Friday, 23 July 2010

A Simple Game

Premier League for Tots
Football is meant to be a simple game and that is why it has such global appeal. You simply need a ball, players and something for goals. You can play a version of it just about anywhere.
In the Premier League for Tot’s however we have made things rather more complicated with formations, tactics boards, plans for defending corners and lots and lots of jargon picked up from the experts on Sky. ‘Second ball’ shouts the coach and looks around for appreciation at the parents, failing to notice one of his track-suited players throw one of the spare match balls onto the pitch. One team is playing with the original ball while the other team scores a goal with the second ball that has been thrown on the pitch by the obedient sub. The more the under eight’s set up resembles the professional game we see on TV, the better the coach, in some parent’s eyes.

Some more examples of jargon shouted at children’s football matches and possible interpretations by the children.
· “Find space” – Build a one man space rocket and travel in a vertical direction until you leave the earth’s atmosphere. (may take a while)
· “Man on” – Sounds as if a strange man has wondered onto the pitch. Do not accept any sweets from him and find the nearest policeman. (may take a while)
· “Hit the channel” – Nip down to Dover with a large stick and start thrashing the sea.
· “Hold” – Grab the nearest opposition player and don’t let go.
· “Relax” – Sun lounger + strawberry milkshake + Gameboy.
· “Gamble” – Poker, 3 card brag, snap, old maid?
· “Get rid of it” – Stick your fingers down your throat and bring up your breakfast.
· “Work” – Help mum with the dishes, dad wash the car and knuckle down in Maths.
· “Travel” – Pack your suitcase were off to Spain!
· “Close down” – Bring in the washing for your mum (may of misheard instruction)
· “Do we want it?” – Oh yes, a new bike for Christmas please.
· “Spread yourselves” – Cover yourself from head to toe in chocolate spread (something dad occasionally does with mum on a Saturday night – unknown to the kids)

The simpler the better
Brain Clough has had the greatest impact on the club game in England by taking an unfashionable provincial team from the bottom of the old second division to two European Cup triumphs. As well as his incredible achievements at Nottingham Forest, Clough was equally as impressive in his time as manager of Derby County. The greatest manager England never had!
But what did Clough attribute his amazing success too? Well it would probably have many mini soccer coaches spinning in their monogrammed bench coats. How on earth could he send out a team so ill prepared?

Nigel Clough on the ITV DVD simply called ‘Clough’ explained his father’s philosophy.
“Very simple, you have 10 friends, 10 team mates out there on the pitch, look after them. Look after the ball and give them the best possible ball (pass) you can. I can’t remember one time, in 9 years or even watching training before that, what you would call a tactical session. Stopping it, working on the back four or pattern of play - you just played 6, 8 a side or however many it was. A bit of possession, a few games and everything came from that - very simple. We never talked about the opposition; you just went out and played.”

That philosophy won them two European Cups, - Brain himself explains further;
“I tried to make sure of one basic thing in management. Educated people would call it a fundamental but I’m not sure what that means. I know what basic means and my basic was that there should never ever be the slightest sense of complication in my dressing room. I would rather have my players rolling about the dressing room floor laughing than have them trying to fathom a list of instructions and tactics before they went out to play a match.”

The more complicated we make it the bigger the smoke screen we can hide behind and the more important we become. The more coaching we do the more the players will rely on us and the greater power he will wield.
It is time for a reality check and to make the game fun, accessible and simple for children to understand and see it for what it is - kid’s football.

Grassroots and academies
Clough had his theories too on how children were being treated in both the grassroots game and academies.
“Our Simon used to run a team called FC Wanderers and I’ve never seen so many up- and- coming Alf Ramseys in my life – parents on the touchline thinking they were coaching their kids. There were about twenty of them, the same twenty every week, shouting their heads off. The mothers were the worst offenders and they hadn’t a clue what they were shouting about. They’d heard some self-styled expert trotting out the same phrase on telly.”

“The introduction of youngsters to the professional clubs today has gone from the sublime to the bloody ridiculous. There’s nothing wrong with competiveness. All kids want to win and have to learn how to lose, but these days too many parents put too much pressure on little lads who should be enjoying every second on the football pitch. They’re grabbing kids almost before they’ve lost their milk teeth and although these places no doubt produce some good players at the end of the conveyor belt, I’m not sure they will produce enough to justify the investment and expense. Call me old- fashioned but I think some of these good players would emerge anyway without the need for such intense teaching processes. I’m scarred the kids are being brainwashed and by the time they’ll all be walking round in the same way like robots. There will be nothing natural about them because their individuality will have been coached out of them.”

What we don’t have at present is enough alternatives to the current children’s league structures -alternatives that focus on inclusion, fun, encouragement, plenty of touches of the ball, games and simple instruction that the children can understand.
Games are very important to children as that is exactly what they would do if left alone. Coaching is fine, but we do far too much of it, sometimes for the sake of the parents, to let them know just how knowledgeable we are. Better then we give nuggets of information, as and when it is needed and of course Keep It Simple!

“A good coach coaches joy. Ask Wayne Rooney, the last of the backstreet footballers. That's what saved England's bacon in Kazakhstan on Saturday - not Rooney's lust for victory but his soul-deep joy in the physical action of sport.”

By Paul Cooper

07875 283093

Simon Barnes – The Times
Brian Clough – Clough the Autobiography (1994) Corgi Books ISBN: 5791086
Cloughie (Walking on water 2002) – Headline Book Publishing ISBN: 9780755314300
Clough (DVD) 2009 ITV Sport

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