Your Influence Is Never Neutral


The words of Dr. Jerry Lynch kept wringing in my ears ‘Your influence is never neutral’ as I  reflect on some recent events. I would urge you to check out Jerry’s website wayofchampions  for a deeper dive into some fantastic content.

So, with Jerry sitting on my shoulder, the penny dropped a little further for me at a recent match. For readers who know me and have kept up to speed with this blog then you will appreciate that I like football to be played the ‘right way’ For me, that is getting the ball down and passing, good individual technical ability and movement. One of my pet things is to see full backs get forward at every opportunity to help support the attack. At a recent match in the first half, we (the coaches) were ‘encouraging’ our right back to go forward every time we had the ball. He was on our side of the park so it was easy to ‘tell him’ This worked to great effect with loads of overlaps and underlaps causing chaos for the opposition. At the same time we didn’t say anything to our other full back as he was on the opposite side. In the second half the roles were reversed as we ‘encouraged’ our left back to go forward at every opportunity. The effect was the same with the left back rampaging forward causing chaos while on the other side the right back hardly ventured forward once. After the game I spoke to the right back and asked why he never got forward in the 2nd half. He actually couldn’t explain it despite some promptings!

This little lesson was profound for me. After a discussion about decision making it is clear that it is not the player who is at fault. This is my failing and it is a big one. I realised that all the technical work is meaningless unless we work on the mental side at the same time. The players are still relying on these ‘shouts’ from the sidelines. I hate to say it but at 15yo we haven’t created that environment yet where decision making is integrated. I have taken a hard look at myself and now looking at teachings on awareness, self-responsibility, purpose and emotional buy-in. My last blog Breaking the Command and Control Chains talked about how we do this but it’s not that simple or easy. The only way to do it is small incremental steps and that is how I am approaching it.

I suppose my failing is not stating a clear style of how I would like the team to play and evolve. This is definitely ‘work in progress’ for me. So what is that style? For me, it is players comfortable and confident on the ball; quick passing; every single player involved in the game no matter where the ball is; playing out from the back; good transitions etc etc. My own team is very much a WIP on this but I need to help them understand the how and why.

As well as my own u16 team, I have watched quite a few other games lately involving older teams. There are certain themes evident in all the games. I have taken in matches up to adult level. Mostly, defences are made up of strong physical defenders who are good in the air and don’t take chances. I listened with interest for the shouts from the side of the park such as ‘clear your lines’ ; ‘No chances’ ; and the loudest shout I heard from a coach was ‘Great kick’ when the GK launched the ball the length of the park. On the same day I heard this I read a statement from Brendan Rogers following some impatience expressed by some Celtic supporters. It was summarised as:

“Or you can play Scottish football. Just smash it up the pitch. It hasn’t got you anywhere for 20 odd years”

Brendan is oh so right. The problem is that this way is still evident throughout all our age groups and is therefore the MO for Scottish football. I even see it in our youngest players. The cultural thought process is that if the ball is at the other end of the park then the opposition can’t score. Yes, we still live in the dark ages while other nations know that this is just giving the ball back to the opposition. I have watched matches that have seen both teams do this ‘no risks’ football. It actually more resembles a game of rugby where teams kick for position. To paraphrase Nigel Owens:

This is not rugby.

My own failings rear their ugly head again as I have both played in and coached teams doing this sort of thing. Well, it needs to stop. I need to work out how to get it across to players that they have a choice every second they are on the pitch. They need to start thinking for themselves rather than listening to the nonsense that comes from the side of the pitch (myself included).  I actually asked a player to ignore me if I shouted something to him during a game. It is not about me, it is about the players. We need coaches to think differently and not always do it the same old way. We can make a difference but only if Jerry’s words are wringing in everyone’s ears!

So, I’ll say it again. Your Influence Is Never Neutral

Postscript: Thanks to Jerry, John O’Sullivan and Reed Maltbie Changing The Game Project for their continued inspiration on this.

Your Influence Is Never Neutral

Grassroots Tax


This is another guest post from Dave Buglass after his extremely insightful and popular previous post. Dave hits the nail on the head with this one and should be posted ‘first class’ to the football authorities. I’ll let Dave carry on……..

Please sir…………can we have some of that?

The transfer window slammed shut at 11pm on Thursday after a frantic deadline day, with the 20 teams in the English Premiership paying out more than £210m on the final day of business.

English top flight English clubs spent an absolute fortune over the past couple of months as they scrambled to improve their squads for the long campaign ahead.

Premier League sides splashed more than £1.4bn on recruitment, with a total of 265 players joining new clubs.

Wow… if only we had even a fraction of that in grassroots.

This is my 3rd season at Syngenta Juveniles now coaching at U17s with a great squad of committed players, coaches and parents. As a club, we’re like any other grassroots club always looking for funding support, sponsors etc etc to buy new kit, balls and equipment. That’s then before having to pay for the use of school let facilities and astro parks.

