I am Grateful


I am grateful for every single player in my team. I wouldn’t change one of them. They are all different and that is why I am so thankful for them. Every session is a joy and every player contributes in so many different ways. It is a pleasure to be their coach and I am truly grateful.

I am grateful to every coach at our club. Every single one of them gives up their precious time to coach, develop, mentor, guide and care for all the players within their teams. Is every coach a tactical genius? No. Is every coach deeply knowledgeable in football? No. Does every coach do their best with what they have? Absolutely YES and I am grateful to every single coach, helper and committee member that make our club such a great place to be.

I am grateful for every parent (and grand-parent) that brings their kids to our club. My gratitude goes out to both the ones who turn up to every game but also the ones who don’t but by just you encouraging your son or daughter to come and get involved is good enough for me.

I am grateful to the clubs we play against. Without them, our players couldn’t test their progress. They make us better. They raise our bar. Think of the next game and if the opposition didn’t turn up, then who would we be playing against? Would it be as much fun? Stop seeing them as rivals and let’s work together for the better of the game.

I am grateful for the referees. This is when people think I have now lost it!! I hear some of the abuse the refs get in our leagues and it really is shameful. Is 3 points so important that you need to ‘abuse’ a fellow human being? I have watched senior people do this at the side of the park and just been bewildered by it. I would love to see the reaction if the shoe was on the other foot and people at work carried on like this. The workplace would be very different! I am grateful to every individual in black that has the courage to go out in testing circumstances allowing yourselves to be verbally abused. You have my utmost admiration and I am truly grateful you facilitate our teams playing week in, week out.

I am grateful to all my ex-team-mates, coaches, managers and officials. You have shaped me into being what I am today.  You have developed my great love of the beautiful game. which has lasted 50 years. There is a bit of you in everything I do. I am grateful that I have taken your good points and learned from your not so good points and put it all together to create my own beliefs and vision of our game.

Finally, I am grateful for my wife, family and close friends. Without your support and understanding, I would not be able to pursue my constant fascination with this crazy sport. Thanks for putting up with me!

Hopefully, I have included everyone that I am grateful for! The reason for this is that I don’t always say thank you when I should. I don’t express my gratitude as I should and this is my attempt to fill this void.

Gratefulness gives the opportunity to be happy. I pondered the question: ‘Are happy people grateful or are grateful people happy?’ I am pretty sure it is the latter as I believe, gratefulness gives you an opportunity to be happy.

If you are grateful then you are not fearful. You have a sense of enough. You have everything you need. It removes the ego. The ego is based on scarcity and greed. It is driven by fear and worry. Who wants to be in this state? By practicing  gratitude, you are not in a state of worry or fear. You are living in the present. The ego has been put in its box. Now that is something I am grateful for.

So the next time you are feeling worry and fear. Practice gratitude. It really works.

I am grateful to you for reading this. Give it a try! It only works in any situation!!



I am Grateful

Eureka – This Is Groundbreaking

Last week both my son and I returned from the astro pitch where we took off our football boots and managed to leave a few piles of little black pellets. A common occurrence for both of us and a source of frustration for my wife. Forty years ago, I am sure my own mother used similar words when I came home with muddy boots and managed to trample it through the hall carpet. This got me thinking on what are all the differences in our beautiful game from the muddy boots days. Here are a few to get us started:

Ash parks v Astro parks

Streetlights v Floodlights

‘S’ Forms v Academies

Street Teams v SSG

Woolworth (3 Stripes) v Adidas (3 Stripes)

Any strip at training v Full training and playing kit provided

3 matches at weekend v 1 match at weekend

Dragged in from playing v Dragged out to play

30 hours+ v 10 hours

Subbuteo v FIFA

Belle Stars v Doncaster Belles

10-21er v Conditioned game

1 sub v Rolling subs

Mitre Mouldmaster v Any modern football

Dad Coach v Dad Coach with coaching badges

No Goalie Gloves v Goalie gloves designed by NASA

Sock Flashes (remember Leeds Utd) v Nothing to compare!

Crab Football v Futsal

Qualifying for European and World Cup finals v The Widerness

I am not saying it was all great back in the day. I can assure you that cold showers following a freezing day being hit by a Mitre Mouldmaster on an ash park was not the greatest of fun!! However, have we thrown the baby out with the bath water?

Big strides have been made in many aspects of our games but why are we worse off?

There are of course a myriad of problems and solutions and I have discussed many on previous blogs. However, I think just one of the above would revolutionise our gane and turn us into World Cup winners. My vote to bring back sock flashes will propel us back into the world’s elite. Think about it, who else is wearing this groundbreaking technology. The Leeds United team of the 70’s started the trend and look how successful they became. Bring them back and let’s get back to where we belong in world football!!


