Why a focus on participation sport does not mean a reduction in elite performance?

Today saw another one of our players break into the England set up, this is the second of our players to have received an international call up and joins a plethora of other elite level achievements amongst our long standing members. But how can this be the case as we have no elite player pathway, we have no focus on elite sport and we do not ability band our players? At the last count we have had 20 players play at elite level and apart from 2 of them not one entered the academy system until past their 14th birthday, in most cases not until past 16 years old.

I think the most pertinent point in the aforementioned is that we do not focus on elite sport in fact quite the opposite, our whole reason for being is to instil a love of sport to increase the likelihood of lifelong participation. Whilst a hugely complex issue, too much too soon is certainly one of the contributing factors of drop out in youth sports. What we do know is that around 80% of children drop out of sport by aged 16, and in most cases never return. Therefore the facts are that we are selecting our elite performers from a talent pool of only 20%. What would that talent pool look like if we were to be able to reverse that and select from the 80%, would our elite national teams be better off?

To be frank, I literally couldn’t care less about the national team the issue is far greater than the top 0.0001% of performers. Don’t get me wrong come the summer when the World Cup gets started I will become as Nationalistic as the rest of the country and will probably even bring out my 1980’s England shirt, I will be hoping as everyone that this year might just be our year and probably be just as disappointed as usual. But other than the huge tournaments I am not really interested in elite sport, sport has a far wider role to play than feeding that tiny pinnacle of achievement.

We know that ours and many other nations around the world are moving less and less. We know that this, connected with diet, is killing more people than ever, in the UK obesity related disease is now the number one killer and the World Health Organisation is describing this issue as a ticking time bomb. So I suppose the question is, what is more important keeping people fit, active and healthy into adulthood or winning an international tournament? Here is an extreme thought why do you have to choose?

My area of research is why children drop out, and whilst hugely complex there are a number of key issues that would have a huge impact. The number one issue remains negative adult behaviour both from parental and a coaching perspective. If we were to change just that one important aspect what would the impact be on long term participation? What would happen if we didn’t band children, and instead just let them play games? What would happen if every weekend instead of huge and complicated league systems all local facilities were open to all children for free to play and enjoy movement and sport? What would happen if we removed all adult agenda and just allowed children to be children? I know it sounds crazy but is it?

There is a rather interesting book, that if you have yet to read it I would recommend it. It is called The Goldmine Effect and whilst it is Faction, there are some very important and pertinent points in relation to the phenomenal success of Brazilian footballers. The fact is that Brazil has produced more World Footballers of the Year than any other nation. Another fact is that it has virtually no organised grassroots system and no academy system until much later. On asking why the professional clubs do not follow Western Culture with regards early selection it was quoted:

“Why would we select at the youngest ages and train young children? The favelas and pick up games in and around every Brazilian city already does the job for us”.

“Why would we select at the youngest ages and train young children? The favelas and pick up games in and around every Brazilian city already does the job for us”.

So as an organisation we will continue to focus on participation and instilling a love of sport with the hope that we can positively impact as many children as possible. In fact our aim is to be able to improve the lives of 1 million children per week. By instilling a love of sport and keeping children playing into adulthood, we believe this will not reduce elite performance in fact the opposite. If we keep more children playing for longer the talent pool from where we should be selecting will by its very nature grow and therefore elite performance will mirror this. In the meantime lets create as many environments as possible to foster a love of movement and allow children to play.

I quote Mark O’Sullivan and call for the following:

“The most possible, for as long as possible in the best environment possible”.

Futsal is not some magic bullet solution.

So the FA have now invested £300,000 into getting futsal equipment across the UK and that is awesome. As the UK's largest futsal provider one of the key issues is with facilities, obviously it doesn't go far enough to deal with the huge lack of indoor or hard court facilities but it is a great start. But like all things from little acorns oak trees grow. If we take our most recent venture and project, it has motivated us to work with local grassroots clubs and schools to provide more and more tournaments and leagues.

What is worrying me though is that once again we have all pinned our national hopes on a quick fix solution, a magic bullet. We have looked across the world again, seen what other countries have done and then hung our hat on that, futsal is the answer to all of our problems, if we get children playing futsal we will be world champions.



Sorry but that is just nonsense, just from the practical sense, how many nations are currently ranked above the UK in futsal? Both Iran and Kazakhstan have been playing the game longer and much higher ranked than the UK and I am reasonably confident they will not be winning any football world cups any time soon. Ingraining futsal into your national game will not make you a world champion, even the suggestion is laughable.


