Google+ Blueprint for Football: June 2013

Monday, June 17, 2013

Great Coaches = Better Players

In an era where clubs boast about the amount of money that they are investing in their academies, the last thing you would expect the FA's director of football development to talk about is the minimal wages that are being paid to the coaches working in those same academies.

Yet that is what Sir Trevor Brooking did last week.  "The salaries are definitely too low and we need to recognise coaching in the young age groups as a proper career for a full-time role."

"We believe you need full-time coaches. At the moment there is an issue in that those full-time places are being offered at pretty low salaries, around 15-16 grand, and they need to be recognised for the quality and getting £40,000 to £50,000."

Whilst it is astounding that clubs should try to offer such wages, it isn't surprising.  After all, there are other areas - specifically the performance analysis departments that all clubs are rushing to set up - where interns at some clubs are expected to work without being paid anything.

The clubs know that there are hundreds of people out there eager to gain some experience as they look to get a start in coaching and they try to exploit this as much as possible.

Whilst this might be interpreted as another instance of clubs' increasing desire to operate as businesses, what it does is confirm that there are still a lot of instances where antiquated beliefs remain prevalent.

Because the acceptance that some coaches can be paid minimal amounts is symptomatic of the way youth coaching is viewed.   This isn't simply an issue around clubs looking to spend as little as possible but more about the belief that any coach will do.  Because if clubs felt otherwise they would surely make sure that they provided the best possible coaches for their youth teams which, in turn, would mean paying the kind of money that such coaches would expect.

It shouldn't be that way.  In a study looking at the value of teachers, Stanford economist Eric Hanushek found that students of a very bad teacher will learn, on average, half a year's worth of material in one school year whilst those in the class of a very good teacher will learn a year and a half's worth of material.  Meaning that schools should always strive for the best teachers.   

Is football any different? Of course not.  So why do (some) clubs act in a manner where the main criterion isn't coaches' ability to teach but the wages that they are willing to accept?

There's a lesson there for parents too.  Before you let your kid join a club (any club, not just a professional one) find out what kind of coaches they employ at all levels.  Because it is the quality of those coaches that will determine how much your kid will progress.

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Wednesday, June 5, 2013

The Blueprint According To...Louis Lancaster

Want to better understand how Bayern Munich set themselves up to defend against Barcelona?  Or the way their players are positioned when they have to defend a corner?  If so, then there's no better person to follow than Louis Lancaster.

Tasked to prepare a comprehensive dossier from a minimum of 10 viewings on a non-British team as part of his Elite Coaching Course, Lancaster chose the German giants and has been richly rewarded with a series of fantastic performances for him to choose and analyse.

Yet there's much more to him than simply his analysis of Bayern Munich.  Which is why I've spoken to him about his own blueprint... 

Blueprint for Football: Let's start with the basics: what got you into coaching and how long ago was that?
Louis Lancaster: I started coaching when I was 15 (16 years ago). My parents ran a local club and I used to help out now and then coaching U8’s – U12’s. It was something I really enjoyed as I was fascinated with different sessions and trying to improve players.

BfF: What is your coaching philosophy?
LL: To help any player I am in contact with meet the technical and tactical demands of the game, remembering to keep the principles of the game simple because the game is not.

BfF: Have you had any mentors in your career?
LL: If you look at the top managers they have all worked with masters. For instance you have Mourinho and Robson, Mourinho and Andre Villas Boas. I am yet to work with a true mentor, and this is something I am keen to do. Someone who has had a big impact on my coaching career so far is Dick Bate. I was fortunate to be invited as one of sixteen candidates with an A License over the past decade to be the first to work towards the Elite Coaching License (level 5), an award unique in the world of football. Working and sharing ideas with the other coaches, and with Dick leading the course this has had a huge impact on my personal development. 

