Were they really the Good Old Days?


Like most of us, we look back on our childhood with fond memories. The rose tinted specs are firmly on when I think back to balmy summer nights playing football each evening. Even the winters seemed cosier as we wrapped up but still kicking a ball even when the snow was 6″ deep! I was lucky, I had great parents (still do!). Like many of the time, I was brought up on a council estate where friends were just seen as extended family. We had great fun in our adventures climbing trees, making dens and playing games outside until we were called in at night. It was all physical in nature but my passion was always football. With the specs still on we had great games with great players and consequently I developed this love of the game from an early age.

BUT…….was it really as good as I remember?

The reality was a bit different on reflection.

I played my first game of 11-a-side at the age of 7 for the u9’s. We must have been pretty good because I stood at the back and hardly touched the ball. So much for game time.

We played on red ash pitches. The only time we ever got to play on grass was when we reached a cup final. Grass was the holy grail and only ever used a few times per season. On the same red ash pitches, the ball we used was a plastic Mitre Mouldmaster which bounced 30 feet in the air and stung when it hit a cold leg. Garvel rashed were an all year round injury.

So many talk about street footballers and yes we are probably also the last generation to be part of that culture. We played under streetlights on concrete paths. Our main pitch was in front of a block of garages with the same lock-ups on one side and a wooden fence was the other touchline. Broken glass and stones were a constant hazard and the games was intermittently interrupted by cars going to their home for the night. Visits to the local hospital for stitches were commonplace.

As a 12yo I signed for Celtic BC, the premier club in Scotland at the time. My trial was against Celtic captain Peter Grant who was a year older than me. Must have done alright as I was invited back to sign. We trained at Barrowfield where the Celtic first team trained every day. So here I am at this great club where every schoolboy wanted to play (We even had many Rangers supporters playing) and training where the first team trained and all I can remember is doing ‘doggy sprints’ every night! I think we maybe had 1 ball for the team if we were lucky and that was used at the end as a treat if we had trained well.

As I progressed a bit, I signed for Hamilton Accies as a 14 yo. Our training was done on a little piece of ‘grass’ outside the old Douglas Park. Grass is a bit of an misrepresentation. It was a mud bath for 10 months of the year but that is where we trained. When I was at Hamilton there were only a handful of young boys so we trained alongside the first team and reserves. It was great experience but then a new manager in Lisbon Lion, Bertie Auld was appointed. Let’s just say that he was a great Celtic player but as a manager you just wouldn’t get away with things that were done then. His party piece was running across us youngsters with his boots on as we were doing sit-ups. This was to help build up our stomach muscles!!

Throughout my youth, I can’t think of many coaches that held any coaching qualifications. They had little, if any, tactical knowledge. However they could shout the loudest and generally ridicule players. The only time we had a proper coach was when someone like Craig Brown or Davie McParland took the sessions. The difference was palpable.

In my late teens I entered the junior ranks. I played for a few teams but the pattern was pretty similar. Our training facilities were generally a nearby local park. We trained at night. There were no floodlights although there may have been a little light from the adjacent streetlights. In the winter months we just ran all night. In the summer we maybe saw a ball but only after the running was done.

So you can now see the picture I am painting. Ironically it did produce players from these environments.

Compare that to the present day. All our teams train on 3G pitches with floodlights by qualified coaches who have PVG clearance. Matches are well organised with refs and sometimes linesmen. Clubs have codes of conduct, constitutions and well structured committees.

Players are generally given all their playing and training kit. Parents provide some of the flashiest and most expensive boots on the market. Bullying which was very evident in my day, will not be tolerated in any shape or form. We have progressed massively from the days I have described. However, the contradiction is that despite all these improvements we are not producing players in the same way.

I definitely don’t want to go back to the bad old days but how do we build in the resilience that was created back in the day? The world has changed a lot through my life. Progress is key. Learning is critical. Are we taking these lessons and applying them today or just accepting our plight? Can we learn from these ‘old days’?

My world is very different from my childhood and youth. I spend less time with my kids than my parents spent with me as I work longer hours and many times away from home. I remember having lunch every day with my Dad (even if it was a Scotch Pie and a sticky bun). Dinner was always at 5pm and we ate together as a family every day. Supper was toasted cheese before bed as a religion. So, as I strive to give my kids more than I had, the irony is not lost on me that I actually might be giving them less!

