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Coaching counsel: Even Guardiola lets Barcelona's players 'run the risk'

Risk, it’s everywhere.

No lesser man than Pep Guardiola (pictured) this week championed the approach at Barcelona, urging his players to play freely, removed from the shackle of fear and the shadow of their shell.

A little while ago, I abseiled between a Welsh gorge; precariously perched on a large rock; pouring water around me – all in the interests of fun.

And, every week, the risks in the financial services industry, for example, are publicised and provoke public opinion.

We live in a world where, it appears, a mistake is the worst thing you can make. Don’t be wrong, don’t reveal a reaction that rails against the regimented, and oh, don’t blaze over the bar, try a trick or play a pass that places a player under pressure.

'No masterpiece was manufactured at the first time of asking'

No masterpiece was manufactured at the first time of asking. A friend of mine has a young daughter, who as part of a school project, was challenged to create a bird out of papier mache.

So, one Saturday, off they went to the stationers and purchased the necessary produce. The first attempt was a disaster, the second an improvement and the third was worthy of presentation to her teacher.

Proudly she placed it on the table in the front room. Her father (my friend) said to her; what do you want to do with the other two attempts? She looked at him astounded – “they can go in the bin” – “teacher won’t want to see them”.

Is the learning in the masterpiece? Or is the real learning on the cutting room floor?

The chances she took and the things she tried in the first two attempts were where she developed the ideas to achieve mastery. Dad supported the process; cajoled and encouraged when she became disheartened and allowed her to try stuff, fail, try again, fail a little better and eventually succeed. He was the safety net.

Safety net

The safety net in the world of financial services is regulation. The safety net on that rope ride I took; the belt, buckles and training from the instructor. The safety net for our young players might just be the environment we create.

Say to your players; try something new, see how it goes, don’t worry if it’s wrong.

Then ensure the parents are managed to understand this. It’s our role to react in a way that embraces the message we’ve made known and to promote failure as a process from which players can learn.

Many young players just want to have a go. That desire may be diminished by a demonising of the design process that young players go through.

How great is the risk anyway? If my instructor on that abseil said – “There’s the rope, buckle and belt – sort it out” – the consequence could be considerable. A financial services industry without regulation may lead to debt, distrust and difficulty for many. What are the consequences for a young player’s mistake?

Is the real risk not being able to run the risk?

A goal conceded, possession lost, a chance spurned or a game lost. What do such outcomes add up to? Well, that’s up to us – the coaches. They add up to whatever we allow them to add up to.

Maybe the real risk is in not running the risk. Maybe then players stop trying stuff, stick to the conventional, limit what they practice and prime themselves to play safe. Guardiola may have a wealth of wonder to wave his wishes at – but, as we suggested last week, those players were built.

Have we considered building players within our squad who can revolutionise? Revolving our players learning around risk, random practice, regular rotation, irregular competition structures without any immediate expectation?

We might lose a few games along the way, but weigh it up. The return may be free thinkers.

If we can collect the hearts and minds of our players and their parents as we travel; swim against the tide a little until we contribute to the changing of the tide and develop a philosophy that engages, emboldens and excites – it might just be worth the risk.

By Ben Bartlett

Ben Bartlett is a UEFA A Licence Coach and is Regional Coach Development Manager (East) at The Football Association, having previously worked in player development and coach development roles at Colchester United, Chelsea and Aldershot Town.

With experience of developing players at Club, Centre of Excellence and Senior level, Ben has been fortunate to see several players progress into International Youth squads and currently coaches within The FA's Elite Performance Centre for prospective England U15 Female Internationals.

As a Coach Educator at Level 1, 2, 3, UEFA B and FA Youth Award Modules 1, 2 + 3; coaches often ask for resources, ideas and sessions that can aid their coaching work. This website is a contribution towards this, providing free, accessible and user friendly resources for coaches. Ben played for 15 years in non-league, mostly with Witham Town FC (Ryman League) and latterly with Farnborough (Player Coach) and Hungerford Town.

Ben is also involved with www.integritysoccer.co.uk – a support and resource provider to coaches working across a range of ages and abilities.


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