Our Award Scheme: Knowledge - Technique - Skill

posted Jul 22, 2011, 10:54 AM by Dave Boynton   [ updated Jul 27, 2011, 5:10 AM ]

We couldn’t have timed it better! One week before we unveiled our new skills based Mini-Soccer Awards Development Scheme, Barcelona took their mastery to a new level in the Champions League Final against Manchester United. All week long, the press had been full of praise for the technical ability of the Catalans, and how the typical English approach to the game seemed obsolete in comparison


Barcelona play a very simple style of football: retaining possession, moving the ball with perfect technique, and waiting for the exact moment to strike. In contrast, the English game has typically been a study in percentages – If our pacy winger puts in 10 crosses, our big centre forward will get on the end of 3 or 4, and we’ll get a couple of goals attempts out of it. Each player has their role, and each has certain attributes which work for them – pace, power, bravery etc.


The problem with the ‘traditional’ approach at a Youth Level, is that you have no way of knowing what attributes your Under 8s will have when they are Under 18s. Your flying winger who can knock it and go past anyone at U8, may not be the quickest player at U18. Rocket-Shot Ronnie in the U9s might end up being one of the smallest on the pitch as a 17 year old. So the challenge for today’s coach is to show the players how to play football without relying on any of their unique attributes – how to beat a player with skill, shield the ball correctly, or hit shots with perfect technique. I know that Ashley Young has great pace, but I couldn’t really tell you how quick Lionel Messi is, because he never has to rely on it!


So there are great benefits in teaching technique over reliance on natural ability, but there are also challenges too. Once the kids are on the pitch, we all want to win football matches. Choppa Charlie at the back knows that his long clearances may make 3 or 4 chances a game, and that his mates will think he’s great for doing it. His Dad and the other parents know that those chances can turn a draw into a win, and make the league table look a lot better. The challenge we have is in convincing everyone that there is another goal on a Saturday morning – becoming better players by refusing to take the easy route, and applauding good play as well as good goals.


So our new Award Scheme is primarily aimed at supporting our coaches and players by having a new focus on something other than just results. Maybe we didn’t win this week, but we demonstrated our ability to retain possession and play from the back, so we have progressed towards our gold award and we are all winners. Parents can see what the coaching is working towards, and have a clear view of how their children will develop in the 3 years they are in the scheme. Coaches have a framework to develop their players, and feedback to other coaches about what works and what doesn’t. Another piece of great timing is that the FA are extending non-competitive football to U12s, so that we can work as age-groups rather than teams, and there is no league table to influence our approach over the course of a season.


The scheme is aligned to FA Level 2 Resources, and each technique/skill has been aligned to appropriate age groups by our experienced coaches. Initial trials have shown that the kids love the skills approach – they find it fun, and love the fact that they can do the same turns and skills as Messi, Ronaldo et al. Not everyone will do these things on the pitch, but the awareness at a young age is enough – once the seed is sown, the kids will become confident in their own time, and try things out on their own where there is no peer pressure. One thing which has really struck me is how in pre-match we have started to see kids playing with Maradona turns and Step-Overs, rather than the old habits of smacking the ball into the goal from 3 yards!


We hope (and expect) that our new scheme will be a success. We welcome any feedback or questions you have, and look forward to seeing you all receive your Awards on Presentation Day 2012!


Don’t just take our word for it!

Sir Alex Ferguson on Barcelona (quoted on the Daily Express Website)

“It’s a fantastic philosophy and we hope in years to come we will have more time with young players, to teach them the basics, the technical ability and to have the confidence to want the ball”

 Ferguson echoed the thoughts of a number of top British managers and academy directors who believe the primary school years between six and 10 are the most vital period for a boy’s technical development. “For too many years we’ve set our minds on the physical energy of a player and that is how they were judged”


Glenn Hoddle (from the BBC Website)

“Former England manager Glenn Hoddle praises Barcelona's technique in the wake of their 3-1 victory over Manchester United in the Champions League final. Hoddle tells BBC Radio 5 live's Sportsweek that training for young footballers in Britain needs to improve to replicate Barcelona's technical ability”


Trevor Brooking on ClubWebsite

“Five years ago in this country all of the clubs at elite level were looking for six foot athletic youngsters, then Spain and Barcelona started producing these players who are about five foot nine and have this great habit of not giving the ball to the opposition and suddenly they’re all now thinking we’ve got to develop the skill base.”

“That is the greatest lesson as to why we need to develop the skill base, first touch and the ability to keep the ball. They epitomise it. If you have that much possession, it’s no great surprise that you are going to create more chances than the opposition and probably win more matches than the rest.”


Gareth Southgate – FA Head of Elite Development

"It’s no different from when I was playing for England. At the very youngest age there wasn’t as much emphasis on skill development; we had all of the great English traits – team spirit, great work ethic, a never-say-die attitude. But the emphasis in our coaching has never totally been around skills and technical ability."

"My son is seven now and he has been playing at a Charter Standard club for two years, so the amount of skill development which is going on; the change of emphasis in coaching; the greater knowledge we seem to have about how kids learn; and taking that further forward, the desire to produce players with better technical quality and generally across the country – it’s probably a generational thing – but a better awareness and understanding of what is going on across the world"

"It’s about personal development as well as about developing individual players who might one day go and play at the highest level."