Google+ Blueprint for Football: October 2013

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Futsal Provides The Technicians That Football Needs

There is this video on Youtube showing the Brazilian midfielder Philipe Coutinho getting hold of the ball, slaloming past three defenders and then slamming the ball past the goalkeeper.  It is a wonderful expression of his skill and technical mastery; the fluidity of execution breathe taking.  
Yet, in this video Coutinho isn’t in a Liverpool shirt.  Nor is he playing for Inter or Espanyol.  Indeed, he isn’t even playing on a football pitch.  Instead this is a very young Coutinho – probably in his early teens – and the game he’s playing is futsal.  It was there, on the small and narrow pitch and using a smaller ball, that he refined the skills that he now uses to float past defenders across the Premier League.

Futsal, the game developed in Uruguay but which rapidly spread to Brazil, is increasingly gaining popularity in Europe.  Whereas in South America its popularity was down to the solution it offered to the lack of grass fields, in Europe it is another problem – the skills learning that has been lost with the disappearance of street football – that it is solving.  An increasing number of clubs have latched on to its potential are now incorporating futsal in their academy training.

In doing so, they are copying something that has been the standard in Brazil for generations.  “Most Brazilian clubs use futsal to help develop players; Santos, Fluminense, Vasco, Flamengo and many others. They have academy teams who will compete futsal leagues until they are 14-15 when they will start their transition to football.”   

So says Marcos Sorato, also known as Pipoca.  Currently at MFK Tyumen in Russia, he coached Brazil to the FIFA World cup title last year, beating Spain in the final held in Thailand.  He is also director of futsal at Escolla Futsal and his expertise has been a key figure for the Escolla team in their quest to develop youth Futsal in England.

“I was a player who enjoyed the tactical side,” he replies when asked what it was that drove him to become a futsal coach.  “As soon as I stopped playing, I became an assistant manager for one year and then first team manager the next year. I was lucky that on the third year I was invited into the Brazilian national team where I was the assistant manager for eight years and afterwards became the manager.”

That was a huge honour, but also a huge responsibility given that Brazil are one of the foremost nations in the game.  “We worked with a group of 25-30 players who were monitored and would be selected depending on their performance and efficiency.” 

“Brazil is the only team national team to have top players available in Europe and Brazil and that is why our monitoring program was more extensive.”

Now he is back in Europe.  “I played for 13 years in Spain and two more years as a coach. Spain and Russia already have great and competitive leagues alongside Italy and Portugal.” 

“England is starting to have interest but is small compared to other adult leagues.  However the popularity among the youth is growing.  Many are looking to use futsal to form future football players.”

What is it, then, that makes futsal so good at helping players develop?  What does it help teach?  “Without a doubt I would say quick thinking, fast decision making, a higher demand of technique to solve problems in small spaces,” replies Marcos.  “It helps the player to think about the game and to learn how to defend and attack.  The player needs to be complete.”

What it does not do is “coach the offside rule, but they can learn this when they transition to football. All the rest is transferable and useful in football.”

“There are many examples of players who have transitioned from one game to the other. Ronaldo, Ronaldinho, Neymar, Deco, Coutinho, Juninho Paulista, Alex, and many others.” 

The big question, then, is whether futsal and regulation football can co-exist.  The increasing availability of futsal pitches and the declining standards of public football pitches in England means that one is growing at the expense of the other.  

“In Brazil they both co-exist for over 30 years now. Many talented football players have come from futsal. And many football players have continued playing just futsal instead.” 

“Futsal needs investment and I am sure it will form many players but it also has its own stream, because there is public and athletes for this. It is a shame that FIFA and other bodies don't see it that way.”

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Thanks to Rodrigo Baccin and the people at Escolla Futsal for their help in setting up this interview.  Photo on top of article by Heiwa4126.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Ramsey Shows Virtue of Patience

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Despite the gloom that foreshadowed the start of their campaign, it has been a brilliant start to the season for Arsenal; one that has exceeded their wildest expectations.  Spurred by the signing of the brilliant Mesut Ozil and boosted by the clinical finishing of Olivier Giroud, they have often looked unstoppable.