So as much as I hark back to my youth, I need to find a way to take the good bits and bring them into modern life.Once we work this out, maybe then we will produce modern footballers from a modern world.

Finally, remember we are living the good old days for our future self. So live in the NOW while learning from the past. Or put better by my favourite Stoic, Marcus Aurelius:

“Forget everything else. Keep hold of this alone and remember it: Each one of us lives only now, this brief instant. The rest has been lived already, or is impossible to see.”




Were they really the Good Old Days?

Federer’s Class!


This is going to be short, out of absolute respect. Today I witnessed (as many others did) a true legend achieve what many thought couldn’t be done. Winning 18 Grand Slams is one thing but to do it with the skill, grace and humility really shows the gravitas of the man. There was one statement which really said it all for me:

“Tennis is a tough sport, there’s no draws but if there was I’d be happy to share it with Rafa tonight.”

Having battered each other for 5 sets and then to come out with this statement was awe-inspiring for me. Some will brush it aside but it is really deep and meaningful. I genuinely think he believed every word of it. Rafa was just as humble in defeat and is it is no wonder he has also 14 Grand Slams to his name. The big lesson. The guys at the very top, the very pinnacle of their sport have learned to control their ego and channel their work into being the best they possibly can be. They have had many setbacks along the way but it is how they deal with such setbacks which makes them the champions they are. They don’t complain, give up or blame others. No, they just dig deeper within themselves to be better.

So two legends, who you feel would walk off having the same respect for each other after the game no matter the result. Compare this to what I have seen in our GR game. Here are a handful of examples from my own experience which shows why we struggle so much and denigrates our beautiful game

  • Coaches who only post wins on social media and somehow say nothing when their team loses
  • Match reports on losses where the pitch, the ref, missing players or all three are blamed for a defeat
  • Coaches who boast about titles, final wins and unbeaten records
  • Coaches/parents who show no respect to refs or opposing teams by their touchline behaviour
  • Coaches who refuse to shake hands after a defeat
  • Poaching players from other clubs just to make their team stronger

Clearly we (coaches) have a long way to go to control our own ego. As Ghandi said ‘ Be the change you wish to see in the world’ No matter the result, we only ALL win when we develop players who have a passion for the game. It is their own drive which will take them where they want to go. It is called intrinsic motivation and it is far more effective than the extrinsic motivation that we try to provide for players.

Ghandi also practiced non-violent protest. He was constantly challenging the authorities until the change happened. Again another legend with no ego. It is funny that the true masters hold some universal truth’s which surely we must take something from. Inner belief in an non-egotistical manner is inspiring for me.

As coaches, how many of us would take a defeat and rejoice in our opponents better play? Just ask yourself how it feels the next time it happens? No matter how enlightened you feel, I guarantee this will be difficult but like any habit, keep practicing. You will know you have control of your ego when you genuinely feel for your opponent. Just like Roger you will then be in a class of your own.


Federer’s Class!

Set Them Free


I have talked about fear many times before. Fear is a way of controlling people. The question we need to ask is why do  we want to control people? The stock answer is usually that control is a means of getting them to do what you want them to do. While this might be desirable in many contexts it creates many problems and unintended consequences. My view is that this this fear driven approach produces compliant people. Again, many will see this as a positive aspect but it has clear limits. If you play with fear (and I see it more and more) then you are too scared to see what is going on around you. You therefore cede control to others (coaches/parents/teachers).

As people and coaches who are controllers, we fear the ‘rebel’ and what they can do. By definition, producing compliance is our goal. Subsequently, compliance produces average. Therefore, no risk takers, no rebels, no players that we would consider ‘dangerous’.

Lets look back with rose tinted specs at the non-conformists. Jimmy Johnstone , Jim Baxter, George Best, Gazza, Cantona, Maradona and even Cruyff would be considered mavericks at the very top of the game. It was always said these guys couldn’t be coached. I am not so sure, but we would all agree that they were real ‘street footballers’ So my hero can put it better than I can:


So how do we address this today? How do we create these ‘free spirits’ in the modern context? Here are some of my thoughts and actions. Firstly, let’s stop telling and start asking. Let’s stop talking about winning and start talking about enjoyment (love) of the game. Let them do their thing? Let them work out the solutions for themselves.


