Making a difference

A couple of seasons ago I was asked to take over an Under 16s team that the club said were underachieving – they wanted the team to get more success than they were having. So I went along to watch them. It seemed that for the first half the team was very successful and were often winning at half-time, but then capitulated in the second half. I found it slightly puzzling that it happened so often to this team, but I soon realised exactly why.

The team had a player who was an outstanding defender. He read the game well and was the type of player anyone would want in their team – commanding, fearless, always in the right place at the right time and joined in with attacks. But this last point was the reason for the team’s second-half horrors. It transpired this young man had come to a deal with the old manager to play in defence for one half but attack for the second.

Playing into trouble

With the player gone from defence the team were soon in trouble – and I cant for the life of me think why he wanted to play up front. He rarely saw the ball, and when he did it was usually from a panic clearance that he struggled to control. As his frustrations got the better of him, the coach took him off to calm him down.

This was an Under 16s team and I’m all for players moving around in different positions, but this just wasn’t working and the team were throwing away excellent first-half performances to accommodate this deal. Were the players younger I would insist that they all swapped positions but at this age there should be some claim on positions in defence or attack.

Run the game

I spoke to him and his parents and gave them an idea about what I wanted. I saw him as a fantastic centre half running the game from defence, but I also accepted that he should also get the chance to play in attack. However, rather than change at half-time I explained that I would target games when he was most needed in defence, and for other games he could move up the pitch, allowing his team-mates to gain experience in defence.

He was still getting to play up front but we were getting full games out of him playing in defence. I also made him captain, which gave him a huge boost. Having him in defence for full games made a huge difference to the next few games and the team began to be much more successful, built on the shoulders of a great player who excelled at the fundamentals of defending.

The manager had been doing the right things but he needed to think more about the problems he was having and come up with a solution like mine. Sometimes it takes another pair of eyes to see where a coach is falling down and a simple solution will often fix it.

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