been easy for them.
JN: Unfortunately the soccer world has changed. We are not going to let our kids out of sight in today’s world, but we could go to the park with them and just let them hang out and play with their friends. We need to make sure as parents and coaches that each child has the opportunity to have a youthful progressive experience with focus always on technical development.
Tom said that by watching and interacting with kids for many years, he has developed ideas on how they learn and have fun. They copy, pretend, experiment, take responsibility and risks, they make the decisions and mistakes, use their own imagination and dream. They don’t need pressure, to be told what to do and what not to do; they need to be free to play! The key to developing happy, active, healthy, stimulated players and the answer to the problem of technically poor players is free-play. This free-play concept produced great players in the past and is still happening in Brazil, Argentina, Spain, Portugal, Nigeria and Ivory Coast, where many of today’s most technically and physically able players come from. Sadly, free-play, where children design and adapt games to fit their age and environment away from the influence of adults, is virtually dead in modern Britain and the U.S.
JN: We have a real issue and challenge today, both here in the U.S. and other countries, to get our young players to play soccer freely without adult interference for hour after hour. We as coaches in our local clubs ask them to practice at home, work on their juggling, passing, receiving etc, but unfortunately few will want to make that into an everyday habit. The minority that do practice on their own time will benefit in their soccer progression.
Tom Statham has had some of the best under 10 players come to Manchester United. They are the best and they all have the love of the game, which is pure and precious. He does not want to harm that. He sets them in an environment to succeed, let them create, challenge them with games where they can dribble, turn, run, shoot, tackle, score, have fun, receive lots of ball contact, and most importantly compete. He cheers them, encourages them, congratulates them, laughs with them, and has a positive environment where they are not criticized for failing. They do incredible things, not because they have been coached and told how, but because they have never been told they can’t. Tom says it has taken him many years to reach this point and it is not an easy thing for a competitive coach like me to do, but I would recommend it unreservedly. Leave your ego behind, chill out, back off and let the kids play.
JN: Maybe we as coaches in youth soccer in this country can take something from this and reach into our minds to help our young players develop the technical skills that someday will be enough to challenge the world. A lot of this relates also back to my childhood, playing in the streets with my friends, throwing coats down for goals and just playing for hours, no formal coaching, just playing and having fun. We never worried about mistakes or adults telling us to pass, shoot or dribble. We never worried about team colors or even positions. Every day it was the same kids and it did not matter how old they were, or even who they were, we just kept playing. Sometimes other kids would come from other villages to join in. They really were good times.
In this country more than any other we have developed a great women’s program, the envy of most other nations. We have spent a lot of time and patience with the girls, and we find that most of our young youth National teams are far ahead of the European and South American girls programs. Most of our higher end club teams that travel to international tournaments come out on top, so we certainly are on the right road with our young women’s programs.
Tom Statham has a coach’s dream position where he gets to interact with some of the best 10-year-old soccer players in his country at one of the biggest clubs in the world. They all have a passion for the game, but he also understands they are still very young and they need to be developed in a way that will be fun and exciting even at that level.
HOW I LEARNED TO PLAY...
"I spent a lot of time training at Gremio. After training I went to play futsal. After that I’d play with my friends in the streets and when I got home I played with my brother. My life is football and always has been.”
"Everything I have achieved in football is due to playing in the streets with my friends."
"I guess we were potrero (waste ground) children more than anything. If our parents were looking for us, they knew where to find us. We would always be there on the potrero, running after the ball."
"Every time I went away, I was deceiving my mum. I’d tell her I was going to school, but I’d be out on the street playing football. I always had a ball at my feet. In Brazil, every kid starts playing street football very early. It’s in our blood."
"I’d make for a piece of waste ground opposite our house, where the boys from the neighborhood gathered for a kick-about. Coats would be piled for posts and the game would get under way.
"In fine weather it would be as many as 20 a side, in bad weather a hardened dozen or so made six a side.
"We didn’t need a referee. We accepted the rules of the game and stuck by them. It taught us that you can’t go about doing what you want and if you don’t stick to the rules, you spoil it for everyone else. Those games prepared us for life.
"When I wasn’t playing football with my pals, I’d play by myself. I had a rubber ball I spent hours kicking against the backyard wall."
"I am grateful to my father for all the coaching he did not give me."
"It’s all down to street football."