PS Please feel free to add to the above list. I would be interested to hear your thoughts from the past v the present.


Eureka – This Is Groundbreaking

A Football Parable


This is the story of an old coach who had been with the same club for a very long time.

One day his best player left the team to join a so called ‘elite’ team. Many parents consoled the coach saying that was such bad luck.

The coach responded ” Maybe”

The following month the player returned as he was unable to settle in his new team. Not only did he return but he brought with him another three very strong players which would make the team much better and would now be a certainty for winning the league. The majority of parents were delighted and said to the coach ‘We’ll win every game with these new players’

The coach responded “Maybe”

The following month all four players were signed by professional clubs leaving a depleted and weakened squad. Again the parents lamented at this unfortunate turn.

The coach responded “Maybe”

Losing all four players meant that some fringe players had to take a leading role and develop quickly as games were coming thick and fast. With so much more game time one of them developed so quickly that he was called up to the national squad. A great achievement for a small club like ours said one of the parents.

The coach responded “Maybe”

The following month after being ‘capped’ by his country, it was clear that the fame had got to this player as he treated his existing team-mates with contempt. The parents raised this with the coach, saying how it was having a poor effect on team morale and the team performances.

The coach, in his usual manner, responded “Maybe”

As team spirit deteriorated and the team slipped down the league, the parents were in uproar and attempted to blame the coach for their current position.

The coach looked at them hard and said “Maybe”

Following weeks of turmoil and in-fighting the coach decided that it was time for him to leave. Consequently the team folded.

When the coach was asked if he could have done anything to stop this happening then I am sure, by now, you know what his response was!!

This story was based on an old Taoist parable involving a farmer and shows us how to look at events without judging or interpreting them. We never know how events will unravel when they are occuring. We don’t know what is good or bad in the moment.

As a coach, we are never fully in control. We may influence but cannot control. An event is never ‘good’ or ‘bad’ it just ‘is’

It is our own thinking that it gives it meaning.  To finish on Shakespeare “There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so”


A Football Parable

NOW Kills The Ego


Why are we always on the look-out for the next shiny thing? It’s the new phone, car, trainers, clothes, game etc, etc. There is actually a name for it  ‘Shiny Object Syndrome’ In short, once you have your ‘shiny’ object then you soon lose interest and are then looking for the next ‘shiny thing’ We are constantly living in a state that is looking to the future while forgetting to live in the present. We have turned this adventurous, awe-inspiring, beautiful life into one that feels like we are chasing the proverbial hare that will never be caught.

So what is the station we are hoping to reach on our journey? For many of us, this will lie in possessions as we seek to get that car we always dreamed about or the watch, jewellery, house that we have aspired to for years. For others it will be the dream job or that perfect partner. No matter what, it will be some kind of goal that has been set in our mind. But who is driving the train to the station? I would like to suggest that it is our ego who is driving and the bad news is that there is no brake on the train! Our lives are getting faster and faster as we look at accumulate as many of these ‘shiny things’ as we go. Unfortunately it’s a train wreck waiting to happen.

Just as our game mirrors life in general, as coaches and players with ego’s then we are no different. We are chasing our own ‘shiny things’ It might be the striker who you are desperate for or that ‘experienced midfield general’ at under 9’s! Or that one player who will just make your team complete and bring lots of more’ shiny things’ in terms of league titles, cups and admiration from the footballing Gods. As we look to the future and plan how we achieve this immortality. Maybe it’s a scouting mission to spy on the opposition or paying our top striker for every goal he scores or dropping that player from the squad that won’t help you get those precious three points. Whatever it is, the ego is shouting at you to do it.

But STOP!!!!!!!

Bring yourself back to the present. What are you actually trying to achieve? Take a deep breath and pause. Sloooooooooow down! Instead of thinking ahead to all the good things which will happen as a result of you getting your new ‘shiny thing’ I want you to take a big step back and concentrate in putting yourself in the NOW. What does that even mean?

Let’s explore it.