There is another player who has been brilliant so far for Arsenal: Aaron Ramsey.  Indeed, in these opening two months of the season he has arguably been the best player in the league, let alone the club.  Power, technique, movement, ability to score; he has shown it all.

Yet, twelve months ago it was the complete opposite.  Nothing he tried seemed to come off and, no matter how hard he tried, Arsenal’s midfield looked weaker whenever he played.  Many saw him as the symbol of Arsene Wenger’s failed strategy where too much faith was placed in young players even when these had failed to mature or progress as much as expected.

Ramsey’s highly promising performances soon after he had joined from Cardiff were largely forgotten, as was the horrific injury that had kept him out for so long and which, sense dictated, needed a lot of recovery time.  Instead the feeling was that Ramsey was never going to be good enough to play at a top team irrespective of how much time he was allowed.

The same was said of Gareth Bale when he first moved to Tottenham. It was only after a change in playing position, and once he had re-built his confidence, that he started to shine.

And there are many more such examples.  A lot of criticism has been directed at English clubs for their failure to use local players (although I appreciate that Ramsey is Welsh and came through at Cardiff) but fans should also look at their own behaviour.  

Often judgements are delivered rashly and there is little patience to allow young players to grow.  Social media has made it even worse, where the abuse to which players are subjected to is often horrific.  Whereas an older player may have the experience to ignore comments receive, a younger one often doesn’t.  Confidence is destroyed and performances do likewise.

It is why psychology plays such an important role in the modern game.  Bale was lucky to come across a manager in Harry Redknapp who might have limitations but who undoubtedly excels at boosting his players’ confidence.  Similarly, Ramsey always knew that Wenger had faith in him and his abilities.  Otherwise the criticism might have broken them.

Managers must know what to say and how to act.  They must realise when there’s a risk of burning out a young player and how to act with him.  Keep on playing him and you risk further damaging his progress; drop him without reassuring him and you risk losing him completely.

It is in these situations that management truly becomes an art form.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

How Habits Shape Football (And Why They Matter To You)

This piece is largely inspired by Charles Duhigg’s excellent book ‘The Power of Habit', a truly inspiring read that comes highly recommended from Blueprint for Football.  If you're interested in quality articles about youth football development, then join Blueprint for Football Extra (for FREE!).

There are very few teams who can do what Barcelona have; keeping the sympathy and support of the neutrals despite dominating Spanish and, to an extent, European football.  Few seem to begrudge their success and, if anything, many cheer them on.  If someone other than my team has to win, then I’d rather it is Barcelona.

The reason for that lies in the way that they play the game.  The verve, creativity and fluidity of their movement is as spellbinding for those watching as it is to the defenders who are trying to stop them from scoring.  

Look closer, however, and you start noticing something strange; that their play seems to follow a very rigid pattern.  The six-seconds rule – press in order to try to win back possession for six second after losing it and if that doesn’t happen, retreat back to your half of the pitch – is perhaps the most famous such pattern but there are others.  

Take, yet again, their action when they’re trying to get the ball.  Barcelona’s players don’t simply move to win the ball, they wait for very specific movements to occur.  One is waiting for the opposing player to turns towards his own goal; another is if he mis-controls it to the extent that he has to look downwards to verify where the ball is.  Barcelona players have been trained to realise that those are the moments when others are at their weakest and that is when they have to make their move.*

Their attacking play also follows a similar set of patterns.  Contrary to most teams, upon winning the ball a Barcelona player doesn’t try to move it forward as quickly as possible, but rather moves it on to a team-mate.  And when this happens, based on which area of the pitch the ball is, everyone knows what runs to make and what spaces to look for. 

Barcelona’s game, then, isn’t a spontaneous expression of genius but rather the perfect execution of a series of deeply ingrained habits.

There have been many sides who have been built on habits even if, in football, the term often used is ‘mechanical’; a somewhat revealing description that shows the disdain for the lack of creativity that such teams show.  

The classic example was Wimbledon in the nineties where, as soon as they got the ball, defenders hoofed it as far forward and into the channels as possible knowing that there would be a team-mate waiting.  Once that happened, the rest of the team knew what they had to do and what runs they had to make.

