Pre World Cup thoughts linked to Youth Development

The World Cup along with the Olympics were the two sporting events that I couldn’t take my eyes off when I was a kid. My first World Cup memory is 1986 and although as an Englishman I should detest Maradona as years went by I couldn’t help watching my VHS 1986 film and admiring the way he lead Argentina to glory. Then there was 1990 and Gazza! As years progressed I admired Brazilian football and particularly the fun, freedom and no little skill that came with it.

What will this World Cup bring and how can coaches and parents of children at all levels relate to youth development???

I would firstly like to point out that children are not mini adults and as such we can’t expect them to perform as adults. However the end goals for any coach and parent must be –

1. fuel the fire to enable your child to fall in love with the game

2. allow your child to be the best they can possibly be (and this is where many coaches and parents fail)

During this tournament there will be endless examples that we can link back to youth development. I’m going to concentrate on four and as a parent/coach just consider how these link to your child’s journey. Are you/their coaches understanding these points and more importantly developing the player.

Bravery on the ball – to play at an elite level players have to be very brave on the ball. For years and years the English mentality was risk free safety first football, “get rid of it” “down the line” “not across your own box” common touchline instructions that are very real today. I’d encourage you to watch and consider how these international footballers deal with the ball under intense pressure. The majority of the time they will try and find a way out of the pressure with a dribble or a pass that might appear risky. There is a great clip of Brazil playing out under pressure here https://twitter.com/contactcounts/status/1006481712887615489?s=21 your young players will make loads of mistakes and they will lose games and goals are a result of trying to stay on the ball or keep the ball with team mates when under pressure. Encourage the players stick with them tell them to keep trying things and be brave and that way one day maybe just maybe they might be able to play like those in the link above. If you don’t and you put pressure on not to make mistakes and don’t encourage freedom it’s impossible to play like those in the clip!

How players receive the ball – this is really interesting just watch how lots of players from a wide variety of nations receive the ball. They use all parts of their foot outside, inside and most interestingly the sole. I have come across many different coaching programs GR, independent companies and pro clubs and the amount that encourage/teach the sole to receive is minimal. Many of the Spanish and Brazilian players for example have played lots of proper Futsal (hard court, 5v5, proper ball ect) and many credit that for use of the sole. Why use the sole? When receiving with the sole the players next move can take them anywhere 360 degrees what’s not to like about that? Think about it back foot receiving (the right decision in some circumstances) can only take the player in a limited direction but for some reason when we teach kids to receive our go to is back foot. The same can be said with outside of foot, it can be the right decision but again can only take the player in limited direction. The sole should be taught as the main way to receive when kids start playing. Watch Neymar and his team mates that will help develop an understanding.

Attackers are defenders & defenders are attackers – at elite level gone are the days where the defenders just defend and the striker just stands up top and waits for service. Defenders must be able to play, be comfortable in possession be able to dribble out and linking to the first point be brave on the ball, even England (well Southgate in fact) are now realising this. Attackers must defend from the front, lots of teams value winning the ball back high in the opposing half but this tactic won’t work unless the forward players can defend. Gabriel Jesus is perhaps the best example of this his willingness and desire to defend and dominate 1v1 both in attack and defence is ultimately why he’s Man City’s main no 9 in big games ahead of the free scoring Aguero. How does this link to youth development? Very simple are the kids doing lots of 1v1 attacking and defending in training and playing lots of games that develop attacking and defending. When it comes to game time are kids been pigeon holed into a position eg only play one maybe two roles? If the answer is yes then the child will not become the very best they can be they won’t have had enough time in a variety of roles. We’ve all seen the adverts coaches asking for experienced 8 year old defenders or strikers, my advice never go near clubs and coaches like that. Unfortunately even at academy level kids as young are 7,8,9 are playing in the same role week after week.

The 11v11 game often breaks down into 1v1 – 4v4 scenarios – adults are desperate for kids to play real football and larger sided games as early as possible; I’ve seen pro clubs playing 7v7 at U6 and U7 which is just crazy. The ‘real’ game often breaks down into a 3v3 or a 2v2 obviously this is for short periods and it quickly moves onto another scenario such as a 2v3 or 3v4. As such it’s vital kids play loads of different small sided games that provide loads and loads of these types of outcomes underloads, overloads, 1v1, 4v4 to create overloads. Belgium are punching well above their weight with such a small population but their program focuses on small sided games 2v2 U5-7 allowing loads of touches and also helping to develop bravery on the ball.

In conclusion the adult game is the end goal (be best you can be). To reach as high as they can in the adult game kids need freedom, no pressure and to be allowed to play with constant instructions. They need to practice and be put into lots of different scenarios be it positionally or during small sided training games.

How will England perform? I like Southgate clearly very keen the team plays bravely and without fear. Quality wise we lack a true game changer; when we won the U17 World Cup we were 2-0 down but Phil Foden at that level was a true game changer imagination creativity and end product but the first team don’t have that yet and in later rounds that will be needed to breakdown top defences. We also look very vulnerable defensively against teams that will dominate the ball against us but overall we should make knockouts and then you never know.

Thanks for reading hope you enjoyed.

Twitter @contactcounts

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