How your Child Has Been Coached Out of Being a Great Footballer

By: Damian Nicolaou, Lightning Bug

It is possible that your child has within them the natural attributes to become a great player. If they display promise at an early age they may want to start playing for a local club...where their expert staff will crush their spirit, retard their technical development, subvert their instincts and suck all the joy out of playing the game to such an extent that your child may want to give up football altogether.

A little dramatic perhaps, but the way football is approached at youth level has damaged generations of players, meaning any technically competent English player carried an inflated price tag, resulting inevitably in the massive influx of foreign players and ultimately to the dismal failure of the national team. As a footballing nation, England appears to have stopped developing since winning the World Cup in 1966, believing in their divine right to win simply because they gave the game to the world and won the World Cup forty years ago, while more modest, forward thinking nations like Korea, Ivory Coast and Croatia have begun to bloom and at the current rate of progress will soon outstrip the stubbornly ignorant attitude within English coaching circles. English players now lag embarrassingly behind their European, Latin American and African counterparts in skill and technique. Is it any wonder then that the one English team that plays stylish technical football, Arsene Wenger's North London powerhouse Arsenal, rarely has an English player in its starting eleven?

So, that is the problem, it's acknowledged and frequently mentioned by all sides, both in England and with great glee abroad, but what is the solution? One man thinks he knows the answer, another legend of (North East) London football, Sir Trevor Brooking. His mission is to overhaul the English coaching philosophy which has stagnated generations of promising young players, and somehow move coaches and managers away from the traditional unsubtle hoof and clog style of football that is still endemic at every level from the national team through the lower leagues, which are still largely populated by home grown talent, to park football.

While many English managers and ex-players berate clubs such as South London spendthrifts Chelsea and their North London rivals Arsenal for packing not just their first teams, but their reserve and youth teams with imported talent Brooking sympathises: 'Clubs have scouting networks all over Europe and the world and the funding to bring young players here,' he says. 'To be honest, I don't blame them. At the moment children join their academies at nine. We should target them before that and ensure that they have already encountered a far better quality of coaches.'

He continues expanding on his vision with refreshing candour: 'We also need to change what is being coached. Let's have more small-sided games so that they have more ball time. Let's allow them to have fun, take away the importance of winning and stop the young players being afraid of making mistakes. Concentrate on first touch and technique, allow that a short pass can often be more of a killer ball than the big hoof up to the centre-forward.' Under the Brooking plan English football could finally move away from its current simplistic, caricatured form, where especially at youth level coaches seek out a group of 'big lads' pump them up and set them to crunching their way through whatever opposition is put in their way, rather than enjoying the game and trying to play. It is often noticeable that English youth teams are significantly bigger than their foreign counterparts and this is because many have been chosen for their advanced physical development rather than any talent for football they may have shown, however, when they reach full maturity many of them fall by the wayside.

Brooking also takes time to specifically address one of the major concerns those familiar with youth football frequently express - that of overly aggressive, over vocal parents coaching and abusing players from the sidelines: 'Any parents who are too enthusiastic should, as a last resort, be removed,' he says ominously.

And what if English football doesn't embrace Brooking's plan, what will happen to all the young English players? Sir Trevor thinks their future could be bleak: 'If we don't do all these things then even the kids identified as elite, when they join academies at nine, will still be starting behind. By the time they are competing at sixteen with a foreign youngster they have even less chance of being taken on.'

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