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Painting pictures for players
I was watching a Premier League academy coach running a session with some Under 14 players a few seasons ago. He was trying to get them to burst forward in the final third of the pitch, take control of the ball and make a shooting chance for themselves, rather than pass and build up that way.
The players were not quite doing what he wanted and this was making the coaching point of the session difficult to create. Instead of pushing the session on, the coach stopped the players and asked them all to come into a circle and have a chat about what they were doing. The boys spoke about passing through the midfield, about support play and about looking for the killer pass. However, what they didn’t say was what the thing he wanted to hear.
So he asked them a question. “Who is the best midfielder in the country?” he said. There was one or two names suggested but the one on most of their lips was that of Frank Lampard. “And why,” the coach asked, “is Frank the best midfielder in the country?”
The response was unanimous. “Because he scores goals,” said the players. That was exactly what the coach was getting them to think about – scoring goals from midfield. He went on, asking them who was the best young midfielder in the country, and Jack Wilshere was the unanimous suggestion.
Again the coach asked why. The players response again was that he scored goals. But this time the coach asked them how many goals he had scored. No one seemed to know. “Just two,” said the coach. “When Jack Wilshere adds goalscoring to his many other attributes, his name will be the first you think of instead of Frank Lampard. And Jack is working on that, just like you are in this session tonight.”
So then he went back to the session and asked the players to think about what they had just been talking about and think about turning Jack Wilshere into a goalscoring midfielder like Frank Lampard. Jack passes the ball when he approaches the penalty area, but Frank sets himself up for a shot and often scores – so he said he wanted them all to pretend they were Jack Wilshere trying to become Frank Lampard. “What do you do?” he asked them.
“SHOOT!” They shouted together.
And the session from that point ran smoothly. This was a lesson for me in painting pictures that young players can understand and can relate to. They could suddenly see what the coach wanted them to do because he was illustrating his point using players that were their heroes – and this added a bit of fun to session along the way.