Google+ Blueprint for Football: 2017

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Best Football Coaching Links of the Week: Resilience, 3 At The Back & More

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LET’S START
Resilience – the characteristic to see out any challenges or difficulties that might arise – is being increasingly recognised as an extremely important element for anyone who wants to achieve something in his life.  Too often people are willing to sacrifice if things are going their way but, as soon as they have some bad results, all that changes.  The good thing is that such an attitude can be change if only we know how to build resilience.

On a similar wavelength is this piece on whether football is ignoring the mental demands of the game raises interesting points.  Personally I don’t think that is the case but it is always interesting to read different arguments.

A defensive system with three at the back seems to be making something of a comeback yet whilst coaches might appreciate this tactic, players take a bit longer to convince.  This article is particularly interesting because not only does it explain the benefits of the tactic but also how players can be convinced to accept it.

Winning is good: don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.  What is bad is wanting to win at all costs, irrespective of player developments, ethics and anything else.

AND FINALLY
"It's not about how much you practice. It's about how much your mind is present when you're practicing." - Kobe Bryant

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

A Goalkeeper's Life: Influence, Anxiety & Normality

Most often what people remember of goalkeepers is their mistakes.  Of all the positions in the game of football it is undeniably the harshest because one error can overshadow all the good work that one might do through the rest of the ninety minutes.  

And yet, for those called to the role, there is nothing better.   “I wanted a better chance to influence whether my team won or lost,” says Justin Bryant a former professional goalkeeper, current goalkeeper coach and author of the book 'Small Time: A Life in the Football Wilderness.' 

When I was a young player, I got tired of losing games because whoever had reluctantly gone in goal kept letting the ball dribble through his hands. After that happened two or three times, I volunteered, and never looked back.

This interview talks about why he kept on going in goal, what he learned and his ideas on coaching for the role.

Blueprint for Football: When did you decide that this was something that you wanted to do for the rest of your career?
Justin Bryant: It didn’t take long. I immersed myself in goalkeeping almost immediately. I would say that by the time I was fourteen, it was my identity. I never considered anything else.

BfF: What level of coaching did you receive?
JB: None, at first. I grew up on an island on the east coast of Florida in the 1970s. Nobody in that area had any appreciable background in the game. When I got to the high school level, I was lucky enough to have an expat Englishman, John McGeough, as a coach. His goalkeeping background was limited, but he knew enough about the position to help me understand the basics. 

I got a lot from reading interviews with Ray Clemence and Peter Shilton in old ‘Shoot’ magazines, and from watching professional goalkeepers in the league we had in the States at that time, the NASL.

BfF: You've written a book about your experiences playing in a number of leagues.  What brought that about?
JB: I’m not really an ex-player who wrote a book; I’m more a writer who just so happened to have been a goalkeeper when he was young. By the time I wrote ‘Small Time,’ I’d already published a novel, had a dozen short stories and essays in journals, and earned a Masters in Creative Writing from New York University. So, as a writer with a footballing past, it only made sense to write about my experiences as a player. 



BfF: In the book you write in detail about the stress and anxiety.  Is that part and parcel of a goalkeeper's role more than other players?
JB: I think some element of stress and anxiety is unavoidable. The potential for catastrophic, humiliating mistakes is there. Just look at YouTube. I skewed to the more extreme end of the anxiety spectrum, although my problem wasn’t simply pre-match nerves. I had them, but so does everyone else. My problem was much bigger and more overriding. I put huge pressure on myself to succeed, because the only identity I could imagine for myself was professional goalkeeper, and anything short of that would be not just professional but also personal failure. That was a pretty heavy burden to live with every day, and long term, it took a toll.

Outfield players have to deal with pressure too, but they have more opportunities to make up for mistakes, as they’re generally more involved in the flow of the game. 

My anxiety is not gone. It’s much less severe now, and I know how to manage it far better, but it’s still there, even at age 50 and with the pressure of chasing a career in professional football decades in my past. So it’s not something I can blame on goalkeeping. Indeed, going in goal these days is an absolute joy. I don’t know how much longer I’ll be able to do it, so I treasure it now.

BfF: Going by your own experiences, what do you tell other goalkeepers today who struggle with anxiety?  How important is getting the mentality right and do you think you developed that aspect of the game?
JB: If someone gets to the level of anxiety I had, they really need the professional help that I didn’t get at the time. If it’s the more standard pre-match nerves, or fear of mistakes, my preference is to focus on the positives of nerves. That adrenalin coursing through your body can help you make saves you simply can’t make in training. Pressure also helps you narrow your focus. So I try to help them accept the nerves, and make them work for you, rather than against you.

Getting the mentality right is at least half the battle. If a goalkeeper has the ability but not the mentality, you are not going to see consistently good performances. More and more, I think of these things in a holistic way. If a goalkeeper is struggling mentally, I ask them what it is they want from the game, what they hope to achieve, why they play. Is it fun? Okay, then have fun. Is it an identity, a calling, like it was for me? That can drive you to higher levels, but almost inevitably comes at the price of peace of mind.

I think I did develop the proper mental approach to goalkeeping, but it took time. I didn’t have the right balance until the last year or two of my playing days. 