When I am coaching, I am genuinely trying to help them but often think I am hindering them. Maybe I should just shut up and let them work it out for themselves. I have this inner dialogue of a  dichotomy going on continuously.

Personally, my problem is that I have been conditioned over many years to be compliant. I know I am, but have this urge not to inflict my own mistaken reality upon this upcoming generation. They need to do it their way and not mine. They need to make their own choices even if they are the wrong ones. This is hard to say but they need to rebel against the system they are currently in. They now, more than ever, need to find their own voice on and off the park.

I am going to apologise here because I know I am holding some back. It’s not intentional and I am trying to address this and do the right thing but I know I have still some way to go. I read a lot and try to apply the learning. The theory is clear and the actions are starting to gather momentum and genuinely want to try and do my bit to help and improve the situation. However, I have a lot of deep seated values and principles which I demonstrate in my behaviours.

  • Integrity
  • Honesty
  • Commitment
  • Community
  • Learning

I consider these my top 5. There are no doubt many more. So are these holding me back? Or are they helping me? I am not sure yet but what I know is that these are mine. The problem is that I will try and project them on others when they need to find their own and express them in their own behaviours. So my task is not to look at my own but work out how I pull out my players own personal values? How do I assist them in developing their own strengths? It needs to be about them and not me. This is the cycle I am trying to break.

I am fighting to change because I know it will help others. My inspiration again comes from Marcus Aurelius:

“Your principles cannot be extinguished unless you snuff out the thoughts that feed them, for it’s continually in your power to reignite new ones…It’s possible to start living again! See things anew as you once did – that is how to restart life”

As the song by Sting goes ‘If you love someone, set them free’

Set Them Free

Fantasy Football Fun

Just  for a little bit of fun at Christmas, I have picked two ‘fantasy’ football teams of players I have had the privilege to play with. The first team will hold many recognisable names and quite a few internationals to boot. The second team is a bunch of guys who never made it to the top but were top guys on and off the field.

For my own amusement, I thought a little commentary on how a game would develop. Clearly the ‘Pro’ team with so many classy players would be expected to come out on top. That would have probably been the case but the team that would be playing against them wouldn’t just sit back and let them play. Let’s start with the most crucial part of the pitch for me. The midfield. The Pros contain a hard, physical trio from the Old Firm. I am going to amaze you here but the three I have put in against them were even harder and more physical. Hard to believe but I would back all three players to give not one inch away. As well as being a strong and hard working, every one of them could find their way into the box to score. Real old-fashioned box to box midfielders.

Moving on to the attack v defences. This is a real hard one to call. The Pros have real talent and born poachers In Bunion (Paul Wight) and Frank McDougall. Both scored goals for fun. With the supply coming from a cultured left foot on the left flank then they would create a lot of chances and I am quite sure would take many of them. However the back four of the Non-Pros have class players who could read the game better than any I played with. The full backs of Urquy and Moose would stop that supply and in John Thomson there was no better sweeper in the game at the time. I think he was about 60 when he played behind me. What a player!

At the other end. Difficult for the Non-pros as a very good, experienced defence awaits. However,Peter Welsh and Sean Bainbridge were two of the most skillful players I have ever seen and could open up any defence. Sean was unbelievable. I only played with him for a short time but witnessed the most incredible piece of play ever. He had beat 4 or 5 men on a mazy dribble which was not unusual. He then beat the keeper and stood on the goal line with the ball. While we were all shouting to boot it in, he then took it back out and beat two defenders before scoring. Unbelievable. I think the Pros may have an advantage in the full back area with the energy of Jimmy Boyle and Rab McKinnon who both played more as wing backs. Brilliant energy and Rab had a left foot that could open a tin of beans.

Finally, the goalies. Nothing to choose from them. Both were brilliant shot stoppers but also were a bit Dracula-esque when it came to crosses!

Both teams would be managed by my own legends as coaches. The Pros would be Davie McParland, who signed me as a 14yo at Hamilton Accies. A true gentleman and a great football man. The Non-Pros would be a double act without compare. Both massive characters who would let you know where you stood. Bob McKinnon (Big Suede and Rab’s dad), who was the manager at EKYC u18’s and Jimmy White, my manager at Neilston. So what made them great coaches? I don’t think it was their tactical nous but they were just great guys and I loved playing for them and not coincidentally, probably played my best football under them.