However, as a club we’re lucky that we’ve struck gold with a new 25-year lease for pretty much exclusive use of the Little Kerse facility in Grangemouth which boasts five pristine grass surfaces, one refurbished astro park and the announced-on Thursday a second astro park for the use by Syngenta players. Fantastic news however it’s been far too hard to achieve this and the funding required.

So taking into account the money splashing around in the transfer window in both England and Scotland, why couldn’t we introduce with the help of the government some form of Grassroots Sport Tax how would that work?

Idea 1: For every £1 spent on a transfer a 1% levy would be applied to a transfer fee that is paid into a central fund that would be governed by the relevant bodies selected.

Perhaps the Scottish Football Trust who’s impact on our game is growing at a pace. So basically, for every transfer in Scotland that takes place at one of clubs, the levy is charged to the club and then paid into the central fund.

This summer alone, over £12m was spent between Celtic and Rangers so that’s £120,000 alone into a fund.

Idea 2: Much was written about the launch of Juan Mata’s (Manchester United) decision to pay 1% of his wages (£140k a week) into the Common Goal charity run by StreetWorld Football. His idea was ‘sign up’ a Common Goal First Eleven doing similar. All funds raised would go to a range of charities.

So why with the help of the PFA in Scotland (and maybe England) couldn’t we consider a Grassroots Tax on professional salaries for all players?

Businesses up and down the UK are being charged for the new Apprenticeship Levy, which is a tax calculated on their PAYE. So why couldn’t we consider something similar?

Players putting back into the funding of facilities across the country, creating the next set of heroes and giving something back.

We shouldn’t be struggling to get funding to put teams onto the pitch on a Saturday and Sunday morning, but sadly we are. With the outcomes and outputs due to be presented on the now infamous Project Brave, are we likely to see how more funding can be directed the way of clubs to continue?  How many of the Performance Schools had new astros or the appropriate facilities provided for their launch?

If Project Brave is due to slash the number of ‘pro youth’ and ‘club academy’ sides up and running, 1000s of boys will pour back into boys club to continue their development. Are we ready for them and will we be able to continue their development or will they be lost to the PlayStation or Xbox?

One thing is for sure with the money continuing to spoil our game at the top level, funds need to be filtering down into the grassroots game.

The big guys should be doing far more to grow the next generation of Scotland stars.

Grassroots Tax

Breaking The Command And Control Chains


So here we are at the start of another season. Already having played a number of friendlies, our hopes and expectations are high. We are refreshed after the summer break and look forward to expansive, open, free-flowing football. If only the reality matched this positive outlook.

In our pre-season friendlies I have already witnessed more of the same old nonsense. Two instances, funnily enough sum this up. Both involved goalkeepers and coaches while playing the ball out from the back. I love to see goalkeepers play the ball out and start moves by playing this way. In one instance, the goalkeeper gave a goal away by being caught on the ball and in the other the goalkeeper refused to play the ball out to the full back and instead chose to go long. Both situations resulted in an argument between the coach and player (quite heated in both cases). Both arguments were ended by the coach saying “Don’t argue with me, I’ll tell you what to do”

So we are again being ‘Joystick coaches’ and using command and control thinking and behaviours to coach our teams? I am not immune, as I found myself telling a player what to do in the same game which resulted in him stopping to look at me and ask a question while the game was going on. Crazy and my fault!

The system we are all in means it has always been done this way therefore we battle this demon in every game (I certainly do). Unfortunately, the demon wins more often than not especially when things are tight and that little demon is whispering in your ear or sometimes even shouting at you to get involved. It brainwashes you into thinking you can control the uncontrollable.

So, as coaches, why are we displaying command and control thinking and behaviour when we know this is not the best way to optimise the performance of our players?

I have been a systems thinker for years but still feel I am very much still a learner. A duty of any system thinker is to work on the system. Our system is the team and club in which we can exert an influence. I would like to look at this through the lens of a movement which is gaining momentum within organisational life which I believe will make a massive difference of how we work and live. Teal organisations and Integral thinking is gathering pace and I believe gives hope to the future of work. Frederick Laloux’s book ‘Reinventing Organisations‘ is an amazing treatise on this subject and would recommend it.

Without going into details there are 3 main principles which when applied move us away from a mechanistic, command and control (Red/Orange) environment to a living system (Teal). The book provides evidence of companies who have made this change to great effect.