BfF: You tweet a lot of tactical overviews from a lot of teams around Europe.  How vital is it to look at different cultures to learn? 
LL: I have always watched continental football, but never really studied it in great depth. However one of our tasks on the Elite Coaching Course was to prepare a comprehensive dossier from a minimum of 10 viewings on a non-British team. The dossier had to include tactics, systems, style, team selections and we had to particular record and identify regular tactics adopted by the team, units and individuals of the team. I obviously chose Bayern Munich and can honestly say this task has had a huge influence on my ways. 

I plan to do one team per season purely for my own development and I would strongly advise others to do so too. If Bayern have won the Bundesliga by 20 clear points with a goal difference of +76, in the final of the domestic cup and are favourites to win the Champions League final after thrashing Barcelona 7-0 on aggregate, then we as coaches can certainly learn something. Other candidates on the course chose Juventus, AC Milan, Udinese, Napoli, Borussia Dortmund, Stuttgart, PSG and they were completed to such a high standard.

BfF: How important is the mental side of the game and what do you do to boost it?
LL: Firstly it is important for me as a coach, that I am conscious of the messages I am sending to players, and messages I am receiving. Every individual is different and you have to remember that U18’s are boys turning into young adults. As coaches it is our role to support this with consideration and understanding. I think it is important to do 3 things as a coach:
1.      Fill the players with confidence

2.      Emphasise you will do all you can to help them, but they need to take personal responsibility at the same time

3.      Inspire them

I like to remind them of the David Villa quote ‘Money means nothing to me. If you are not happy then materials mean nothing. My only target in life is to get better at my job.’

BfF: What do you prefer: a talented player who doesn't value work or a hard-working but not as talented player?
LL: Interesting question…I’m sure in every team there is a blend of both. My job is to produce players for the first team, so I need to find out what motivates all players. Whether it be money, celebrity status or them just wanting to be better I need to find it. If players fail it’s because they failed themselves not because I have failed them. So I have to find a ways to maximise their potential so I would go with the talented player.

BfF: Is winning important for you?
LL: I would say 9-16’s definitely not. For the 18’s the individual performances are certainly the main focus, but there has to be an element on winning otherwise stepping up to first team level would be a huge culture shock. Players are naturally competitive anyway, I just think that as coaches we are careful and make sure that the messages are clear.

BfF: What do you want to achieve to be satisfied with what you have done in your coaching career?
LL: This has been a passion of mine since the start and that is to be coaching in the Premier League by the time I am 40.

The Blueprint According To... is a monthly feature looking at youth football coaches and the philosophies that drive them.  Read more on the Blueprint for Football Extra.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Why Copying in Football is a Bad Idea

It was somewhat inevitable that, with two German teams in the Champions League final, we would be bombarded by articles on how German football managed to transform itself from one sliding towards mediocrity to the undisputed force in European football.

And so it should be because the turnaround that has been witnessed in Germany is nothing short of phenomenal.  

Yet there should be a limit to this infatuation because, if past experience is anything to go by then it risks getting out of hand.  It is far too easy to see a system that is working and think that it is something that should be copied.  Which is where mistakes happen.

England is a prime example of this.  When France won the World Cup in 1998, it was put forward as the example to follow along with the need to build an English equivalent to Clairefontaine.  Then, when Spanish football was winning everything in sight, everyone suddenly wanted to replicate what Barcelona were doing at La Masia.  You can rest assured that the envious glances at what the Germans are doing well have already started.

It is a classic example of too much of a good thing ultimately being bad.  What clubs are doing in Germany should be examined, of course, but only to determine what can be learned from them.  Just as should be done in Spain, France, Belgium and whichever country has achieved success.  Because you can rest assured of two things:

  • you can learn from every one of them; and
  • they all do things differently

Indeed, you shouldn't stop with football.  Why has British cycling been so successful over the past ten years?  And what of Jamaican sprinting and Kenyan running?  How come New Zealand produce so many fantastic rugby players?

Everywhere you look you will find ideas that can be adapted to your situation.  With a strong emphasis on 'adapted'.  Because simply trying to copy what others are doing will never work.  Analyse your own situation and use what you have learned from others to come up with your own way of working.  Otherwise, you will always end up chasing shadows.

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