So there it is. I am going to go with a score draw but the best bit would have been after the game. Both teams had so many characters and the stories would have been worth staying out all night to hear. Oh and yes, we often did stay out all night!

So why did I write this? Firstly to have a little trip down memory lane and reflect on some great players. The serious piece is why did some make it to the top of the game while others did not? We all have our own opinions on this and there are a multitude of reasons. Players such as Sean and Peter had bags of skill while others such as the midfield trio had an undying will to win. Skillful defenders who could play and defend. However none of these players made it to the top of the professional game. I am convinced that each of them had the ability to do so however they may have been missing one key element to their game. It might have been pace and it definitely was for some. Others might not have wanted to sacrifice their lifestyle (This was definitely the case for most). I then look at The Pros and the biggest difference I can see is that most (if not all) made a sacrifice. They had the dedication to take it the extra step. For grassroots players, there is very little difference between where you are and making it to the top. All the guys in my Pro team are testament to this. So if you want to make it into the Pro team then you know what you need to work at. Nobody needs to tell you. You know what your strengths and weaknesses are. You know you need to go out and work your socks off in every session and any opportunity you have must be spent on developing yourself. Also it helps to find a coach who you love to play for as you will also play your best football!!

Finally, this is a good time of year for reflection and these are my reflections of the players and coaches who had a big impact on me on and off the park.I would like to apologise to all the others players who didn’t make the 11’s. There are too many to mention but safe to say you all influenced my thoughts one way or another. That is the beauty of the game as the people we meet are more important than any score over 90 minutes.

My ‘Fantasy Teams’ are very much real (even if you don’t know them). Hopefully you can reflect on your own fantasy football. It truly is a beautiful game.

Fantasy Football Fun

We’re All Dying


A strange title for a blog post on youth football I hear you say? Yes, but it is the one statement of fact that I can honestly say with certainty. All the rest is a just an opinion! We all have this death sentence. We are all going to die whether we like it or not. Every day that passes is a day that we will never get back.So let’s stop pretending, stop going through the motions. One of my Dad’s favourite sayings is ‘You’re a long time dead’ Stay with this!

As you can tell by now I enjoy a bit of philosophy. I have been studying the Stoics for some time. I would like to try and apply some of it in my quest to improve the grassroots game as I see it. As shown above, we all have a limited time on this planet. It is not the things we own, the money we earn or the titles we have that are important (As Tyler Durden in Fight Club said ‘What you own ends up owning you’) but it is the impact we have on others which define us. As a grassroots coach this influence is enormous. It can be very positive or worse than negative as we have seen in the recent abuse scandals involving coaches. I have simple aim in life. It is to leave things better than I found them. I want to do this at work, at home and in terms of coaching, I want to leave any players I have been involved with better than when I first met them. Have I always achieved this? Hell No! but it is my mission and I will keep trying. This might not always be in a football sense but if I can just improve one person then I am a happy man. They might not always realise it but hopefully in future years when they are coaching then they might just think back to a cold night in Dunblane when it made a little sense!

Stoicism helps me think clearly and address the problems of life on a practical basis. We need to treat everything we do as an experience and a chance to learn. We may not always get it right. In fact, most of the time we will get it wrong.However, everyone in their own way is trying. We all have our difficulties and challenges. Everyone is fighting their own inner demons. I have mine, you have yours. We don’t know what others are so don’t be quick to judge. Fear affects us all. This can be debilitating as a player and a coach. Our job is to understand our players fears and do our best to help them reduce it. If we can free then up just a little then it will help them develop. You have the power to challenge fear but are you tackling it head on or allowing it to fester within your players?

So fear and death, all feels a bit morbid, right? Wrong. Instead of avoiding it, we need to embrace it. If we reflect on our mortality then we get energized. Time is running out and we need to start making the best of the time we have left. Don’t live life as if it is eternal. Time is our most precious commodity. We cannot buy more of it. Our only impact is reducing how much we waste of it. Think of all the wasted time on Facebook, twitter, trash TV. You’ll never ever get it back. What about the time spent with people who suck the energy out of you. You’ll never get it back.