In terms of our clubs and football in general, I can see benefits of applying these principles and getting away from the mechanistic way we have always done it, so here goes:

  1. Self-management – As a club, we are already partly there. Each team or age group effectively works as a self-managed team. No-one is telling them what to do. We are all volunteers so there is no need to. However, these ‘self-managed teams’ could really benefit by implementing the Advice Process. This allows any person (coach) to make a decision but they need to have sought expert advice from the people who have to live with the decision (players). This means good decisions on all aspects of play will be achieved collectively where the coach checks with the players and the players check with the coach. If we were to pick this idea up then just think how much the players will be involved in their own development.
  2. Wholeness – In traditional organisations we all wear a ‘mask’ We have a professional image to maintain and the mask will not be dropped. However, we know we have a much deeper part which carries risk if we reveal it. This is who we really are against wearing a mask that is career-driven and the ego rules. If we drop the mask as coaches and give our authentic self, our real self, then we will show up fully and our players will respond positively to this.
  3. Evolutionary Purpose – We need to have a higher purpose. Beyond the next win or trophy. We need to listen more to our players, what do they want to get out of their game? Great coaches have a different perspective, a different outlook. They have a calmness that instills trust and confidence. They understand that trying to control people just doesn’t work and they try and develop the ‘whole’ person.

So there you have it. Principles that allow us to get deeper and more meaningful in our coaching. I feel strongly about breaking the chains of command and control. Unfortunately we are surrounded by this cartesian, mechanistic, newtonian, deterministic world and will be a massive challenge to break out of it. However, once we break them we will never look back as we will be free. It will mean we will live with purpose, meaning and substance and will ever wonder why we wore the chains for so long.

Once we break our own chains, our players chains will automatically fall away. It will be liberating for everyone and just think how good it will feel?

Breaking The Command And Control Chains

Ego is the Opponent


Having enjoyed my little blogging break over the summer I had the need to feed my ego by getting back with a subject that has has concerned me for some time. We all have an ego however there are levels to it and I would like to challenge it from a coaching perspective.

Ryan Holliday talks about the “Disease of Me” and the self-interest of the ego. Your ego will hold you back. The counter to ego is humility, selflessness, modesty, self-control and justice. Consequently, by putting these into practice your ego is suppressed and you will develop and move forward.

As a grassroots coach achieving honours such as trophies and awards is the validation of the ego. Awards and recognition matter to the egotist. The coach fixated with winning to the detriment of player development is ego operating at the highest level.

There is a cost to ego. Coaches need to look internally and seriously question if their own ego is getting in the way of their players’ development. Of course, the ones with the biggest ego’s will fail to do this. Self-reflection is ridiculed by the ego. The very ones who need to do this are the ones who will disregard and rubbish this point. They fool themselves that they are doing it ‘for the kids’ when in reality the ego has won. The enemy lies within and the enemy is the ego.

Now the problem is that you can’t avoid it. The ego lies within all of us. It’s that little voice or in many cases voices that is chipping away at you not to lose face and show others how good we are. It’s part of us but our daily battle needs to be how to turn the volume down. The ego is telling us how good we are; how much better than others we are. The reality might be very different. Are we deluded?

Grassroots coaches come in many shapes and sizes. Our backgrounds, intelligence, behaviours and culture will be remarkably different. No two coaches are the same. With all these factors and all our personal history there is no wonder ego can easily find a comfortable home. We have found ourselves in a position of trust sometimes by default or by maneuvering ourselves into a role. No matter how you have found yourself in this coaching role, we are now here and let’s think how the ego affects that performance as a coach. Will it help or hinder?

Firstly let’s look at one end of the continuum. The ‘Egotistical Coach’ They are easy to spot. It’s all about them. Chasing trophies; chasing the best players; swapping out players who don’t meet their expectations; telling anyone who is willing to listen how good their team is. As Reed Maltbie would say the ‘joystick coach’ continually giving instruction. They do it for themselves, not the team. Don’t get me wrong there have been a few exceptions. I know a few who have created successful teams (in terms of trophy winning) but have built the teams with humility and selflessness.

In these times of instant gratification, ego is well fed and lives in comfortable surroundings. However, just like many forms of gratification it is empty, artificial and poisonous.

So at the other end of the continuum where ego has been silenced, we see the good traits in a coach removed of his ego. Truly great coaches do not need external assurance. They look internally and I don’t think how good I am but think what can I do better. In my experience, the ones who I have the most respect for were self-aware, diligent and humble. The saying ‘Think Big, Act small’ was their mantra. They knew the road to development was a long one but taking one small step at a time without any self-promotion was the path to greatness.

Finally, the ego blinds us by building ourselves up with fantastic stories of how good we are. Guaranteed it will be same ego and self-delusion that will be your downfall.

I’ll finish with my coaching hero and the most ego-less coach I know. John Wooden, voted the No’1 coach of all-time was seen at a basketball game at 93 years old taking notes. He was still intent on learning at such an age. No ego in any shape or form. We must learn from the greats. We must prevent ego finding a place in ourselves as it will only undermine your true self.

Ego is an opponent we can beat.

