The 8-year-old centre back

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The 8-year-old centre back

As a company that offers children’s football coaching in Leeds we are fortunate to speak to a variety of parents and grassroots football coaches on a regular basis, so we get a good feel for how things are progressing in the junior game.

One common thing we hear goes along the lines of, ‘my son/daughter is a central midfielder for their team’.

Said player is between the age of 6-11 and central midfield could be defender, striker etc etc. You get the idea.

We often bite our tongues and nod.

In reality we want to scream – WHO ON EARTH IS TELLING YOU THAT YOUR 8-YEAR-OLD IS A CENTRE BACK!!!

Look, we are in a unique position in that we coach junior footballers but don’t need to pick a team on a Sunday and handle all the issues/politics that go with that.

But we have spent years researching, learning and observing all things kids football coaching and one thing that is clear is that pigeon-holing a primary school footballer into a position at such a young age does more harm than good.

This was a topic of discussion at our coach education trip to Benfica Academy.

British footballers are finally starting to catch up from a technical point of view but we are light-years behind when it comes to ‘football intelligence’.

Many foreign players are ahead of British youngsters because they have had exposure to playing in different positions at a young age, so they understand the whole game far better than a player who has spent all their time playing in one role.

So, how do we solve this?

As a parent it comes down to whether you are happy for your child to join a team that focuses on development over winning.

Teams that have individual-focused coaches may not win every week but I would bet that, in the long-run, your player would develop more than those in teams that concentrate on winning at all costs.

You’ll have seen those teams before – set positions, ‘big, strong lads’ everywhere and coaches who mainly care about telling everyone at work on Monday that they are the next Guardiola.

The balance is a tough one for coaches when it comes to individual development and keeping everyone happy by way of winning football matches.

That is when you, as a parent, can help by supporting them and getting behind what they are trying to do. It is in the best interests of your child and that should be put first.

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What we learnt at Benfica

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A once in a lifetime trip to visit and observe Benfica Academy certainly didn’t disappoint.

Foot-Tech spent 4 days in Lisbon at Benfica’s Caixa Futebol Campus and we have learnt so much from one of the worlds most respected youth football academies.

As much as it was nice to spend some time watching football in a sunny climate, the main reason we did this was to help us improve as coaches so our players are continuously getting the very best football training and we, as an organisation, are not standing still in the ever-changing junior football environment.

 So, what did we learn?

Portuguese parents have the same concerns as UK parents

Children’s fascination with tablets, Xbox and Fortnite isn’t exclusive to UK kids. I saw a lot of children doing the ‘Floss’ dance and many others with phones or tablets in their hands whenever we out and about in the city.

This is something that the Benfica coaches are clearly concerned with when it comes to the development of the children in their teams.

And they look to have addressed it with…

 SAQ Training at the coaching sessions

One thing that was a constant at the junior football sessions was SAQ training (speed, agility, quickness).

Ladders, hurdles, agility hoops and even skipping ropes were used throughout the academy training with the main aim being to help the players move better and faster.

Children simply are not moving as much as kids from 10-15 years ago and it is affecting their ability in sport and, generally, in every day life.

We were even told that Man United had 8 academy players out injured last season with broken arms because kids don’t play out as much anymore. This means they don’t know how to ‘fall properly’ because they haven’t been exposed to the ruff and tumble of climbing trees, playing football in the street etc. etc.

When you think about that it makes so much sense.

Benfica address this with the SAQ training and it looks to have had a positive impact.

We are also pleased to be able to offer it to our members. If you’d like your children to have this sort of training please click here to be taken to our speed training page.

 Emphasis on just letting them play

A big thing that struck me was how much the players seemed to enjoy their sessions. I think this was down to a number of reasons:

Minimal stoppages

Simple drills

Engaging coaches

You’d be forgiven for thinking, as an academy, the sessions were going to be more military in nature but that couldn’t have been more wrong.

Many grassroots coaches would benefit from thinking about the above.

It could be a British thing but too many times we see managers of junior teams making things more about themselves rather than the players. At Benfica it was the opposite.

They didn’t feel the need to step in every 5 minutes to stop the whole session and have a discussion about what was or wasn’t working. If football was meant to be coached like that we’d do it in a classroom.

The Benfica coaches took a back-seat and simply observed, helped and praised good effort.

The drills were simple, game-related and it was the drills that did the coaching. The coaches just hammered home the good things the players did or individually spoke to a player who might have needed some help.