BfF: How does a goalkeeper deal with letting in a goal largely because of a mistake he made?  How do you recover?
JB: Well, there’s how a goalkeeper recovers, and how a goalkeeper should recover. Many goalkeepers - young ones, especially - will dwell on the mistake. This will either negatively affect their confidence, or force them into acts of crazed bravado, in an attempt to ‘make up for it.’

A far better reaction is to allow yourself a natural moment of disbelief, anguish, and regret, and then file it away to be dealt with later, getting on with the game in the meantime. It’s not easy. You might, after all, have ten or twenty minutes with little else to do following a mistake, so it’s natural to dwell. It’s not a bad idea to have some sort of ‘move on’ trigger, like saying “That’s it” aloud to yourself, to refocus.


BfF: What is harder a match where you are constantly in action against a superior team or a game where he rarely touches a ball but is then called into action?  And how does one prepare for both?
JB: For me, the latter was always much more difficult. The longer you go with nothing to do in a game, the further you get from the time when you were handling shots and making saves in the warm-up. That’s one reason I admired Ray Clemence. In his and Liverpool’s prime, he often had just one save to make in games, and he would usually make it.

BfF: What are the biggest misconceptions that pundits say or fans think about goalkeepers?
JB: For a start, there’s the myth that getting beat at the near post is somehow worse than getting beat anywhere else. In some cases, such as from very tight angles, it is, but commentators and pundits use this as a catch-all critique, and it is generally nonsense. 

Put it this way: if a keeper gets beat at his near post, by a shot just two steps to one side, it would be just as bad if he got beat to the far post by a shot just two steps to his side. The mistake isn’t that it was at the near post, but that it was a shot well within reach.

‘Goalkeepers are crazy’ is also largely a myth. I have personally known hundreds, perhaps close to a thousand, goalkeepers in my life. The overwhelming majority are perfectly normal men and women who just so happen to enjoy diving around trying to catch a ball.

A surprising number of pundits and commentators don’t seem to understand direct free kicks. If a goal is scored, they will question the goalkeeper’s positioning, even when it is perfectly orthodox.

I also cringe when I hear a pundit say that every ball inside the six-yard-box should be the keeper’s, taking no account of how many players may be obstructing or challenging the keeper, the pace and trajectory of the ball, etc. Along these same lines is ‘dominate the box.’ Who dominates the box these days? The game has changed. 

Some people use the phrase ‘good shot stopper’ in a pejorative way, with the implication being that shot stopping is not what really matters. This is ridiculous. Goalkeeping will always primarily be about making saves.

I could probably give you a very long list of answers to this question!


BfF: You're now a goalkeepers' coach.  First off, what does your day to day job entail?
JB: There is no typical day, really. Often, at UNC Wilmington, we have a morning team training session, followed by some time in the office with the rest of the coaching staff, sorting out administrative tasks. I get into the gym most days, and do session planning and coaching education stuff in the afternoons. While you can watch goalkeeper training sessions from all over the world on YouTube, I firmly believe a goalkeeper coach should come up with at least some of their own drills and activities. Otherwise, you’re using someone else’s drill without really knowing what the coaching moments are. So I spend some time every day on the white board, experimenting with new ideas. Two evenings a week, I train youth goalkeepers for a local club, Wilmington Hammerheads. The schedule is different on match days and the off season.

BfF: Why do goalkeepers need their own coaches?
JB: Goalkeepers need to be trained to perform specific tasks in a consistently repeatable way under match pressure, with almost no margin for error. This needs to be done by someone who understands the technique needed for these specialist tasks, and can train, coach, and correct as needed. That’s the dry, factual answer. But beyond that, most goalkeepers benefit from spending time with a coach who understands and can relate to the unique physical and psychological demands of goalkeeping. Put simply, goalkeeping can be a lonely pursuit. Most of us can use an ally.

BfF: Do the coaching needs of someone who is largely a reserve goalkeeper and the regular keeper change?
JB: I think so, yes. I think you prepare a reserve keeper to be able to represent their best form when needed, but you’re flying blind, to a degree, since, without games, you don’t really know what their current form actually is. You also often have to be a little more encouraging, since they aren’t getting the games most players thrive on. You have to guard against them feeling unloved or sorry for themselves, and thinking that putting in hard work isn’t worth it.

With the first-team goalkeeper, you can tailor training to what you’re seeing from them in games. I like to find ways for them to have success with aspects they may be struggling with, while reinforcing what they’re already doing well, to keep their confidence high.

It should go without saying, though, that every goalkeeper is different, and you have to train the individual in the manner that is most effective for them. I can put a goalkeeper I don’t know through a decent training session, but once I get to know them, their personality, and what motivates them, I can put them through a much better session. 

BfF: How does one go about ensuring that there is a good understanding between the goalkeeper and his defenders?
JB: They have to train together as a unit, under match-realistic pressure from attackers. Nothing else can replicate that. Ideally, you overload them a little - give the attackers a numerical advantage, award them free kicks in dangerous areas, etc - but not so much that the defensive unit has no chance of success in training. I know most people think defensive football is boring, but I love the sight of a goalkeeper and back four coordinated in their thinking and actions.