As a coach, are you always trying to get somewhere? Is what you are doing always a means to an end? Is your fulfilment always just outwith your grasp? Are you running round that track chasing the hare? Do you believe if you win that Cup then you will become more fulfilled? Sorry to burst your bubble, but you will not be more fulfilled because your own ego won’t let you.  Now that sounds strange as I have just said it is your ego which is driving this behaviour. Your ego is fickle and the bigger yours is, then the more it is a problem for you. Here’s why. Ok, I’ve won that cup and it feels great but then that little voice says “I want more” It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy and an unhealthy one at that. Your ego will drive fear, worry, tension, stress and anxiety as it constantly looks  to the future (getting more shiny things) and tricks you into all these emotional states to get what it wants. In addition to the future is also looks back with all your regrets, guilt, bitterness at things which didn’t go to plan. So, your ego is constantly beating you up by looking both forward and back!

The best antidote is living in the present. As a coach or player wanting to give their best  the greatest approach is to clear your mind and concentrate on what you are doing at this exact point in time. I remember Jonny Wilkinson talking about his kicking and how he had to have a clear mind by thinking in the NOW. If he was worrying about the outcome of the kick or the consequences of missing then this would have a direct affect on the accuracy of what he was aiming for. All the ifs, buts and maybe’s would have a detrimental affect on his kick. The work of Tim Gallwey in his Inner Game series also backs this up.

So why not give it a try! Go into your next game as a player or coach with a clear, relaxed mind. Where you are only thinking of what you are doing at that exact point in time. Many people refer to this as the ‘Flow’ state and many peak performer’s work hard to achieve it as it undoubtedly produces their own best performance. It is really just mindfulness but it only works as Jack Black would say. Just concentrate and take in everything that is happening in the NOW. Any other thinking is just disturbing you from being your best self. Surely, being your ‘best self’ is what it is all about? You will feel free, liberated and living in the moment and just see the results you get!

My final word to coaches and others in our game. I believe there is far too much ego in our sport. You really need to work hard to reduce Egoic Coaching. The first step is being aware that your ego is running the show. Try my suggestion of letting go of outcomes and just concentrate on what is going on NOW. If that is your next coaching session then don’t think about anything else but making it the best session you have ever given that will help your players improve by just a tiny bit.  If you do that every time then just think how much development they will get and how good it will feel  not to coach with the Egoic Mind.

Be present, mindful and in the NOW and the ego has nowhere to live.

NOW Kills The Ego

The Arrogance of Ignorance


Whether we like it or not, we are all programmed in a certain way. From our early years we are conditioned to behave in a certain way by a series of treats, rewards and punishments. As we enter the school system we are trained to pass exams. Don’t worry about learning, just make sure you can pass the exam. Because remember, if you don’t pass that exam then you won’t get into university and won’t get a great job. This mental model has now been peddled for years and it is now seen as the only track available for many. What nonsense. I was recently told that over 70% of children at my kids high school will go onto university. Indeed my daughter has just been accepted and I wish her every success. However, all a Higher/A level and university degree means is a confirmation of the ability to absorb and remember information and then spew it all back on a page on exam day. Is this really education?

I know many teachers (indeed my wife is one) and they all say the same. The system is beating them. We will get to the point where no-one wants to become a teacher. They entered the profession to make a difference and wanted to give the kids a real education. Instead they have been browbeaten by a system that focuses on testing, performance reviews, parental involvement and admin. No wonder they are worn out! What happened to education for education sake? Teaching kids life skills and lighting up their imagination! (Think Robin Williams in Dead Poet’s Society) It’s all been extinguished by a system that doesn’t care and is only interested in producing average automatons. No doubt this was just what was needed back in the onset of the industrial revolution and the days of the British Empire where sending clones out to far fetched places to administer the work was the order of the day.

Unfortunately, football is trapped in the same arrogance bubble. We are the sheep and the system is the sheepdog. When do any of us break out from Groupthink and do our own thing? We don’t because “it has always been done this way” Our education system produces compliance and conformity just like our footballers. Breaking free has become almost impossible.

No matter how enlightened we think we are, we are basically ignorant. It is not our fault, we have been conditioned over many years. Over 50 in my case and it is made me what I am, good and bad. In recent years, my thinking and questioning has got wider. My first attempts at getting my thoughts down were through this blog. It was a way of expressing my emotions but I now know the limitations in this.

Our ignorance lies in our current reality and perception. I know a very successful businessman and his mantra is ‘perception is reality’ and he is not wrong. He runs a successful business and I know many of their problems yet to the outside world and his investors he is very successful. His success has been based on perception and he has used this to his advantage. We all have our issues to deal with but some hide them better than others. That mask of perception hides many evils.

This personal perception is driven by the ego. I have talked about this before and we all suffer from it to a greater or lesser degree. We can’t get away from it as ego is part of each of us. The problem with ego is that it creates an unhealthy belief in our own importance. This over-confidence and sense of superiority is ego-driven and takes that same person beyond their ability and competence. I believe the ego is one of the biggest problems we have to deal with and it is the root cause to many of our issues today.

