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!

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

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

Football Academies & Time Frames

We are often asked by parents about pro academies and what their player needs to do to get selected by a pro club. There are three things we explain:

The first answer is always the same – PRACTICE. Football is a skill that needs to be developed if you are to reach pro-level. Just as a budding guitarist will spend hours with a guitar; a budding footballer must spend hours with a football.

The practice, of course, needs to be purposeful i.e. 3 hours of ‘hoofing’ a ball 30 yards isn’t going to be as effective as 3 hours of practicing close control skills and kick-ups (see our Videos and YouTube page for some ideas).

The second thing is time. As amazing as it may seem for a young player to be selected for an Academy at 5, 6, 7 years olds it doesn’t always mean that hope is lost for players who are older.
This is a very important point. Many elite footballers of today didn’t get into an academy until their early teens.

Their rise to pro status is often put down to the fact they simply were allowed to enjoy their football, experience new sports and were of an age where they could deal with the pressures of academy level football, trials etc.

One HUGE example of this is Bastian Schweinsteiger. He has won pretty much everything there is to win in the game, including the World Cup. He was Germany’s Captain, arguably one of the best ever players in the Bundesliga and signed for Manchester United in 2015. He was picked up by Bayern Munich at……THIRTEEN YEARS OLD!

So, what we are saying is, there is no rush. Let them play and practice.

Lastly; above anything else – the players must be allowed to enjoy it. The second they lose interest or don’t have the desire for football anymore they must be allowed to chose what they would like to do instead – whether that be other sports or a less formal version of football (just play with friends instead of teams for example).

Enjoyment is what makes practice fun. No enjoyment means less practice. Less practice means less chance of making it.

Let them play and don’t worry about age – you may have a little Schweinsteiger of the future!

As always we are on hand to offer any advice or guidance on training, practice techniques and ideas.

www.foot-techacademy.co.uk

The Multi-Sport Benefit for Young Footballers

2016 was a great one for sport. The blend of football (Euro 2016) and the Olympics over in Rio has got us thinking about the proven benefits of youth footballers playing other sports.

To master a skill it is said that 10,000 hours of purposeful practice must be undertaken (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-26384712). Practice is something we at Foot-Tech continuously encourage but does it only ever need to involve a football?

Looking at the elite players it is clear that they are experts with a football but they are also athletically advanced in terms of running speed, balance, coordination, agility, overall fitness and flexibility.

Just playing football will of course help in all of the above areas but a lot of evidence is suggesting that playing other sports can significantly advance a young players’ ability on the pitch.

Let’s consider some of the examples of players who were involved in other sports growing up:

Wayne Rooney says his boxing really helped his football development

Gareth Bale played rugby alongside Sam Warburton (Wales Rugby Union Captain)

Zlatan Ibrahimovic is a black belt in Taekwondo

Joe Hart played Cricket for Worcestershire and could have gone pro

James Miler represented his school in long-distance running

Theo Walcott set a 100m record at his high school

The list goes on and, unfortunately, we see this as something that is not viewed as important in a child’s overall development. Some academies in the UK even forbid their young players from participating in other sports and, understandably, parents go ahead with it believing it to be the right thing.

Some will argue for and some will argue against. We are dedicated football coaches and love the game but we believe a combination of sports can help a young footballer. Clearly football would need to be the primary sport (or does it?) but adding other sports can be so beneficial.

Combat sports and martial arts are great for stamina and coordination, gymnastics is superb for core strength and flexibility, rugby helps with the development of team understanding and interval running…….we could list almost any sport and explain how they could help a young players’ football development.

So, if you don’t already, consider encouraging your child/children to participate in other sports. They’ll move their bodies in new ways, learn new things and, most importantly, have another hobby in their lives to enjoy.

Who knows – if they don’t get the chance to play in a Euro’s in the future they may just get the chance to go win a Gold Medal elsewhere!

If you would like any advice on the sports we recommend please speak to any of the Foot-Tech coaches or send us an email to foot-techacademy@outlook.com

www.foot-techacademy.co.uk

Keeping Children Active in Winter

The dark nights and poor weather can make winter a tough time for keeping your child active. Mid-week school nights are pretty much a no-go for playing out and the cold weather can mean that outdoor time on a weekend is sometimes substituted for something more ‘comfortable’.

But what can you do to help ensure your chid has the chance to keep fit, healthy and get outdoors until the Spring arrives?

Utilise the Weekend

Yes is may be cold, wet and miserable but the weekends are so important as they are possibly one of the only times your child will have chance to be outdoors getting some fresh air. With some schools preferring to keep them indoors if the weather isn’t great through the week, the weekends need to be utilised.

Wrap them up and get to the park, go for a kick-a-bout etc. Even just 30 minutes will be great for them and give them opportunity to get off the computer and run off some energy.

If your chid is in a junior football team then match days/training are perfect ways for them to get moving even in the bad weather. Do your best to resist any moans and groans about it being too cold – they will thank you for it later when they have had a great time playing football with their friends!

Foot-Tech Academy will be open all through winter (save for frozen pitches etc) as we know the value of children playing sport in ‘poor’ conditions. Aside from the health benefits, you’ll see a big positive shift in attitude when your child realises they soon warm up when they start moving. This is a great thing from a character perspective plus who doesn’t like getting muddy whilst scoring some goals!

For those in teams winter training is a great way to learn how to play matches in bad conditions. Unfortunately our country isn’t blessed when it comes to sunny days so learning how to play in the rain, cold and wind is a very useful thing.

All of our sessions are adapted to ensure all the players are moving and static time is kept to an absolute minimum.

Get Mid-Week Creative

Allowing children outdoors through the week during the dark nights isn’t always possible. This is when you can get creative and have some fun with your son/daughter.

Some of our basic football skills can be done indoors should Mum and Dad be ok with it! Toe-Taps, Side to Sides etc can all be done with a small ball or even a sponge ball (if you want to be extra safe!) so challenge your child/ren – how many can they do in 1 minute? How many can they do in a row with their eyes closed?

Things like this are great for keeping them moving as well as continuing their football development.

How about some balancing work? Get your child to balance on one foot then throw a rolled up pair of socks for them to catch. Throw it higher/lower and swap feet. Great for core strength and increasing hand-eye coordination.

Also have a think about things like press-ups, air squats, lunges and planks. We are not saying that they be worked like a Marine(!) but low sets and reps of the above are fine and it gets them using their bodies in different ways. How many can they do on Monday and can they beat it by Friday? There are loads of variations and the key is to keep it a challenge so they remain interested.

Even just 15 minutes on an evening is worth it and it all adds up over the weeks/months.

We’ll post some ideas for you in the coming weeks.

Keep Warm & Dry!

It goes without saying that weatherproof kit for your child is essential at this time of year. We don’t need to dwell on that.

But as parents (and coaches) we can do our bit by showing the players that the weather doesn’t bother us. This transfers to the children in a big way – if they see us shivering they will start shivering!

So invest in some thermals because we’ve got a brilliant winter programme coming up at Foot-Tech. We guarantee those who continue their training through the winter will see the benefits.