BfF: What skills are essential for a modern goalkeepers?  And how have things changed from the past?
JB: It’s mostly the same skill set as always: good handling, reflexes, agility, power, and explosiveness, along with the mental skills of judgment, decision making, and emotional control. The biggest change from the past is being comfortable receiving and passing the ball under pressure, and of course, dealing with back passes, which a goalkeeper could pick up when I started playing.

There are some more subtle differences, too, borne from changes in the game as a whole. Compared to decades past, the ball is lighter and moves more unpredictably in the air, the pitches are better (at least at the professional level), leading to less direct, more possession-oriented attacking play, and referees are inclined to protect goalkeepers a little bit more. All this has combined to see a gradual shift away from big, bulky goalkeepers who were relied upon to deal with aerial bombardment, to leaner, more athletic goalkeepers valued for shot-stopping ability.

BfF: Do you see any changes or evolution to the role in the coming years?
JB: A lot of people seem to think Manuel Neuer is revolutionizing goalkeeping, and that his ‘sweeper-keeper’ style, by virtue of being modern and different, is inherently the best way to keep goal. I don’t. This is nothing against Neuer, who is a fantastic goalkeeper. He plays in a way that suits his skills and his team’s needs, but it’s not for everyone. Thibault Courtois and David De Gea don’t spend much time playing passes outside their box, and they’re both quite a few years younger than Neuer. So I haven’t seen a trend towards it, at least from top pros. 

Perhaps the next generation will take it to a new level, but I think we are close to being at a point of diminished returns regarding the sweeper-keeper. The value a team gets from the goalkeeper making successful interventions outside the box is balanced by the risk of those interventions. It only gets riskier the further from goal the goalkeeper takes touches, and most managers are risk-averse to begin with. So I don’t think we’re going to see the sweeper-keeper role evolve much more than it already has.

If there’s further evolution coming, it may be in response to another big change in the laws of the game, like we saw with the back pass law in the early 90s. Whatever it is, it will be designed to increase scoring, so goalkeepers will need to change and adapt along with the game itself.


Special thanks to Justin Bryant for taking the time to answer Blueprint for Football's questions.  Enjoyed this? Want more?  Sign up to Blueprint for Football Extra and as a free bonus you'll get a copy of our exclusive e-book Blueprint According To...Volume 3 that features interviews with six football coaches on how they go about their building their knowledge.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Best Football Coaching Links Of The Week: The Danish Blueprint, Periodization & More


Denmark is not necessarily a country that is associated with sports and it was quite surprising as I read this piece to learn that at the last Olympics they claimed fifteen medals.  Even more interesting, however, was learning that they had done this by working on a model that does not necessarily put sporting achievement ahead of the human being.

Focus seems to be a key word for football commentators who often chastise the lack of it whenever a mistake is made.  Yet what is it really?  And how can coaches help their players be better at it?  This article by sports psychologist Dan Abrahams does just that.


As modern technology infiltrates more deeply into football, different people will start coming up with new ways of using it to gain advantage.  One of the most obvious is that it will allow coaches to get richer data about each individual in their squad and, as a result, adjust each players' training so that they are in peak form

AND FINALLY…
“An amateur practises until he can do a thing right, a professional until he can’t do it wrong.” - Various

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Best Football Coaching Links of the Week: Marginal Gains, Marcelo Bielsa & More

One of the most significant lessons for any coach is that there is no end point in their journey; that they need to keep learning and evolving as they go on.  So it was particularly pleasing to recently have the opportunity to talk to Ben Trinder.  I had interviewed Ben three years back but since then he has continued to examine his coaching beliefs and modifying them so that they better reflect his increasing knowledge.

This is not strictly about coaching but I found it to be an interesting read on the growth of women’s football and how clubs are waking up to this fact.

I have to admit that I am a big believer in the idea of marginal gains, the concept made popular by British Cycling that focuses on the practise of looking at different ways to bring about improvement regardless of how small that improvement is.  Bring together enough of these small gains and you will develop a big enough lead on your competition.  It is such a simple concept and yet so obviously true that I’m constantly blown away by its genius.  Yet it is always healthy to listen to arguments that criticise even your most preciously held beliefs and this article does just that.  I won’t say that I think much differently now but there are a number of valid points nevertheless.

If you haven’t read James Kerr’s brilliant book Legacy analysing the culture of All Blacks’ rugby, you should as it is brilliant.  In the meantime, however, this image gives you the highlights.

AND FINALLY…
"I dream of a team where an outsider comes to watch us and can't understand the roles of the players." - Marcelo Bielsa

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Best Coaching Links of the Week: 3 at the Back, Free Coaching Book & More

There are countless stories of people who have loads of talent but when it comes to showing their ability in a real life situation, fail.  The pressure gets too much for them and they are unable to show what they can do.  It is why a guide like this explaining how not to get too caught up thinking about your situation is so important.

It was interesting to see Gareth Southgate experiment with three defenders at the back during England’s game against Germany.  It is a formation that goes in and out of style although there are some, like in this case, who are willing to argue that it can be the formation of the future.

The FA tend to have some very good coaching articles on their website and this on how to organise a 1 v 1 session is among them

Italian football coach Luca Bertolini has prepared a PDF guide with 50 coaching sessions that deal with technical exercises, Individual and team tactics exercises and Small Sided Games.  This guide can download for free and can be found here.