So back to grassroots football. When we now have a system where we have all been conditioned into, and this is filled with a variety of ego’s driving the system then how the hell do we break this paradigm? Well I wish I had the answers but here’s my first step.

Education, education and education but not as we know education today. Until we break free from the arrogance of ignorance and start to educate ourselves on what is really going on will we get to the root cause. Let’s start by asking good questions and challenging why we are where we are?

Let’s break the chains and free our mind from ignorant thinking. Break out the arrogance bubble and don’t be a sheep. Challenge the system because unless you do the you are stuck in the ‘Arrogance of Ignorance’

The Arrogance of Ignorance

Let’s Replace the ‘C’ Word


We all know football is a game of wins and losses (with the occasional draw). Sport, in general, is a game where if one team wins, then by definition, the other team loses. I am not arguing with this basic principle. If you put two teams of players on any park then without saying anything, they will compete to win the game. This goes from the youngest 4 year olds to the oldest players in ‘Walking Football’

It is this very ethos which which drives us in sport and is an intrinsic motivation within all of us. However, this is ‘on the park’ but should the same competition be extended ‘off the park’?

In our current environment/system this ‘on the field’ competitiveness is replicated or even amplified ‘off the park’ through clubs, coaches, parents and even the administrators who organise our game. I believe there is a better way to work together for the better good of the game without losing the ‘on the park’ competitiveness. I have already set out a manifesto for change in Project Braver where a tiered structure focussing on development and a pathway to the senior game would be the way forward. Unfortunately like all good ideas, changing the status quo is much harder and a catalyst for change is required. I always thought this catalyst would be everyone getting behind the banner of qualification for a major championship and thus putting our differences aside to put in place the required actions to support this. My contribution to this would be increasing participation in the grassroots game, in line with Mark O’Sullivans @markstkhlm ‘as many as possible, as long as possible, in best environment possible’ Alas, this was idealistic thinking at best. Contemplating we could be once again be a proud footballing nation competing at the very top level with household Scottish names prominent in the top teams is now a pipe dream.

So, how do we challenge this ‘off the field’ competition and consider whether it is helping or hindering our game? Let’s start why we believe competition is a healthy state of affairs. Competition seems to be present in all walks of life from sports to business to education. Subsequently, because it is taken for granted as a requirement for progress then it must be a good thing, right?…….. WRONG! To quote Peter Thiel “Competition is an ideology – the ideology that pervades our society and distorts our thinking” He further adds “We preach competition, internalize its necessity, and enact its commandments; and as a result, we trap ourselves within it – even though the more we compete, the less we gain”

I have seen this competition manifest itself in the workplace for years producing truly abhorrent behaviours as companies and individuals within companies try to outdo each other. This can create a toxic environment as managers use KPI’s and measurement as the blunt instrument of competition. Academia is no different with tenured professors and universities trying to eclipse each other over ranking points.

Ultimately, competition in such areas is ultimately destructive. We create opposing factions (enemies) who go to ‘war’ with each other. Yet, sometimes we don’t even know what we are fighting over. Back to our club scene, where we compete against similar clubs. On the field is fine and good, healthy competition will help our players, however off the field competition make absolutely no sense to me. I have heard many comments about other clubs ” They’re too big for their boots” followed by “They think every player wants to play for them” and then “They’re only interested in winning trophies” These are the mild comments, some stronger ones are unprintable. But why do we do this? Does it make us feel better, does it deflect from our own inadequacies?

I believe there can be better way however we need to remove this ‘off the field’ Competition. Let’s remove the Big ‘C’ word and replace it with three small c’s

  • co-operation
  • community
  • care

Taking all players, coaches, parents, administrators and interested people together let’s work COOPERATIVELY across clubs to create a COMMUNITY which we can be proud of based on a CARE for each other.

We need to change our thinking and see ‘off the field’ competition as a destructive force rather than the way we currently see it. If we do change this mindset, then we have a chance of working together  to make the changes we know are required.

Just think the value we could create? It would be the sum of all the individual parts which currently work against each other. How awesome would that be?

Let 2018 be the year we come together. We have more in common than  we have differences. Let’s show how much we care for the betterment of the game and everyone involved in it.

Let’s Replace the ‘C’ Word

The Key to Engagement


Why do Grassroots clubs with volunteer, unpaid coaches, helpers, committee members and parents have massive levels of engagement while current businesses who pay substantial salaries with great benefit packages, making good profits suffer from low levels of engagement?