So, as a coach, how much time do you waste? Are you stuck in the same tried and tested drills. The same games week in, week out. The same training you did as a player? Or do you use the time to stretch, challenge, develop players. Are you willing to take risks as a coach to make your players better. Will you encourage them to try things or play safe? We maybe have players for 4 to 5 hours per week. Are you going to use that time wisely and effectively or just waste it with boring old drills and sessions which does nothing for you or your players. Your choice. We get one life; we get one chance to make a difference in a players life. Are you going to take it and make that difference or just keep wasting everyone’s time (including your own)

Live, coach, learn, help or die trying.

Use today, do it now, use every second. Don’t wait. This is not a rehearsal. Be the best coach you can be. They will thank you for it. Do it, before it’s too late.

I’ll leave you with this quote from Seneca on the subject.

“It is not that we have a short time to live, but that we waste a lot of it. Life is long enough, and a sufficiently generous amount has been given to us for the highest achievements if it were all well invested. But when it is wasted in heedless luxury and spent on no good activity, we are forced at last by death’s final constraint to realize that it has passed away before we knew it was passing. So it is: we are not given a short life but we make it short, and we are not ill-supplied but wasteful of it… Life is long if you know how to use it.”

You know what to do!!!



We’re All Dying

Cycling Lessons


Cycling, arguably, is the UK’s most successful sport both in terms of achievement and increasing participation. In the last three Olympics, Great Britain has collected 38 medals. 22 of them were GOLD. This is a remarkable achievement considering prior to this it only achieved one gold since British Cycling was formed in 1959. So, what happened? In 2003, Dave Brailsford (now Sir Dave) was appointed as the Performance Director for British Cycling. I am sure everyone has heard of ‘marginal gains’ now but it was the culture he helped create which really was the game-changer. The added bonus is that it is now reckoned that close to 2m people are riding their bikes regularly. I suppose there is a symbiotic relationship here with both feeding from each other.

From my faraway view it looks like British Cycling got the correct leader in place and then built the structure to create the environment which delivered success. In essence, they created world-class athletes around a performance centre based in Manchester. I know all the arguments about talent id and development. I am sure there was a real lack of talent when it was kicked off but I have read many of the coaches and riders accounts and the thing that has always jumped out was the character that was forming in the athletes. From the 7am starts to the hours and hours of practice on the track. This was all done for an annual fee of £3k with free board thrown in. If that is not dedication then I don’t know what is!!

Let’s compare that to the footballer of the same age in a top flight club.They train a couple of hours a day for a very comfortable salary of probably a few thousand per week. What character will this forge? Think you know the answer to that one!

There is a similarity with football in that at the top end it is cut-throat. Only the absolute best will go through. When you see a cyclist at the Olympics then they have fought there way to this point and have earned everything through blood, sweat and tears. Many will have fallen by the wayside but that is the nature of elite athletes. Compare this to football and how many have made it to the true elite level in world football. As a proud Scot, I can honestly say none and none for a very long time now.

The other achievement in cycling is getting the participation numbers up. At any given weekend now, you are bound to see a group of enthusiastic cyclists in the wind and the rain pounding along the road. Go the the local park in the wind and the rain and see how many bounce games are going on?

In Scotland the SFA have tried to change things through the academy system and the Performance Schools. We have had the last two Performance Directors (Mark Wotte and Brian McClair) both resign. I am pretty much convinced the academy system as it currently exists does not work. It might be too early for the performance schools to make a judgement. At the moment, there is no-one (to my knowledge) leading and creating that performance environment. It can’t be left to the clubs as they have their own drivers and pressures for immediate success. We need a leader with the vision and bravery to break out of our existing system (which is not working) and put in place a system that stretches from the elite level down to grassroots which develops players with the skills and character for today’s or tomorrow’s game.

It can’t be left to chance or we will get Natural Law taking over. For anyone wondering this is not about Gordon Strachan and the National Team Manager. This is about being brave and having someone tell the current administration that it is time to go. There are loads of good ‘football people’ at the SFA but alas I can’t see anyone with the balls to stand up and make the massive changes that are required.