No set positions for the players

This is a big annoyance for us at Foot-Tech! How on earth a coach can tell a primary school child what their position is is beyond me.

We hear it all the time – ‘yeah, my son/daughter plays defence for XYZ Football Club’. Utter nonsense!

Benfica do not give their players set positions until well into high school.

The reason?

So each player learns the game better. Again, that makes so much sense.

If a young player has chance to play in a variety of positions they will understand more about space, positioning, the runs to make and they will appreciate the work their teammates in other positions will be doing when it comes time for them to nail down a set position in the future.

In the end, their game intelligence is increased.

This is something that its severely lacking in the English game at the grassroots level.

It isn’t easy for grassroots coaches as they need to balance the needs of the players, parents and club. Mixing positions may mean less games won and then parents aren’t going to be happy.

Education/communication is needed to address this. At the younger level, development over winning needs to be the mantra and everyone at a club should buy into that.

Play to win…but development is the main thing

Benfica coaches were quick to point out that the individual players’ development is the main thing but they also need to learn that winning is important.

They wholeheartedly focus on making each player better from a physical and mental point of view and fully embrace fun.

But they also make sure that each player knows that winning is important and that is, in the end, what they should be striving for.

They teach them how to win, why they should want to win but also that losing is part of the game.

They teach them to want to win but how to use losing in a constructive manner so they can learn what to do better next time.

Mental health 

At the academy they have invested heavily in sports science and data analysis.

Interestingly this isn’t just to do with the physical side of the players.

It seemed they are also massively concerned with the players’ mental health and have a number of psychologists working at the club.

They know everything about each player so the coaches know when to put an arm round someone or when to leave them alone.

It was really interesting stuff and shows you how seriously the game is taken at the highest level.

Most of the older players we observed had release clauses in their contracts of up to £30m so it is understandable that the club will do whatever it takes to make sure they are firing on all cylinders from a physical and mental point of view.

Some proud moments for Foot-Tech

Having the chance to observe the sessions and talk to the coaches left me with a sense of pride regarding what we are doing at Foot-Tech.

We are getting many things ‘right’ when it comes to how we approach junior football coaching and how we engage our players.

Seeing the SAQ training in particular was a big plus for us and we are so pleased we decided to go ahead with offering it to our players.

That being said, we are always learning and will always want to improve the experience for all Foot-Tech members.

The Benfica trip has highlighted a number of things we can add to what we do plus some things we are already doing that can be improved.

We look forward to implementing it all very soon.

Lastly, we will get saving for one of these…

Words cannot describe this piece of kit they have in their training complex so we will let this video do the talking.

Just amazing – please show your children!

I’m struggling to get my child into sport

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As a business that offers children’s football coaching in Leeds we speak to a lot of parents who understand the benefits of their children playing sport but their son/daughter simply isn’t interested.
Getting kids active through sport goes a long way to keeping our little ones healthy in both body and mind, but what can you do if your child says they don’t want to do it?
Don’t force it
First thing to understand is that if you force them into something, even if you’re doing it for the right reasons, it may result in them developing a negative feeling towards playing sport.
Age can also play a part in this. We’ve found the very young ones (4-6 years old) can take a 2-3 weeks to really get comfortable. Put yourself in their tiny shoes – it can look pretty scary for them turning up to football training with loads of other children confidently running around doing the activity.
Usually we find that confidence is the main issue. They often don’t feel good enough (for a variety of reasons) and therefore will do all they can to stay away from playing football, tennis, rugby etc.
One thing we recommend to parents in the above instances is to simply come to the session and let their child go at their own pace. Even if it means standing near the other children and just kicking a football to their child whilst the session is going on around them, it goes a long way to getting them comfortable with the environment. Once they have had some time watching other children like them doing it they can all of a sudden get a surge of confidence.
On the flip side, you may force them to go to a children’s football training session (for example) and they end up loving it. The risk of them hating it is there, though, so tread carefully.
Speak to the coach/sports provider
Before you sign your child up to a sports team or sports provider be sure to ask the coach what they have in place for absolute beginners or children who aren’t confident.
You can really help your child by taking them somewhere that caters to their needs. If you take them somewhere hyper competitive or geared towards children with high sporting ability levels then you run the risk of destroying their confidence even more.
Don’t start competitive
This leads on to competitive sports.
If your child is already showing a lack of interest then one of the worst things to do would be to take them somewhere hyper-competitive. This will not help them.
If they aren’t showing a particular interest right away then that is likely to decrease if they are thrown into an environment where every other child is competing for a starting place on the team.
This was one of the reasons we started Foot-Tech Academy. We are able to provide football coaching in a non-pressurised environment that bridges the gap between playing football and getting into a team.
We focus on kids football training in Leeds but you’ll find a host of other coaching businesses in your location that cater for other sports.
This can be a great way of getting your child into sport in a way that helps them as an individual instead of a team which needs to, a lot of time, focus on what is best for the group as a whole.
Just let it be…for now
Final thing is to not panic.
We know that sport is a great thing for children and can understand why so many parents want their child to get into a sporting activity.
Our advice is to not rush it. We have seen countless times that children can one day go from being completely uninterested in anything other than watching other children play with toys on YouTube (don’t get us started on that!) to then wanting to play and talk about nothing else other than football.
It can literally happen over-night and is often due to their friends at school getting into it.
If your child simply does not want to do anything sport-related then it is a case of making sure you keep them active in other ways whether it be trips to the park or things like trampolines etc. There are loads of different ways to keep active whereby your child has fun and stays healthy.
Foot-Tech Academy provides innovative children’s football coaching in Leeds for boys and girls aged 4-14.
We also provide specialist speed training, after-school clubs and holiday camps.
For more info check out http://www.foot-techacademy.co.uk

