There is only one pencil in the class….

It feels really churlish criticising the small army of volunteer coaches that turn out every weekend to introduce our kids to sport. But I’m going to…
Every weekend I run past a local park early on Saturday morning. Between September and May, my run takes me close to the pitches where the local junior football club train. Every week, about 50 kids between 5years old and about 11 are out playing. I recognise the coaches, they are the local Dads: Giving up a valuable part of their weekend for the benefit of the local kids. This particular weekend I stopped to watch for a few minutes. On every pitch, the set up was basically the same. A rectangle of cones, with a goal at either end. After about 10 minutes of warming up with individual skills – basically relay races. The kids went straight into a game, 5vs 5, 6 vs 6 etc. I watched for a while. There were several kids who didn’t touch the ball once. The majority of the games were the typical 10 kids within 2 metres of the ball swarm. The coaches weren’t coaching, on each pitch, one was refereeing and if there was a second, they were shouting encouragement. What a waste! You cannot fault the enthusiasm of either the coaches or the kids. They were running around, enjoying the game but in terms of actually learning anything or developing any skill it was like the old one pencil in the school. Imagine dropping your child off at school for day one of P1, to be told that there is only one pencil in the class and that the children will have to take it turns to use it. I suspect that parents would be really upset by this! But this is exactly what happens when the coaches dedicate the whole of a session to playing games. There is one ball. And no-one really develops any skill at all. Football clubs are not short of balls, or cones or any of the paraphernalia of coaching. What they really lack is skilled coaches who know that every young player needs a ball at their feet for as much of the session as possible. The ABC’s of football are the first touch, the short pass, movement into space and communication, games are probably the worst way to teach these. I k now the reposte that this blog will meet – the kids ‘like’ playing game. No doubt, but why play a game for 75% of the available time. They run around week after week making the same mistakes and never developing the skills that will make their playing more fun. You can play 2 v 1 games and 2 v 2 games, these will make the youngsters fitter and more skilful. Minimal skill is required to run around behind a group holding a whistle. To be a good coach you need to plan, and to review. We are asking a lot but I think we should.

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