For them, their defenders winning possession of the ball was the trigger that set off a series of well drilled actions.  That was their habit.

In his book “The Power of Habit”, Charles Duhigg talks of the “habit loop”.  This is set off by a cue, the trigger that tells your brain to go into automatic mode. Then there is the routine, which can be 
physical or mental or emotional behavior. Finally, there is a reward.

From a Wimbledon circa 1990 point of view then, the cue was the defenders getting the ball, the routine was the ball being hit into the channel and runs that the players made whilst the reward was the goalscoring opportunity created.  It is a rather simplistic analysis – for instance within that overarching habit there probably were other habits that defined what runs were made depending on the positioning of the opposing team – but it serves its purpose of describing how habits can appear within a game.

When spoken of Wimbledon, ‘habits’ do not really raise eyebrows.  If anything, it is further confirmation that the relative success of a technically limited group of players was down to repetition rather than anything else.  

Barcelona, however, are different.  Their success is down to the talent and skill of their players; the fluidity of their game is the antithesis of Wimbledon’s up-and-at-them tactics.

Yet, whilst the approaches might be different, the basic mechanism is the same for both teams.  Look again at how Barcelona press for the ball.  They wait until the opposing player turns to face the goal or miss-controls the ball – the cue – at which point the Barcelona players close him down to put pressure and hopefully force an error – the routine – and then win back the ball – the reward.

Indeed, if you start looking at the way that some of the greatest teams in the history have functioned, then you’re bound to start noticing how much habits influenced them.  During the glory days of the seventies and eighties, Liverpool were famed for their pass and move style of play.  To drill this into the players the coaching staff had them regularly playing five-a-side games which essentially was a way of instilling in them the habit of looking for team-mates and then moving into space.

The examples keep flowing.  The offside trap that defined Arsenal for a generation was based on habits making their defensive movement an instinctive one (including the raised hands).  Same goes for AC Milan’s pressing game or Valeri Lobanovsky’s Dynamo Kiev; both sides whose manner of playing was shaped through obsessive and repetitive training.  

This acceptance of the power of habit is vital for coaches looking to shape their teams’ strategies.  Looking to instil positive habits – and remove negative ones – will determine their ability to be successful.

One of Alex Ferguson’s earliest decisions as a manager, and also one of the most controversial, was that of getting rid of Paul McGrath.  The central defender was a big fans’ favourite yet his alcohol abuse was a huge problem, not because it greatly affected the player’s own performance but because of the effect that it had on the rest of the team.

Ferguson realised that if he was to have discipline and remove the drinking culture prevalent at United (like most English sides at the time) he had to take a drastic action and that came in the sale of McGrath.  In effect, Ferguson realised that McGrath was serving as a cue for others; seeing him made other think that there was no issue with them drinking.  McGrath’s persistent injuries might have also played a role but not having him around made his job of changing the culture at the club easier.

The power of habit doesn’t end there.  Despite the modern (albeit justified) fascination with intelligent footballers, players who can think quickly to fix things when they aren’t going well, that behaviour only applies to specific instances.  Instead, in a lot of cases, you want them to follow the usual patterns because that is what will ensure that they perform to their normal capabilities.

Otherwise, they risk making mistakes.  A typical instance comes during high pressure games when the less experienced might try to hard to perform but only end up doing the opposite.  In such games it is easy to claim that the player bottled it when perhaps the right phrase is to say that he over thought it.

Even at the highest levels it easy to let the emotions of a big game get to you; clouding your judgement and diminishing your ability to do the simplest of task.  What happens in most cases is that people start believing that since this is such an important game they have to do things differently than usual.  Thus, rather than carry out moves fueled only by past experience – the repetitive motions that they done time after time – they try something a bit different.  

When you're playing against a strong team is, arguably, the worst time to try something different because you're faced by players who can really make you pay if that moved doesn't work out.  And when you're trying something different there is a good chance that it won't work out.

The aim, then, has to be that of infusing your team with the habits that you want or that best suit your situation and then making sure that they have complete confidence in those habits.  It doesn't mean that you exclude creativity or intelligence - Barcelona are proof of that - but ensuring that you have a solid platform on which to build.

