Google+ Blueprint for Football: August 2013

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Book Review: The Way Forward

by Arnar Steinsson

If you care about football in England this is a book that you have to read. The author  Matthew Whitehouse has managed to cover from A-Z  the failures that have had an extremely negative effect on the game and generations of footballers. It also puts forward a wide array of solutions and ideas that can bring out the very best results for the game in the country and develop the most skilled footballers on a global scale. 

Youth development might not be a subject that every football fan has taken interest in but this book gives you an excellent opportunity to learn about one of the most important aspects of the game if not the most important aspect of football and enjoy the process at the same time.  

This is a must read for coaches. Some will without a doubt be familiar with the contents of the book to others it might be a wake up call. And if so a necessary one.  I would say the same for parents whose children have chosen to play the sport and want to give their child the very best opportunity to thrive at it and enjoy what they are doing. The knowledge in this book will give you a very good idea of how to meet those requirements for your child.
In the past those in charge of setting out a blueprint for the English game have been following a method that can only be described as the definition of insanity. Which is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. Decades of forced implementation from the FA of the  kick and rush method style of play has had terrible effects on the game. It has served as a net which catches the skillful technician and tactician who turns the game into an art-form which football fans marvel at for making the game truly beautiful. 

Some players have escaped that net and on to the pitch and into professional teams in England over the past decades and have thrived in teams which have used methods that  suited their skills. If they were picked to play for England however they mostly suffered and were left chasing shadows and were mostly ineffective. 

Which is not a surprise when they enter a team which does not follow the methods of most successful teams. As Matthew put so well in his book is that England have not learned from teams that lift trophies . Even when they are lifted by domestic teams. 

The stubbornness on display for such a long period of time is almost unfathomable. And I shudder of the thought of all the talented players that never escaped that net and  the positive effect they would have had on the game.  You can only imagine how different the history of the game would have been if more of the so called magicians of the game would have been able to make their mark on it. Of course these players are not magicians as we often call them but a product of correct coaching methods and dedication to their craft.

I´m by no means condemning a direct method of playing football but using it as a sole method of coaching players is extremely detrimental to the their development. Ignoring so many important aspects of what the game consists of is foolish. It ignores far too many attributes which make a good all around footballer. It´s like building a race car which has speed and power but has major difficulties steering on a track which is curved and requires great  maneuverability of it´s steering mechanism in order to not go off track time after time in the middle of a race.  The car that England built was designed to go mostly in one direction and it has driven of the track far to many times  without to many adjustments being made to the design. The  FA and the Premier League are trying to make some alterations to the design however with the implementation of the Elite Player Performance Plan which aim is to put the players development as the number one priority and giving them a higher standard of coaching as we see in many other countries.  This effort is very positive one which will of course take some time to bear fruit before the players developed in that plan will make it to a professional level.  

In this period the people in charge of implementing it will have to take great care and consideration into the planning in order for them to be as successful as they want it to be. As for any long term project there will always be new challenges  to overcome which cannot be foreseen at the start of such an ambitious project. There is at least one aspect which has to be addressed and that´s that the changes don´t deal with these issues outside of the academies. And if these measures are not applied to football which is not at academy level  I fear that the project will not be effective enough. 

I would strongly recommend that The Way Forward would act as a guide for the Elite Player Performance Plan as the variety of issues it addresses all need to be carefully contemplated. 

Each chapter highlights something that needs to be corrected and offers an idea or ideas of how to find a solution so it can be corrected. How to improve the technical skills of players by putting emphasis on how to control the ball from an early age. Technical skill development is something that England lacks and various suggestions are made in the book on how to improve that. From street football, futsal to the philosophy of Wiel Coerver  for example.

How to stamp out the results above creativity and development mentality.  The questions of early specialization and if diversification might be the more sensible approach to making a more well rounded individuals.  Developing game intelligence which can make the difference in developing mediocre players and world class players were the ideas and methods of Horst Wein and John Cartwrigth are introduced.

What academies are neglecting which includes the introduction of Anders Ericsson and Michel Bruyninckx ideas on putting more emphasis on cognitive development along with individualized training, physical development and the art of defending. 

How England need to invest in coaching as it´s probably one of the most important aspects of youth development  to have as many highly qualified coaches for every level to get the most out of the pool of players who are in the game at any given time.

Bridging the gap is another excellent chapter about how not nearly enough players from academies are taking the step up to the professional  level. From hoarding talent to poor development loans. The academies have to improve so much on their decision making on whether and when they bring a player into their academy and which club they choose to loan them to. A system has to be developed which puts the players needs as the number one priority. 

Finding the talent is another very interesting part of the book where the issue of how important the environment which a player is in is for his success. Malcolm Gladwell and Matthew Syed have made some excellent observations on how much opportunities and environment will play a big role in a players future success. The age advantage is also very well tackled along with how important a scouts work is. This is a demanding job which requires a very analytical mind with a great attention to detail. And far too often physical attributes have been chosen over talent and maybe most importantly intelligence . Sometimes to the point where it becomes a depressing farce. Mental toughness is one the most important attributes that a footballer needs. Carol Dweck  and Dan Abrahams idea´s are introduced in these regards and shed a good light on the subject. The attributes that scouts look for need to be given more consideration from every scout  in order to find more well rounded players.

The author also points out how the FA and the Premier League have failed English football. The lack of many combining factors like a clear vision, organization and trust. And to much greed, self interest and almost total disregard for youth development  have damaged the game greatly.