It also can’t be left to the grassroots clubs like ours as we will do our best but we aren’t producing players on 3 hours of practice and a game per week. It needs 20 hours of practice plus 4 games per week. This will build character. How many boys do I see on our new 3G facility before school starts. A big, fat zero. If we had the right culture it would be full and fighting each other off.

My plea here is to learn from Cycling and what they have done to build participation and build an elite pathway. It can be done but only if you get the right people in place. By definition, we don’t have them now so get the right man at the helm and give him the freedom to put the structure in place. The structure and network of coaches then need to start the fire!

If all else fails, ask Dave Brailsford how to do it.

Cycling Lessons

Winning Stoically


In recent years I have developed a real interest in Stoicism. Although I wouldn’t yet consider myself a Stoic, I have enjoyed learning some of the underlying principles that make up this philosophy of life. There have been many Stoics over the years but probably the most well known are Seneca and Marcus Aurelius, the Roman Emperor. I would recommend ‘Letters from a Stoic’ by Seneca or ‘Meditations’ by Marcus Aurelius. If any of these whet your appetite then Ryan Holiday has written two great books called ‘The Obstacle Is the Way’ and Ego Is The Enemy’ Both of these will give a modern feel to Stoicism. I will guarantee you that Stoicism is not what you think it is and can be translated into a modern philosophy of life.

Many of us don’t have a real philosophy for life as we jump from one issue to the next. We deal with what is in front of us. Many people think a good life is having a good job. This allows us to buy ever more stuff to impress people in our belief that this creates a meaningful life. But ask yourself how long the happiness lasts, that we create when buying the latest gadget before we crave the next shiny thing? This is a process of hedonic adaptation which I may well pick up on future blogs.

You are probably now thinking that he’s gone mad and what has this to do with grassroots football?  Well. if we could learn a few Stoic principles and put them into practice then we might actually move away from chasing the next shiny thing and build on what we already have. The Stoics chose ‘to want what they already have’ in order to make them fully appreciate what they had.

The Stoics broke everything into 3 areas:

1.Where you have total control

2 Where you have some but not total control

3.Where you have no control

There is no point bothering about areas where you have no control ie the weather; the pitch; the referee; your height; the position you are asked to play or what the opposition will do and how they choose to play.

The second point we should consider, as that forms the largest group so we should try and influence this group while understanding that there are many factors at play that will affect the outcome. Examples are how you prepare physically and tactically but the biggest example is the final score of the game. Consequently, the first point is the most important. Concentrate on things in which you have total control. Examples of this are attitude, commitment, effort, enjoyment, opinions. These are all factors which the player has direct and full control over. Whereas the result, other people’s opinion and our reputation are not up to us.

There is much less energy required to do things in which we have total control over so we should be doing these as much as possible. We have it in our power to stop moaning at the coach; to be well mannered; to work hard; to take time to help our team-mates. The choice is within ourselves.

Consequently, a player who is looking to develop needs to set internal rather than external goals. Therefore, the goal is not to ‘win’ the match or the league or the cup (This is external and you don’t have full control over this) but to play to your best of your ability in the game.

The Stoics knew that our internal goals affect our external performance, but they also knew that the goals we set for ourselves have a direct impact on our emotional state. So if we set the goal to win the match, this does not increase our chances of winning that particular match. On the other hand, if we set playing our best game as our goal then we don’t reduce our chances of winning the match but we do lessen our chances of being upset by the outcome. We must then change the story we are telling ourselves and remove the thought of winning and replace it with playing to the best of our ability. This will significantly reduce your emotional anguish in the future.

Therefore I want players to ‘win stoically’ by setting internal goals for themselves. I can honestly say that I have never asked a team to go out and win. I have asked them to go out and enjoy themselves; express themselves and give their all. The result is of little significance but can they come off the pitch thinking they have given their all and reflect against the internal goal they set for themselves before the match? That for me is ‘winning’

If you want to read more on the Stoics then as well as Ryan Holliday’s books then you should have a look at the good stuff from Tim Ferriss. Also John Wooden and his famous quote “Success comes from knowing that you did your best to become the best that you are capable of becoming.” probably tells me that as well as being my coaching hero, he was also a Stoic at heart.

Finally, to quote Robin Sharma “The world belongs to learners” so let’s teach the kids to ‘win stoically’.