As Simon Sinek says, let’s ‘Start with Why’ In our club and most community grassroots clubs there is a clear ‘Why’ These why’s might vary to some degree with some clubs reason for existence being to win trophies while many follow the development route. Our over-arching WHY is we want to nurture and develop our children both as people and players. As Whitney opened her classic song with:

“I believe the children are our are future
Teach them well and let them lead the way
Show them all the beauty they possess inside
Give them a sense of pride to make it easier”

Now I have put that song in your head, you will be singing it as you read this!

At our club we see ourselves as guardians to the many kids under our influence. Having this clear WHY allows us to try and create the best possible environment for our players to develop. Do we always get it right? Of course not, but if we always revert to this meaningful WHY then we have a chance of getting it right more often than not.

While over in the workplace, research has shown that industry has the most disengaged workforce in history. One survey reported levels as high as 85% of employees being disengaged.

So how do we deal with this apparent paradox?

As demonstrated, our club and many others have a clear WHY, while many businesses struggle with articulating their WHY. They have clear mission and vision statements stating what they do and how they do it but rarely delve into the WHY. Most employees go to work to earn a salary to pay bills, support families while trading their time for a pay cheque. This is all fine but it doesn’t happen at GR clubs. We give our time for free with no expectation in return.

So having a clear WHY would be a start in any business in addressing this paradox. There a few and Simon Sinek explains it far better than I ever could but companies like Costco, John Lewis and Southwest Airlines spring to mind. There is one thing that needs to be stated that this WHY needs to be authentic and lived by the people, there is no point on it being handed out by higher management. Enforcing a WHY just won’t work. It needs time to develop and form, just like at a GR club the coaches, helpers, and players will be the standard bearers and it will then slowly diffuse throughout all parts including the surrounding community.

I truly believe we all want to leave a legacy in some way. I have said before ‘Your Influence Is Never Neutral’  so I want to leave as positive a legacy as possible. In whatever field you operate in, I believe legacy is important. In James Kerr’s classic book ‘Legacy‘ which features the New Zealand All Blacks leadership lessons, he states ‘True leaders are stewards of the future’ We need to put things in place now which will bear fruit in years to come. This is the joy of coaching, you may not always see it mature but the seeds you plant today will ripen and flourish sometime in the future. We can make a difference in people’s lives through our coaching but remember it is long term change and not short term results!

Just to further reinforce the point on the differences between a grassroots clubs and businesses, I would like you to consider the following paradoxes and then consider why one gets barrel-loads of engagement while the other struggles. I will leave you to work out which ones work and which ones don’t!

Grassroots Club Business
Minimal Rules Rules for Everything
Principles Policies & Procedures
Values from Players Values from Management
Direct Communication (face to face) Indirect Comms (email, presentations)
Self-organised Teams Hierarchical Structure
Action Planning
Working Together Working in Competition
Long term Development Short term Results

So, how can we learn from each other. I am heavily involved in both these areas and I truly believe a legacy can be left in both if we can break down the barriers and really delve into what creates engagement in both. I have spent my career trying to simplify things, therefore here is my attempt in 3 simple steps:

  1. Define your ‘WHY’
  2. Engage all the people
  3. Just get on and do it.

There are literally hundred’s of Simon Sinek quotes but here is a favourite of mine to sum up and finish.

simon 2

The Key to Engagement

Stranger Things

Stranger Things

The latest Netflix blockbuster TV series which is taking the world by storm is ‘Stranger Things’ Hopefully this is not too much of a spoiler but it is a supernatural, horror series involving a bunch of kids set in the 80’s. This struck a chord with me and the unlikely analogy with grassroots football.

Firstly, our last scent of soccer success was back in the 80’s where we regularly qualified for World Cups and Euro championships. In a pre-digital age when VCR’s, cassette’s, Chopper bikes, rubik’s cube, pacman and big hair were all the rage off the pitch. On the pitch, tight shorts, 4-4-2, the long ball, slide tackles and big hair (common theme here!) were even more popular. I was brought up in this era with my formative years spent on dodgy pitches (mostly red ash) and then graduated to grass pitches but not as we know them today (and yes I had a mullet!).

However, Stranger Things being set in the 80’s is not the main point. It is a tale of kids finding their way into an underworld, toxic land which has monsters, psychokinesis, government agencies all wrapped up within a plot of teenage angst and development. Is it starting to sound familiar yet? Yes, we have now found our own grassroots football in this alternative dimension.

Our environment has now turned noxious and harmful just like ‘Upside Down’ In Upside Down it is dark and virulent, being a mirror image of what is above ground where decay and death has poisoned the environment.

