Football Coaching on Twitter: A tale of polar extremes
This blog is designed to offer some support and guidance to coaches who use Twitter as a development tool.
Up until this precise moment I have been only a consumer on Twitter, reading blogs, watching videos and observing interactions between people from afar. There has been the odd comment in response to a post but this blog is my first production; my first real foray into the belly of the beast!
For me Twitter is brilliant as a learning and development tool, I use it primarily to follow football coaches and football related accounts as well as teachers and teaching related accounts, as I am a teacher. The expertise that is so readily available is incredible and my knowledge and understanding of both football coaching and teaching has undoubtedly improved as a result of my Twitter experiences. Although, as with anything, there is also a lot of not so good content to sift through.
I have come to the conclusion that many of the discussions around coaching on social media very often place people at one end of a spectrum or the other, with the middle ground often overlooked so much, to the extent that some may wrongly believe there is no middle ground. Whether the issues is: competition and winning; dribbling around cones; direct instruction or individual training there seems to be very vocal tweeters on either side of the argument, with not much in between.
I feel it is important to add here that I think the extreme opinions are absolutely vital and must continue to argue for their side of the debate, however I also feel those in the middle need more of a voice, or at least some encouragement in knowing there may be others with similar views, beliefs and experiences.
Those coaches who use social media will be very familiar with more recent developments in coaching such as: avoiding queues in activities and not being the old-fashioned drill-sergeant screaming at children! Although, there are still many coaches around who do not use social media and so may not have become aware of what may seem like glaringly obvious issues to anyone reading this (these two particular examples also feature prominently on the FA youth module courses). But it is not those coaches who are not accessing social media that I am writing to, it is the coaches who do use twitter, who do follow professional coaches and who do read the incredibly detailed tactical analysis that is now freely available to those who know where to look. My concern for some of these coaches is that they believe they have to place themselves at one extreme of an issue or another when it comes to coaching methods or principles - where as I do not feel that is necessarily the case.
From using social media some coaches may feel pressured into thinking that their session has to incorporate everything they have seen or read. So, for example, if there is ever a queue in their activity they are a bad coach, if they have ever asked a child to dribble around a cone they are a bad coach, in fact, if they have ever asked a child to do anything such is the argument against direct instruction from some quarters! Now, I am not about to launch into a defence of these issues. I absolutely understand and support the afore mentioned issues and all coaches I employ are instructed (directly!) to avoid queues, encourage effort, avoid criticism and to dribble around real-life defenders rather than cones. However, I also tell them that if I observe a session of theirs and I see a queue one day, or a child dribbling around a cone then they won't be fired on the spot! This is the point I am wanting to make to the coaches out there who maybe feel like they cannot live up to the expectations of Twitter, who are wondering how to coach children without being able to instruct them or allow them to wait a short moment while the player in front of them has their turn at an activity. Coaches should always be looking for better solutions, should without question be eliminating queues wherever possible and be striving to make the experience as positive as possible for the players, but don't feel guilty if sometimes your session doesn't tick every single box.
An issue that has received more attention than most in youth football is that of competition and the winning at all costs mentality. Thankfully, the majority of those involved in youth football (in my experiences) are aware of these issues and have made changes to their approaches. However, has it now reached the point where it is in danger of going too far? Sometimes it seems that some coaches now view football as a game that cannot be won or lost! Intrinsic reward is the only thing on offer, and the reward is only to be gained through effort, not for doing a particular thing well. To clarify, I am firmly of the belief that youth football should be played for enjoyment, that results and scores are not important and it has been a massively positive effect that this campaign has had on junior football. But, I worry that some coaches now view winning or success as a dirty word. Learning to win and learning to lose (and draw!) are important things to learn, the appropriate reaction to each should be taught, discussed and practised. Coaches, you are allowed to keep score in training matches if you want to! My advice would be to let the players dictate that, the younger players I often find really could not care less what the score is, where as with older players you could say that you are not going to keep score, but they all will be anyway!
Think spectrum: you do not have to be 100% against competition, nor 100% for it. One day you might be closer to one end than the other, you might change position even during a session depending on the activity you are doing, you might be absolutely convinced about your place on the spectrum for years until something makes you re-think. This is the key, you can change your mind, you can adapt and, in fact, it is this quality which is the key to being a good coach. Yes have your beliefs and stick to them, but always be open to change and development.
I am now worried that anyone reading this might perceive my own sessions to be made up of queues, competitive games and dribbling around cones! I can honestly say I strive for the complete opposite of that every session, but I'm not perfect and I'm also sure that I'm not alone and hopefully this post will reassure others.
When it comes to the use of cones for dribbling, ladders, hurdles and unopposed ball mastery practises, it is my personal belief that a player will always benefit more from doing ball work in game realistic (opposed) situations. That being said, coming back to the spectrum, I am not anti any of these things and believe that they can bring 'benefits' to some players. Even if these benefits may be not much more than a kind of placebo effect. A 4 year old who comes to a session for their very first experience of football can often have difficulty staying on their feet whilst running, never mind running with a ball and away from defenders! That being said, getting them into those type of situations from the outset is a sure fire way to improve them significantly, and quickly. But I would occasionally mix that with some unopposed practise, here the player perceives themselves to be improving (perhaps you are timing how many sole rolls they can do in 30 seconds, they beat their score they believe they are getting better), this may not necessarily transfer into an improved game performance, but it may transfer into: "I'm getting good at this, I want to come back, I want to go and practise more." which is only going to help their development in the long run. It is the same with ladders and hurdles, the use of them makes some players 'feel' professional, makes them believe they are faster and stronger which in turn leads to an increased confidence and self-belief on game day which can result in improved performance.
A final thought that has come to me whilst writing this: What should the appropriate response be from a child who has played very well personally but their team has lost the game, or conversely, a player who has given a poor personal performance but being part of a winning team? One for another blog perhaps.
I sincerely hope that this post can offer some reassurances, however slight, to the many coaches out there who are trying their best for their players and with the very best intentions. Keep using social media to develop, it's amazing and the coaches and resources available are tremendous. Just remember, nobody is perfect and think of some things as being on a spectrum rather than one extreme or the other.
Thanks for reading.
All feedback, comments and questions welcomed.