Whose game is it anyway?

How a Strong Club Ethos can Help Nurture Creativity

Street football

Many have argued over recent years how the decline of street football has hampered the development of creative players. This is because street football gives players the freedom to make their own decisions, improvise and learn through trail and error without interference from an outside body. Some of the most creative players in world football today grew up playing street football. Messi, Aguero and Suarez to name but a few…

How then does grassroots football fair in the development of creative players?

Unfortunately the pervading culture is this country is still one in which parents and coaches shout out a stream of instructions while young players are trying to concentrate on the game, resulting in coaches and parents putting themselves at the center of the game, rather than the kids who are playing. Here is a link to a great little video that makes a light-hearted attempt at broaching the subject: https://youtu.be/Isoku3TPOBM

Parents and coaches, do you just see this behavior, or do you also partake in this behavior? It takes a lot of honest self-appraisal to admit to this, but admittance is the first step into a larger world. Parents might not know better, but coaches should, so let’s talk about what coaches can do first, and then what parents can do.

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Coaches

Due to the unpredictable nature of football, the players are responsible for making the correct decisions during the game. Football is a ‘players game’ as the coach cannot be a puppet master and give play-by-play directions to the players.

However, there are many coaches who try to “remote control” the actions of their players from the sideline, especially when mistakes are about to be made.
By giving players the solutions for the problems they face in the game, the coach makes it his problem. As a result, every time there is a breakdown in the game players will look to him to come up with a solution from the sideline. This makes players passive and dependent on the coach. The problems on the field need to be the problems of the team, and players have to learn to find solutions on their own.

What is the best style of coaching to help individual players come up with the correct solution by themselves?

Training sessions are about teaching your players how to make better decisions and improve their decision-making through repetition over time, but during the game, don’t shout instructions while the ball is rolling. This will empower your players to think for themselves and give you the chance as the coach to assess their learning. Occasionally it’s ok to call out with some questions or instructions while there is a break in play, but try to offer precise, short guiding messages, which your players can relate to during the game. Have the courage to let your players make mistakes, as this is how they will learn. Remember the game belongs to the kids; you are there to help them improve, not to become the main attraction of the show.

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Parents

Parents, you have a very important job on game-day, but it doesn’t involve coaching.
Watching and cheering on your son or daughter play can and should be extremely gratifying, but the key words there are “watching and cheering.” Think of game-day like a test. How often do you travel to your child’s school and scream the answers through the window when they’re taking a test? Sounds foolish when you put it that way doesn’t it? Soccer is a game that is played as much in the head as it is in the feet. We have to understand that language is the most important tool we have at our disposal, and therefore the language we use must be very careful. Stick to what is always good: encouraging remarks that motivate your child to work hard and improve while enjoying the process.

Parents, we want players who can think about the game. We want players who grow up respecting the game and the practitioners in it. Let the players think on game day, let them take responsibility for their decisions, let them make the occasional mistake and learn from it. Don’t coach, don’t tell your child what to do, watch and enjoy. Remember it’s their game they are playing not yours!

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Code of Conduct

At professional academies ‘no coaching from parents’ is standard practice these days, as parents are asked to sign a contract that says they will not shout out during training or matches. Grassroots football needs to follow this example in order to bring about a change in culture, which will benefit today’s young players and future generations.

Club Ethos

Making parents sign a code of conduct is only a start in building a positive club ethos. Coaches and officials need to take responsibility in upholding their clubs values. This will mean having to deal with parents and coaches who fail to adhere to the clubs standards. It isn’t always a pleasant task having to confront a parent or coach about their behaviour. However, if done in the right way with clear and concise reasoning as to why you need them to behave in a certain manner, then the majority of parents and coaches will see sense. If they don’t then grassroots clubs need to show the strength of character to move these people on to emphasise that they are ‘giving the game back to the kids.’

Acknowledgements:

Paul Cammarata (The Coaching Journey)
Mike Nicholson (Coaching Youth Football)
Raymond Verheijen (The World Football Academy)

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