Winning Stoically

The Factory System


Many years ago a system was created that transformed industry. Henry Ford created a production system that made cars in large volumes at a relatively low cost. This new production system replaced skilled mechanics who produced cars on a ‘one-off’ basis with labourer’s who were paid to follow a defined process. I believe the Academy/Pro-Youth system is the football equivalent of Henry Ford’s factory. Nowadays we produce lots of players of a consistent quality. Dare I say average players? Is there any coincidence that a Formula 1 high end performance vehicle is not built on a factory line?

The world is changing and the workplace is going through enormous transformation.We are moving away from the factory production line as robots and Artificial Intelligence (AI) can take over most tasks.The job for life and the ‘safe’ career is dying. The focus and growth is now on freelancers, consultants, artists who are experts in a chosen area. They have specific skills and expertise that can be leveraged to the benefit of the whole system. If football is to develop then we need to understand what is going on in the world today. If we are to follow the creative thoughts of renowned strategists then how do we shut down the factories and start producing the artists, game-changers and one-offs that are the future of our game?

The recent past and current position has meant that everyone has to have gone through this system if they are to reach the professional game. The players had to rely on being picked or been spotted by an ‘old-school’ scout. This system is redundant. Today you could film yourself, post it on Youtube or send it to every club in the world. Being picked is less of an issue today. You can choose yourself (to quote James Altucher). The real problem is not on choosing the player with talent but understanding what now needs to be done to produce the player who understands that decision making is actually more important than technical ability.

Football needs to understand that the world has moved on but it is still stuck in an antiquated system (just like our schools and universities who are still producing students for a workplace that no longer exists). Like Henry Ford said, you can have any colour you want as long as it is black. I think the football mantra is ‘you can have any player you want as long as he/she can pass’ We have failed to move on and are now suffering as a result.

Arguably the production system I refer to produces ever greater efficiencies but the price we have paid is we are disappearing into a world of blandness. By it’s very nature efficiency is on an exponential curve but we have reached the top of it and instead of producing vibrant bright colours, greyness is the result.

The system needs to change. Change the system and you can change the results. Going back to my last blog post, I would say the Resistance is in charge of the current system so we need to replace these leaders first to bring it down. Of course turkey’s don’t vote for Christmas but we can all start to ‘clock out’ from the factory and start building the new world.

The Factory System

The Lizard Brain


The ‘Lizard Brain’ is the part of the brain that provides that little voice in your head that says play it safe, don’t stand out from the crowd, be average, don’t take risks. We all have it. Some have it on full volume while others try to put it on ‘mute’ Seth Godin talks about it all the time and how it holds back our development. Steven Pressfield refers to it as the ‘Resistance’

The amygdala to give it the proper name sits within your brain and is responsible for these emotions and thoughts. It is angry and afraid and we developed it over thousand’s of years to protect us. However, it’s purpose in the modern world does not protect but holds us back. I know I fight with this voice every day. Most of the time it wins and I play safe but sometimes I can silence it and win a battle. My blog aims to win more of these battles.

I really believe we need to understand the impact of the lizard brain. Our pro-youth/academy system is being run by the Resistance. Players and coaches who play it safe. Technical yes, tactically not so much and creativity then definitely not. The lizard brain has infected the majority. If we are to develop footballers again who are better than average then we need to go to war with it.

I have talked about creating art. We are currently producing painters and decorators (no offence intended). Average, functional footballers. Over the years, I have seen many players return to our club from the pro-youth/academy system. In general, their technical skills are decent but not exceptional.However, the biggest aspect is the effect on their confidence. They play with fear. The lizard brain is strong in them. Many coaches have told me it takes at least a season before they come out of this and realise football is about fun.

If the lizard brain is in charge then we have compliant, average players when what we have to try and produce is ‘game-changers’ Do we want players who will always play that safe pass or the game-changer who may fail but tries that reverse pass when no-one is expecting it. The problem is, we (coaches) praise the safe pass and punish the risky pass or dribble when the player loses the ball. If we continue to produce players who ‘paint by numbers’ then what do we expect if when reach the higher levels and they need to be ‘artists’

Even at my grassroots level I see many coaches feeding the lizard brain. Shouts like ‘pass, pass, pass’ and ‘play it long’ and ‘get rid’ are all delicacies for the lizard brain to gorge on. I watch players fearful to try and do anything and only do exactly what the coach tells them. Their lizard brain is getting bigger and stronger. As coaches, we need to starve it, not feed it! Let’s stop imposing rules on players, telling them exactly what to do. Dropping them or subbing them when they don’t follow our instructions.

