Google+ Blueprint for Football: April 2014

Monday, April 21, 2014

Success Lies Beyond Tactics

How important is a manager?  That is a question that will keep getting even if there are some – like the authors of the book ‘Soccernomics’, Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski – who have tried to give a definitive answer (not very important, according to their research).  Clubs keep changing the man in charge in the hope that this will lead to better results but, in truth, it turns out to be a bad decision as often as it is a good one.

The truth is that it is impossible to tell if a club does well by going with one manager instead of another one.  ‘What if’ questions might be intriguing but ultimately they cannot be answered.

There are instances, however, where the value of a manager is impossible to ignore.  Everton is a case in point.  With largely the same team as last season, Roberto Martinez has them playing the kind of attacking football that is both pleasing on the eye and effective.   Martinez has managed to impose his style of play quickly, winning over a group of players that will probably have been a bit sceptical after the departure of a manager who had done so well for them.

It isn’t the playing style that Martinez has changed but also their mentality.  Without wanting to seem overly critical of David Moyes – who did a very good job at Everton in his time there – there used to be a feeling that the Everton players didn’t think that they could beat bigger clubs.  Not anymore, however, as this season they’ve shown no fear irrespective of their opponent.  Nor is he one to hide behind the club’s lack of spending power, opting instead to look within to see whether there are players who could be promoted to the first team squad.

Martinez isn’t alone.  Indeed there seems to be a breed of new manager who are capable of doing this.  Brendan Rodgers has done a similar job at Liverpool as did Jurgen Klopp before them.  Whatever the outcome of the season, Diego Simeone has done a tremendous job in giving Atletico Madrid the belief that they can overcome Barcelona and Real Madrid.

These managers have been successful not because of the tactics that they’ve adopted but because of the philosophy that they have been able to instil within their clubs.   To be successful, managers cannot be one dimensional – they never could – but need to have the energy and vision to determine where they want to go and how to get there.

It is why any aspiring coach who simply looks at the tactics or training routines adopted by the top managers is only seeing a slice of their work.  Those are important but, if they too want to succeed, they need to look at much more than that and their education needs to reflect that.

Six coaches talk about their ideas and beliefs around football.  Buy the Kindle version here for as little as £0.99 (international version here).  More details on Blueprint According To...Volume 1 here.

Monday, April 14, 2014

The Importance of Individual Coaching

The following piece originally appeared on Blueprint for Football Extra.

When you’re as focused on football as most of us are, it is very easy to think of it as being the universe; that everything begins and ends with it.  When you’re looking at the different ideas that might exist you look at what others within the game have done.  Same goes when you’re trying to solve a problem.

Looking at what other sports are doing rarely features in the equation.  Understanding how an apparently alien world works in order to try and gain something from it often seems like too much effort for the potential reward.  Even lazier is the assumption that since these are different sports then there is nothing that one could teach the other.

That, clearly, isn’t the case which is why an inquisitive mind would be constantly looking at what other sports are doing.  Where have they been successful and is there something that can be learned from them?  Is there anything that they are doing which might help me solve a problem that I have or, perhaps better, might allow me to do something better?

One idea that perhaps might warrant a closer look is basketball camps.  To briefly describe the concept, these are hugely popular (and often massively commercialised) events where the basic idea is to offer additional training for athletes during the off-season. 

There is, of course, more to it than that.  At the highest level, these camps serve to gauge the abilities of various players allowing colleges and professional clubs a closer look before making their choices.  This is an aspect that in football bears no significance.

What is significant is another aspect of these basketball camps: the focus that there is on the individual.  There isn’t the pressure to improve team dynamics or the need to get results that there usually is when one is working within a team environment.  Most of the work goes into particular plays meaning that they’re looking at specific  elements within a game.  To give a football analogy, they can look at dribbling or taking free-kicks.

This allows the coaches look at each player; they can focus all their energies into identifying what can be done to make that individual a better player.

It is in many ways a luxury – literally as, in most cases, it is those who are relatively well off who manage to make it to these camps – but it can make a huge difference for a player.  Little imperfections can be ironed out and weaknesses worked on.

This culture doesn’t exist in football.  Coaches strive to improve individuals in their team but, in truth, there is so much to look at that it can be almost impossible to attend to each member within the team individually.

Yet that individual attention can make a massive difference, solidifying the platform that enables him to move to more ambitious targets.

One on one coaching is something that Matt Whitehouse, a youth football coach and the author of the acclaimed book The Way Forward, feels very strongly about.

“During team training session and game of football a player may touch the ball 5-20% of the time. This means there will be a lot of time when the player is without the ball.   Now it is important that players understand what to do when not in possession of the ball; when both attacking and defending. They need to understand positioning, support, movement and concentrate. These are all key skills to succeed in football.”

“However are players in England getting as much from their practice sessions as possible?  Is team training going to help develop the technical skills of a young player?  The answer is no.  During the week a player, in my opinion, must work on their individual ball mastery and skills.  This may be on their own, either in their garden or at a local park.  However this idea of 'street football', of players enhancing their development on their own or with peers has reduced.” 

“This is worrying because the extra touches of the ball which these moments can provide can be invaluable for a player.  Therefore, in the present day it may be necessary for players to experience 1-1 sessions.  Personally I believe these are essential for players to develop.  An hour session can allow a coach to help develop a players control, touch, skills and ability to dribble.  It can provide thousands of touches of the ball and with a qualified coach can help provide the detail to help the player improve their execution of different skills.” 

“Sessions can be position specific or centred around developing the players technical foundation. If  player partakes solely in team training sessions during their week they are simply not getting the necessary contact of the ball and repetition of practising skills which they need to progress.”

“Therefore 1-1 sessions are not just a bonus for a player but a necessity.”

If you want to learn from other coaches, Blueprint for Football Extra...Volume 1 contains interviews where six coaches talk about their ideas on the game (for a PDF copy, check details here).