Futsal is not a magic bullet solution.jpg

What probably isn’t up for debate is the obvious technical and psychological improvements the game can have. Due to the constraints within the game, passing must be more accurate, movement quicker, decision making like lightening, close control, high levels of fitness, constant changing of positions the list goes on. But these improvements without the correct environment will not be enough. What's the point of having a game that improves speedy decision making if those decisions are being made for you, whats the point of improving passing accuracy if little Johnny only gets to play for 5 minutes. More significantly, what’s the point of having this breed of technically trained players if by 16 they all leave sport anyway? Despite all this it would be very naive to think that just by creating more technical players we will have more players competing for players at the elite end of sport.

Becoming an elite sports person is a hugely complex issue that takes so many different aspects into consideration. Being a technically proficient player with all the tools in the box is obviously a significant part but without a support system, grit, luck, identification it will not be enough.

But for all of these points what is critical is that environment is correct, evidence is clear we are products of such and trying to ignore this would be rather foolish.

My experience of the current futsal environment is that we are simply importing many of the poor habits that plague mini-soccer and grassroots football, but instead of getting wet and cold at least we are dry. These are, but not limited to:

Adult Centred Competition Banding children
Trialling children
Instruction rich environments Unequal playing time
Unrealistic training practices (drills) Treating children like mini adults.

We are still seeing adults arguing with the referees, some kids not getting any playing time, parents arguing and even fighting on the sidelines.

Do not get me wrong futsal is an awesome game and it is certainly a sport in its own right, but we must face the fact that it will (in the foreseeable future be seen as a football development tool). It is an opportunity to wipe the slate clean and get the groundwork put right before the sport explodes, which it looks like it is going to do.

My final point though is that why once again is it a race to the top? Why is all of our focus on the elite 0.00001% why are we worried about the top 15-20 players in the UK? Surely, with a population that is getting more and more sedentary, more and more obese with huge drains on the NHS we should be worried about getting more people playing sport and active. Perhaps, if we reversed the current trend of 80% of kids leaving sport by 16 and instead had 80% of kids still playing at 16 we would naturally have a bigger talent pool to choose from to go and compete at the highest stages.

My contention is that the way we do things now drives much of the talent out of sport before we identify it, quite possibly the real talent.

Lets design a competition and an environment that is fit for purpose and for those that are playing it.

How To Use Our ProScheme!

What is the ProScheme? 

Now I know many of you might be reading this and thinking well I don't even know what the ProScheme is. Well hopefully this short blog will be able to give you all the information you need to fully understand it! 

So the reason for the ProScheme is for the parents, coaches and most importantly the children can see and track how they are progressing. The ProScheme Testing is easy to follow and is designed to provide children with both the opportunity and reason to practice outside of the sessions. It is this self regulation and home practice that we believe is imperative should players wish to become the best that they can be. 

All this is kept on an online data base which is accessible for the children and yourself to go on and have a look at their profile. 

Furthermore, each child receives a ProScheme poster that they can use to track their progress ever further. This poster is a mirrored image of their online profile. So if they complete a section at home on their own let your coach know straight away by sending them a video!! This is so we can update the online profile and then the children can fill in their posters. 

How does it work? 

Well thats simple. You know how when you play a video game (well you parents might not but I'm sure the children do) and you have lots of tasks to do in order to complete a “level” and then once you've completed them you can then move onto the following level. Well our ProScheme is exactly like that. The children must complete each section/topic of the level they are on before they can move onto the next one. 

There are 7 topics: Base Moves, FreeStyle, Passing, Turning, Moves to Beat Players, Shooting and Dribbling. 

Once they have completed level 1 they will have earned 1 star. Once they have completed level 2 they will have earned 2 stars. Once they have completed level 3…well you get the picture. The levels go all the way up to level 7. However, after level 3 it is proposed for successfully completing an element at that level they are awarded .1 to their level. For example someone at level 3 successfully completes the base moves section they would now be level 3.1, they then completed passing and turning so would be level 3.3, once all elements are complete they will go from 3.6 to level 4.

The stars are presented to the children on our presentation evening with a certificate by John Farnsworth and then put onto their Futsal Partnership Kit. Don't know who John Farnsworth is!?

At the presentation evening a child will receive the number of stars relevant to the full level they have completed, for example a child at level 3.3 will receive 3 gold stars but their certificate will state level 3.3.

What does it look like? 

Simply go to - http://futsal-pro-scheme.co.uk/ to bring up this screen. From There click the Awards Earned in the top right of the menu. 

Simply go to - http://futsal-pro-scheme.co.uk/ to bring up this screen. From There click the Awards Earned in the top right of the menu. 