Many nations have acted to ensure that their youth development is well managed, Holland, Spain, Germany and Belgium are good examples. There have been calls for a change in direction in the past in England like the Charter for Quality when Howard Wilkinson was Technical Director but the implementation was not successful due to a number of reasons mentioned in the book.  

The Elite Player Performance  Plan is now being implemented along with that the Future Game proposals having been approved by the FA which are very positive steps. The Future Game makes small sided games mandatory for youth teams up to the age of 13. Youth footballers will no longer be allowed to play on full size pitches, teams will play with fewer players on the pitch(5V5 and 9V9) and the goals will not be adult sized goals. The madness of youth players going out on the pitch playing 11v11 on a full size pitch will be a thing of the past. And the rule changes will be more focused towards development rather then winning at all costs. 

Most of the money made from football in England is distributed to the top level  of football and only a small fraction goes to youth development which makes little sense as it´s the foundations of football. While I find the changes that the FA have started to implement to be very positive and I have come across many coaches with the right mindset to make these changes .  More needs to be done and I urge coaches, parents and football fans in general to read this book and become aware of the situation in English football. To provide more then just hope that these changes will be implemented but pressure if it will be needed. Being aware of the situation will help a great deal.

It will be a real shame if a league based in England will be void of players from it and the league will have to rely almost entirely on purchases from abroad where nations are developing world class footballers and the league game looses it´s roots to the nation.  

I would like to thank Matthew Whitehouse for the time, effort and care he has put into writing this book and I hope as many people possible read it. 

Arnar Steinsson writes about youth development for The Tomkins Times.  A review copy of this book was provided by the author.

For more about Matt Whitehouse, read an interview here.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Some Quality Feedback

Even though it is solicited in every issue of Blueprint for Football Extra, very rarely do I receive any feedback (hint, hint!).  On the plus side, when I do it is usually  very good.  Which definitely was the case when Craig Easton sent in his views on the issue which dealt with .

In truth, for me, Craig's views always carry more weight.  After all, he has played football at a very high level - 22 appearances for Scotland's U21s and more than 450 league appearances in Scotland as well as England (here he is scoring a great goal against Fulham) - for the past 17 years and has the kind of insight that is very difficult for an outsider to gain.  

Naturally, it was comforting to see that he was in agreement that there are no guarantees in youth football and interesting to see how those arguments tied into what he has seen happening in the game.  After all, he started playing for Dundee United's reserves alongside established players like Dave Bowman, Christian Dailly, Owen Coyle, Billy McKinlay, Jamie Dolan and Scott Crabbe.  On top of that, those were highly competitive games against Celtic and Rangers that included players that weren't playing in the first team but could walk into most other first elevens in the league.

Here, then, are Craig's views:

As usual, very well written and thought provoking and I think you've almost answered your own question there. 

"Little does it seem to matter to them that their inability to give games to these players will hinder them from fulfilling their potential."

I think that's a massive factor.  How many of these players who don't get regular games and fall into that void of being on the fringes or in the development squad actually get developed or have their game worked on?  And are there enough competitive games for these players without the need for them to go out on loan?

The problems I find with players of this age in the lower leagues (especially in this country) is that there are very few proper competitive games for them to play in and also not enough coaches (and time dedicated) to take these players and develop them further.  Maintaining match fitness/sharpness therefore becomes an issue.

A decent reserve league bridges the gap and can make the transition easier, but with clubs trimming squads, there are often not enough players to make it viable even if they could afford to have a reserve team. 

The amount of first team fixtures means that once the season gets going, the squad players/subs who don't play regularly find it very hard to keep up their match fitness. The volume of games means training might be lighter than usual and unless there's a coach willing to put on extra sessions (which he should be) the other lads' fitness is nearly always left in their own hands. These players then face the dilemma of doing too much or not enough. They're then expected to come in and be bang on it when they've not had a decent run of games. If they don't do it in the 20 mins they might sporadically come on for, then they fall back down the pecking order.

To hear more from Craig Easton, you can follow him on Twitter.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Blueprint for Football Extra on Gmail

Gmail recently added a feature called Tabs to your inbox. This feature is designed to make your inbox easier to manage by using different tabs to automatically organize your incoming mail into categories There are some great resources out there on how to set up tabs and what they do

However, can lead to Blueprint for Football Extra ending up in the Promotions tab, rather than in the Primary mailbox where it might get lost and forgotten.  So, if you like to read our bonus offering first thing on Saturday morning and have been wondering why they're not being flagged up in your in-box, here are some tips to ensure that the email is delivered to the Primary tab.

Place email in Primary tab
The best way to ensure that your emails appear in the Primary tab is to ask your subscribers to manually set this up in their Gmail account. There are three different ways your subscribers can ensure that an email will show up in a specific tab.

Drag and Drop
The easiest way to move an email in your inbox is to left-click and hold on the email to drag it from the Promotions tab over to the Primary tab.

Releasing the mouse drops the email into the newly selected tab. Once dropped, Gmail displays a yellow box asking if you want to make this change permanent. Click Yes to ensure that all messages with the same from address will appear in the Primary tab going forward.

Mark as primary

Similar to the drag and drop option, you can right-click on the email in some browsers to bring up a small list of options. Click the Move to tab option and select the tab you want to move the email to.

Selecting the tab moves the email and displays a yellow box asking if you want to make this change permanent. Click Yes to ensure that all messages with the same from address will appear in the Primary tab going forward.

Search and Filter
This option is a bit more advanced, requiring you to search for the from address in Gmail. When the results populate, click the small grey arrow to the right of the search bar to bring up the advanced search criteria. Click the Create a filter with this search link at the bottom of the results.