*Highlighted by Simon Kuper in an article titled ‘Pep’s Golden Rules’ that appeared in Issue 9 of the Blizzard magazine.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

How Early Specialisation is Ruining Kids

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So, this is how it normally goes.  You, a passionate football fan, take your son or daughter to practice as soon as they’re old enough.  Hopefully you’re enlightened enough not to put too much pressure on them to prove that they’re a great talent but, still, there is that hope in you.  And, unless they’re complete failures – which, in truth, most kids aren’t – or they really hate it you keep on taking them.

After all, everyone knows that with enough practise of the right sort experts can be developed.  Who hasn’t heard of Ericsson’s 10,000 hour theory made famous by Malcolm Gladwell?

All of this is fine, as long as the kids are enjoying themselves.  They might not turn out to be the football stars that you’re secretly hoping they become but their regular attendance is not only keeping them healthy but it is also indirectly instilling in them habits that will help them in other areas.
What could be a problem, however, is if they are forced to keep practising one sport – and just one sport – in the vain hope that they put in the required hours because the truth is that this isn’t helping them.  In fact, it could be doing the opposite.

“There is a huge body of evidence now growing that suggests that to specialise in one sport at an early age is actually detrimental upon performance.” So says Dr. Martin Toms, Senior Lecturer in Sports Coaching at the School of Sport, Exercise & Rehabilitation Sciences at the University of Birmingham.

Early Specialisation is Ruining Kids [Tweet This]

“There is no doubt that young people grow, change and develop at different rates and at different ages.  So, specialising at a young age is a real problem when the Bio-Psycho-Social changes that occur during puberty can get in the way.”

“There is a vast amount of work now out there that provides peer reviewed evidence to suggest that early specialisation can lead to injury; psychological and social burnout; and the loss of wider sporting skills that a young person might wish to use in the future.”

The best thing then is to encourage kids to try out as many sports as they can.  “The expectation and evidence would suggest that sampling behaviour - when you play the most number of sports at organised level - should occur throughout most of the secondary School age period of eleven to sixteen.”

 “This is less to do with physiology and ability and more to do with availability of opportunity and the age group systems we have in sport in the UK. Certainly throughout later primary years and early secondary years – between the ages of ten and fifteen - kids should be given the opportunity to experience as many activities as they wish without pressure to select one or two to specialise in. But this will depend upon availability and opportunity both of which are linked to many other factors.”

Whilst there seems to be a consensus over the desirability of practising a number of sports, the age at which one should start specialising isn’t that clear cut.

“The growing evidence suggests again that the ideal age at which to specialise entirely in one sport is the age when people are physically, psychologically and socially mature enough to cope,” answers Dr. Toms.  “We must remember how differently people develop, so there is no point working on a small 10 year old to become a race horse jockey – since they may well end up over 6 feet tall by the time they reach 18!”

“In other words, we do not develop in a linear fashion, puberty has a huge amount of influence and so ability as well as talent change as people grow and develop. Co-ordination being a key leveller as young people grow up.”

“So, the age that people should specialise is actually highly individual and based upon their Bio-Psycho-Social development and technically this would be around 18.”

“However, realistically I would argue that between sixteen and eighteen is probably where specialisation will begin to occur, but I would urge all people reading this not to specialise in one activity, but play at least two other sports at an organised level for as long as you can. In fact, consider the most skill transfer compatible sports to support your main one too!”

Indeed, that of transferring different skills from one sport to another is the main argument in favour of non-specialisation “From my own published research , there is a definite link between playing four or five sports at the age of fourteen and achieving representative level in (at least) one of these sports by the age of eighteen.”

There Is No Need For Academies To Demand That Kids Only Play Football [Tweet This]

All of this flies in the face of arguments that football clubs have vociferously made over the years regarding the need to have exclusive access to players from a very early age, stopping them from playing not only other sports but even football for other teams.  Could this stance be down to football being a team sport and, as a result, more complex to coach?

“No, I don’t believe that is the case,” comes the reply. “Whilst it is true that the intricacies and complexities are possibly more difficult to grasp than some other sports, the conversations I and many other colleagues have had, suggests that clubs asking children to play exclusively is down to other issues.”