AND FINALLY
“I don't believe much in luck. I believe more in work, in convincing, in stubbornness and in capacity.” - Diego Simeone

Monday, March 27, 2017

A Passion For Technical Coaching

Blueprint According To...Ben Trinder

Three years ago I spoke to Ben Trinder about his blueprint for the game.  At the time he was still relatively early in his coaching journey but had delivered an important tool to coaches worldwide with the establishment of the Coaching Family twitter feed.  That is still going strong (there are now more than 50,000 followers) and, happily, so too is Ben himself although time and experience have helped shape his views even further.

Blueprint for Football: A little bit more than three years ago we spoke about your Blueprint. What has changed since?
Ben Trinder: I like to think I’ve evolved and progressed with my coaching. I passed my UEFA B Licence in 2014 on a reassessment. The course was brilliant but if I’m being totally honest I wasn’t ready for the assessment days when they arrived, I hadn’t been able to practice enough with the players I was coaching. Ben Bartlett and Ted Dale did my reassessment and their support gave me great confidence to put over my ideas in my session. 

I listen to more coaching themed podcasts and audiobooks in my car. I’m not a fan of sitting and reading a book and don’t get much free time to do so, so audiobooks are a blessing. I’ve also recently started my own business, LTG Technical Football Coaching. I’m focusing on delivering 1 on 1 and small group technical coaching to kids aged 5-11 years old in my area, it’s an area we don’t pay anywhere near enough attention as a nation. Away from football, I got married in summer 2014. 

The following year my wife gave birth to our little boy, who is now 18 months old. Being a dad is the most amazing feeling and I try to make the most of every minute I get to spend with him.


BfF: How has your philosophy for the game developed since then?
BT: I am more focused on individual development rather than the team. I plan my sessions to challenge the different personalities and abilities I’m working with, whether that’s a hyperactive 6 year old who loves to run and dribble the ball or his lazy friend who needs a lot of personality and encouragement from me to get him engaged. 

I’ve developed a passion for technical coaching and believe this has to be the foundation for any young player wanting to play professional football in the future. That belief is based on my experiences coaching and watching youth football for the last 10 years. In England, too often we throw kids into kits, arrange them on a pitch and expect them to know how to play the game, poor kids. It’s setting them up to fail. Kids that young need a balance of free play (no instructions) and technical unopposed coaching. If a child cannot pass the ball against a wall from 5-10 yards how will they pass or share the ball in an opposed game situation? 

I’ve spent time researching the benefits of technical coaching, speaking to coaches from different nations and reading up on different ideas from the likes of Ricardo Moniz (ex-Spurs), Rene Meulensteen and Pepijn Lijnders among others. It’s a culture topic for me but I do feel like more coaches are coming round to the idea. I’ve also taken a keen interest in street and playground football. 

I’ve even done a few of my 1 on 1 sessions on those concrete basketball/football courts you see everywhere these days. Players need a mix of environments and as many different experiences of football as they can get.

BfF: At the time, you mentioned Michael Beale as one of your mentors.  At the time few people knew about him yet he has just joined Sao Paolo as assistant coach.  How closely have you followed his career since then?
BT: You can only admire what Mick is doing in the game, he’s an inspiration to hundreds of coaches, including myself. We first met in 2011 when he invited me in to Cobham to watch some sessions at Chelsea’s Academy. I put a tweet out about going to observe coaches and luckily he responded. Mick got me involved in the pre academy development centres there just before he left for Liverpool’s academy in 2012. 

I’ve kept in touch with him since then and went up to Liverpool in 2013 to catch up with him and watch him coach. He’s one of the good guys in football, Mick is really genuine, honest and very supportive of my coaching and ideas, when we speak or swap messages it feels like he always has time for you. It’s great to see him doing so well out in Sao Paulo after such a successful spell at Liverpool. I’d recommend his “Just Kickin It” podcast as well as his “Inspire Coach Education” presentation to all coaches. Mick’s experience and knowledge is phenomenal – he’s probably forgot more than I know.


BfF: How hopeful does it make you feel to see someone develop like that?
BT: It’s massively positive and inspiring for all of us but I don’t think people fully appreciate the commitment, risks and hours on hours of hard work it has taken Mick and his family. He’s created his own pathway from putting out the cones at Chelsea all the way through to coaching the first team at Sao Paulo. For me it sends a positive message to youth coaches, hard work combined with networking and taking your chances can lead to fantastic opportunities. 

We’ve seen the likes of Brendan Rodgers and Paul Clement, who both coached in the academy at Chelsea, step up to do first team duties. It’s great to see Mick following a similar pathway and I hope it inspires other coaches to take the step up. We’d all like to see more British coaches working in the Premier League.

BfF: Are there more people who have played an influential role since then?
BT: In the last few years I’ve started to build my own opinions and views based around my research into technical coaching. I speak to Louis Lancaster now and again, he always inspires me to think away from the conventional routes. His ideas, his innovation and his enthusiasm for youth development really rubs off on you when you speak to him. 

Another big influence in terms of setting up my business is Saul Isaksson-Hurst from my personal football coach. He’s an experienced, inspirational and very knowledgeable coach, he has been very supportive of what I am trying to do. 

