Betfred Sport

Coaching counsel: Beauty is in the eye of the beholder

Very little about me could be considered beautiful. I certainly wasn’t blessed with film-star features, charisma or inspiring intellect.

However, is there a pre-determined ideal of how one should look, talk or be perceived? In the previous column, the factory line was mentioned and, if you will, picture a traditional conveyer belt manufacturing any product.

Now, the general idea is that the key to any successful product is that it looks and (if it’s something one consumes) tastes the same, wherever in the world you purchase it. Is the process the same for developing young players?

Should we place them all on a conveyer belt at, say, 6 years of age and try to get them all looking exactly the same? The same physical mould, the same technical abilities and the same tactical ideas?

Who creates that mould and, says, this is what the players should look like? A first team manager (who, quite possibly, may not be driving the direction in 2-3 years time should they move onto to a bigger club or be sacked) and/or a coach, who believes players should possess and display the attributes that he or she attributed as a player?

Take the generation of players that Manchester United brought to the fore in the nineties. The Neville’s, Beckham, Scholes, Giggs (pictured) & Butt. Consider your own opinion of how they are different players with different qualities who gained prominence at the same club and then relate it to the most successful team you’ve ever been a part of.

That may be a football team, a coaching team, a team at work or in a voluntary capacity. 

Homogenous groups of people

Increasingly, there seems a desire to create homogenous groups of people who reflect the same ideals, the same ideas and the same idiosyncrasies. By nature, we won’t then disagree very much and everyone will be happy. Really?

The best teams I have been part of are the ones where we disagreed often, ones where people weren’t afraid to be exigent, to go off the recognised track, to try something that no-one else had thought of and, ultimately, who were managed/supported by a. each other towards achieving an objective and b. a manager/leader who recognised the disparate nature of the group and provided the glue that congealed it together, not into a perfectly formed shape but into one that was hungry and possibly even feral.

How do we do this? Firstly, I’d urge you to think about embracing a footballing philosophy where difference is a strength and that peoples diverse natures & abilities are celebrated not challenged. Secondly, perhaps recognise that there are many routes to an end goal.

That end goal may be winning a game/competition, players enjoying their football, players progressing into an Academy/Centre of Excellence programme or developing into successful senior/International players.

Whatever the end, reflect that the way we won one game may not be the way to win every game; or that the path that one player took to achieve excellence (however we qualify that) is not the only path to such an achievement – there may be divergent directions to a destination.

The first two parts above, suggest opening minds – the second elements, below, relate to opening and broadening opportunity.

There’s currently a lot of topical discussion in youth football about formats of play and some really positive change towards players experiencing a range of different playing formats from 5, to 7, to 9 and finally 11-a-side. Recognise that the key to all of these is not only in the formats that the players play but the experiences they generate within any of the formats. 


If I only play right back (or on the right side) in any of those formats; that will be the experience I muster. If the best set-piece taker (at any point in time) takes the set-pieces then that player will be the only one who gets practice at taking set-pieces. If 60-70% of my season is sat on the sideline waiting to play, then that will be the experience I’m afforded.

Further, if we play on the same size pitch every game within any of the formats, then they are the dimensions players will be familiar with.

Encourage your players to experiment but at the same time experiment yourself. Play 9 v 9 on a mini-soccer pitch (the tighter space will test your players touch and speed of decision making), play your goalkeeper in midfield and your midfielder in goal. Modern day goalkeepers are effectively outfield players with gloves on as it is important that they are proficient with their feet. They can get such experience on the pitch.

Finally, set players individual tasks for the game and training (or allow them to set their own objectives). One may work on when to press his opponent and when not to; another on when to run with it and when not to and the list can go on to any element of football that one can think of.

Individualise their experiences whilst providing a wide (& wild) variety of experience – it may just then be that the individual characteristics emerge and flourish.

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 – a support and resource provider to coaches working across a range of ages and abilities.

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