Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Culture Shock

While Fozzie writes about how we need to change the way in which Australians generally play football, he overlooks that football is not part of our culture here. Sure, these days more kids are taking up football on weekends, but I'm not sure if they watch entire matches – rather than the highlights that focus heavily on goals. As a result, making kids play football isn't as easy as telling them to pass more often – because they don't have the understanding as to WHY it's an option to, say, pass the ball backwards. As I said I like possession based football, and it's the kind of football I would like the U16 girls I've taken to play.

Although the girls have the basic skills of passing (they use their right feet, but when I tell them to use their left no passes went wayward – so the ability is there, I just have to extract it and make it part of their game rather than an effort to use the left), dribbling and controlling a ball (provided it's a good pass), they lack the intrinsic nature of wanting the ball. On Sunday I had my first coaching session ever, and my biggest problem is the culture shock.

The girls turn up in dribs and drabs and start chatting. Alright, by all means chat – but you don't need your mouths to be free to kick a ball around. Ever since I started playing (at about 14 – it took a while for me to convince mum that it was ok for me to play, I can more or less thank Gary Cole for that) when the first person rocked up to training they'd play about with the ball on their own. Someone else turns up and they chat while kicking the ball about, and so on until everyone's having a bit of a play.

Other things that I noticed - only little, but their absence or presence said a lot about how they perceived football to be, and how much they wanted (or did not want) the ball. AFL has a strong influence on kids – I've seen junior goalkeepers pick the ball up with their hands in readiness to send it far, only for them to take a few steps backwards and concede a goal. Then I watch in a bit of bemusement as the coach tries to make the kids understand why it's a goal. This specific circumstance didn't occur on Sunday, but something similar did. They would control the ball, and find they didn't have enough space between them and the ball to pass it off. Rather than rolling or tapping the ball forward, their instinct or nature is to take a few steps back. Although I didn't see it on Sunday, I wouldn't be surprised that if I got them to turn around at a cone while dribbling the ball that they would move their bodies all the way around the ball rather than stopping the ball, rolling it and swiveling about of the ball of their foot. Also, not that I want them to be Riquelme-like ball hogs, but things like not claiming the ball when it goes out. I'm not expecting them to claim it when they did kick it out, but some enthusiasm in retrieving the ball if it's yours or putting your hand up and saying “white ball” or “coloured ball.”

Speaking of colours and whites – I didn't have any bibs on Sunday, so I split them up based on their clothes. I had three girls wearing white, two wearing blue, one wearing bright orange, one wearing a pastel lime green and another wearing pale pink. The pale pink was the least bright of the girls not wearing white, so I told her the move in with the white team. They were a bit confused as to how pale pink was white. So, while it's not really football related, I interpret their inability to think laterally (i.e. not understanding my good enough solution to the problem) as an issue when it comes to teaching football. i.e. All because the goals are in front of you, doesn't mean the ball always has to move forward.

All of these girls played last season - all but two at the same club, and the other two from nearby clubs. So, if they had never played before I'd be a little more forgiving about how their heads are working – but it's a bit of culture shock really...

I know girls are social, and they're pretty inquisitive as to what everyone does, so I did have a chat to them before I got them to warm up - talked about their interests, school, what sports they like (netball and footy were favorites, only one mentioned football/soccer), what I do (at uni, playing with bacteria) and they asked why I didn't play anymore, what position I used to play, etc. We probably had about a solid 15-20 minutes of that...

In terms of socialising, as I said most of the girls played together last year - one of the newer girls goes to the same school, and the other new one was completely new. I've already told them that when I say training starts at 7pm, that's when training starts. They can get ready and chat for as long as they want before training, but during training I want their full attention. They were happy with this when I suggested it, apparently it's what their old coach did too. We'll see how it goes tonight.

I think the best way for this group of girls to learn is through game situations. Most of training on Sunday was a mini-game, where I stopped them everytime I saw something was not working. It's funny, I see so many things that could be done better, but I'm trying not to nit-pick. One thing that stood out was the obsession with playing the ball forward. There's two things going on - they don't understand why they should play the ball to the side or backwards, and because no-one understands, the option isn't there to demonstrate.

I'm sure pure drill work won't do all that much for them as they won't realise when to apply it during a game. My training plan is to warm up, stretch, continue the warm up with a couple of light drills (dribbling, passing, jockeying, that kind of thing) followed by a bit more stretching. I plan to focus on one technique or concept per night, and develop it slowly into a game.

For example, this week I'm planning on focusing on defending. So first I'll make it 1 vs. 1, the work on 1 attacker vs. 2 defenders, 1 vs. 3 defenders, 2 vs. 3, and develop it into a full game. I may not have enough time to go through the progression I have in my head, but we’ll see what happens – I think it’s important for these girls to get as much game time as possible. I rather that they solved their own on-field problems, but sometimes they get stuck so I stop the game or move them back to where they were and talk to them about what did happen, what they could’ve done about it.

I absolutely hate it when coaches join in on mini-games to show how to play and then end up playing for their enjoyment, so I don't really want to participate in the games. With these girls however, I think I may have to to illustrate a point. I want the girls to understand what it is to support each other – playing square and always having a back-door option. It's the back-door option that i think they'll have more difficulty getting to grips with. So I plan to play as the last man for them for a bit so they see how much less stressful it is no have that support, and how play can be switched using the last man as pivot point. Hopefully they'll see the benefits and begin to incorporate it into their game.

One or two concepts at a time might take forever, but I'd rather they learned things properly, and truly learn them, rather than be told to do this, this and this and not actually getting used to it. I suppose we'll see how we go tonight.


Hamish Alcorn said...

Now I wish I wasn't so frivolous the last time I commented here Celia, because this is really, really brilliant stuff. Technical and thought provoking. It occurs to me that blogging might have a much greater practical value vis-a-vis coaching than just analysing and adulating professional games.

I know John (from A Seat at the A-League) is having a go at coaching, and I've been assisting a coach and had my first go by myself last Friday (both U12 teams). We had a bit of a debrief chat the other night, and unlike you we have had very little experience.

I'll be reading your coaching notes avidly. I'll probably even ask some stupid questions occasionally.

Just one note however. I take your point about Australian sporting culture. That is we don't really get football yet as a society. But the momentum is undeniable. The participation at Jacob's club has doubled since last season (and we're talking hundreds of kids). The club I'm playing for has also doubled the amount of (adult) teams from 3 to 6 (from 1 to 2 women's). It's just in my corner of the world, but if that is a trend our sport has a big future in this country.

Anonymous said...

Very very interesting.

Two observations/questions

Are you planning to play some of the girls with the best control in defence?

To pass the ball backwards you have to have enough confidence in the ability of the person behind you to control the ball, so to play the style you suggest you may need to play with a very skillful sweeper or with defenders whose ball control is good.

Also the big challenge will of couse be when the games start. First time they pass the ball backwards and a defender loses the ball the girls might get a bit discouraged.

It is as you say a culture shock for most of them. I went last weekend to the AFL to see the bulldogs first match this season. I was sitting next to the cheer squad and to my amazement a large % of the crowd simply did not understand the game they were watching.

Every time the bulldogs passed the ball sideways or backwards the crowd yell in frustration demanding they kick it forward and kick it long.

The Bulldogs were never going to kick long it was not in their game plan at all. Geelong kicked it long sometimes and lost the ball almost every time they did.

So yes AFL is a big influence, you may find that in the games the parents will yell "kick it long".

One thing there is no doubt, if they do what you tell them they will play beautiful football. If apart from playing beautiful they also win you will be worshipped :)