To be honest, I take little snippets from everyone I speak to either face to face, on the phone, via email or on twitter. I enjoy meeting new people and I’m big believer in talking, engaging and networking with as many different coaches at different levels of the game as possible.

BfF: You have become a big advocate for 1 on 1 coaching.  What do you think is the special benefit of this approach?
BT: The benefits cannot be ignored for me, both with beginners and advanced players. Technical sessions allow young players to develop their technical confidence on the ball away from chaotic opposed practices where they might only touch the ball a few times in a 10 minute practice. The 1 on 1 coaching helps players learn at their own pace and also allows for 100% attention from the coach. Intensity of a session is a big thing for me, once a player has got the basics embedded it’s so important to try and stress him and test his technique. 

I focus my 1 on 1 sessions around building the player and the person on and off the pitch. Building the player is something they can see and identify with on the pitch. Building the person is an area I try to hide within my sessions, this takes time and creating good people has to happen in the right environment with a good role model or coach leading the way. As I have said previously, for me, too often coaches ask kids to play in opposed game situations where they often struggle to thrive. You see it all the time, a player receives the ball and can’t control it so it runs away from them. Or a player dribbles and overruns the ball, or worse a player goes missing in a game because they lack confidence and are over run by more advanced players. 

Young players, 5-11 especially, need to be working on ball mastery, dribbling, passing, turning and striking the ball from a young age. I see some 1 on 1 coaches running kids through speed ladders and jumping into hoops which has it’s uses but I prefer to do everything with the ball. People in the game don’t always appreciate that ball mastery also works to build ABC’s as well as the various other technical benefits.


BfF: It is an approach that encourages individual development of technical skills.  Do you think attitudes towards such skills is changing in England?
BT: I’ve definitely seen a positive change towards unopposed coaching and ball mastery lately, more coaches are embracing and recognising the benefits of technical unopposed coaching. I’d never say it’s THE way to do things, it’s another form of coaching to run alongside opposed practices, game based practices, strength and conditioning, movement coaching and so on. 

I’ve looked into and researched coaching methods in Spain, Holland and Portugal, they do a lot more unopposed technical work with their young players. Particularly in Holland, they aren’t afraid to spend a 20-30 minute block of their sessions on ball mastery/unopposed work. They’ll do it in their sessions, after their sessions, individually away from a group or even a coach. I honestly believe if you have got 11 technically gifted players at 16 and older then tactics, game plans and so on become a whole lot easier to coach. 

It’s a shame the Football Association don’t cover the technical area of the game in detail on their coaching courses, if coaches were educated on the different topics like ball mastery, unopposed technical practice, 1v1, 2v1, 2v2, 3v3 etcetera then I’m convinced we would have a bigger talent pool coming through our academy system in this country.

BfF: You work a lot with young children.  What is your views around kids specialising in one sport against them being able to play a number of sports?
BT: I am a believer in helping young players gain as many different experiences as possible as they are developing their skills and techniques. Playing different sports and physical activities is a great way to challenge a young person both mentally and physically. In my experience, I think early specialisation is often parent led, which can be unfortunate and counter-productive for the child. 

That said, I know of several local players who have gone through the academy system having been solely focused on playing football. Playing multiple sports develops more creative players, better sports confidence and improves cognitive/decision making skills in my opinion. I wouldn’t advise a young players to specialise in football at 7 or 8 years old.

BfF: You were the founder of Coaching Family.  How has the environment around social media - Twitter in particular - changed since then?  Do you still find it useful?
BT: It’s changed slightly. These days, people are a bit more wary of what they post knowing that potential employers may be watching. Back in 2010, when we started The Coaching Family, we helped to encourage a sharing culture on Twitter where coaches and people in the game could share their sessions, blogs, articles and ideas. We try to encourage coaches to take what’s relevant to them and build on it. For example, a coach sees a great 1v1 practice and screenshots it on their phone. We say, instead of just using that session as it is – can you add something, even if it’s a simple progression. 

I see Twitter and The Coaching Family account as a place to help make people think and not just become robots who clone the same sessions they see online, that would be a waste of time. Twitter is still and always will be massively beneficial to coaches at all levels of the game. There is something for everyone on there. Coaches need to follow the right accounts on there to access what is most relevant to them.

BfF: What do you do to get new ideas? Where do you look?
BT: For me, my own coaching has become less about what I coach and more about how I deliver my sessions. I often use YouTube to aid my session planning for a technical coaching session. As an example, if I want to pin down the technical detail for teaching a young player to turn with the ball I’ll sit with my notepad making notes on videos of Scholes, Iniesta or Messi. 

Mainly I listen to coaching podcasts and audiobooks, I use youtube for TedTalks and research on different academies/coaches. Coaching websites like Player Development Project and Inspire The Game have been very useful in my coaching too. 

For me though, there’s nothing more useful than watching another coach work and speaking to different people in the game.



BfF: Do you follow what happens in other sports, coaching wise?
BT: I’m into my Rugby Union and follow the English and Welsh national teams. One of my earliest coaching inspirations was Sir Clive Woodward who won the Rugby World Cup with England in 2003. I have a DVD at home showing all his team meetings, interviews and behind the scenes footage from their 2003 six nations’ grand slam. The overriding message I took from researching his ideas was the level of detail he would go into to plan for every eventuality. His book called Winning is one I’d recommend to all coaches. I also enjoyed listening to, and reading up on, Sir Dave Brailsford from Team Sky and British Cycling. There are lots of transferable messages from coaches in different sports and we’d be foolish not to ask questions and learn from these inspirational people. It’s great to see England manager Gareth Southgate in the papers recently when he visited England Rugby headquarters to speak with Eddie Jones. There is lots to be learned from other sports for sure!