“These include issues like the belief that it will reduce the risk of injury and they might receive conflicting coaching advice. However, there is also the accusation often pointed out that this is about power and control over a young person. With a future ‘career’ at risk, would the young person do anything else but comply?  Unlikely, even when the statistics for ‘making it’ at professional level are stacked against you: approximately 99.8% of children will not make it.”

“The argument for stopping this 99% from playing other sports whilst they are on contract can actually be argued to be detrimental to the whole of British sport. I have heard it argued that there are thousands of talented young sportspeople who are lost to other sports because they are unable to develop those skills at any competitive level whilst on contract to a club. Bearing in mind so few actually make it to the top level, this creates a very interesting moral and philosophical thought for us all to consider – regardless of our agendas – when we think about a young person’s development and wider sporting potential.”

Indeed, the belief that early specialisation is essential could be down to a myth.

“The culture of sport in the UK likes to adopt ideas from other countries, and often these are not easily compatible with what we do. For instance, the ideas from the Eastern Bloc such as the former USSR and, latterly, China of ‘identifying’ talented kids at a young age and producing Olympic champions is actually a myth.”

The Belief That Early Specialisation Is Essential Could Be Down To A Myth [Tweet This]

“In fact, they are simply playing the numbers game when there are tensof thousands of kids, if not more, who start out and then one or two Olympic champions are produced.  Does that means that the system is a success?”

“The numbers game will always work – but at what cost to the young people involved and their futures?”

If anything, research carried out by Dr Toms himself indicates that by pushing just one sport shows that rather than providing better athletes leads to more people dropping out from that sport.

“There are a number of sound reasons for this, and this is something we are further exploring. Taking part in more than one sport allows kids to develop a number of key skills – not just sport specific/related, but also skills such as balance, spatial awareness and social skills.”
“As children develop at different rates, and puberty can actually ‘stop’ participation in an activity through growth changes, it spreads the risk of drop out. In other words, playing multiple sports allows for more opportunity in the future. It’s not so much about spreading risk, but about spreading opportunity.”

“The wider informal learning opportunity from (and across) different sports is key to personal, social and psychological development, and can certainly influence participation levels and rates.”

“Playing more than one sport allows ‘time out’ from the other activity and will help prevent drop out and burn out.”

“There are many transferable skills across sports.  In short, there are far more positive reasons for young people TO play a number of sports than not to do so.”

You can - and should - follow Martin Toms’ work via Twitter

Monday, October 7, 2013

How To Judge a Coach

This is going to be slightly different from previous issues of Blueprint for Football Extra (hope you aren't missing out) because it will be of a slightly more personal bent.  This summer my five year old son, for the first time, went football practise and thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it even though he isn’t a big football fan.  I’d have been surprised if it had been otherwise because, when you’re that young, paradise is being told to run around a field.

It wasn’t the same for me.  Not that I didn’t enjoy watching him have fun but because, having read so much about football development and having spoken to so many coaches, it was somewhat inevitable that I would look critically at the level of coaching delivered.

And that is where my displeasured stemmed for.  For half of the allotted time, the kids were put through physical exercises: running, skipping through ladders, jumping over obstacles and so on.  It was only in the second half of the session that they got to see the ball and, when they did, the number of kids who were there meant that each one only got a few moments of play.

So much that, if it were to me, I’d try somewhere else.  The thing is, as I said, my son loved it.  He was excited every time he had to go and looked forward to the session.  Which, given that the reason why I take him is purely so that he can have fun, has left me with a bit of a dilemma: how do you tell if a coach is a good one or not?

It is a question that has been preying on my mind for some time.  Because in most cases the coaches are prepared and the instances where the coach is clearly incompetent are quite rare.  If that is the case, however, how do you decide who you should be putting faith into?

The child’s happiness, which I’m letting guide me at the moment, is clearly one of the prime factors: regardless of how good the coach, if your child is unhappy in most cases* it isn’t advisable to keep taking him.

That, however, is only the start.  How a coach acts during a game is another good indicator: you want to avoid someone who is constantly critical of the players and places an exceedingly high importance on winning.

