Google+ Blueprint for Football: August 2016

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Best Coaching Links of Last Week: How to Prepare for Matchday, Perfectionism, Personal Brand & Leading By Example

Not everyone might like it (and it isn't the be all) but ultimately, a coach's work is seen when there is a match.  Here are a couple of videos by Ally Bain on how to prepare players for matchday.

How important is perfectionism for success?  My own view is that it is success is ab accumulation of small things done extremely well which sound very much like perfectionism.  Anyway, here's an article debating that issue.

I'd never really noticed the site of the League Managers' Association but these are two fine articles that have ensured that I will be keeping a close eye on it in the future.  The first piece is about leading by example, something that every coach has to live by.

The second piece deals with developing a personal brand.  This might seem like marketing spiel and has very little to do with football but, ultimately, when you think about any top managers you immediately think about the characteristics that define them.  Can you reach the top if you're bland?

"If you don’t have confidence, you’ll always find a way not to win."  - Carl Lewis

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Tuesday, August 16, 2016

The Case For The Use of GPS In Football

Football is traditionally slow in adopting new technologies.  Analysts are still looked at with suspicion (at best) by those who believe that the only way to judge a game is by looking at what you can see on the pitch rather than at what the numbers say.  

It took years for goal line technologies to be introduced even though their benefit – as we’re seeing now – was obvious.  And, despite this, there are still those vehemently against the idea of introducing any new technological support for referees.

The same applies on the coaching side.  The idea of having proper nutrition took years to take hold.

The irony is that other sports where resources and popularity are more limited than football are much more forward in their adoption of technology.   Australian Rules Football is a very prominent case in point.  This sport that to outsiders might appear one where brawn is the only pre-requisite is also one of the earliest adopters.

Global Positioning Systems (GPS), for instance, has been in use in Aussie Rules for more than a decade.  So integrated is their used in AFL that in 2012 it was extended to measure activity in junior football.

“The key thing about this study is that it is the first time we have ever gathered information like this on kids playing football and the first time we’ve been able to quantify how our kids are experiencing sport. The study is unique and groundbreaking in that we’re getting real data about what kids do when they’re involved in junior football.”  So said at the time Associate Professor Pamm Kellett who was handling the research aimed at measuring player’s activity during games as well as how long they were on the field, the amount of exertion used and how fast they were running.  

Football is a completely different world.  At around the same time that AFL was being involved in that forward looking experiment, football was just dipping its feet into the pool.  The pioneer was David Casamichana, a Spanish coach involved with Rayo Cantabria de Santander (a semi-professional Spanish third-division team) monitoring their GPS use during training and friendly games; at the time FIFA banned their use in official games (the ban was only lifted towards the end of 2015).

Despite the limitations of the technology at the time – the GPS that he had available tracked movement every second meaning that movement that took place in a fraction of that was not measured – Casamichana’s worked proved the value of this tool.  It allowed teams to measure just how much their players ran, how often they  were involved in sprints (thanks to an accelerometer) and, ultimately their fatigue.

Based on this he found that centre backs and centre forwards are the ones that run the least distance.  Contrary to that, midfielders run most but they cover least distances in sprint.  When they do sprint, however, they top the table for high intensity.

On top of it all, his studies found that as games wear on the intensity begins to decline.

All of that might seem obvious but that is because it discounts the finer level of detail that can be obtained through GPS.  Not all midfielders play the same role within the team meaning that not all have the same characteristics.  Having that data at hand provides another tool that coaches can use to fine tune their side.

It also helps improve the quality of training.  If you know the characteristics of different positions than you can provide different preparation.  Having access to such data allows you to view the session as a whole rather than just one sprint whilst it provides you with historical baselines with which to compare a group of players or an individual coming back from injury.   

Indeed this data can be used to help prevent further athletic injury given that it is possible to gauge when an individual is getting close to his limit that provides you with the ability to stop them before they hurt themselves.