BfF: How important is it to look at what is happening overseas and in different footballing cultures?
BT: It’s very important. Recently, I’ve been looking at player development in countries like Chile, Uruguay and Argentina and how street footballers like Alexis Sanchez, Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez develop and learn their skills. It’s not always to do with the coaching these guys have received. We can learn lots from the culture and environments these boys grow up in. 

I have strong views on the crazy amounts of technology kids play with in the UK. Kids aren’t kids long nowadays; they soon have Facebook on their iPhone while they listen to music on an iPad while they play FIFA on their playstations. It’s a parenting problem for me as well as a “keeping up with the Jones’” attitude to Christmas and birthday presents. 

Technology is fantastic but not when it’s stopping kids playing world cup doubles, climbing trees, building dens and so on. Kids in this country are getting lazier and lazier but as coaches we have to inspire them to get out and play with friends again. 

BfF: Do you feel the urge to test yourself in a different environment?
BT: I always want to test myself and do things that challenge me. My wife and I have been speaking about moving to different countries for a while now. It’s a dream of ours to have a taste of American life at some point in the future. We spent 3 weeks in Florida on honeymoon a couple of years ago and loved everything about the area. I like meeting new people, learning new things and travelling to different places so I’ll never rule out a new challenge in a new country at some stage in my career. I’ve been learning Spanish for the past 6 months and would encourage every coach to learn a new language

BfF: What are three books that you think any coach should read?
BT: James Kerr - Legacy
Carlo Ancelotti – Quiet Leadership
Mathew Syed – Black box thinking

BfF: What do you want to achieve in the future to be happy with what you've achieved?
BT: I used to be focused on the next coaching course but these days my priorities have shifted. I am enjoying what I do. I love working with the under 6’s and 7’s at the development centre, I’m learning about myself and the age group with every single session. Long term, I want to grow LTG Technical Coaching enough so that I can go full time. That’s my dream, to concentrate almost all my energy on improving the technical ability of the very youngest players in the area, and then on to the rest of the country. 

Ultimately, I want to see the boys I work with go on to do well in the game at whatever level they can progress to. 

For more coaching tips from Ben, make sure you follow him on his Learning The Game twitter feed.

Want to hear what fellow coaches think about football, how they learn and build their philosophy? Check out our Blueprint According To... series of e-books here (and here for US readers).

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Best Coaching Links Of The Week: Neuroathletics, Fear of Shame & More


Neuroathletics is difficult to define but essentially it is the practise of training your brain and linking it with your athletic prowess.  It is also hard to prove just how valuable it is as a practise, regardless of the success stories that are relayed as being wholly the result of neuroathletics.  Still it is important to know about it and understand what it is because even if one does not wholly accept it there are undoubtedly certain elements that are worth further study.

“Fear of shame is a waste and a trap”

Recently within the coaching community there was something of an uproar after Fulham FC put out an advert asking children to come for trials to join their academy with the call being open even to children as young as five.  It sparked a big debate that focused on club’s ability to truly judge players that young.  If you’re uncertain what the fuss was all about or would like to read an article that digs deep into the issue, then this is it.

Another in the ‘learn from other sports’ category this time by reading up a bit about the legendary swimming coach Jack Bauerle.

PARTING WORDS
“The first task is to get to know the players really well-watching them as individuals in training and in match play-to see what is good in their natural game. Then, and only then, can we begin to outline the general tactics.” – Helenio Herrera [Legendary Inter FC manager, tactical innovator & father of catenaccio]


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Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Best of Coaching Links Last Week: Economics in Football, Half Spaces, Maurizio Sarri & More

Economics might seem to be an unlikely place to look for reasons why clubs invest money in their youth academy and then proceed to ignore practically player that comes through.  Yet a developing branch of economics - behavioural economics - that looks at why people make certain decisions has plenty of theories that provide explanations.  Being aware of them might help clubs be more rational in their decision making.

An article on why collaboration, rather than competition, should be the rule among coaches.

As everyday talk about football becomes increasingly more technical then the need to dig a little deeper to learn about some of the newer terminology also increases.  Half spaces is one such term and this is a good explanation of what that is all about.

Maurizio Sarri has emerged as one of the most interesting coaches in European football, capable of developing an attacking side that even managed to overcome the loss of a striker of the calibre of Gonzalo Higuain.  His systems and ideas are discussed in this video.

AND FINALLY…
"Football is the most important of the less important things in the world." - Carlo Ancelotti

Monday, March 13, 2017

Blueprint for Football's Different Ideas

One of the ideas behind Blueprint for Football is that of looking at different ideas that are – or should be - influencing the game of football.  We’ve done that over the years and here is an overview (shown by order of publishing with the most recent ones being on top) of the most influential of those ideas.