Ego is the Opponent

Community Is The Answer


Margaret (Meg) Wheatley famously said “Whatever the problem, community is the answer”. In the present time where we have had the shocking scenes from the Grenfell Tower fire; the General Election; Brexit; terrorist attacks; Trump as POTUS it is safe to say we are living in crazy times. We have seen that the authorities (or the establishment) are maybe not the ones to be leading us in this uncertain world. They have fooled us all into a way of thinking that has used the ‘Corporation’ to be king above all else. It uses authority, competition, power, profit, bureaucracy to produce a mechanistic world where the subordinates are controlled and people are moulded into self-centred, materialistic, money grabbers buying more and more stuff to generate the economy while at the same time trashing the planet.

So a very dark picture is emerging but I am sick of focussing on all this as we see it 24/7 on every news channel we watch. We need to change the paradigm and the only answer I see is COMMUNITY!.

When we talk of community it conjures up a different picture. We think of volunteers, meaning, neighbours, social responsibility, part of a team, fun, involvement, helping others. In summary, something bigger than ourselves.

Communities have existed for thousands of years while corporations have only really been here for the last few hundred. However the pendulum appears to have swung too far towards corporations (and the associated problems) at the expense of communities. Don’t get me wrong we need both but there is currently a dire need for some system correction.

Time to pause…..This might seem a bit odd to be talking about such big issues on a blog that focuses on youth football development but the same issues are reflected in our game. Subsequently I can see some hope in our game and for the society in general.

I am proud to be part of a real community club. We represent the local community of around 10,000 people. The vast majority of players and coaches live in Dunblane but our doors are very much open to people from outside the town. It’s not just a bunch of people thrown together. We are a bunch of like-minded people with a common aim. Community, by it’s very nature is about sharing. We aim to share and help each other. It is not about one person or one team but it is about building a club which stands for something. We aim to get as many playing as we possibly can, for as long as possible. If we can develop players as individuals and as footballers then we are making a difference.

Looking at it from the wider lens of the issues I mention above then if we fall into the ‘corporation’ mode then we will have coaches who are only interested in themselves (self-centred). We will have coaches chasing trophies above all else (materialistic). We will lose the game we love by letting commercialism take over. This will just put us on the same trajectory as the rest of society. Therefore we have a chance to uphold our values by sticking to what we believe is right. Care in our community. Strength in togetherness.

Let’s set the standard for a new future. Together, as one, as a community. Helping each other to get better. Protecting the weak and challenging the strong.

We need to build the C’s of Community:

  • Collaboration
  • Capability
  • Commitment
  • Contribution
  • Conscience

Remember (as in life), you can’t play football alone. You need to be part of a team, a squad, a club, a community. What better way than playing with your best friends and creating memories to last a lifetime.

The best clubs have the feeling of community. Can we lead the way for the rest of society to follow. This is my hope. This is our strength.

Without doubt, community is the answer.


Community Is The Answer

Football is Capitalism


I couldn’t resist writing this post in advance of the General Election. I am not particularly political but I do believe in certain values with regard to fairness, community and opportunity for all. Something I believe my own club stands for.

I believe football is reflection of our society. Back in the day where football was the only game in town and where the working class roots of the game meant everyone played. There was, literally, nothing else. The shipyards and mine’s were dominant and players fought their way out of these ‘hard’ industries to make it to the professional game. The fans could recognise their heroes as being one of them.

Today it is very different. Big Premier league clubs are the superpowers of our society. They promise trickle down economics as the outputs of capitalism but how much of it reaches the grassroots level? The rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer. Sadly, equality, altruism and concern for your neighbour have bitten the dust in favour of greed, individualism and asset accumulation.The religion of the day is to pray at the altar of the City.

Our game has been sold to the Captains of Capitalism. The respected coach, John Davies, has warned of this for years. Big business has taken over by selling fancy boots at £200, sugary drinks, fast food which all do nothing to make players better. They sell a dream. A dream that can never be achieved using their products. How we need to strip it back, minimalise and get to the roots of our character and spirit. To quote Tyler Durden from Fight Club:

“I see all this potential, and I see it squandered. God damn it, an entire generation pumping gas, waiting tables – slaves with white collars. Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don’t need. We’re the middle children of history, man. No purpose or place. We have no Great War. No Great Depression. Our great war is a spiritual war… Our great depression is our lives. We’ve all been raised on television to believe that one day we’d all be millionaires, and movie gods, and rock stars, but we won’t. We’re slowly learning that fact. And we’re very, very pissed off.”

So, is our game leading or following the ways of our society? The mega-clubs get richer and compete for the most valuable assets while poorer ones fight over the scraps or worse. Countries like mine yearn for the days when they were able to play on the world stage. I am one of a declining generation who can remember when Scotland regularly qualified for World Cups and Euro Championships. Now we are a 3rd world nation trying to kid ourselves on we are a player in the world.