The septic elements of Upside Down are in our game and shown up as:

  • Shouty coaches practicing joystick coaching
  • Parents abusing players from the touchline
  • Coaches feeding their own ego at the expense of their players
  • Line drills, training without a ball, practices by rote
  • Win at all costs mentality

These practices represent the demagorgons, demadogs and Mind Flayer of Upside Down.

But I have my own strategy to defeat these dark forces!

What about this for a true ‘Upside Down’ approach. We need to play to learn instead of playing to win. Tim Gallwey of ‘Inner Game’ fame introduced a tennis tournament where the loser advanced to the next round. Crazy, you say! but let’s think about this. By trying this different approach then the focus on winning is removed and kids can play freely and experiment with no consequence of the result.

We know kids create their own pressure by feeling the need to win (usually driven by parents/coaches). Pressure is created by the kids thought process which we know is not good for them but we continually allow them to live in this pressure chamber.

Another ‘Upside Down’ idea from me is to look at how we play. Currently we have traditional defenders and attackers where we appoint good solid, big defenders who can win tackles but little thought for playing football. At the other end we put players who have different attributes of maybe speed and agility or a ‘good finisher’ Pep has taught us to turn this thought ‘Upside Down’ I want my full back so be so advanced the wingers are marking them. My centre backs can play and be creative. My forwards can defend. All this can be done if pressure is removed.

Maybe one day we’ll get a grassroots game that is supported, funded and provides a solid base for our beautiful game underpinned by values such as respect, integrity and honesty. To achieve this, we will need to fill in the tunnels of Upside Down and close the gate to stop the forces of Upside Down ruling our world. We need our own heroes such as Hopper, Will, Mike, Lucas, Dustin, Nancy, Steve and Jonathan to fight the ‘bad men’ In particular we need an ‘Eleven’ to lead the way to the promised land. So here is my Eleven. There are many more in the squad and we need to strengthen but here’s my Grassroots ‘Eleven’ to take the fight on.

  1. @TEGK1
  2. @PeterPrickett
  3. @Salisburyrovers
  4. @markstkhlm
  5. @renegadestyle
  6. @Coach_Reed
  7. @markproskills
  8. @insidewrite1957
  9. @GAZT7
  10. @10Simmer10
  11. @ContactCounts

Apologies, as there are so many others but follow these guys and they will lead you to many more who can change our game. These are warriors who can lead us to the promised land. Progressive coaches who are turning it ‘Upside Down’ We need to escape the harmful, base current environment which pervades our game and get above ground where the the air is clear and the future is bright allowing ALL players to flourish and not just the lucky few.

We may well need the powers of ‘Eleven’ to get us out of the fog and see the truth which lies within it. We need to escape the monsters who are fed with ego.

I believe we can escape and we will be better for it. More inclusive, more tolerant, more expansive and most of all, more caring.

Stranger things have happened!


Stranger Things

I Had A Dream

I had a Dream

It was just like any other night as I made my way up to our training pitch. There was a light swirl of rain reflecting off the glowing floodlights on a cool autumnal evening. As I unpacked my usual bag of balls, bibs and cones and put on my ‘old school’ black Puma Kings, I sensed something very different. As I walked towards the pitch I heard some very different noises. It was the laughter and sense of fun that was emanating from all parts of the pitch.

The pitch was split up but there were no cones. Teams were split up but there were no bibs. Balls were flying about all over the place in a football version of ‘Chaos Theory’ Yes, it was ill-disciplined and unstructured but somehow it felt like a perfect orchestra playing. As I walked through the gates there was a 4 v 4 going on involving boys and girls aged between about 9 and 11. There was another 4 watching and cheering as one of the players did a beautiful panna on his opponent. This move was finished off by a lovely ‘sweaty’ goal. The trigger for the losers to go off and the watching 4 to restart the game.

Just next to them were a group of about 6 or 7 having a game of ‘World Cup’ in the main goals. 3 teams of 2. Not sure of the age but varied between about 11 and 14. There were no bibs but they knew who their team mate was. The intensity was amazingly high.

In the corner beyond this game were a group of boys and girls doing a rondo. There were about 7 on the outside with a couple working hard in the middle. The tricks, flicks and touches were sublime as the ball was zipping about like a pinball machine.

As I averted my eyes up to the halfway line there was a young group playing crossbar challenge. They could only be about 6 or 7 as they struggled to lift the ball to hit the crossbar. The cheers when one achieved their target was like a high-pitched scream which could be heard from well down the road.