On Curiosity 
Essential Qualities of a Football Coach: Curiosity [May 2016]
There is the belief that great innovations come from lightbulb moments when inspiration hits and the fully formed idea is conceived.  That isn’t the case.  Instead great ideas are usually the result of years of thinking about something and linking it to knowledge learned from elsewhere.  It is for this reason that curiosity is important as it is through it that one accumulates the knowledge needed to thread together different concepts.
Memorable Quote: “What people should be trying to foster is…epistemic curiosity, which is a more structured and deeper form of curiosity that can ignite the desire to learn and attempt to do things that one would not normally consider.” 

On Habits
How Habits Shape Football (And Why They Matter To You) [October 2013]
The most tactically disciplined teams are also those who seem to know instinctively when they should be doing a particular action.  Think of Arsenal’s back four under George Graham moving in unison to set-off the offside trap or Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona pressing defenders as soon as possession was lost.  The thing is that this is hardly instinctive but rather a movement that is dictated by habits, an idea that every coach has to be aware of.
Memorable Quote:  “Barcelona’s game, then, isn’t a spontaneous expression of genius but rather the perfect execution of a series of deeply ingrained habits.”

On Perception
Perception is in the Eye of the Beholder [September 2013]
Can you teach a player how to be more aware of what is happening around him?  Can you determine how aware a player is of what is happening around him by watching him play?  The answer to both questions is yes and Geir Jordet, who has studied in depth the idea of perception provided a breakdown on how this is possible.  For coaches looking for some different ideas to investigate, this has to be on their read list.
Memorable Quote: “Players tend to look too much at the ball; you don't really need all the information you get from the ball.”

On Psychology 
Helping the Brain to Win Games [May 2013]
The history of the game of football is littered with players who had the talent but not the mental capacity to succeed.  It is a shameful waste considering how much resources there are out there for them to help themselves.  As for coaches, they too have to have a good handle of the basics of sports psychology and Dan Abrahams delivered a primer on that in this interview.
Memorable Quote: “(Sports psychology) is the bottom of the wish list for clubs and also probably at the bottom of the wish list for player. Yet we talk how important the psychological side is in football so there is a bit of a disconnection.”

On Specialisation
Bursting the Specialisation Myth [September 2012]
The idea that the 10,000 hour practise rule is, at best, an indicator rather than a rule that guarantees expertise is now quite accepted but at the time of this interview with the University of Birmingham Senior Lecturer Dr Martin Toms his arguments flew in the face of the pop-psychology beliefs set about by Malcolm Gladwell’s books.  A wide ranging interview that delves into the damage that early specialisation does to players and how it would be best to let children try out a number of sports.
Memorable Quote: “Specialising in one sport at a young age is actually detrimental to success.”

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Best of Coaching Links This Week: Tempo, Throw-Ins & More


Philosophy has become something of a buzzword in football over recent years and no manger worth his salt can afford not to have one.  That, however, is the easy part: it gets tricky when you have to instill your philosophy in your players when you only have a very limited number of days during which you can train your players.

Any team that can dictate the pace of the game has a huge advantage over their opponent because they can then determine what gets to be done on the pitch.  But what is tempo and how does it work?  Here's an in-depth analysis.

Every aspect of the game gets analysed these days as teams go out in search of that element which can give them an advantage over the rest.  So it should be.  This focus on all aspects now includes the throw in.

There's always a lot to learn away from football and this interview with Mike Krzyzewski who among other things coached the US to three gold medals in basketball is filled with delightful insight.

AND FINALLY…
“Cups are not won by individuals, but by men in a team who put their club before personal prestige." - Jock Stein.

Monday, March 6, 2017

How Economics Explains Why Clubs Don’t Give Young Players A Chance

Each year, clubs at the highest levels of the game spend millions on their academy or youth system.  Each year, promising players train in these academies.  And, each year, they fail to get an opportunity to show what they are capable of.

It is an anomalous and fairly ridiculous situation that in many respects could only happen in football.  No other business would invest that much money and then fail to use what came through.  At least no business acting rationally would act that way.

The thing is that football clubs (as does any normal business, for the matter) act irrationally.  There is rarely any grand strategy in place and this is evidenced by how quickly confidence in a manager can deteriorate after a run of bad results, regardless of what that manager had achieved in the past.

For the past forty years, economists have been looking at ways to explain such irrationality.  The foundation of behavioural economics, this new branch in the science, was laid by two Israeli professors - Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman – who set economics down the path of looking at what influences people’s behaviour to determine how they act and why they do so in such a manner (for more information on these two and their work, read Michael Lewis’ fantastic book The Undoing Project). 

In doing so they looked at a number of psychological factors that influence people’s decision and prevent them from acting in a rational or consistent manner.



It is such factors that have to be looked at in order to understand what stops clubs from trying to maximise the investment that they make in academies.  And there’s plenty worth looking into.

One in particular stands out.

Any project like a football academy has to be based on a long term vision.  That much is obvious.  Yet it contrasts with most managers’ focus on the present.  It is a vicious circle that clubs effectively bring on themselves by failing to stick to long term projects.

It is a behaviour that behavioural economists will be familiar with, having observed and documented it in what has become known as the present bias.   This is the tendency to over-value immediate rewards at the expense of long-term ambitions, regardless of the impact that it might have later on in life.