We will never be a superpower – FACT. So why don’t we learn from other similar sized countries. Why can’t we try a different economic approach? Why can’t we have a different social structure. Why can’t we rise and ‘be a nation again’ as the song goes? We can’t because we are little people who fear breaking out the existing paradigm. We fear the unknown. We fear it will affect us individually. We fear the fear! The system encourages us to be compliant and fearful. We are trapped in the current system through debt. How do we hope to break out if we continually owe to others. Just like our football! We play with fear. “Get rid”; “Kick it long”; “Don’t take any chances”; “Nothing fancy” It is much easier to do as you are told rather than question the system that you are in. I admit questioning the system is seen as too hard. Particularly when in debt, mortgaged to the hilt but we must try and break this paradigm.

There is one antidote to all this fear. It is HOPE. I hope one day to live in a fair, just society where everyone has a chance to make something of themselves. Where everyone can play a part in their community. Where we move from independent to inter-dependent. Where Scotland qualifies for a major championship! Ok, that might be taking it too far.

Maybe we should look over the North Sea at our Nordic cousins. They have changed both their political system and football pedigree by focussing on community and a fairer society. A possible model for us to learn from?

There is no doubt we live in a capitalist society and our football clubs reflect this. Is there a different model for our football clubs and is there a different model for our society. I live in hope on both fronts. As this season and parliament ends, let’s look forward to a new, fresh start and build solid foundations based on values, respect, honesty and concern for our fellow humans.

Hopefully when you cast your vote it is not done with fear but with HOPE. Let’s stop playing defensively; get on the front foot; attack with passion. This is ours and our children’s future. Now is not the time to play with 5 at the back and park the bus. We need to play expansively. We need to have hope that one day I am once again proud and to be part of a great community both on and off the park.

Whatever your political leanings, at least have a say in the outcome of the game and vote with your heart and soul. We will leave a legacy in some way, let’s make sure it is one of hope for our children.

Football is Capitalism

Lessons From A Legend

Sir John

This is a tribute to a man who many consider to be the Godfather of Coaching. Sir John Whitmore recently passed away (28th April 2017) and this is my attempt to honour his memory. I was fortunate enough to have been trained by John back in 2002 when I completed his course based on his book ‘Coaching for Performance’ I then took this training to the next level when I completed his 3 day course entitled ‘Transpersonal Coaching’ Both courses were amazing and gave me a desire to explore my own coaching journey.

Firstly, to the courses and the the foundation for all my coaching since completing ‘Coaching for Performance. This was really a journey of giving you tools and techniques to become a competent coach. The GROW model was introduced and I still use the model to this day. The real secret to this was not the tools and techniques but was looking inside at my own personal improvement pilgrimage. John’s authenticity drove us to look inside for answers. Not once did he tell us what to do. He just asked the right questions. So many people if they just learnt to ask good questions and not tell people what to do could make a massive difference to personal performance. The video below shows an exercise we carried out.

Although the quality of the video is not great, I think you will get the message. We did exactly the same exercise and the results were incredible.

Following this course I signed up for the Advanced Coaching course ‘Transpersonal Coaching’ and was lucky enough to have Olympic gold medallist, David Hemery, as my coaching partner. This programme content was a real eye opener and I must admit I struggled with it at the time. It was delving deep into my own psyche and the different sub-personalities we all have. It took ‘Awareness’ and ‘Responsibility’ to new levels. It looked at your core values and beliefs. It was about EQ and your own personal growth. But it was even more than that. John took me on a developmental journey which I am still on to this day. We looked at spirituality and the impact we have on others. It really was a rollercoaster for me where I explored things I had never even thought of before. ‘Crisis of Meaning’; ‘Crisis of Duality’; ‘Personal Will’ are all things I am still researching. It is only 15 years on that the jigsaw picture is now taking shape.

John was an inspirational figure to me back in 2002 and 2003. Although we lost touch I received the odd message from John over the years and I truly treasured his wisdom. A truly humble man who not once told me what to do. He just asked brilliant questions. I try to do the same but I am nowhere near as fluent as I want to be.

John is best known for his business coaching but also through the Inner game series and Tim Gallwey has helped me in my football coaching. Sports coaching and Business coaching are very different but both aim to improve the player/person being coached. John states that ‘building awareness, responsibility and self-belief is the goal of the coach’ Too true! Our goal is to bring the best out in the people we are coaching. John taught me that in order to do this we must work on ourselves first. The dichotomy of this is obvious but being selfless and giving to others is key for me. John talked about moving through three stages in life. From dependent to independent to interdependent. We really need to get to that last stage where we depend on each other to flourish.

John, you have joined my other great great coaching hero John Wooden and I would love to hear your conversations!!. I had the privilege to be influenced by you and you have given me an invaluable gift. You practised this until your last breath. I hope I can honour you by doing the same.

You made me GROW. I salute you Sir.