Near the bottom of the advanced filter window, you'll see a Categorize as section with a drop-down box where you can select the tab you want. Once you've created the filter, all the emails from that address that are currently in your inbox will be moved to the Primary tab. Any new emails from this address will be delivered directly to the Primary tab.

Images and portions of text taken from a blog post on this subject over at Mailchimp, the host of Blueprint for Football Extra.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Barca's Quest for Style

When Tito Vilanova announced the sad news that he was to stand down as Barcelona manager due to health reasons, it is fair to say that the Catalan giants could have gone for practically any top manager and got him.  And that is what practically every other club their size would have done because, according to popular wisdom, a top club needs a top manager.

Yet, Barcelona’s success in recent years has been achieved by doing things differently from other clubs.  For them a top manager isn’t defined by what he has achieved but what he can achieve or, perhaps more importantly, by how he wants to achieve it.

That is why in 2003 they went for Frank Rijkaard whose previous management experiences included a relegation with Sparta Rotterdam and failing to make it to the final of the home European championships with Holland despite possessing the most talented squad.  That is why, despite Jose Mourinho’s eagerness to join, in 2008 they went for Pep Guardiola.  That is why Vilanova, a virtual unknown with one disastrous previous experience as manager (relegated from the Tercera Division with Palafrugell), was promoted to the job in 2012.

And that is why they have gone for Gerardo ‘Tata’ Marino.

Marino, like Guardiola, is a discipline of Marcelo Bielsa for whom he played at Newell’s Old Boys in the early ninties.  He might be a bit more pragmatic than his master but he too preaches a game of football that is expansive and attractive.  His game is Barcelona’s game.

Which is why they went for him.  His successes might have been wholly based in South America and even there he hasn’t even won the premier competition, the Copa Libertadores.  Again, that did not matter to the Barcelona officials who were only interested in his philosophy and the fact that he had successfully installed it at Libertad, the Paraguay national team and, lately, at Newell’s Old Boys.

For Barcelona, their style of play is of utmost importance.  Every time they change manager, they bring in a replacement who might want some minor changes but whose grand vision matches their own.  Effectively, each time they change manager they make some updates to their system to keep it moving forward whilst ensuring that the general direction is the same.

This is vital not simply because of what happens in the first team but because every individual at La Massia is being coached so that eventually they can play in a system that favours technical players and that is based around a passing style of play.

Moving away from that style simply because you change the first team manager would ruin years of work and jeopardise your ability to develop talent at least on the short term.  It would be borderline crazy but it is the sort of craziness that most clubs don’t think twice before bringing about.

This piece originally appeared on Blueprint for Football Extra.  Sign up for your free copy.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

England's Way Forward

If you’ve got any interest in the development of talent, particularly in England, then the chances are that you have come across Matt Whitehouse at some point or another.  The author of the hugely popular blog The Whitehouse Address owes a lot of his success to his hard hitting; no hold barred style of writing that doesn’t shirk from criticising those that he feels are failing football in England.

What few people know, however, is that Matt is also a qualified coach who has worked for professional academies and for whom writing about the game is a way of understanding it better.

Perhaps that is why he has written ‘The Way Forward’.  But, more likely, it is an attempt to try and influence a system that  - as seen this summer – seems to be failing at producing players who are good enough for the highest level.  As he admits in this interview with Blueprint for Football, the aim is to “to give a comprehensive insight into the issues which have plagued English football in the past and the concerns of what is holding us back in the present and future.”

Yet Matt’s views make interesting reading for a wider audience then those who are interested in English football.  “My objective as a coach is to develop coaches who are able to produce players with high technical excellence and strong tactical intelligence,” he says.

As with any good writer, his methodical and detailed analysis of any situation opens up to discussions and further thought about the issues.  One might not always agree with what he says – or how he says it – but there’s no arguing that he is exhaustive in the way he goes about analysing the different arguments.  And his views, such as those expressed in this interview, never fail to elicit a response.

How did you start writing about football, particularly about systems and styles of football?
Football tactics and systems have fascinated me for a long time yet there was no doubt that reading Inverting the Pyramid by Jonathon Wilson as well as being a daily visitor to got my passion for writing flowing. Before that I was a coach who would read and learn as much as possible.

The writing started after I attended the Uefa A licence course with Dick Bate in 2010, I was motivated to put down my thoughts and beliefs on the game and as you know, I am not unwilling to express my opinions or offer my thoughts.

As a coach I see the need to ‘know’ the game in terms of technical, tactical and psychological elements and writing The Whitehouse Address blog allows me to put down my thoughts in a clear way which aids my thinking towards coaching and player development.

What are your personal experiences of coaching?
Coaching is a real passion for me which I have had since I was teenager when I helped my dad coaching the young sides at my local club. At university I really got into coaching working with the university teams and a local youth team.  From there I moved out to America and worked in Arizona.

In those early years I was keen learner and reader of everything to do with coaching and player development. This ‘self-learning’ certainly helped me put together my philosophy to football and developing players.

The major influences for me came when I returned to England started working with Coerver Coaching. This gave me a real insight and focus into the development of technical skills and how important it is for modern football.

As well as this I started on the Uefa A licence and learnt from one of the best coach educators in the world Dick Bate. This experience gave me such knowledge and insight into the game.

Working with a Premier League academy gave me the ability to learn and work from better players and coaches which again aided my development and took my coaching and understanding to new levels.