Top Tips To Get Your Child To Practise

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As a company that offers children’s football coaching in Leeds we are constantly trying to think of new ways to get children to practise their football skills away from our training sessions.

 They train with us at our various venues in Leeds for around 1-2 hours per week and we know that this on its own isn’t enough to truly develop their footballing ability.

 So, what can help?

Make it competitive

We find that competition really helps engagement and encourages children to practise playing football away from their standard football team training or coaching sessions.

One way we do this is through our Monthly Challenges where we give the children a football skill to practise at home. The one who can do it the best at the end of the month wins a prize.

It is a bit of fun but it works and we can immediately see those who have actually got out and done the work!

What you can do as a parent

Parents of football-mad kids often ask us what they can do to help their child get better at football.

The only way to do this is to get them to practise more but the football practise needs to be purposeful.

‘Go out and practise’ means absolutely nothing to a young child. You need to give them something specific to do.

Some ideas

An easy-one is kick-ups.

Set them a target of, say, 5 kick-ups in a row on Monday and they need to beat their record by the end of the week.

A great one is to show them their favourite player doing a football skill on YouTube and then challenging your child to be able to do it by the end of the day, weekend, week.

If you’d like some free examples of various skills then head over to our YouTube channel and take a look at our videos.

The language you use makes a difference

How you ask your child to practise has a huge impact on if they will do it not. Check this example –

 ‘Why don’t you go out and practise’

 Or

 ‘Do you think you could do this skill?’

 See the difference? The second ones gives them some purpose and a challenge.

 Another good example –

 ‘I wonder if you could beat your keepy-up record before Sunday’

Be mindful of how you ask them to practise and you’ll find they’ll be outside with a ball at their feet a lot more than they currently might be.

If all else fails then good old bribery can be used as a last resort! ‘Do 10 kick-ups by the end of the week and you get…’.

It isn’t how we like to do things but it can be effective!

Please feel free to comment below with your success on this. We are always eager to learn new ways of getting children to practise their football.

Foot-Tech Academy provides children’s football coaching in Leeds through our weekly football training sessions, after-school clubs and holiday camps. For more info on what we do please visit www.foot-techacademy.co.uk

How Fast Does Your Child Need To Be?

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Quite an open question but, in sport, speed is becoming more and more important and it will affect your child at some point.

A study found that a modern top-class footballer completes 50% more sprints in matches now than they did 10 years ago. The game is changing and training needs to change with it.

This has already started to filter down into junior football teams and it is a trend that will continue. How many players in your child’s team do you know who are ‘the fast one’. They stand out a mile and often aren’t even the best player by a long-way. It is their physical attribute that gets them noticed and into the team.

Long-gone are the days of the big, slow defender or ‘the big man upfront’ who was there to simply win headers. We’re now seeing speedy players in pretty much every position in the elite teams, including goal-keepers.

Check out Man City at the moment – as great as they are with the ball, it is no surprise to see that every player has pace. When you combine speed and skill it is an unbelievable combination.

How does this impact your child?

Sport in general is seeing an increase in demand for speed. Rugby, basketball, hockey to name just a few.

Rugby in particularly is a really interesting example of how speed and athleticism has taken over from the stereotypical days of big guys with big bellies!