Lessons From A Legend

To See Or Not To See

This is a truly inspirational Guest Post from a young man whom I have admired over the last few years. Cavan Burns will tell his own story in his own words. My link to Cav was an influential coach from my younger days. Jimmy Whyte was my manager at Neilston Juniors where he made me his captain. Jimmy’s characteristics of grit and determination are amplified in his grandson, Cavan. Over to Cav……..


On September 30th 2015, I lost my beloved Uncle Jim to a heart attack in the early hours of the morning. I was unaware of the all, consuming loss until the afternoon and was burdened with the news on my return home from school. At first I was overcome by confusion, then grief. It seemed that the world slowed down around me and I felt empty. I didn’t really know how to cope with loss, which may have been unusual for a fourteen year old. The impact of my uncle’s absence consumed me. The cheerful theme song of my younger brother’s children’s television show echoed in stark contrast to the devastation which permeated my family.

Prior to Uncle Jim’s death I had nothing to mourn for apart from the unfortunate death of my goldfish of four years, Max. I didn’t know how to mourn. I didn’t know how to cope. A feeling of emptiness consumed me. I spent a few days in the darkness of my room, accompanied by a “Still Game” box-set, which was a present from my uncle, as a way of trying to enlighten the sinister atmosphere that surrounded me. My way of coping was trying to return to a sense of normality, preferably as soon as possible. Therefore, on the Friday after my uncle’s death I made a return to football. Throughout the training session I didn’t feel comfortable, thoughts of selfishness flowed through my head. My concentration lapsed, I shouldn’t have been there. The world was portrayed in a different light, dark yet more vivid. It was as if my eyes had been opened to the cruelty of reality, ironically not for much longer. Life has a habit of kicking you whilst you are down. I was at my lowest, lost in a blur, a dark yellow haze, then black. A nervous murmur of laughter filled my ears, then the panicked voice of my coach. Then silence. More panic. Ambulance. Waiting room. Hospital. More grief. No laughter.

As a footballer you become accustomed to familiar smells. Deep Heat, the pungent smell of sweaty shin guards. I wished that Deep Heat could’ve healed this injury. This was my first time coping with the smell of a hospital. The horrible aroma of sickness. A hyphema is a pooling or collection of blood inside the interior chamber of the eye. The blood may cover most or all of the iris and the pupil, blocking vision. The simple definition of my injury still sends shivers down my spine. The world around me slowed completely, disoriented and confused I struggled to find desire to carry on. It would be easy to give up. The darkest week of my life. Despite how hard it was, it reignited a fire inside of me. From now on it would take a lot to permanently put that fire out.

Sometimes, being a stubborn bastard pays off. Never lying down to anyone or anything is a key trait of mine. I suppose this helped me through this difficult time apart from the fact I was so eager to leave the hospital that I risked permanently damaging my eye. I felt like a burden in the ward, with the beds around me filled with sick children. It seemed to me that I was taking up space. Space that could’ve been used for a child with something much more severe than what I had. I spent the whole October week in bed, in the darkness once again. I had to get out. The pressure in my eye didn’t compare to the pressure that crippled me, with the feeling of guilt plaguing me down. Why did I go to training that night? Haven’t mum and dad been through enough? Selfishness. Unfortunately at that point in time this was another key trait of mine. After four hard months of heartache, bitterness and pain I made an unlikely and near impossible return to the sport I love: football. Aided by a sense of fearlessness and the view that I can combat anything life would now throw at me, and of course, my trusty sports goggles. A new aura of confidence surrounded me unlike the cocky, arrogant persona I left behind (hopefully), but now an aura of thankfulness and belief.

Football has always been an outlet for me. It keeps me out of violence, drinking etc. which are all prominent at my age in the West of Scotland. With a point to prove I set out with my head down, feeling the effects of every game. When it rained I saw blurs on the pitch due to the steam on my goggles. When it was warm the condensation would gather and cause blurs again. In order to continue doing what I loved I had to wear them. Simple as that. No longer having that sense of selfishness also vastly improved my game. I literally saw things in a new light and in a positive way this time. After a year of hard work I was given a lucky break, a chance to prove myself at the highest level I was capable of at the time; the Scottish Youth FA national team trials. For the first time since my final eye assessment I was nervous. Before I had nothing to lose but now after so nearly having this opportunity taken away from me I had to take this opportunity with both hands.

6 months on from the trials here I sit as captain of this team. Living proof of what determination can achieve. In April, I led my country out in Valencia in a four day trip that I have earned. The point of this essay is not to gloat, or portray myself as big headed or egotistical. The point of this essay is to prove a point. At some points in my life I will again encounter the darkness, but this time I won’t be blinded by it. In the past year and half I hope I have overcome the persona of the “old me”. The selfish me. The boy who values football over mourning. If it wasn’t for football I would still be mourning, not just for my uncle, but for myself. For my future.

