The Law of Average

This blog was born out of shouts I have heard from various sidelines in recent weeks. This has been from both coaches and parents. They have come from the grassroots game covering ages from 8 to 16. This one from yesterday just had to make me write this:

“You’re a full back just boot it up the feckin park”

Others I have heard recently are:

“Get rid”

“Don’t take any chances, we’re winning”

“Stay down injured, we need some time”

“Ref, are you even watching this game”

I am sure everyone has heard their own versions of these and many, many more. Just for fun I like to throw in a few of my own just to show how meaningless these shouts are:

“Keep the high balls low”

“Keep the long balls short”

All these shouts might seem pretty harmless and most of them are, but there is a deeper cultural effect being reinforced. We are driving creativity out of players and producing, at best, average players who are limited but functional. I seen it yesterday when our goalie, who is very comfortable on the ball and can play it out decides to launch long balls when we are winning by a large margin. We have so conditioned the environment not to take risks that even when there is the ideal opportunity to try something, we still play it safe. Just to make a point, I heard an interview with Harry Redknapp who was talking about Rio Ferdinand as a 15 yo (same as my team). When he first coached Rio he had the tendency to play it long pretty aimlessly. Harry insisted he took the ball under pressure and always (every time) attempted to play out from the back. No doubt, Rio would have made many mistakes and, God forbid, caused a few goals to be conceded but just look at the player he turned out to be. Probably one of the best ball playing centre backs in the world.

This current environment is creating defenders who can’t play the ball out from the back; midfielders who don’t have the patience to control the ball in the midfield as shouts come to play it forward early. Forwards who rely on pace and power rather than technique, clever runs and tactical understanding. So we play the way the shouts dictate and that ball over the top for the big, strong forward to score generates shouts of “Well done, great play” We are encouraging and fortifying the average. Unfortunately the average is good enough to win games on most occasions. We (and I include myself) are supporting this average.

To further emphasise the average, please watch the film ‘Whiplash’ If you can get past the endless swearing then the message is clear. Particularly where the crazed conductor says the two worst words ever put together are ‘Good Job’ I can’t condone some of the methods but it certainly moves the bar higher than average.

So is there a solution? Not an easy one anyway!

Here are some thoughts. Can we say to a keeper, never kick it long? To a defender, don’t just hoof it but pick a pass out. To a midfielder, retain possession until the time is right to release (Iniesta/Scholes are great examples).To a forward, can you link play and make clever runs to create space for others. We can do all this, but when the pressure hits players then they revert to safety first. Consequently, I don’t see us getting above average unless we stop tinkering and fundamentally change the environment we operate in.

My own team and most of grassroots teams play in a ‘Development League’ My view is that all Grassroots football is development. It is only when you get into the adult, professional scenario should the rules change. So what about a couple of ideas to get it kicked off:

  • Absolute equal playing time at the children’s level (up to 12 yo)
  • Equal playing time over the course of the season (12-16yo)
  • Children can adjust the sides to even up the game if too one sided
  • No kick outs from keepers
  • No throw-ins at Children’s level
  • Ball played below head height at Children’s level
  • All coaches must be qualified as a minimum before starting coaching
  • No coaching allowed from parents. Should only be from nominated coaches (2 at most)
  • Players to be rotated around all positions at children’s level
  • Encourage the creative player rather than the ‘tackler’ in the team
  • Teams penalised when fouls reach a level through awarding goal to opponent’s

I can hear the backlash already! It will never work, it’s not practical. If that’s the case, then let’s just carry on as we are! Let’s keep producing average players who do not have the required technical skills to compete. Let’s keep favouring the physical over the technical and tactical. As Einstein said ‘ Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results’ That is fine and it will give us average but in my final reference to ‘Whiplash’. I want to say at least I tried.

I know players want to win, that is natural. Our job as coaches is to educate them, improve them and develop them. We need to embrace skill and creativity, helping players remove the fear. Let’s not be average coaches as well. Raise the bar and join in saying ‘I tried too’

The Law of Average

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