I would say these various experiences, levels and people I have encountered in my coaching ‘pathway’ has helped mould me as the coach I am today yet it is important for me that I am constantly learning and trying to improve what I am doing to become a better coach and teacher.
What is your coaching philosophy?
My philosophy as a youth development coach is to develop skilful and intelligent players who possess technical and tactical excellence both in and out of possession. My belief is that if you develop talented individuals who are masters of the ball and who are great in 1v1 situations then then you can create a strong and positive team.

I am a strong believer in developing game intelligence in players and therefore seek to put players in environments which promote decision making and problem solving.

As a coach I seek to encourage my teams to play out from the back and through the thirds with secure and confident possession with the aim to play positive, attacking football which incorporates individuality, skill, creativity and support play.

As well as this I put a strong emphasis on transition, using counter attack practices regularly to stress the importance of quick counter attacking play, along with promoting the understanding of defending in transition.

I am keen to stress the importance of defending and I make sure that defending is a key focus of the sessions and games which my players and teams partake in. I believe it is neglected by too many coaches, particularly in England which is hampering the development of top level players. Watching sides like Barcelona and Bayern teaches coaches that success comes from putting value into the defensive side of football as well as the attacking part.

Do you think England have one (a philosophy)?
English football was unfortunate to have two men in charge of the English FA in Allen Wade and Charles Hughes, men who had little understanding of the game of football and who used analytical judgements to create a philosophy of how English football should be played.

Both men dismissed teams who kept possession of the ball, believing they were playing the ‘wrong way’. As well as this they were not keen about players who possessed any kind of skill or creativity and believed in ‘functional’ players. This philosophy ruined English football for decades.

While Brazil, Holland and Argentina were winning trophies and developing players and teams who played with craft and skill, English football was becoming more barbaric and archaic. This was highlighted most in the early 1990’s under Graham Taylor, a major proponent of the Wade/Hughes philosophy.

Imagine the amount of English coaches who attended the FA courses between the 70’s and 90’s and the mentality they were being taught. It has been extremely difficult to change something which was so ingrained in our national game for so long. Of course the FA did not think to learn from Shankly, Paisley or Clough who were proving that keeping the ball on the floor was a successful style of playing the game.

Howard Wilkinson saw the errors of the FA and in 1997 sought to change things with his Charter for Quality. It made a change yet it was not the development of a national playing style, more an open invitation for the professional clubs to setup their own academies and develop players as they wished.

The past decade was therefore one lacking true guidance and leadership which is a reason why England is failing to produce a higher quantity of players capable of competing in the ever globalised world of football.

Although the FA came out with The Future Game document which outlines an ideal way of developing players and playing the game, it is a long way off seeing this implemented and taught to coaches, especially at the grassroots level. Unfortunately the coaching courses are failing to educate and persuade coaches of how to develop talented players, winning football is still seen as the priority and this is damaging future players.

Without a national playing style and philosophy English football at youth level is disjointed and fragmented. However we have to ask, can we trust the FA to implement a philosophy for the modern game? Would it not be better to look at what academies like Southampton and Arsenal are doing and seek to replicate their philosophy across the country instead?

What do you consider to be the biggest problem in England?
There is some excellent work going on all through the English game, at all levels. Yet there is clearly a problem in regards to English players breaking into the top levels of professional football. The issue appears to be that these players are lacking the necessary skills and ability which foreign players have at the ages of 15-18. Therefore the issue comes with what is happening before that.

In my opinion there is a multitude of issues which are having an effect on the development of talented footballers. Firstly I would argue that our young players are being let down by a lack of quality in sports at school, particularly in primary schools. The lack of quality teaching of P.E. is failing to develop children with good movement and mechanics which is being seen to effect the long term development of footballers.

As well as this grassroots clubs and academies are not doing enough to develop the skills of young players between 5-11 years old, key years in neural development. Personally I would like to see a greater number of young children playing futsal, whether in organised situations or even better, on their own in their local community. The ‘death’ of ‘street soccer’ has certainly affected the development of players because they don’t practice and play as much as young children in other countries, playing futsal can help increase those hours and enhance players skill on the ball.

Moving into academies and a key issue which needs improving is the quality of work being done between 12-16 years. Personally I believe the quality of ‘teaching’ is not good enough at this key development period and this is where players are being let down most. If this is the elite level then it must be considered ‘elite’, unfortunately there is a culture of mediocrity in this area which needs improving.

Finally I would argue that the players that are being recruited are not of the required level; a short term view on size and strength has seen a neglect of players with intelligence and importantly the correct ‘mentality’ which is needed to progress to be a professional. These areas and more are covered in my new book The Way Forward, which as you can see there is much to consider and improve on.

Why are some countries better at producing technical players than others?
As I mentioned above, the issue is that players are not playing as much as they should be in order to develop their skills in game situations. ‘Street soccer’ developed skill, decision making and competitiveness which happens very little now. The participation in futsal will aid the development of players too and it is up to the FA to create more centres which offer more children this opportunity.

As well as this is the level and knowledge of coaches working with players between 5-11 who are not developing technical skills in players but who are instead dismissing them! This culture of ‘skill destroyers’ needs to end, right now coaches are more concerned with winning than developing and this meaning that players are being told off for trying to use skill in games.

A need for better coaches of young players is vital, if we don’t get the foundation right how can we expect to produce players in the future?

Yet when you say ‘technical players’ then we cannot ignore the tactical element of being a good technician. You see England possesses some very good technical players yet very few intelligent decision makers. Game intelligence is something which many players lack and this is because too many sessions and coaches use isolated technical practices which do not seek to develop the intelligence and decisions of players.

The reason Spain and Brazil produce so many technically good, intelligent players is that they develop their skills in environments which promote decisions as well as ball handling. Both countries value futsal highly and this is no coincidence.