When life kicks you when you are down, kick life back into the top corner. Never give up.

To See Or Not To See

Talent Destruction


If there is one word that really gets my my hackles up then it is ‘talent’. When I hear the word, my hands start to sweat and I can feel the resentment rising. I think of the many players who were classed as ‘talented’ yet never made the grade in the game. Some of the these prestigious talents gave up on the game at a very early age. The word really does make me squirm.

I would like to quote James Altucher “Talent helps but it can also hurt” So why does it hurt? In simple terms, players who are regarded as talents just can’t handle losing. One defeat and their own self-confidence is ruined. One missed chance and their world collapses. I have known, coached and been team-mates with players who have been labelled ‘real talent’ These players have demonstrated the following behaviours in their attempt to protect their self-image:

  • Developing last minute injuries before key games.
  • Physically sick before games
  • Blaming any of their own mistakes on their team-mates
  • Not participating in training games in case they make mistakes in front of their peers
  • Asking to come off in games and blaming injuries for poor performances

Of course many of these happen with ordinary players but I have seen it much more in so called talented players. There has been much written on the subject but the fear of failure is a key driver. The sad thing is that many of these young talents will simply stop playing because they can’t handle losing and bringing shame on themselves (as they see it).

Talent is a tiny kindling. It won’t make a fire unless you carefully attend to it with adding fuel. Too much and you drown it, too little and you starve it. You, the coach, control the fuel you feed it.

I have heard numerous coaches recommending ‘talented’ players. It always turns me off. I would love players to have the tiniest of talents or have won the physical/genetic lottery which will give them a start. However, it is the players who takes that grain of talent and apply a work rate like no other who has the best chance. In my own team there are some players better than others purely based on their physical, technical and mental skills which have been developed. Subsequently, I will only judge them on the progress they have made to develop these skills. As many parents and observers will not see the daily/weekly progress then they will regard some players as ‘talented’ however that is only because they have worked on specifics which have made them better players ergo ‘more ‘talented’ in their eyes.

The real talent is wanting to grow and get better every single day. Can they improve 1% every session? Instead of comparing players to others, can you compare them to how they were last week, last month, last year? What have they done over this period to improve the technical, tactical, physical and mental aspects of their own performance?

Talent last for seconds, skill requires a price you have to pay.

To quote Serena Williams “There’s always something you have to give up for success. Everything comes at a cost. Just what are you willing to pay for it?” Whatever you are willing to pay is your choice (no-one else can make it for you). You determine the price but remember there are no free lunches.

Talent Destruction

It’s The System Stupid!


The Quality guru, W.Edwards Deming said it best “A bad system will beat a good person every time” Of course, he was referring to the workplace but is our football system any different?

Deming has been a constant in my life since the 80’s when I read his seminal book ‘Out of the Crisis’ How appropriate is that title to our current predicament in Scottish football? Over the years I have attempted to apply the Deming principles in the workplace. Some with great success while others with glorious failure. However, I have learned by doing so and we now need to use this thinking in football.. Following my last blog post, I received loads of responses with a common theme. To summarise them, we are indeed at crisis point and there were things from the past that we should learn from.

In recent weeks, I have heard a lot of common messages. I attended the SFA Quality Mark awards where ex-Scotland manager Craig Brown gave his views on grassroots football. He talked about Sir Alex (It was Fergie back then) when he was Aberdeen manager and how he changed the system at Aberdeen for the overall good of player development. I have also listened to Bumper Graham podcasts (the fantastic ‘The Big Interview’) from Neil Lennon, Gordon Strachan, Joe Jordan, Chris Sutton and many others who talk about their route through the development stages to make it to the top. There is a common thread through these talks that demonstrates the old system shaped what they became both as players and managers. This crystallised my thoughts further to conclude that the current system really is broken and action is required.

So what can I do to change the current system? I am but one voice and it will take many to rise up and challenge the status quo but here is my tuppence worth.

My proposal is to take the good bits from the past and meld it with the current environment. The world has changed and we need to acknowledge this. Let’s take the positives. Today the facilities are 100 times better. 3G/4G surfaces, floodlights, training kit, playing kit, light (expensive) state of the art football boots and balls. If we utilise these but take the lessons from the past then we just might start producing quality players again. Now, we might never produce a Messi or a Ronaldo as their environment is totally different to ours but how good would a modern day Baxter, Dalglish, Souness or McStay be for Scottish football.

The current system will produce players but will it produce them to the quality and numbers required to be ‘that nation again’? Two of the current crop that stand out for me are Kieran Tierney at Celtic and Barrie McKay at Rangers. Both are exciting and came through the existing system. My argument would be that they would come through whatever system is in place. Both hugely talented athletes with loads of potential. They are in fact exceptions to the rule. As a rule, the current system produces average and these two are outliers.