All such knowledge can be used to improve the intensity that a team can show during a game.  A team’s ability to keep on going during a match for longer than their opponents can provide a significant advantage.  

And the future will see even more extended use of GPS, in particular during games.

In an article late in 2015, Wycombe midfielder Matt Bloomfield explained the benefits that he saw from GPS.  “Every footballer is different and some of the lads pay more attention to the information given to us than others.” 

“Some lads are really interested in the feedback and check their stats first thing every Monday morning, while some aren't so interested and will only deal with the stats when told to. And then there are the lads who pretend not to care but still check when no-one is looking!”

“I'm fascinated by it all so I'm always asking for feedback and information about what I should be able to do and how far I should be running. It's all part of the competitive edge needed to build a career for yourself.”

“I'm sure that the technological advances will continue and I will always embrace them while always trying to gain that edge.”

Sadly, not everyone is like Boomfield.  Indeed, Plymouth manager Derek Adams complained when Wycombe used those devices in a game between the two sides.  "Somebody could head it and injure themselves, or somebody's finger could get caught in it,” he said. "There are a number of things that can go wrong. Somebody could get choked if they are pulled too hard.”

Admittedly, Adams also said that what he wanted was clarification and it would be wrong to label him because of this one incident.  Yet such thinking is, sadly prevalent among the football fraternity.

Monday, August 1, 2016

The Art of Coaching

Whilst it may be easy for some to dismiss the work that is put into a lower league club’s academy, the reality is that there are coaches at such clubs who are as determined to improve their players and as hard-working as anyone at the top clubs.  If not more, given how many of those coaches have to juggle their coaching with a full time job.

Tony Mee is one such coach.  Whilst he might be among the full-time staff at Scunthopre United’s academy, a lot of his interaction is with coaches who work on a part time basis.   That, however increases his desire to excel which is also evidenced in his desire both to learn off others and also impart what he has learned over the years.

Blueprint for Football: What is your role precisely?  What work do you do?
Tony Mee: My current role is Lead Youth Development Phase Coach (12-16) at Scunthorpe United where I oversee the coaching programme for those age groups. I'm also Lead Coach for the Under 16s. A lot of my daytime work is based around the PMA, designing sessions to fit our syllabus, helping to coordinate all aspects of running the Academy and the evenings and weekends are coaching and games. 

BfF: What is your philosophy?  In particular, how did you develop it?
TM: I want players to be technically excellent and tactically flexible. In terms of how I like my teams to play, I enjoy fast paced, attacking football, played by players who are prepared to try things in possession but know how to defend when they don't have the ball. I've always tried to get players to be comfortable in possession and have a strong work ethic.

I suppose I’ve developed it as a result of working with coaches who’s teams I’ve enjoyed watching or who’s teams I was fortunate enough to play in during my time in the Army, where we were given plenty of opportunity for sport. Whilst serving in Germany, I also played for Dutch and German coaches who exposed me to their ways of working, although there are probably less differences than you might think.

With the Academy boys that I work with, there is a greater need to be helped to develop the resiliency needed to cope with the increasing demands of the game and it can be a struggle to get enough work on the right hand side of the 4-Corner Model when you are at a Cat 3 Academy. However, you have to be honest with the players (& parents) at all stages of development. 

BfF: How do you fit that philosophy when working for a club that might have different ideas?
TM: You have to be somewhat pragmatic! For some of us, this is our job, and with every job, in every walk of life, you are beholden to someone! Some great discussions can be had amongst coaches on Social Media and it's refreshing to see so many get involved, however, the reality is if your manager tells you that he wants a certain type of player, or play a certain style of football you have a choice to make…

BfF: How do you get new ideas?  Where do you look for new ideas?
TM: I engage with fellow coaches as much as possible! I was very frustrated, in the early part of my coaching career, at the lack of support once you became qualified.  You had to rely on the things you had learned on the course or had been exposed to as a player. 

