The following account is fictionalised version of real events, any names (people, teams etc) and locations are made up but the events are all real and have happened to myself, coaches I know or things I have witnessed.
Sunday, 11:45am The final whistle goes and we’ve been beaten again. It’s a common occurrence this season and unfortunately it looks like we’re going to get relegated. We had a very good year last year but unfortunately we lost a few players. We’re playing at U15 level this year and that’s around the age that kids start to turn away from sports. We lost two players who just gave up football. Two went to a local academy and one went to another team to play with his friends. The players who came in to replace them, despite our best efforts just weren’t as good and so we’re having a “bad” season.
I put the word bad in quotes because it depends wholly upon your perspective. What do you think grassroots football is for ?
On the one hand, there’s the traditional view of a good season; you get promoted, win a cup or make the playoffs if that’s how your league is set up. Perhaps you got promoted last year and so a good season this time round means you stay in the same division. Or maybe you’re a club that exists to give as many kids as possible the opportunity to play football? In which case your measure of success is more likely to be measured in how much better individual players are over the season or how much they enjoy themselves.
I shake hands with the opposition coaches, give a quick pep talk to the players, try and emphasize the things that went well in the game. We played some good football in places, but we didn’t do enough to get the ball from the opposition and gave them too much time without putting them under pressure. I tell the players this, tell them we’ll work on it in training and wait for the spectators to wander over.
I take a minute to listen to the other coach’s team talk. He’s pointing and jabbing his finger at the assembled group of players, he’s going full Warnock on them, not that they’d know because they’re all staring at their feet, I doubt they’re listening. Meanwhile my players are already talking amongst themselves about what they’re going to do better next week and how they’re going to win. I wonder what he’s like when they lose? I pick up the cones that made up the 2 “technical” areas, I need to mark these or I get fined £10. No “Respect Barrier” is another club fine.
Once I’m home I fill in the the FA’s Full Time system for today’s game. I need to give marks out of 100 for the ref, managers, players & parents of the opposition. Fill in the referee’s ID number & county affiliation, mark the pitch, what type of pitch, details of any injuries anyone who was injured last week & couldn’t play, did the players shake hands before the game and did the managers check registration cards of the players before kick off … and that’s before I get to the bit where I fill out the team sheet with scorers etc. I have to do this before 6:30 or I get fined £20.
Monday lunch time at work I get a call from one of the player’s dads; it’s usually a dad, mums normally talk face to face. Little Jimmy isn’t a left winger, he’s a striker and I should play him up front more. We have a discussion for almost 30 minutes about how, at the age of 13, kids are not strikers, or wingers, or goalkeepers, they’re players who are still developing and growing. As they grow and their body changes they may not keep the speed they had 12 months ago, they may not be the tallest player on the team any more or they may not be the strongest any more. I try and explain my philosophy that every player benefits from an extended run in any position. Then we get on to tactics, and how we’re naive and should be playing a diamond formation that adapts to a christmas tree when we’re “in the attack”. In the end I spend almost an hour, my whole lunch break on the phone with him and it ends with a threat to take him to another team.
Sometimes on a Monday night the local coaches’ club gets together for a demonstration by a guest coach; they usually happen every couple of months and it’s a chance to watch professional coaches and how they interact with the players, a chance to pick up some tips. Rather than take away specific drills I try and watch their mannerisms, how they communicate, where do they stand, what are they looking at. My biggest problem as a coach is observation, all too often during a game I’ll find myself watching as a spectator rather than a coach so this is my opportunity to see how others do it. Recently we’ve had Chris Sulley, Graeme Carrick and Dean Saunders amongst visits from the heads of various Premier League academies (Newcastle and Liverpool).
We’re at home this weekend so Tuesday is the day I need to get all the match details to this week’s opposition. A couple of texts is all it takes, but not without a little moan about the kick off time. I need to get this done by 9pm or I get fined £5.
Wednesday is training night, we are lucky in that we have some astroturf with floodlights so the weather is never really an issue, my only gripe is it’s a bit small, but we do better than many so I can’t really complain.
I spend my lunch break looking at drills that encourage players to press for the ball when we’re not in possession, we’ll work on the notion of 1st, 2nd & 3rd defenders, when to press, high risk/low reward and low risk/high reward areas of the pitch. It’s not the first time we’ve worked on these ideas and it won’t be the last, they’re not simple concepts and not easy to pick up. Some of the players understand so their role in the drills has to be more complex and some players struggle with the ideas and have to be given something that’s a challenge to them. I base all my sessions on small sided games (or SSG’s) because the kids come to play football, not stand in a line and kick the ball every now and again. I think this makes it harder for a coach to mix and match the players, but the players benefit more.
I plan the session with a full squad in mind, we have a notification system where parents can let us know if they can’t make it, we get a couple drop out at the last minute and by the time the session is due to start we’re 5 or 6 down, which means a quick change to the session on the hoof. This isn’t unusual and while it’s annoying when you’ve spent a good couple of hours putting something interesting, fun and relevant together you get used to it and plan in ways to adapt.
Thursday there is a league managers’ meeting, they’re fairly rare and we just sit around and discuss the same things we did the last time we met. Not enough facilities, the facilities are too expensive, the league just fines us to make money, some argument over a rule change that’s been implemented for over a season and of course the tales of how good football used to be and how it’s ruined nowadays by political correctness.
Before we know it, it’s Sunday again.