The development of game intelligence is required for English players to be better ‘technical players’ and this will require coaches putting players into game realistic environments which develops ‘smart’ decision makers.

There is a disconnect between the ages of 18 and 21 where players do not get enough games. What needs to be done?
Well as mentioned there is an argument to say our players at 16-17 simply aren’t good enough. However it is important to consider development up to 21, even 23 years of age. Therefore players who are denied the chance to play between 17-21 are stunting their development.

Unfortunately many Premier League sides are not willing to integrate their academy players into the senior set up and provide them with key experience and development. Instead these players stagnate in the youth side and fail to push on further. Of course the other issue is that clubs buy in foreign players at 16+ and often neglect the English players.

The solution to this problem has been sought to be addressed by the EPPP and the creation of the Under 21 league which will see players between 17-21 play regular ‘competitive’ football. This is important for their development and progression, especially because they will play in a similar way to the first team.

As Barcelona have shown the key to developing players is to provide consistency and continuity of style and philosophy so that the players learn the tactical element of the clubs style and system. Therefore the Under 21 league may provide this to more players.

Yet if we wish to see more English players coming through the academy system then it may be necessary to do what Germany have done and make sure there are at least 12 players in each academy side up to Under 21 who are eligible to play for England. At this time the ‘home-grown’ is too ambiguous and damaging to English player development. A change in this rule will limit the amount of foreign players clubs are allowed to bring in and would hopefully see more English players coming through.

A worrying trend however is that there are talented youth players at clubs like Chelsea, Arsenal and Man City who are not being given the ‘opportunity’ to progress. It would appear that moving to one of these clubs gives players a healthy wage yet denies them the opportunity for playing time and thus fails to push their development forward.

It may be necessary for players to leave these clubs between 17-21 and move to sides where they will get regular first team football. A player like Tom Ince, who moved from Liverpool at 19 years old has excelled while playing over 80 first team games for Blackpool in the Championship, his development has certainly excelled by moving.

How do you judge the level of coaching at academies?
As mentioned earlier, in my opinion the level of coaching in academies lacks the quality and teaching which players need to excel. An acceptance of mediocrity and lack of challenging practices, often which involves too many isolated technical sessions has resulted in low standards and the failure to develop intelligent players which the modern game needs.

A need for tactical education of position specific and team roles both in and out of possession will be required for academies to develop ‘elite’ level players. If these players are the ‘elite’ of English football then they must be treated like this.

Personally I believe that every coach working in Academies should have or be working towards the ‘A’ licence coaching qualification. The gap between the B licence and the A is significant and our young players deserve to be educated by the most educated coaches in the country.

If a player works with a poor and uneducated coach at any point during their development years it could have a serious impact on their future development, therefore Academies should be providing their players with the best teachers of the game.

This opens up the issue that if we want the ‘best’ working with our elite players, then clubs need to see the value in these coaches and start paying wages which reflect the quality of the coaches work. Too many talented coaches are leaving England to work abroad in North America, Qatar or Asia because the pay is much better. This cannot be the case if we wish to produce better players.

Is the FA doing enough to help coaches?
Personally I believe that the FA need to focus their efforts and resources on the grassroots game and develop a larger number of better coaches for young players in order to develop more talented and confident players who can move into the academy game possessing more skill and intelligence.

The focus for the FA should be on making sure the foundation levels have a higher number of quality coaches who in turn can develop a larger number of talented young players. The concern I have is that the Level 1 and 2 awards are of a poor standard and if the majority of English coaches only have these awards then they will be affecting the development of young players.

Yes the new youth modules show an improvement and coaches will certainly benefit from this but these are still not mandatory for coaches to ‘coach’ players and the truth is that the Level 1 and 2 courses are not good enough to give coaches licence to work with young players.

The FA has set up a coach mentor scheme and the hope is that these mentors will help work with coaches who require help and guidance yet the attendance of the courses will certainly aid coaches knowledge and delivery.

Yet if the FA wish to have a higher number of quality coaches working in the grassroots game they need to offer their courses at a lower rate and make the youth modu
les a mandatory part of being a coach. By increasing the level and quality of coaches across the country, English football can develop a higher number of talented players.

What can you tell us about your book?
In The Way Forward I aim to give a comprehensive insight into the issues which have plagued English football in the past and the concerns of what is holding us back in the present and future.

The book is split into four parts; part one discusses the ‘Golden Generation’ and their failings as well as the FA’s failed ‘direct football’ philosophy which was destructive for the future of English football.

Part two aims to give an extensive view of a player’s development between the ages of 5-21. My intention here was to look at what happens between a young players ‘career’ and assess the numerous factors which can aid or destroy the development of a potential professional player. I have discussed some of those factors already with you already and there is clearly much more work to be done  from schools, grassroots, academies and the pro clubs.

In part three the book looks at the importance of ‘opportunity’ looking at how birth date has a massive bearing on the future of a young footballer. As well as this I look at the issue of scouting and talent identification in England and how this affecting the lack of quality players becoming professionals. As well as talent identification the book focuses on sport psychology and the development of mindset, highlighting that the neglect and ignorance of sport psychology is hampering the development of players.

In the final part I look at what the future holds for English football, putting particular focus on the FA and the new Technical Director Dan Ashworth and the importance of his role in shaping the future of English football.

The final chapter seeks to offer solutions to the issues and concerns brought up in the book. It is easy to criticise and blame people and I wanted to offer more, I wanted to lay down solutions to the issues holding English football back and the extensive list at the end is my belief in what is needed for English football to develop a large quantity of quality players.

