Thursday, 23 February 2012

The Importance of Youth Development. Why the need for more quality coaching is the key for England to succeed.

Why a shortage of quality coaches is leaving England behind the rest.

The state of the English game is in turmoil, we are being left behind by many countries in terms of quality in regards to players and coaches and we don't seem to be doing anything about it. We have a serial problem that has not been addressed effectively which is the quality of coaching at the grassroots level.

We ask continually why we don’t have a large pool of talented youngsters and wonder what the problem is. The problem is the obvious; the teachers of the game are not good enough. This can also be applied to teaching in schools, where a level of mediocrity is producing uneducated and unskilled youths who are not able to contribute to society efficiently. We blame society and culture on the failings of the young generation and yet fail look at is the standards of teaching in schools and in sports. If you get the foundations right with anything then the structure will be stable and solid. We must blame ourselves though; we have allowed a culture of apathy which accepts poor standards. We believe that there is a problem with our children when in fact there is a problem with our teaching standards.

We are failing kids by allowing mediocre coaches to educate them. Between the ages of 7-11 a child’s neuromuscular development is 95% grown, this means that what they learn between these years will be fundamental to what they become as adults. This is the age where if the foundations are laid down correctly, with correct technique, skill and importantly values of how to play and of how to be a good person, a child will have a greater chance of progressing in their sport.

The most important age group for development is between 7-11; based on this you would assume that the best coaches should be working at this age group. Yet again and again you find there are less qualified coaches there. In Spain they have Pro Licence coaches working with the young players, PRO LICENCE! We have coaches with a Level 1 or 2.

Gordon Taylor, the chief executive of the Professional Footballers Association is right when he says, "there is a link between coaching and quality. How you do internationally is a proper reflection of your nation's youth development." And how often have we failed, how often have expected more and the players have not performed. Yet how often do we continue with the same way, Einstein famous quote is never more relevant to England; insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

We suffer from a distinct lack of quality coaches in this country, the stats are baffling compared to other countries; England possess 2.769 coaches who hold Uefa B, A and the Pro Licence qualification;  awards which indicate a certain quality in coaching. Compare this to Spain where there are 23,995 and in Germany who have 34,790. The numbers do not lie, England has 10% of the quality that Spain and Germany has. Look at the results and one cannot doubt that they have better players.

So why is England’s pool of talent so small, why do we only produce a few real stars every generation and the rest are merely average? I believe it has to do with how we develop talent at a young age.  

The quality of coaching at grassroots level is abysmal and it is here that we are destroying our potential stars. You would not get an enthusiastic volunteer to go into schools and teach English, Maths or Science just because he watches documentaries and the science channel? So why do we allow it with sports? In football we allow anyone to work players as long they don’t have a criminal record, this is amazing.

How many players are being ruined by coaches and by a culture which promotes winning over everything else and which importantly teaches kids that mistakes are not to be tolerated and that a mistake should never happen again?  A positive learning environment is not seen on parks on Sundays and this is where the majority of players are, this is not a remedy for success. The pool of talent is diminished on a weekly basis by enthusiastic volunteers who do not understand how to teach.

What has been created are players who are fearful of making mistakes and so end up kicking the ball long or out, the worst thing to hear is not a coach being disappointed but in fact a rapturous round of applause for “getting rid of it”. Anger and intimidation have restricted and destroyed creative players, promoting instead physicality and fight then skill and creativity.

At Man Utd Rene Meulensteen was brought in to revolutionise United's Academy. He was a skills coach and his role was to improve players to be better technically, this was the emphasis. He is now first team coach and last season United's Youth Team won the FA Youth Cup. In Germany the Academies only take in players at U9 and they only 4v4, we play 9v9. We are failing our kids and getting our methods and our priorities wrong.

The FA need to stand up

The FA need to invest more into grassroots; they have improved facilities and have introduced the Skills programme, yet it is not enough. Academies are bringing in coach education experts from outside the FA as the FA are not doing enough. They need to invest in a large pool of coaches who will have the skills to work with young players; having the understanding, patience and talent to improve and develop talent. The amount of young players from Acadmies who are released between 16-18 should be looked at and should be put into coaching, the clubs and FA have a right to help these players and give them opportunities to stay in football.