The last group I observed were just a bunch of boys and girls with a ball each as they practised their keepy-uppies and were waiting patiently to join in one of the games set up around the pitch. Left-right-left-right. The tap, tap, tap…. was like a military two-step in accordance. I then heard a shout “The first to make 1,000′ wins” The concentration on their faces intensified.

So that was the whole of one half of the pitch being taken up with a variety of games and practices. The other half entailed a full game across the way. It was a bout 8 or 9 a side with goalies and teams with ages from 14 to 18. The pace was incredible and reminded me of a video I saw of the ‘cage’ at Man United’s training ground. You had to earn the right to be on the pitch no matter your age, size or gender. It was full on with continual players joining and leaving. Great play, great goals, great defending it had everything and never stopped. No throw-ins, the ball was straight back in play.

I then left the field with all this activity going on as I was about to take my usual stroll across the car park to go the school entrance I was halted in my tracks. Firstly, I noticed there were no cars! They were replaced by games going on all across the car park. The light was sufficient to produce 3v3 and 4v4 games. Small goals and jumpers were being used for goals. As my detour took me around the car park I noticed two young kids who must have been pre-school playing ‘kerby’ and was immediately transported back to my earliest memories with a ball.

As I entered the school and made my way to the gym hall where a large number of kids were enjoying futsal. The tricks and moves were amazing and again the noise and laughter was resonating around the hall.

After all this activity involving over 100 boys and girls from 4 to 18, I sat down in a quiet space just off the main reception and reflected on what I had just witnessed. The passion, the joy, the intensity, the fun, the laughter, the sheer exuberance of it all put a massive smile on my face and then it struck me. There wasn’t an adult to be seen anywhere. The kids didn’t need any equipment and more importantly they didn’t need any adults to tell them what to do. They worked it out for themselves and they fun and learning they had in doing it was plain for all to see.

As I sat there, I gently roused. I wasn’t in the school after all but had fallen asleep in my car (The long hours clearly taking its toll!). I got out of my car and noticed that various training sessions were going on. Some good stuff, however many line drills and kids waiting to be told what to do. Adult voices bellowing instructions with compliant kids dutifully following. I couldn’t help but think and wonder.

My aim is to challenge our norms and way of doing things. What would you consider to be the best environment for learning, experimentation and development? We all need to ask these questions of ourselves.

There is a common misconception in football that it is a team game and that the players are brought into a club/team to make that team better. I really think it should be the opposite. What can the club do to help the player get better. If we approach it that way then we will see development across the board with everyone getting better. A rising tide lifts all ships!

Could the environment I dreamed of really exist? Can we make it happen? Can we lift all ships?

I leave you with this video. This is my dream. To get Scotland back to a World Cup by building from the ground up. Well we can all dream…..

I Had A Dream

Project Braver


Last week I attended the SFA annual Club and Coach Development Conference at Stirling University (#clubdev17) with nearly 200 club coaches and leaders. There were great speakers providing great insight into the game. It was kicked off by the Aberdeen duo of Gavin Levey (Head of Academy at Aberdeen FC) and Steven Sweeney of the Aberdeen FC Community Trust giving a great presentation on their academy and development programme. Great examples for coaches on being creative and developing talent. The subsequent presentations from Michael Beale on his experience at Sao Paulo; Stuart Ferrier from the Scottish Institute of Sport on developing and applying your principles (my personal favourite) and finally Paul McGuinness and Jim Ryan on their experience at Manchester United developing talent were all given at an extremely high standard.

As a coach, there were loads of takeaways and ideas to implement back at our grassroots club. There was only one big problem and it was mentioned by quite a few coaches. The audience was probably about 80% grassroots coaches however the presentations all came from the professional game. Consequently, there was a link missing and possibly this was a metaphor for some of the problems in our game.

Project Brave is the SFA flagship programme to change the current system. While I am sure there are loads of good parts that make it up, there is a fundamental problem. Again, it is aimed at the professional game where talk of number of academies, funding, elite status are all important but not sufficient. Again, the grassroots game is being ignored, yet that is the base of the pyramid and an area that the likes of Germany and Spain invested heavily in during their barren years to kick start the conveyor belt of talent that will eventually reach the top flight. Also, we know the success story that is Iceland and how they started quite literally at the bottom.

Reflecting back on the conference and the post-event discussions there was an acknowledgement that the current system is not producing enough quality or participation. There are many grassroots volunteers who want to help and who are keen for change. I am sure every one of us want Project Brave to succeed but I think most of us are cynical that self-interest and ego will win and we will continue on our current road to nowhere.

