There is no doubt there are many reasons why there are not enough English players progressing to the top level of the professional game. With the money involved in youth football and the quality of coaching and facilities players have available to them, the numbers should be far higher.
Despite there being many reasons, below I’m going to give my opinion on one thing I think is detrimental to player development. Something that may initially seem small but actually in long term can have a huge affect, and something that can so easily be abolished.
And that is the influence from parents and spectators on the sideline.
Having coached within grass roots football for a few years and having watched a lot of academy football over recent years, what I hear from the sidelines amazes me. Many spectators re-live there playing days through their kids, but do they really know the effect they are having?
The fact is players will only take in a certain amount of information, due to psychological factors that are way beyond my knowledge. And the more information they receive, like a parent shouting, the slower their decision making becomes. Ultimately they will often listen to the voice they recognise so well and will not take in information that’s around them and useful to them on the pitch.
Take this scenario: A striker is one on one with a defender. The striker hears a shout from the sideline, ‘shoot’. The player opts to shoot but because he has taken in the information he has heard, he has not taken in the fact that he has a team-mate next to him, free in space and in a better position.
Things like this occur all the time in youth football. The short term problem is poor decision making, often caused from the influence of parents who don’t know what they are talking about. Even if the spectator does have good understanding of the game, it is difficult to instruct when seeing the situation from a different perspective. The long term problem is worse; a player will become reliant on being ‘instructed’ from the sideline. They expect to be given instructions and will not effectively learn the skill of understanding their position on the pitch. Before receiving the ball they will not have ‘checked’ the environment around but instead will expect a call from elsewhere. It is a rare skill for an average level English teenager to be able to know the space available to them on a pitch, before receiving the ball.
My opinion, no doubt shared by many others is that a coaches involvement during play should be minimal – and a spectators involvement should be just as the title suggests, spectating. And lower level coaches are guilty of this too, providing too much information for players in a game situation. The reason Academy football is often played in quarters instead of halves is so coaches have more time to ‘coach’ when the game is not on going. An approach which is still yet to be adopted by grassroots football, but that should have been many years ago.
Watching academy football is a noticeably different atmosphere. Although there are anomalies, the majority of spectators know the length of their role, and thankfully the players voices are often the only ones heard. However this is not the case at grassroots and I believe a bit of knowledge to these spectators would be hugely beneficial to player development.
The best way to coach youth players is let their imagination run free. Let them play and enjoy football with as many touches as possible, let them express themselves with new tricks from the garden and let them play without interference. It works on the continent, where players will often play without instructions, like the culture of ‘street football’ that has nurtured the talent of so many current world stars.
So why should English players be taught any different, just because we have better facilities? Use what we have to our advantage and not to create a coaching style that is far too rigid for effective player development.
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