So when do I know when a players is fighting the Resistance and trying to silence the lizard brain? Here are some behaviours to look out for:

  • Practicing when their fellow players are doing some other’ fun’ things that are not playing football
  • Giving it their all in every single session and every game
  • Taking risks and not being afraid to fail
  • Doing the point above over and over again
  • Never seen without a ball
  • Getting abuse from his peers for constantly practising
  • Willing to move away from people who are holding them back
  • Finally, loving every second they are playing with a football

As coaches, let’s do our bit to help our players silence the lizard brain. Let’s help them take risk by removing any fear they hold. The resistance is everywhere, it is our duty to fight it. Can we at least try and create these game-changers? These individuals who buck the trend. This is not easy as the more we fight, the more the lizard brain fights back. It wants you to quit, play it safe. It puts obstacles in your way so we have to be stronger. We must rise up and challenge the status quo. if we don’t then mediocrity, average and functional will be the winners. If you are happy with this outcome then you have just signed up for the Resistance.

If not, your challenge is to create game-changers or be one yourself. My own daily battle with the lizard brain goes on as it tells me as a manager, a coach and a parent that I am not good enough. A lot of time I get duped by it and I listen and it depresses me. By writing this post, I am calling it out. Let’s go to war with it in ourselves first and then help others overcome it. Create artists. The lizard brain is silenced when we learn to challenge it. Producing art puts it on silent for me. It gets me out of my comfort zone and the more I stretch the smaller the lizard brain becomes. Can this work for you?


The Lizard Brain

Creating Art


I have been thinking lately about why I write this blog. When I started producing this little corner of the internet, I wanted to improve my writing by talking about the game I love. It was really about clarifying my own thinking by committing it to print. Reviewing my posts, I can see my views crystallising but I want to take my writing to the next level. Here goes.

I love football. It’s been the one constant in my life. I love my wife, kids, family and many friends but my love of the game is different. From my earliest memory of kicking a ball, through my childhood, adolescence, early adult years up until the present, it has always been a big part of my life. The beauty of it is that 50 years down the line, I still love it. I will talk about it, watch it, debate it, listen to it. Who cares, it’s all great. I will drive my wife mad by switching it on at any opportunity. The reason being, it is not just a game. I see it as making beautiful ART. No two games can ever be the same. Think of the limitless variations in any game. Art can never be functional, it can’t be utilitarian. It needs to be challenging and create a deep feeling. Football must be ART.

I have read a lot about people making their own art. Read anything by Seth Godin and Steven Pressfield for a deeper understanding.  I want to challenge myself and make this my art.

So how can I do this through my blog? In the early days when I started blogging it was about seeing how many views I got. This was exciting with some posts generating thousands of views from all over the world. Other posts which I thought were good, didn’t generate the same volume. I am now at a place where I don’t really bother about the number of ‘hits’ as it is more for me. I write for me and maybe that one person I want to get a message to. If others get something from it – great but that is not the aim. This might sound selfish but it is actually liberating. I am not trying to impress some faceless person. I want to get my thoughts out openly, honestly and maybe taking me out of my comfort zone  and challenging my own beliefs.

I believe we can all make a difference in some way. My art is trying to make a difference in the best way I can. My aim is to use my coaching experiences to dig deeper into the beautiful game. What can I learn and how can I apply it? I want to create and make my art and use this blog as a vehicle for doing it. When I started blogging, it was scary (will people read it? will they like it?). I now realise that it doesn’t matter if people like it or not. This has been liberating and hopefully it means the blog can kick on and be even more challenging.

The blog is about my own experiences, my journey. Maybe it will leave a legacy, maybe it won’t but at least I can say I tried.. I want to put myself out there to be shot at. Head above the parapet! I now want to up my game. I want to write more. I want to write better. I want it to be my art and no-one elses. Watch this space!

Creating Art