A good coach can be seen with how he communicates, both with the children as well as with their parents.  Most importantly, the validity of a coach comes through in his training sessions.  How innovative are the sessions?  Do they try different things?  How is feedback being delivered?  Are you seeing progress in the kids?

Ultimately, there is no golden rule; there isn’t just one thing that determines a good or a bad coach.  It also depends on the children.  If you have a child who doesn’t handle stress well, then probably they won’t be too comfortable with a coach who tends to shout when training isn’t going well.  Yet another kid might love how that same coach pushes everyone hard to improve.

Indeed, as a parent that you won’t find a better guide than that: seeing how your kid is doing and whether they’re enjoying training.

*I say in most cases because there are instances – for example, if you have a supremely talented child – where, in order to ensure that they maximise their potential they might need a coach who really pushes their limits.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

The Blueprint According To...Stevie Grieve

This article forms part of 'The Blueprint According To...' series, which is a bonus edition of Blueprint for Football Extra.

There is nothing as corrosive for a manager as the belief that they’ve learned everything there is to learn.  Such arrogance – more common than some would think – inevitably leads to stagnation and, eventually, deterioration.

That is why the best coaches are always striving to learn.  Many do it by attending courses or reading books whilst some achieve it by studying what others are doing in order to find things that they themselves can do differently.  A few, however, take their education even further; going overseas to teach as well as learn.

These few face the ultimate challenge of trying to pass on their knowledge in a culture that is alien to them, interacting with people who might not even understand them.  This is the path that Stevie Grieve has taken and, despite being in his mid-twenties he has already coached in three countries (apart from his native Scotland) and has more experience than many accumulate in a lifetime.

His Blueprint, inevitably, is different from that of many others which makes it all the more interesting to find out more about it.

Blueprint for Football: Let's start with the basics: what got you into coaching and how long ago was that?
Stevie Grieve: I started just over 10 years ago when I turned 16. I got into it through a guy who coached the local futsal club and after I showed some interest in coaching helping some younger kids learn to do some skills, he asked if I fancied doing coaching more regularly and from there I got into coaching.

BfF: Have you had any mentors in your career?
SG: I don't know about mentors, but people who I've either looked up to, asked lots of questions of or used as a benchmark as certain stages.  Steve McPhee was the 1st football coach I worked with who was really good at it and I felt I could learn from in a fun, technical environment. He taught me how to talk to kids, how to control a session and other basics.

Steve Chatila who was the founder and chairman of Perth Youth Futsal was also someone from whom I learned a lot, particularly about tactical sense for movement off the ball and working as a cohesive unit.  Unfortunately he retired a few weeks ago but PYF are regular UEFA Cup preliminary round contestants.

I've always used Ian Cathro – who is the assistant manager of Rio Ave even though he’s in his mid-twenties - as a benchmark of where I want to be and although we've only started speaking recently, he's always been a been an example of a guy from a non-playing aspect that has been a trailblazer for young coaches. 

So I suppose I haven't had a mentor, but I've always questioned things, literally everything but more simple stuff that was relevant to my own development.  For example, I asked myself "what does a guy at Manchester United, Barcelona or AC Milan's youth academy know that I don't?” then tried to find out and learn to get to that level.  I’m getting there, but I know I still have a long way to go.

BfF: What is your coaching philosophy?
SG: In short, to be a coach that people enjoy being coached by, to coach the players try to play an attractive to watch and exciting attacking game, and look to develop play through the thirds.
Training sessions are normally very technically detailed and with lots of creative freedom for the players allowed in games.

BfF: Is winning important for you?
SG: Not really, players do which is fine but development takes priority for me.  I think that winning gives a guide as to the progress the players are making: winning is a by-product of producing good players.

I would rather give the players in game challenges to do and if they all 'win' their challenge, I think that's more of a successful result than winning or losing a match 4-3, especially in the ages from Under 8 up to about Under 15 or Under16.

BfF What are the most important attributes of players in your teams?
SG: Technically speaking : dribbling! 

