World Cup tournaments and European Finals, recently, have not been seen as a great measure of how much progression a country has made in the world of football. Prime example, England’s failure at the World Cup last year and Manchester United’s battering at the hands of Barcelona. Ok this probably excludes Brazil and Germany because they always turn on something special for these kind of events. As far as European Finals are concerned, Greece hardly won the 2004 competition playing attractive and attacking football, it was more like human chess.
A Masterclass Lesson
So what can we measure our progressiveness against? On Saturday 28th May, I settled down with my kids and wife to watch the European Champions League Final between Barcelona and Manchester United. The stage was set, it was in England, Wembley stadium and between two teams who had won their respective leagues, and probably the best two leagues in the world at the moment. I knew what the final outcome would be, a victory for Barcelona, but what I didn’t apprehend was the manner in which they won it. Sitting watching the match, I recalled a line from the film Contact, when Jodie Foster is Witnessing a celestial light show up close:
Some celestial event. No – no words. No words to describe it. Poetry! They should’ve sent a poet. So beautiful. So beautiful… I had no idea.
After the match, I turned to my eldest son and commented on how lucky we were to be in an era where a team like Barcelona play football to a level which no other team in the world will ever be able to match.
Rip up those manuals
Being a mini-soccer coach for my under 8’s team, there’s one thing I realised and that was that the very nature of English football deters players from expressing themselves on the football field. About 6 months ago, my son was asked to trial with a team who currently play in the English Championship. For the first 40 mins of the session, he, along with other kids, was asked to perform some regular drills. At each interval, my son would come up to me and ask when he could just play football. He was right, all he wanted to do was play the game, most of the kids there had natural ability, so why restrict them to robotic drills? I have utilised over 100 drills over the course of last season, however there’s one thing I always do with my kids, setup an adventure course and let them show me the quickest and most effective way to get around it. They enjoy it and love performing some skills and step-overs along the way.
Maximise Natural Talent
I’ve often heard the phrase build a team around that player. Yet we fail to maximise on the natural talent we may have within our teams, often trying to change their game to adapt the rules of our English leagues. It is not often that a collection of quite outstanding and naturally talented players emerge within the sporting arena within a 60 year span, for example, Pele, Cruyff, Maradona and Messi . Most of these talented players came from poor backgrounds but were lucky to be nurtured and allowed to flourish with the freedom they deserved.
Grass Roots Football
There are plenty of qualified coaches out there who know a lot about the game. However, the one thing I have learnt is to let the kids play freely, to build a team where friendship is first, where as characters they learn to appreciate each other, their strengths and weaknesses. To understand that competition and being NO.1 is not the most important factor, but that performing to your best ability is what counts, to help you develop as a player and person. Over my last two seasons as a football coach, I have seen parents shouting from the sidelines, coaches telling kids not to play outside of the “box” and kids coming off at the end of a game with distraught looking faces.
The Winning Formula
If you stop them from enjoying something, then no matter how much potential they have, they will never realise it. We are often telling our eldest not to play football at home, he does, when he has free moments. Then I think, that’s where he learnt to play and develop, in the lounge.