Listen up Coaches: you can produce players in Canada

Food for thought

Five minute read. Surely everyone still has five minutes.

I’ve been around the beautiful game my whole life. From kicking a tennis ball against my bedroom door as a kid, to having the pleasure of putting on our red Canada jersey, to a national title with UVIC. It’s been a real ride – ups & inevitable downs – it’s shaped me as a human.
But truthfully, coaching is the biggest challenge so far. Trying to get the culture right. Just the process of having to pick eleven players to start the next match, when it’s so hard to often differentiate player to player. Why play her, instead of her? They are all learning. I want them to all start at their current age.

To be perfectly honest I’m fortunate to be surrounded by a group of high level coaches who allow me to fail, learn, adapt, grow, and develop. It’s been a quicker process than most coaches would experience. Blessed religious folk would say.

Here’s the thing though, coaching ain’t easy so I’ve created a simple plan for you.

Young players only need to focus on protecting the ball during early years of their development. Learn how to keep the ball. Learn how to execute an inside or outside cut, which puts your body between the ball and the defender naturally. Then learn how to pass. That’s it. You don’t need to over coach structure or formations. Canadian youth players have the habit and curse of putting the bottom of their foot on top of the ball when they want to change direction. It’s all wrong.

No pullbacks using the bottom of your foot coaches

You have to constantly stop the session to break this habit. Pullbacks expose the ball and make it easy for defenders to win the proverbial “round toy” back. It makes little sense to do this. The objective of the game is to keep the round toy. Reality is player’s turn this into a habit because it’s the easiest way to stop and change direction.

Twist offs with the inside and outside of your foot onlyThat’s how you escape pressure and change direction. If they execute a pass, brilliant. Then you praise. You can teach about the speed of support and angle of support when they are slightly older. Don’t miss read me, It’s very important, but shouldn’t be the focus before the age of 10.

Coach your players to twist off and change direction with the inside and outside of their foot before the age of 10. If you do this you’ve done your job mate. Standard evasive dribbling techniques other countries simply drive into kids from the moment they start the game. Escape pressure and keep the round toy.

There’s just a little gap in the education of our committed army of volunteer coaches at the youth levels. With this simple adjustment – away from focusing on scoring unpredictable and often dreadful goals, on that huge net, with that tiny keeper – our country would be produce a barrage of players.

We can produce players in Canada

Ban the pull back because no professional player turns that way. From day one. From the very start.

Coaches please don’t pretend you’re coaching structure, spacing and movement off the ball at younger ages. It’s a facade. It’s simply a mask so you can pretend you actually have control over what transpires when the whistle blows. You don’t have control at the younger ages. The kids will hear you yelling over there but it’s rarely processed, there’s already way too much going on in their developing brains. Do yourself a favour, the real work takes place at your practises, then kick back and relax for the weekend game. It’s great. Besides often you might go out the night before hand because it’s your day off. You were actually working your real job all week, remember.

Truth is in Canada the game is always in transition. Players turning into shin guards constantly and trying to somehow, some way, get the ball forward towards the goal, so parents cheer. It’s a train wreck. It’s awful to watch. Parents only cheer after goals because the scoreline is tangible. It’s a number. Humans love numbers to solidify results. The problem is it’s the wrong number we should be counting.

Not their fault. Just a slight lack of education. The narrative plays out along the lines of “like” a person ditching their grade one math class – but in our current Canadian football world we have no teachers or accountability for them to stay and learn. Most people in our Country ditched or never took the class – then on the weekends standing on the sideline they have to take the test and fail. They never learned the subject though. It is what it is I suppose. How did this happen in Canada?

The proverbial pink elephant in the room being Canadian soccer politics and the state of our current structure need to be put aside for this conversation.

We have the money, fields, land, political stability, and most importantly we have a plethora of young players who love the game. Yet post failed nations, by the United Nations standards, rank ahead of us. On the men’s side we currently sit 118. Ethiopia is respectively at 115. That’s truly not good enough.

Soccer is the most popular team sport and has the highest enrollment percentage at young ages in our Country. Yes it falls off a cliff around age 14 but that’s because us adults fail at keeping this “keep the round toy” game fun. Winning takes hold, so kids switch to activities that don’t involve us.

We have more female players in the greater Vancouver area registered then all of Japan. Japan if you don’t know has won everything over the last eight years: The U-17, U-20, Olympics, & World Cup. It was an amazingly short climb to the very top. You don’t need a large pool to produce players. You just need to educate coaches at the start. Ask Iceland. They know too.

It’s likely to get worse, the typically spoiled “up the hill” North American kids now have video games and smartphones that take hold of daily pondering – good old fashion “free play”- she gone. Kid’s don’t play outside anymore where I live. They still do in Santiago, but not here in North Vancouver. Too much parenting. Too much structure. We’re all at fault.

Parents should be thrilled if they see a player demonstrate an evasive turn away from pressure with the inside or outside part of their foot. It’s the start of a player who can keep the ball. Teaching them how to pass… structure and movement off the ball can come later. You need to keep the ball before you begin that conversation though.

I want to see our men’s National team in the World Cup before I die

Dumb everything down and focus your teaching on how to protect the ball. Turn away from shin guards properly.

At Play Better we reward players from the ages of 5 -10 if they demonstrate a proper change of direction to find space. It doesn’t matter where on the pitch this takes place. Right in front of their own goal is the best because they’re being brave. The fact they are brave enough to try deserve praise and a charitable reward for what they love and want to impact in their community.

So go on and do it coaches.

Don’t let your players put their foot on top of the ball. No pull backs please. It has to be a full stop in the session if they do.

And trust me you’ll have to stop all the time 🙂

You have people willing to help and support.


Last modified: March 23, 2013