I love players who can dribble, and like to take responsibility with the ball. I had a guy in Switzerland called Dylan Valet who would do a rainbow over an opponent near our own corner flag if unable to pass and I always had a smile when he did it. 

I like determined people in my team too, winners.  Unselfish players and people with good human qualities who can add a lot to the team through being good team mates, guys who are there to support each other when a bad period happens.

Similarly, I like intelligent players - players who make good decisions quickly and take up good positions to open up passing lanes - guys like Busquets and Messi would be ideal players in my team and when possible, I'll try to have players of that style and find a place for them.

BfF: How much is learned from attending coaching courses and how much is learned by observing other coaches and reading about coaching?
SG: I think it depends on the individual.  I’m a visual learner, so I pick up a lot from DVD's and watching sessions being delivered.  Unfortunately, I've not had too many opportunities over the years to watch high level sessions, mainly due to lack of finance.

If you go on a course and learn a few new drills, or watch other coaches and learn how to better deliver a session, which is more important to the individual?  Some guys like new drills, some like a coaching point, some like a process.

I've read a few books and I suppose that the one that changed my approach more than most was the Horst Wein book on Developing Intelligent Players.  I've written 9 books, with 3 more coming and I think I've learned more from writing the books than I have from attending courses or watching others.

I wish I could go back 10 years, read more books, watch more top level coaches and attend more coach education days, but I feel like it’s something I’m making the effort to do more of now and hopefully I'll improve more in the future from it.

BfF: You've coached in a number of countries.  How do you prepare for coaching in a different country?
SG: I have, and I feel very fortunate to have had the opportunity to do it. 

For USA, I honestly did no preparation, (I was young and stupid) other than making sure I was capable of coaching well!

I tried to learn about why Americans play the game the way they do, which I think has affected my preparation for moving abroad again.

For Switzerland, I was a bit more mature and having been abroad before, I think I spent a lot of time trying to learn about Swiss culture, the way of life in Switzerland and just general things about the Swiss mind-set before I went there. 

Obviously I learned a bit of French before I went and spent a lot of time learning French so I picked it up pretty well while I was there, which helped me in everyday life.

For India, I spent a lot of time reading about how expats live, watching online clips of what Delhi looks like, the religion, the culture, learning some Hindi, and although I thought I was prepared, obviously India is different from any place on earth and nothing, literally nothing, can prepare you for coming here; the place is bonkers, totally crazy! 

When I arrived, I was taking pictures of daft stuff like stray cows in the streets, the crazy auto rickshaw drivers, but you never get used to the poverty you see in the streets and stuff like that so although I've been here 9 weeks, I’m still taken aback by general life here. You could live here for 20 years and every day you would come across something that would never happen in the developed world.

BfF: Can you tell us, coaching wise, what was different in each country?  And are there universal truths?
SG: I don’t know about universal truths, but I suppose the players in each country all had the same passion to learn and get better at the game.  I have found parents input in Scotland, USA and India a lot different; parents in Scotland are quite hard on the kids to make sure they try hard enough to improve whereas American parents blamed the coach for the kids’ failings.

In India, it depends on the mindset of the parents - kids from the rich backgrounds can be a bit more 'needy' than the scholarship kids we have from poor backgrounds, whose parents are constantly asking for ways to make the kid play better. 

In Switzerland it was semi-pro players so if they had an issue, they would just say so, and be quite direct about it. I liked that, and it made me a better leader and im a lot more straightforward with people now, especially adult players as its about developing relationships between people.

In USA, I got the feeling that as I was British, I could instantly command American's respect as I came from a footballing area. They really wanted to play a direct style of play as the normal American soccer player is mainly athletic and they felt that if they were faster, stronger and could kick the ball the longest distance, they would win. Unfortunately for them, that's not the case and I always felt that aside from a lack of technique there, the game intelligence aspect was non-existent.

Coaching technique and trying to introduce independent thinking and learning always felt like a bit of a chore to the players  - no matter how intensive or interactive it was - as a lot of them would prefer athletic based games where the coach just tells the kids what to do and they do it.