I do an awful lot of reading, not just football, but associated areas too. I’m also experienced enough to see a session that someone else might deliver or post and adapt that to the needs of my players. I’m grateful to all the managers and coaches that I have worked with and who have allowed me to watch their sessions because you can’t beat seeing it come to life on the grass. 

These days there are no excuses for coaches, social media, coaching books, websites, local coaches associations are all out there to support clubs and coaches to deliver a better experience for ALL players, not just children. The Licensed Coaches Club through the FA & the increasing presence of the FA Mentor scheme is also good news for coaches & clubs. 

BfF: What is the toughest thing that smaller clubs' academies face?
TM: It's tough to try and reconcile the demands of the EPPP with a (largely) part-time workforce and the limitations of the facilities available when a club doesn't own all its own facilities. We are quite fortunate with the support we get from St. Lawrence Academy and Melior School, here in Scunthorpe. 

Dependant on location, recruitment can be an issue if you are constantly battling other clubs for the same players, and with the rules being lifted on travel times for the big clubs, they all have a presence at our games. There's no doubt in my mind that parents can be easily swayed if the big clubs come calling. There are also a lot of talented kids who don't want, or whose parents can't afford (time/commitment/financially) to come into Academies as they'd rather play with their mates, then at Under 16 they suddenly become interested.

BfF: In general, are enough young players being given an opportunity?
TM: I'm not sure what else we can do to be honest. There's leagues that cater for all levels of players, the Academies are there for those at the appropriate standard and the bigger Academies hoover up the top talent, I guess that's the way it should be. I see a lot of criticism of the Academy system, particularly when it comes to players being released but the reality is you can't have massive numbers, players develop at different rates and we all believe, I'm sure, that we are making the right decisions at the right times.

BfF: Why don't more English players move overseas when they don't find clubs at home?
TM: This is a strange one for me. I genuinely believe, having lived, worked and visited other countries that our players are as good as any others as they come through the age groups but, other than the boys who go onto the States on scholarships, I think this is vastly underused. I think one of the main problems is a lack of language skills. 

With English being such a universal language, a lot of kids don't see the need to learn another one and this restricts them in the job market. Pretty much wherever you go in the world, English is first or second language but I'm not sure a lot of our talented 18 year olds, who don't make it here, are prepared to take that step. Most of them won't even try Scotland or Wales and I don't get it! You have to get out of your comfort zone at some point and I question whether they want it enough. 

There will always be the exception, one of my ex-apprentices is currently playing in Sweden and I know a couple of others who played in Belgium but most just drop down the leagues and play with their mates. 

BfF: Same goes for coaches, right?
TM: It probably is the same with coaches. The language barrier is still an issue but there's a bit of fear about being away from the UK job market. Some big names have gone abroad, Gary Stevens and Tony Adams being recent examples and whilst I'm sure it has broadened their horizons and developed them as coaches and as people, I don't think it makes them more employable in the eyes of those who matter.

BfF: How do you prepare a player to make move from academy to first team?
TM: I keep going back to it but, realism and honesty. They already know all the stats about first contract, second contract, drop-out rates at 18, 21 etc. because the League Football Education programme informs them, so we have to ensure they are mentally strong enough and adaptable. 

If they are going to shrink in under 18 football with their parents being the only spectators, how will they cope with a few thousand when they make a mistake and their team are struggling? They have to make a good impression straight away when they get to train with the first team because managers don't get given a lot of time these days.

BfF: What would you like to see happening?
TM: This is another tough question because we can't influence anything other than the players. I'd like to see players given an opportunity when they deserve it. I'd like there to be more long-term thinking but I understand the process, I've seen first team managers and academy managers get the sack and I can (sometimes) see why, but the majority of players that we produce at 18 years of age aren't ready to be thrown into regular first team action at that age as they are still developing in so many ways. 

They need to be eased into the cut and thrust of first team football, but some clubs don't have Development squads or Reserve teams to supplement that process. If a club has limited resources to staff its first team they aren't going to have too many 18 year olds on the books!

For more from Tony Mee, be sure to follow him on Twitter.