By doing this it will then take you to this menu. Each child is categorised by surname. 

By doing this it will then take you to this menu. Each child is categorised by surname. 

Once you've clicked on your child's initial it will then bring up a list of all the children with their surname beginning with that letter. From there find your child and click their name. 

Once you've clicked on your child's initial it will then bring up a list of all the children with their surname beginning with that letter. From there find your child and click their name. 

This is what their profile will then look like. Yellow boxes indicate what has been achieved with their personal bests at the bottom.  

This is what their profile will then look like. Yellow boxes indicate what has been achieved with their personal bests at the bottom.  

How To Get Started? 

Simply go out and get practicing!! Get videoing your self and send it in to your coach for them to see and who know maybe you could feature on one of our Facebook or YouTube videos! 

Not A Member? 

Are you not a member but want to have a go at our ProScheme? Well join us today!! Simply pop your message in the live menu at the bottom of your screen (That Blue Thing) and we will get you started right away! 



There is little doubt that the culture of sports coaching has changed over recent years. Coaches, teachers, and indeed parents are beginning to acknowledge the fundamental importance of positive early experiences, as a foundation for lifelong participation in sport, as well as the notion that children’s sports ought to be fun! 


It would appear more and more organisations are calling for new ways to exhibit sports, particularly to young people. However, are all organisations and coaches alike following suit? We would suggest not.


The increasing call for positive approaches to youth sports have been inspired by an acknowledgement that too many young people become disheartened with sports, chiefly due to the behavior and demands of adults, who should know better. 

Parents blaring instructions from the sidelines; coaches criticising children’s efforts and placing too much emphasis on winning, over development and enjoyment.

Fraser-Thomas & Côté (2009) reported that negative early developmental experiences occur in youth sports. These were, but not limited to, poor relationships with the coach, parental pressure, negative peer influence and psychological challenges regarding the competitive aspect.


‘Coaching young children has little do with winning, it is to do with helping them to develop both as players and people’ (Ford, 1999). Regardless of the category of sports, youth and adolescents across the country engage in sports activities for the thrill and excitement that come with it; and in some cases, not anticipating the pressures, stresses, and strains that are typically integral components as well.            When something is difficult enough for children, why do we add to the problem?


Although there has been an increase in the number of coaching education programmes, many coaches (a good proportion of whom are volunteers) still do not receive such instruction (Parker, 2010). Therefore, it is probable that many underestimate the influence they have on their young athletes and some may not be creating an atmosphere that best promotes the positive values sport has the potential to provide.


There is no doubt that the main reason children participate in sports is that they are enjoyable. Still, well-meaning parents, teachers and coaches frequently spoil sports by making them too serious too soon. Often inappropriate forms of competition are the problem. An Under 7s league fixture is turned into the World Cup Final, with appalling displays of behavior shown by coaches and parents in some cases.


Further, the coaching or training environment is often unsuitable, as children are instructed to participate in mind-numbing drills. “Drill” has become the single most common word we use to describe practice in sports, music, and academics, and this is a problem. The problem is not that “drill” is a bad word in itself. The problem is that it often sends the wrong message to the learner. It coveys a signal that a) There is one correct way to do something, and only one way, b) This group values machine-like repetition above all else.

Is there another way? How about “exercise” or “challenge?”

This suggests a more social, fun, and game-like approach. Difficulty is expected; mindfulness is required; innovation is embraced. This group values challenging obstacles, competing, and creating. It is highly recommended that the following questions should be asked before anything is carried out… “Would I enjoy this?”

Added factors have also been found to be significant, including children participating in a range of activities, rather than focusing on early specialization. It has been suggested that early specialization in a sport is necessary for later success, although evidence indicates that children who partake in a range of activities are more likely to carry on playing, and are more likely to find the activity that becomes a lifelong passion.

Research suggests that children under seven or eight years of age are primarily motivated by pleasure, general movement, and the total gladness of play. They do not place importance on competitive fixtures, unlike many coaches and parents, but rather they want to chase, hide and generally play freely, because it makes the children feel good. Correspondingly, these types of actions are suitable for the young children’s development, but that is not why children chose to engage in them. For young children, play is enough. It is critical that children experience these emotions, particularly in the early stages of sports.

Early experiences are imperative, setting the tone for everything else that follows throughout the sporting journey. Positive early experiences encourage further participation; negative experiences turn off children.


Banding Children in Sport, is there another way?