In Switzerland, there was almost no respect for Scottish football, so I really had to earn it by teaching the players stuff and making them better players. I think I made a mark early there by introducing myself in French, being a bit funny then asking how bad my French was. The first training session went well and I think I had the respect of the players within the first hour and we had a great time together, although it didn't go as well as I wanted it to.

Switzerland had much more of a technical focus and the players really wanted to be better footballers, and wanted to play the game properly, which was good from my coaching point of view and something I really enjoyed.

In India, football is still in a very primitive stage so there's clubs opening up and having ambitions to join the I-League (like my company who have just bought the club I am Head of Youth Development of). Most clubs don't have youth systems but have an Under 19 development team as per the criteria but they have a good first team and not much else, probably like what football was in Britain 40 years ago. 

For general coaching, there's a cultural thing where there's almost a 'hierarchy' where Europeans are given instant respect and they'll listen to you. 

In India, I don't think they know how to become better players, and there seems to be a high tactical focus, which I think needs to come at a later stage, around Under 15/under 16, and technical focus must be the way forward here. That's something I’m trying to change here and the results in a short space of time has been brilliant in terms of technical coaching and playing development.

Unfortunately, India has only had 2 main 'superstar footballers' in Bhaichung Bhutia and Sunil Chetri, and that’s something that I think if like Japan had with Hidetoshi Nakata 15 years ago, India needs a player like that to boost the game and maybe force the government into building more footballing facilities to increase participation and hopefully the talent pool available.

BfF: Currently you are head of coach education in India.  What does that involve?
SG: I have two roles.  I’m working for a private company called Bhaichung Bhutia Football Schools – who have bought a club called Garwal FC, a big club in Delhi - as Head of Coach Education. 

The kids we produce from BBFS will go into the club who will hopefully be accepted to play in the I-League 2 this season and we want to be in the I-League within a couple of years, so I am also the Head of Youth Development for the club and have to develop new playing philosophy for the club from Under 9 up to Under 19. 

Obviously we will have scouting criteria in place, and recruit like clubs do around the world but we have a developmental pyramid system in place, a coaching and playing philosophy so most of the kids in the YA will come from the work I’m doing at BBFS.

At Bhaichung Bhutia Football Schools, my role is to mentor and educate the 60+ coaches we have, and design the curriculum for the 650 plus kids via 3 groups: Basic, Potential and Development kids. 

Development kids come on foreign trips with us for tournaments, training camps, for example to places like Varkenoord with the Feyenoord Academy, and we try to expose them to the best learning and teaching environments possible outside of India.

Apart from that I help in the recruitment across the New Delhi area for players and coaches, run coach education workshops for current and new coaches, coaching applicant workshops, liaise with the 1st team staff to promote players from the Youth Academy to first team, do the video analysis with players of all age groups as well as player and Staff evaluations on a 4-6 monthly basis.

BfF: What is the level of football in India?
SG: It’s of a low standard, the I-League is probably conference standard, but again, the game is in a primitive stage here. 

At all levels, you have some very, very talented kids but they have no idea on how to play in small groups, never mind a team of 11. The game here has little in-play organisation, despite the tactical focus.  Most teams still play a direct 4-4-2 but I think with more European football on TV, that will start to change as the level of coaching and playing improves.

BfF: What is needed for football to grow in India?
SG: A star player, more government and AIFF investment in proper coach education, grassroots football development and an increase in the amount and quality of both indoor and outdoor grass and astroturf facilities. I would say they need more indoor facilities rather than better grass fields as it is too hot much of the time to play at a high intensity.

Also, more clubs need to build from the grassroots up to have more of a talent pool to choose from.

BfF: What do you want to achieve to be satisfied with what you have done in your coaching career?
SG: I have never thought of this previously, so I need to think about it!

I would be satisfied that every player I come in contact with decides to stay in the game via playing, helping or coaching.

Professionally, I have a few Short, Medium and Long term goals that I want to hit but I would be satisfied if I can help produce a world class player, help Scotland qualify for a World Cup as part of the national staff, or simply to have had an enjoyable time coaching around the world.

Stevie Grieve can be followed on Twitter.  He has also written a series of coaching books, the latest of which is 'Coaching the  4-2-3-1'.  Previous issues of 'The Blueprint According To...' can be found here.