We just are not producing players with the technical and tactical ability for the modern game. I include my own club here. Having watched many games over the years, I still see players who, despite being with the club for many years, still can’t do the basics of control, passing, dribbling etc. I know a lot depends on the player but the system we have is just not giving them the chance to develop properly. I still see goalkeeper’s at u13 continually kicking it long and losing possession. If the top coaches like Pep are telling you this is the quickest way to lose possession then why do grassroots coaches continually encourage this?

So here is my manifesto for Project Braver

Starting at the Children’s level, I would build on the work which has already been done. The SSG at 4’s, super fives and 7’s is all the right thing to do. SSG’s with lots of touches. This is the age when the basics are learned and thus needs to be done in an environment of no pressure from coaches, parents and the scoreboard. Equal game time should be implemented for all as there is no way at this age that you can determine who will develop as professional footballers (I could give a hundred examples of late developers who went on to make it in the game).

At this level, we have the kids natural exuberance and we need to harness this in developing a love of the game in a stress-free culture. Basic skill and technique should be the priority rather than wins and losses. At this age scores or league tables are not kept but some coaches persist in keeping their own ‘fantasy league’ table. I heard one children’s coach saying ‘we would have won the league if there was one’ I would encourage mixing teams up to equal teams or even better let the kids pick teams. At this age, it is time with a ball that is most important and we need to do everything to foster this. No lines, no complicated drills but player and ball in perfect harmony. Lots and lots of it. At this age, at the moment, there is generally one ‘match’ per week at the weekend. At best they might get 40 minutes of ‘game time’ We need to mix this up. We could still have these games but more events/festivals where players just come along and play with friends or against them where they can try things to develop. There is no risk here in my book and only upside.

As we move into the high school years and youth level, it will get more organised and competitive but at least it should be built on a solid foundation of skill and ball mastery. I loved Jim Ryan’s ‘Intimidation by skill’ ethos. Rather than physical intimidation which is still seen weekly throughout the age groups, the emphasis is on having the tools to intimidate by skill.

Post-conference created a great discussion on the structure of this level to address the dichotomy of competition and participation for all. A great suggestion was having a regional and community level. The regional level would consist of well run clubs who good facilities, qualified licensed coaches (A licence preferable) who could create a competitive environment where players learn and develop (best v best). There are many existing clubs who would qualify to meet this criteria. To name but a few who may already be there are Cumbernauld Colts, Spartans, East Kilbride FC, BSC, Hutchie Vale who have the pathway to the Lowland League but there are many other clubs who would have similair set-ups to bring real competitiveness and enhancing the players playing. Clubs like Syngenta, Cantera, Harmony Row, Gartcairn, AM Soccer and many more could be invested in to provide possibly 5 regions of 8 teams plus inter-regional competition.

The above structure would be very much still development football but due to the nature there will be selection and rejection issues as we strive to continually move the most developed players into this environment. This will help build resilience and work ethos as it is the clear route to the professional ranks. I would run this format up to u19’s or even u21’s as there will be late bloomers working through the system.

Below this level will be a large base of community clubs (like mine). These clubs would be fully inclusive and would allow everyone who wants to play, the chance to play. Coaches would be qualified (L2 or above) with development and inclusion being the key metrics and not points, leagues or cups. Playing with friends is key to developing that lifelong love of the game. My best memories are not winning Scottish Cups at a young age but the games where I played with my friends with no pressure but to go out and enjoy it. Wins and losses should be irrelevant. If we can achieve the joint objectives of producing players who can step up to the next level (when they are ready) at the same time as keeping everyone playing that wants to play then we have achieved our objective.

My Project Braver has now created a pathway to the professional game through the grassroots game where we have invested in the grassroots by improving coaching and participation to develop the basic skills before being able to move up to the next level to test your developmental progress.

My final plea is to the SFA to get involved and be braver. Listen to the grassroots coaches as we see it every day. Implement the good ideas that are out there. Remember, we are perfectly designed to get the results we are getting and unless we change the system then nothing will change.

If you love the game as much as I do and can see that such suggestions could really make difference then we might have to start the revolution at grassroots level. My hope with this blog has always been to raise awareness but now we need to see action and the brave ones stepping up to the plate. Please get in touch if you think we could be braver together and make the changes that are required?

POSTSCRIPT: I had already written this blog but was just about to publish during the Scotland v Slovenia game. No matter the result the issues would still have remained but yet again another tournament is missed. The sad thing, yet again, is we lack the players with genuine technical ability in all areas of the pitch that can hurt opponents. The Slovenians with a population of 2m against our 5.5m showed better technical ability all round.

Project Braver