A classic example of this is when a person fails to save up any money, opting instead to spend it in order to fully live ‘the moment’.  Eventually a time will come when it is too late to start saving up and that individual has nothing on which to turn.

That is what clubs are doing with their academies.  The absence of a long term project forces everyone on the playing side to focus on the immediate outcome.  Managers, knowing that their job could be at risk with a series of bad results, will opt for his more experienced players on whom he can rely more heavily.

Young players are more likely to make mistakes.  Regardless of their talent they may not by physically ready or might be too slow to react; making critical mistakes in the process.  Those are the mistakes that in truth they need to make in order to develop and learn yet managers rarely have the luxury of allowing them that room to grow.  Managers need players who can deliver immediate results.

They are biased in favour of those players who can help them in the present.

This is costing clubs heavily.  It is a short term view for a number of reasons starting from the obvious that the performances of older players tend to decrease rapidly once they hit a particular age.  The outcome here is that the club would then have to look for another player to replace him, thus spending more money to do so.  

What’s worse is that such spend is the equivalent of throwing money away.  For while that older player might ensure immediate reliability, the value of such experienced players rarely appreciates.  Within a couple of years that player will have to be moved on and often only a fraction – if any – of the initial outlay is recovered.



This contrasts with the value of a young player that tends to appreciate notably as they gain experience, confidence and start to express their ability on a more consistent basis.  Financially, the development of a young player is easily more beneficial than going for established ones.

Still clubs opt not to do so.  Again this is hardly surprising for behavioural economists who have an explanation as to why this happens: they are falling prey to hyperbolic discounting.  Without going into the technicalities of what this term means, essentially it refers to the decision making process whereby the farther away a potential return is, the more it is discounted and less it is valued.

It is only when clubs get to a situation where they have nothing to lose by trying something different that they really start to shed such bias.  A typical case was that of Borussia Dortmund who, after going to the edge of bankruptcy in their bid to regain their status in German football, opted to put their faith in young players (and a young coach).  Their rewards were immediate and significant: two league titles and a Champions League final.

Judging by the players that they have bought over recent months, Borussia Dortmund have made sure not to fall in their old routine – or fall back on their bias – by signing promising young players.  It is a brave move but, if the rules of behavioural economics are anything to go by, it could also be the right one.

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Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Best of Coaching Links This Week: Crosses, Learning from Experience, Impressive Huddersfield & more


One of the most interesting ways to learn, I find, is to talk to people.  It might seem to be an imposition but you'd be surprised to find how often people are more than willing to dedicate their time if they see that you are genuinely interested.  And, more often than not, you'll find that what they tell you stick effortlessly in your memory.  It is why I enjoy doing interviews for Blueprint for Football so much.  The most recent of those interview, with experienced Spanish coach Ismael Díaz Galán who has guided a number of clubs in Spain (including Malaga who he led to promotion) as well as elsewhere around the world, was no exception as he spoke frankly about what it takes to be a manager.  Read, enjoy and learn.

I have to admit that the first time that I saw Huddersfield play was when they met Manchester City in the FA Cup but was suitably impressed by how the team functioned as a unit despite the absence of any remarkable talents.  It is an impression that happens to be backed up by statistics.

As football changes so too does what is held to be important.  Wingers, especially those who did their best work as close to the touchline as possible, used to be a vital element in each team but today are considered out-dated.  The same, to an extent, believed about crosses in the box who are considered outdated in an era where ball possession is king.  Yet that isn't the case.

One of the most pleasing (yet surprisingly under-reported) stories of this season has been Atalanta's rise.  Last week they achieved an extremely impressive win in Naples.  Here's how they did it, tactically.

AND FINALLY…
“It is an art in itself to compose a starting team, finding the balance between creative players and those with destructive powers, and between defence, construction and attack – never forgetting the quality of the opposition and the specific pressures of each match.” - Rinus Michels

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Best of Coaching Links This Week: Leaving Your Comfort Zone, Tattoos to Monitor Performance & More


There are a lot of people – in football as in life – who opt to allow others dictate what they’re doing.  They might not realise it but without consciously intending to they let their own original thoughts be over-ruled by what is expected of them.  Inspired by Mark Manson’s book and using Arrigo Sacchi as a model, this piece looks at how coaches allow others to interfere and why they shouldn’t do so.

Michael Beale, one of the most respected young coaches in England has taken the unusual step of moving to Brazil where he will be an assistant coach at Sao Paolo.  It is in many ways a brave yet easy decision to make because, regardless of how it goes, the experience that he accrues will allow him to grow.  In this interview he talks about that decision and provides his views on youth development.

Although as a club Fulham has faced a lot of difficulties lately, it’s big saving grace has been an academy that has produced an incredible amount of talent.   It is one of the big success stories lower down the English league structure (Nottingham Forest and MK Dons being another two) that are well worth examining.

I found this piece on the advancements being made by electronics in the form of wearable tattoos extremely interesting, especially if you think about the options that it opens up for football.

AND FINALLY…
“One night, I went to a bar; I was with a woman. We talked all night. We laughed, we flirted, I paid for several drinks of hers. At around 5 am, a guy came in, grabbed her by the arm and took her to the bathroom. He made love to her and she left with him. That doesn’t matter, because I had most of the possession on that night.” - Jorge Sampaoli