 A conversation with a speed training coach highlighted the issues facing young footballers in an already competitive market.

 He had the pleasure of speaking with a junior football coach at Ajax. This academy is one of the world’s best and known for developing very skilful footballers.

 The coach was asked, ‘what do you look for when scouting a young player?’.

 The response, ‘Speed. Give me a fast player and I will teach them everything else’.

Basically, your child will have an advantage, in terms of playing a sport at a high-level, if they are fast.

But my child isn’t fast – should we just give up?

No. Absolutely not!

We are certainly not saying that speed is the be-all-and-end-all. What we are saying is that is gives your child a competitive advantage in the eyes of the decision-makers at professional academies, schools and junior football clubs.

So, what can you do to help your child improve speed?

It was long believed that we were born fast or we were not, but it has been proven that speed can be trained and developed in children and adults.

It is why we have spent so much time learning and qualifying in speed coaching. We know how important it is to provide this training to children in order to help them in sport and everyday life.

Imagine the confidence boost it would give a child when they can suddenly move so much better and quicker. That is what we want and what we will strive to give our members.

We’ll be posting some hints and tips for parents to pass onto your children that can be practised at home so keep checking the Facebook Page for the videos and blogs.

Foot-Tech Academy offers junior football coaching in Leeds to children aged 4-14 through our weekly group sessions, private 121 football training, after-school clubs and our brand-new specialist speed training.

For more info please visit www.foot-techacademy.co.uk

Is Your Child Sleeping Correctly?

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Is Your Child Sleeping Correctly?

I recently finished a really interesting book by ‘sleep coach’, Nick Littlehales.

Nick has worked with everyone from Cristiano Ronaldo to the GB cycling team to help them reach optimal performance through sleeping better.

It is a great read for anyone who wants to work out how to get a good nights’ sleep…how many of you parents have just clicked straight through to Amazon!

Back with us? Good.

So, the whole basis of the book is the fact we sleep in 90 minute cycles where we enter different stages of sleep. If we wake up inside a cycle we will get that ‘groggy’ feeling and if we wake up between cycles we should feel more refreshed.

Nick also talks about the fact you don’t need a really expensive mattress and how 30 minute naps through the day can also be great (if only!) to help us get the amount of rest we need.

Perhaps most interesting was the fact that we don’t necessarily have to sleep for long periods every night. He advises to pass through several 90 minute cycles but, let’s face it, life sometimes gets in the way in some way, shape or form.

Reassuringly, Nick says that as long as we stick to the 90 minute cycles, and wake up between them, we have a better chance of being more alert through the day. The idea is that we must try to at least get a good few cycles of sleep a majority of the week but that a couple of nights where we sleep less than we’d like doesn’t mean the next day is a struggle.

It got us thinking about the benefits this could have on children and how some sleeping routines may actually hamper their chances of being more alert for school, sport etc.

We hear from parents that sometimes they need to pretty much drag their child out of bed on a morning yet on other days they are absolutely fine. This might have something to do with the fact they are waking up inside or between cycles.

Nick advocates sticking to a routine but says we should count back in 90 minute slots from the time we want to wake up i.e. if you want your child to wake up at 7am the best times to fall asleep would be 7pm, 8:30pm, 10pm or 11:30pm.

The earlier the better but if, say, you have a family evening out and miss bedtime, it could actually be better to keep your child awake until they reach one of the above times.

Following the books instructions, if you get home at 9:15pm it would be better to let your children fall asleep at 10pm rather than rush them straight to bed.

If your child struggles to get out of bed on a morning check the hours and maybe give the strategy a try.

If it is good enough for Cristiano…

PS

The book is called ‘Sleep: The Myth of 8 Hours’.

1v1 – Why We Do It & Why You Should Too

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If you’ve ever been to a Foot-Tech Academy session you’ll have seen a lot of 1v1 football training. It is something that forms a big part of our curriculum, but what is it and why do we use it so much?

What is 1v1

Quite simply it is one player versus another player in an opposed practice. It can have a variety of aims – score a goal, keep possession – and you can do so much with it.

You can have a traditional 1v1 or you can do things such as 1v1v1v1 (think ‘Wembley’ or ‘Cuppy’ when we were kids!). You can adapt 1v1 sessions in a variety of ways to meet the aims of your session and the ability of your players.

Why we do it

This goes back to the conversations we had when we set up Foot-Tech in 2014. We identified a few areas that have impacted junior football in recent years.