Until the FA support coaches working with 7-11 players they are answerable to the poor levels of youth players in this country. They have funded a new Wembley and a National Football Centre at a cost of £1 billion. Is this money well spent? The NFC will not produce the amount of players required to improve levels in this country; it will focus on a handful of teams as before which does not address the root cause of the problems. I believe this money should have been spent on improving coaching, Spain and Germany have invested in coaching and their success is evident. Too much money is thrown at the tip of the iceberg which results in the same questions and problems arising. Imagine what investment in grassroots coaching could do for the game in this country?

The new youth modules for football are much better than previous courses as they seek to educate coaches on how to coach and how children learn instead of previous course which taught what to coach. There is a big difference to having a session plan and a bag of balls to being qualified to work with children. Until these are mandatory for every one wanting to work with children then our youngsters will not improve.

Schools are as much to blame as the FA for developing not just footballers but all round sports people. Why are there not enough experts at this levels, quite simply they are not paid well enough. The level of PE is drastically poor; the lack of expert PE teachers is creating kids who don’t have healthy lifestyles and  who lack good movements patterns. Schools just aren’t developing children effectively, physical education is as important asother subjects yet the quality and time spent on this key subject is being reduced not increased. The government need to address these problems and act, funding is the key. Physical education needs to increased and implemented in all schools with expert teachers laying the foundations for future success. If we fail our children in primary school then we are hindering their development for the future.

In conclusion, coaching is the key. Experts will be needed at all levels of development; those who know the individual development requirements for a particular age,  there is clearly not a one size fits all approach. The new EPPP plans promote more hours in Academies and more full time staff working with particular age groups. Yet as much as Academies can improve players, the pool of talent they have is restricted. A player should not have to be “saved” from grassroots at a young age in order to receive a better education, grassroots coaching should be as good as Academies. High levels of coaching should be common throughout all levels..

The FA need to act, need to give newly educated coaches work experience with grassroots teams in order to implement a way of playing and a style of coaching which develops creative, skilful players. Not every player will be a professional, yet with only 1% of players from Academies becoming a pro from a potential pool of 10,000 which comes from a pool of 2.25 million kids who play football on a weekly basis , then surely there is something wrong with youth development in this country. It won’t be overnight, it will take a decade or two, yet the FA need to do improve standards at grassroots level. The idea of coaching needs a culture change, it needs to be viewed as an occupation as that of a teacher not just a helpful volunteer. The FA need to do a lot to address this issue yet we also need to do something about it, we need to stop being apathetic to this crisis and stand up against poor standards which are ruining the players in this country. 


  1. This is an outstanding article, you've absolutely hit the nail on the head and made an extremely compelling argument. The frustrating thing is that the solution appears to be relatively straight-forward and yet ignored. At least the move to smaller-sided games for kids is a major step forward but the building of the NFC does look like a terrible waste of resources (not against there being a NFC but, for example, Clairefontaine is not the reason that France has produced such good footballers in the last 25 years, just a strong part of a very strong system where the coaching of coaches is highly important).

  2. An excellent article but a little disparaging of experienced innovative coaches such as myself working at school and grass-roots level.
    Some of the best coaches I have employed or observed possessed just a level 1 qualification, some of the worst having much higher qualifications.
    This leads me to believe that life experiences, people skills and a strong player-centred philosophy are just as important as an "easily gifted" qualification.
    You are completely correct in laying the blame firmly at the FA's expensively constructed doors though.
    Their heirarchy and in particular their tutors/coach educators are extremely protective of their own positions, creating a glass ceiling for quality aspiring coaches to progress.
    They also have a "jobs for the boys" mentality which I have witnessed closely where their "friends & associates" earn their qualifications irrespective of their participation in the courses and the quality of session content delivered.

    Finally, on a topical note, Roy Hodgson's recent "robot" comment typifies much of what is wrong with our FA.
    Robot tutors are producing robot coaches, individualism and innovation being condemned and frowned at.