I am now going to demonstrate the current system and my blueprint for success through the experience of a player in the current system. I won’t name the player but it could apply to most players in the current system. At our grassroots club, we have had many talented players who have left at various ages to join senior clubs at pro-youth (academy) level. Some are still with the clubs however many have fallen out the academy system and returned to grassroots clubs. There is no fault with the players as they are chasing their dreams but the system is spitting them out as damaged goods. So back to my player. This player is a real talent. He was head and shoulders above most players in his league and was deservedly spotted and signed for a senior club. He is now playing in the academy system working under A and B licence coaches. So far, so good. With the talent and attributes he has and with good qualified coaches mentoring him then the foundations should be in place for him to at least reach the professional game. At 16, I truly believe he could make it (although I accept there are many variables in this assumption). Many will say that it is now up to him if he makes it or not. A little bit of that statement is correct however the system has a much bigger influence. Here’s why! He will only likely play 1 game per week. On a Sunday against another academy side. He will either not be allowed to play for the school team or decides he doesn’t fancy it now. He can’t play for any other club as he has signed a pro-youth contract. In that one game, he might not play the full game but only get 20, 30, 40 or 50 minutes on the field due to size of the squad. Yes, he is getting better coaching but how can he learn and develop with so little game time where he has to solve problems against good players? Are we really giving that player a chance to be successful and become a professional player?

Here is my view on what the new system would look like:

Starting at Pre-Secondary School – The current grassroots system is actually good at this age as it contains fun fours, super 5’s and 7-a-side. All fun formats with no scores or leagues. These formats are correct but should be supplemented by more ‘street games’ I would like to see many ‘Cruyff’ courts in local communities to encourage this free play. Additional ideas at this level would be futsal to be implemented across the board but particularly in winter months. Again more football played and encouraged in schools to allow proper technique to be developed.

After the player moves to Secondary School , this is where I see the big changes having to be addressed. ‘Project Brave’ may address some of the issues but like all central tenets there will be compromises. At this point players move to 11-a-side with competitive leagues. My view at this age is we should be getting in as many hours of football as possible while building in resilience. Looking back we played 3 games on a weekend. We played for our school in the morning; our Boys Club in the afternoon and our local Sunday league team. We need this back. Starting with the school system.There was real competition within schools and real honour to play for your District, Regional and National team. Many will remember the 1980 under 16 schoolboy international when Scotland beat England 5-4. Paul McStay, Ally Dick and John Robertson (Hearts) starred for Scotland while Paul Rideout scored a hat-trick for England. As a sidenote. The game was played in front of 72,000 at Wembley and televised live! This was probably the height of schoolboy football and teacher strikes decimated the years that followed. The time is right to get school football back to its rightful place leading youth football by dedicated PE teachers. Players at pro-youth level seem to reject school football or are told by their clubs not play. I would suggest that all players NEED to play and this will raise the standard.

During this age the Academy system needs to be addressed. Again looking back to learn some lessons. The top clubs will always have their academies but how can the smaller clubs survive by banking on discovering the next big thing who they can sell on?  In the past the big clubs of the time (Celtic BC, Eastercraigs, Drumchapel Amateurs, Hutchie Vale and Salvesen to name a few) attracted the best players. They were effectively acting as feeder clubs for the senior ranks. Aberdeen Boys Club tried to this for Aberdeen but Fergie scrapped it as it inhibited player development. He sent them back to their local clubs. His simple assumption was they had to play more. As is suggested, the academy teams are reduced then this will allow players to play for their Boys Club and will develop healthy competition. Why don’t we allow modern day ‘big clubs’ like Hutchie Vale, Syngenta, Cumbernauld Colts, Broomhill SC, East Kilbride FC, Cantera, Harmony Row and a few others to compete against Academy teams in a competitive league therefore getting best v best. These wouldn’t be stale academy games which I have witnessed but real competitive games where different problems will need to be solved.

My last pillar is community teams like my own. We have a role in both developing a lifelong love of the game and being the base for player development. Our ethos is to get as many playing for as long as possible. Our aim would be to create a fun (semi-competitive) structure which would allow all players to play. This would even include local players who are at top boys club or academy teams. Just think how the pressure is released when they come back and just play with their local mates. They might try different positions and experiment a bit in a risk free environment. They could play under age a few years above them to test themselves physically. It would be fun and that is the point.

I haven’t included adult amateurs or junior leagues but this is another source where players could be tied to a senior club but play for them in environments which will test other attributes.

So these are my ideas on what could be done to get best v best in conjunction with play for all. One player could play in all these games and we would get back to 3 games in a weekend plus training. Surely this is better than getting 20 minutes with an academy team away to Stranraer!

We really need to give our players the best chance of making it  and stop producing average players that the current system yields.

I started with Deming so let’s finish with Deming ” It is not necessary to change. Survival is not mandatory”

PS Malky, you know where to get me!!


It’s The System Stupid!