Why should people read it?
Good question. In my opinion there is not a book which offers as comprehensive an analysis of the issues which are affecting English football as The Way Forward. It is a well-researched examination which has taken evidence from research, experts and the experiences and opinion of coaches and parents as well my own personal experiences and opinions.

Many may argue the book is controversial and highly critical of many areas in youth football yet I believe that it is a fair account of what is needed for England to improve standards and quality across all levels.

For those who read The Whitehouse Address blog they will know that I am passionate and opinionated and attempt to be thorough in my analysis. The Way Forward offers an even deeper and comprehensive analysis account of English youth development and I believe it is a must read for all coaches, parents and anyone with an interest in youth development, in England and abroad.

What's next for you?
The hope is the book makes an influence to coaches across the country and the need for improved standards and investment in youth development is made. As much as I have loved writing The Way Forward my love and passion is first and foremost to coach and improve players.

I am currently working with a number of individual players and coaches developing their skills and knowledge and this summer I have been recruited by a professional club to come in and instil a philosophy for their Academy which seeks to develop players a greater number of quality players for their first team.

My objective as a coach is to develop coaches who are able to produce players with high technical excellence and strong tactical intelligence. Through my coach education clinics I focus on these elements and seek to give coaches ideas which help improve their players.

Personally I wish to keep learning and improving as a coach and an educator of players and coaches. The love of learning is something I have always had and this will never stop.

Monday, August 5, 2013

The Blueprint According To...Rodrigo Baccin Sousa

There is a growing belief that futsal provides an ideal grounding for those starting out in the game.  The nature of the ball promotes ball mastery and the indoor surface means that the game is quick and intense, with limited time for decision making. Angles and spaces dominate the game whilst players develop creativity and vision that help them pass and move as a group thus developing game intelligence. 

Rodrigo Baccin is one of those who not only shares that belief but who actively promotes it.  And seeing that it is increasingly gaining traction, he is the ideal man to talk about his blueprint.

Blueprint for Football: Let's start with the basics: what got you into coaching and how long was that?
Rodrigo Baccin: I started playing futsal when I was 5 yrs old in Brazil up until the age of 13 when I moved to regular outdoor football. I was 16 years old and was playing for a development centre of Internacional from Porto Alegre when my family moved to England. 

After trying hard to get into a club, I joined a conference team and only played until the age of 19. I realized the game being played was not my type if game and I would need to change a lot to fit in the English culture and time was running out. I was always passionate about football so I decide to start my journey as a coach/ educator when I left the club. My feeling was, as I did not proceed in playing football, that maybe I could use my experience and share this with kids. 

So I started my education in coaching, I have now been coaching for 5 years, during this time I was blessed by God who gave me the opportunity to do what I love on full time with a few spells at different National League Futsal Clubs, having participated of UEFA Futsal Cup and World Cup in Thailand with Brazil. But my work has been mainly in the youth development sector working with individuals from 5-16 years old, so my opinions today will be based in view of youth development. 

Today, after working for different organizations, I have the opportunity to head Escolla Futsal academy in London and surrounding areas, with the support of other great professional coaches alongside me.

BfF: Have you had any mentors in your career?
RB: I think if you want to reach your best potential, you must learn from those who have gone before you and achieved their dreams. I think it is so important that I can look up to a mentor on a daily basis to help me develop and learn everyday, not just a mentor but any other coaches, you always learn from them. 

I have had the pleasure to have Marcos Sorato, former Brazilian National Futsal manager as my mentor and colleague for a few years now, his professionalism and desire to see Futsal delivered in the right way so kids can enjoy it to the most has been impressive and the amount of knowledge I have gained from him as a coach is priceless. I am thankful to God for being able to learn from a World Champion and one of the best Futsal coaches in the world.

BfF: What is your coaching philosophy?
RB: Philosophy for me is not just the way I coach or the way I want my team to play. It is much more than that. It has to do with the values I want to pass on to the players I work with, I believe they need much more than just technical advice. I have seen many players who have great potential and talent however because of their attitude, not being educated properly or lack of discipline, they lost the opportunities they could have taken if they were better prepared as people. 

I do have a philosophy in helping players from tying their laces to encouraging them to wash their own training kit when they reach a certain age. In terms of playing style, I am a fan of the passing game which teaches players how enjoyable it really is when you have the ball and not when you chase the ball.

BfF: Is winning important for you?
RB: I know my opinion could sound a bit hard for some readers but I think this is one of the biggest problems in the grassroots football and academies for kids in England. I do agree kids should learn to be competitive and desire to win. But some kids do not define success the way some parents or coaches do, for some kids it is great to win, but for some others they don't really care. Some kids might define success as the amount of effort they put in or simply being with their mates having a good time (something they can't do like our kids do in Brazil playing football every day on the street or on the beach). 

As adults, we must not put pressure or raise high expectations about the kids, our words could make them think they are playing Premier League football when they are just kids. Let them use their imagination, show their magic without fear of making mistakes. We must provide a scenario which will force them to make their own decisions, learn from their mistakes, and the most important, win or lose play with joy.

BfF: You're heavily involved in futsal.  First off, why futsal?
RB: Firstly because I love Futsal, this sport has helped me so much in my technical and social development when I was a kid. It is dynamic, intense, intelligent and a very demanding sport for both players and coaches. I see Futsal as a complete package for developing individuals, from a social to a technical point of view. The benefits in playing this small sided game are huge and all of them have a direct impact on outdoor regular football. 