  • A shift in mentality of young players. The rise of Pep’s Barcelona coincided with youth footballers becoming more interested in passing and creating as opposed to dribbling past defenders and scoring goals.
  • Grassroots football matches (to a certain age) were/are played mostly as friendlies.
  • Societal attitudes have changed. We don’t see as many kids playing football in the street or park anymore; particularly in winter time. The rise of in-home entertainment i.e. consoles, tablets etc has impacted this as well as increased child safety issues.
  • Th FA revamped their coaches training to ensure English coaches were aiming to make junior players technically better.
  • Diving and play acting has become prominent in the Premier League and young players will often see their hero’s falling to the floor with the slightest touch.

So, in my opinion, I found players were becoming better on the ball but losing some of that competitiveness/aggression that was synonymous with the English game. The ‘Street Footballer’ was slowly dying out.

My view was pretty much validated at the trials for our County Representative Team. I was coach of the u18’s at the time, who were probably around 11/12 years old when the obsession with possession football began and who all will have felt the impact of the above points. I can’t tell you just how much we struggled to identify strikers/forward players who simply wanted to score goals. On the flip side, we were spoilt for choice when it came to ‘number 10’s’.

Now, having players who were perhaps technically better than their same age-group counterparts of 5-10 years ago was great, but had we gone from one extreme to the other?

Could we create a curriculum that would develop both elements so we have a more complete footballer; technically advanced but with the desire to go win the ball, take players on when required and channel some positive aggression.

We didn’t see the point in being able to master a football if you don’t have the confidence to take on a player in a game situation. Add that to the fact that 1v1 situations happen all over the pitch – winger v full back, striker v centre back, centre mid v centre mid etc etc – it had us wondering why 1v1 drills were not more prominent in grassroots training.
We certainly aren’t suggesting that passing/possession practices be totally binned off. It all has a place – we love a Rondo at Foot-Tech! However, passing is as reliant on your team mates’ ability as it is your own, so we wanted to give the power to the individual. Be a good passer but have the ability to take matters into your own hands (or feet!) as an when required.

Pep’s Barca were the best club side I have ever seen. The football was beautiful to watch. Much was made of their possession style but not enough was made of the ability of the forward players to beat an opponent.

Iniesta, Xavi and even Busquets were masters of creating space for themselves with a drop of the shoulder to ghost past a man. And lets not forget what the little Argentinian fella upfront was doing to defences on a regular basis! How many games will Barca have won as a direct result of Messi’s dribbling? Passing will get you so far but there comes a time when you need some magic.

A recent article by a former colleague of Jurgen Klopp, Peter Hyballa, was really interesting. He talks about the rise of passing players and the decline of dribblers. In a time when defences are so organised – particularly at elite level – the need for confident dribblers is increasing.

Lastly, 1v1 is fun! Who doesn’t enjoy the thrill of trying tricks and taking on opponents? It is one of the most exciting parts of football so why not focus on teaching kids how to do it? It increases confidence in both attack and defence and they will experience 1v1 several times in a game so they need to be ale to handle it.
Results

We have been going for just over 2.5 years and the results we have seen in our members has been fantastic.

It is the confidence factor that has really struck us. They are much more comfortable with the ball and are brave enough to want it under pressure. That has long been a trait of foreign players; they will happily take the ball with a man-on. We are pleased to see that happening with our members.

We have also seen an increase in desire to win the ball back if they lose it. In a 1v1 practice if you lose it, the opponent will invariably score…unless you work to stop that. It is black and white so, at the risk of losing, they will do all they can to get the ball back. Some of the ‘battles’ we see every week are amazing to watch.

For newer players we see a quick development. There is no hiding in a 1v1 so it is a case of get involved or get beat. They soon realise that just simply working hard and not giving up can yield results. Over time they increase their ability to beat their opponent but, for the less advanced players, they see good initial results from defending well and frustrating the attacker into mistakes.

A lot of it comes down to you as a coach. We allow the players to make mistakes and encourage creativity. We also praise effort on the defending side to help reinforce the hardworking mentality and we insist on fair play – 1v1 can sometimes frustrate some players into fouling so keep an eye on that. Matching them up ability wise at the start is a potential remedy for this.

All in all 1v1 works so many key areas in a junior footballers development. Adding them to your training sessions will yield positive results for the team and the individual from both a football and softer-skills perspective.

For any advice on 1v1 training please feel free to get in touch at foot-techacademy@outlook.com