By the way, this is how I transitioned from Futsal to football only when I was 13. It was hard for me to decide which position I wanted to play in regular football as in Futsal we do not have set positions, I learned to play under pressure both in attack and defence. But the main reason I would say is that everyone can play, girls or boys of any ability, it is a multi-functional sport which brings so much to the participants and it is good to mention it is a sport in its own rights.

BfF: How is coaching a futsal side different from coaching regular football?
RB: If I am honest, in my opinion coaching a Futsal side is much more complex. If you are coaching Futsal for fun it is quite relaxing but when it comes to high efficiency team training the demands could be extremely high. Like I said, in Futsal you have to prepare your players to attack and defend altogether, one very simple mistake from one of the players can disrupt the whole system. There are so many combinations between the squad for kick ins, free kick and corner set pieces. You have less space to make decisions, therefore you have to always be thinking ahead of the game, always under some pressure. The game is fast so the fitness level of your squad must be high in order to carry out all the necessary movements. 

The individual demands when attacking and defending are very diversified so you need players with a very good capacity to take so much information. Not to mention, the decision making from the coach is constantly put to the test, with subs rolling on and off, your tactics might change accordingly. Futsal is a chess game. 

BfF: Are there benefits that players of regular football can get from playing futsal?
RB: I have seen so many different debates on this issue, with Futsal being considered by many people mainly as a development tool for football players and not understood as a sport in its own rights as in Brazil, Spain and many other countries. Futsal is and will always be immensely beneficial for football players, like I said above, the demands and conditions of the game will naturally improve the ability to react and think faster, offering more touches on the ball and developing the intelligence of the players. Not to mention the fitness level which will always be hard to keep up with. One very good example is being always in tight areas and under pressure, on a regular football pitch players will be so much more comfortable and with much more space to make decisions. 

But I would like to encourage coaches to learn about the game and study with coaches who are specialized in the sport, because many people out there are just letting kids play indoors with a heavier ball without much experience on how to explore and coach the game in order to give something new and exciting for regular football players. Futsal is not all about skills or just five-a-side, it is in fact much more complex than football, but they can make a great combination together and this is what we believe and specialize in, Futsal being the foundation of football.

BfF: If you could change one thing about football in your country, what would that be?
RB: In every country we need to make changes because there will always be problems to fix. From my experience here in England. I would like to see a change in the way kids development is approached by grassroots clubs and academies, through coaches and parents. 

I would like to see kids enjoying themselves and having fun without having the pressure to be the star that dad was not. It is not right to play only the kids you think are better prepared so that you win 3 points on Sunday morning when everyone is standing in the rain on a muddy pitch just to kick a ball and have fun. Please do not get me wrong, some parents are great, they give up their time and manage teams really well, with respect for the kids. I do not understand how some academies can assess a player who is 9-10 years old after trials and decide whether or not he will be a pro player yet. The system is damaged and this is one of the reasons why I believe England has struggled to develop players in a very effective way. I believe parents also put pressure on kids and take them for trials too early, they should enjoy their football without pressure till they are 12-13, then you can see if actually want to continue playing rather than telling them to. 

This country has got an amazing attendance every week in the stadiums, these kids and parents are passionate about the game, no doubt. It is very sad to see Premier League Clubs seeking foreign players, when they could be spending money in further education of their academy coaches or investing in a methodology of Futsal just as an example, which is what many clubs have done in Brazil many years ago and developed many players like Neymar, Oscar, Ronaldinho, also likes of Messi, Iniesta, etc. I see so much potential in English kids and I have learnt so much working with them over here. I hope together we will help these kids to continue their journey of discovering themselves through the sport, not forgetting that education is a priority to develop as individuals whilst encouraging them to have respect, discipline and a positive attitude to always learn.

Rodrigo Baccin can be found on Twitter and currently heads the of Escolla Futsal academy in London.

The Blueprint According To... originally forms part of Blueprint for Football Extra.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Playing it Right: Rhyl FC's Strong Beliefs

What was your most cherished possession as a child?  Ask that question to anyone with an interest in football and more often than not you'll be told of some fancy pair of boots or a kit of their favourite team received as a gift at Christmas or on their birthday. 

Even though years will have passed since they last wore them, they'll go on to describe every little detail about them and just what it was that made them special.  More than their words, however, it is their faces that typically do most of the communicating as these usually light up at the memory of the games they used to play and the fun they had.

Playing football should always be about creating such memories yet, unfortunately, that’s not always a priority when a child signs on for an academy or a centre of education.  Suddenly it becomes all about the pressure of keeping up with the rest so as to be retained and the fear of being let go.

Not at Rhyl FC, however.  “When a player signs for us they get their own football,” says the club’s manager Greg Strong.  “We strongly believe that everything should be done with the ball.”

Given the money going around at the highest level of the game, this might seem like an insignificant gesture but for a club of Rhyl’s financial position it is quite significant.  Yet it is an expense that they’re more than happy to undertake as it underlines all that they’re trying to achieve and how they’re going about it.

Central in all of this is the manager.  After a professional career of around twenty years during which he took in seventeen clubs, Greg Strong was doing some coaching at Bolton’s academy whilst playing for Rhyl in the Welsh league.  “I wanted to see whether I enjoyed it and it gave me a little taste,” he says, picking up the narrative.  “But then I was I was offered the manager’s job here at Rhyl.  It came out of the blue but I’ve learned a lot working here; I have really enjoyed it.”

But, whilst the offer might have surprised him, it didn’t find him unprepared.  “I have my own beliefs on how the game should be played.   I believe that everything should be done with the ball at the players’ feet.   All players should enjoy playing football.”

“What I've tried to do is put a stamp on how the game is played.  We do take chances and sometimes we overplay but ultimately I believe in that system.  Other than that, I always go for players with ambition because you need that desire to succeed.”

“What I did to start off was to get the first team playing in the way that I want it.  Once I did that I started looking at the rest of the club’s set up,” he continues.

“At the time, in the reserves there were a lot of local boys who were in their late twenties.  It was a team for the sake of having a team and none of them had any prospect of making it into the first team.”

“So I convinced people that we had to do it properly and let the reserves be for our good, young players.  We were in a ridiculous situation that we trained kids for eight years but when they reached sixteen years of age we let them go because there was nowhere for them to progress.  It made sense to change the reserves to an Under 21 team providing a pathway to keep the players on board.”

“We got the players and manager on board, training and playing in the same way as the first team so that if they moved up it would all be familiar.  Each season that has come, we’ve been spreading our work further, moving into the Under 19 and the Under 16.  Up till the age of 16 it is important that they understand and appreciate a number of systems but then at 16 they need to be playing in the manner of the first team if they are going to be seen as potential for the first team.”

Whilst there are many people who, like Strong, talk about the need to establish a style few establish what this involves.

“It is difficult especially because we are part-time,” Strong explains.  “When we're together for two hours, I know that I have to get as much as possible into the session. On top of that there is also fitness that has to be handled within that same session.  It is important that they are fit and we try to cover as many bases as possible.   So we have to work very hard to explain what we want from the players.” 

“I let them know what I expect from every position.  I tell them what I want them to do in different situations.  If this happens than you have to do that.  As a player, I always preferred having such detailed instructions so I know that this makes their life easier as well.”

It helps that Strong has surrounded himself with a handpicked team of coaches.  “I like to work with people I know and trust.  They have all got the same believe in the same way of playing.”

“Any coach who is brought in is brought in by myself.  I bring in people who I know and have worked with because it is important that they believe in what we’re doing.” 

“Otherwise you might get people say that they believe in playing in this manner but don’t fully believe it.  That would harm us because the players catch on if someone is not fully committed.”

It is a structure that has been bearing fruit.  “In my first three years we had a player who went to Charlton, one who went to Macclesfield and then Ryan Williams who is now playing first team football in Morecambe.” 

“The important thing is that we continue doing what we’re doing.  Players see Rhyl as a shop window.  We’ve just signed an Irish U21 international in Jonathan Breeze who was willing to take a step back to play in a system that suits him and get the right coaching sot that he can move on.  We don't have a lot of money so being able to attract such players is a huge boost for us.”

Indeed, having an identity and a set way of playing helps Rhyl when it comes to looking for players.  “If I'm looking for a holding midfield player then I know exactly what kind of player to look for and what characteristics are required.” 

When people look at clubs like Barcelona or Ajax, where every team from the juniors to the seniors play in a similar manner, it is easy to appreciate just what this does for them and what an advantage it gives them.  Yet, despite this, few clubs feel comfortable enough to let one person wield as much power as to shape the entire structure.  It is something that Strong appreciates.  “It is a risk, 100%.”

“At the beginning there was a tough time at the club financially.  It was even more important for us that we laid good foundations at the club.  Thankfully, the Club bought into my ideas.  Hopefully with the success in recent seasons that belief has grown.”

Indeed, having been relegated to the Cymru Alliance (the second level of the Welsh football league system in north and central Wales) after their football licence was revoked in 2010, Rhyl won 24 games last season and drew the other 6 scoring 100 goals in the process to win back their place in the Welsh Premier League.  On top of all that, the reserves registered a league and cup double.

“The proof is in the pudding.  It won't work all the time but I believe in what we're doing and that it is the right way to go about it.”

“Our support has gone up and up and that is the result of the way that we play.  If I was to get a team that plays direct way, I don't think that the crowds have gone up.  People appreciate that there is a risk in the way we play but they know that when they get to watch our team they will be excited and entertained. “ 

“Football is a results business but I am a big believer that if we get the right players and play them in the right way then results will improve.  It can be successful if we get it right.”

And, if they get it right, then there will be many lining up to offer Strong a bigger challenge.   “I'm sure that I'm not different to anything else,” he admits with admirable frankness.  “I surround myself by positive, ambitious people and would never sign a player who isn't ambitious.  If a player were to come here and say that they wanted to sign because they think it will be easy for them, then I wouldn’t sign them.  I want them to come in and see this as a stepping stone before they move on to bigger things.”

“It is the same for me.  I want to manage as high as I possibly can.  Naturally, whilst I’m here I’ll give it everything I have to be as successful as possible.”

All of which highlights the issue some clubs have with giving the manager control over every level of the club.  Strong, however, doesn’t see a problem.  “I think then it comes down to how much the board believe in what the manager has been doing.  Not just his results but also how he was working.”

“If that’s the case then as far as the recruitment process is concerned, then they should be bringing in people with the same beliefs.  Continuity is so important.  If it isn't broken, don’t fix it.” 

For now, however, he has no such thoughts.  Those are reserved to the club’s academy.   “We work in the local area and we're quite fortunate in that we have a good catchment area.  Work very hard in picking the best player and there is a lot of work done with local clubs and schools; giving them coaching and helping out as much as possible.  From them we get information about promising players whom we then invite for a trial”

“Because we have been successful as we have been pleasantly surprised in that people are now getting in touch with us.   We’re being contacted by players who have released by academies at Liverpool and Everton, for example, because they know that with us they will be getting good coaching.”

It would seem that the ripples from Rhyl’s mini-revolution are extending ever further and, given how many bigger clubs are in dire need of a similar overhaul, long may that continue.