There is almost no more debated issue within grass roots sports than should children be banded on perceived ability:

We have just been debating the developmental pathway of one of our longest standing members as he comes to the end of his trial period at a top professional club.  All too often we hear statements such as, to be the best you must be playing with the best or against the best, well we would like to suggest that is not necessarily the case.  The player in question, and we have quite a few stories like this, was met as a ten year old playing for a division 5 team and not able to get a place in the starting team.  This was quickly reversed within our equal playing time belief and he started to get as much playing time as anyone else.  With the addition of this playing time he followed quite a quick developmental path.  Despite lots of attention from all manner of teams including pro scouts he remained in the lower leagues playing with his friends up until 15 years old.  At this stage decided to take the step up into the top league and accepted the advances of the pro clubs and has been with a number of academies and invited to trial with U19’s England Futsal. There are always stories of exceptions to the rule but what we are finding with our maturing children is that those who have either remained in or had exposure to mixed ability groups have remained playing longer and are now excelling in the sport.

We have thrown this question out to a whole host of experts in the field and all seem to agree that there is little evidence that banding on ability has any significant long term effect on performance one quote stays with me and I often use it:

“banding in participation sport is the biggest issue facing us today, who knows how much real potential is lost to this, perhaps the real potential is lost”

The problem is often who is providing the talent identification and what is being identified?  As we have stated before on more than one occasion if massively funded and researched talent identification systems by the most successful professional clubs in the world have very little success identifying & nurturing talent then how on earth can we expect participation coaches to be able to do it and if this is the case why are they trying?   



They are trying because the system within which they operate provides an environment where the adults often feel that they are judged by win loss ratios.  In league systems that create a Darwinian survival of the fittest culture where the most ‘gifted’ children are harvested through a ruthless trial system and the weakest cast out.  Recently the FA have tried to resolve this issue by implementing a non-competition rule, but this has just been side stepped by the adults and to be frank nothing has changed.  Because this system exists managers and coaches feel that they must keep up with Jones’ otherwise their teams spend week after week getting thrashed thus even the most forward thinking coaches end up being pulled into the trap of banding their team in order to prevent embarrassing and motivation sapping double figure defeats.  Often they justify getting rid of the weaker child as it being best for their development, they develop best at their own level,  really I thought they just wanted to be with their pals and have fun. If we are to believe the statistics most children will have quit sports by their late teens so what are we developing them for anyway? Surely we should look at devising a new system that meets the needs of the children and promotes participation first and foremost so that the pool of real talent can be increased and let the professionals select from this talent pool when the time is right and certainly not pre-puberty or in some cases only just post toddling!!!!!.

It is interesting to understand what is being identified, it is usually the more tangible attributes such as a child’s speed, their shot power, their stamina, their ability to cover large areas of the pitch all of these are usually linked to their physical maturation and then masqueraded as talent.  This is then used as predictor of a future development path and performance, how many ask the questions of how much exposure have they already had to practice, do they have siblings they play with, when is their birthday and so on?  Just because they are the most effective player today will not predict whether they will continue to be so when the less mature children catch up which inevitably they will. The crux, however, is will we keep these less physically mature players in the game as they have already been discarded by the current system that promotes banding at the youngest ages.

Below is an excerpt from some work by Mark O Sullivan which supports our beliefs:

“Assessment of talent at a single or narrow point in time is a flawed approach”- Mark Upton:

Many current methods of focusing on early indicators of talent are very static and linear approaches. They ignore the fact that development is individual and that differences in performance can be explained by differences in maturation. Coaches that judge early talent evaluate and focus on the contemporary level of performance where physical characteristics are fundamental factors in the talent identification process. This brings to the surface three fundamental problems that need to be addressed with early talent ID.

    1    Coaches gamble on the wrong players- (misuse of resources)

    2    Miss out on those with more long term potential

    3    Environment problem (development of a non-inclusive environment. No clear pathway back in to the system)

It is this last point that I would like to address, I have lost count of the number of parents that have contacted us with concerns that their child (as young as 5) has been told to find another sport, or is not a footballer.  Interestingly when placed in a safe to fail non banded environment with time these children have thrived and have developed just as well as their early matured peers.

The next answer we often given is ‘its been like this for ages, why change it” looking at sport through rose tinted glasses and thinking everything is okay.  Well things are from okay, ‘in our day’ we had the opportunity to play in the streets all day, ride our bikes, play on building sites and all manner of other physical activities unfortunately these days have gone.  For some children their sporting or movement activities are limited to an hour or two of PE and after school adult led activities.  These adult let activities are now in competition with so many others such as the the   technology in the form of tablets, phones and games consoles.  If movement and sport is to compete it has to remain fun, engage and provide children with opportunities to play.  It must compete as the world is currently facing an obesity epidemic and for the first time in human history there are more overweight than underweight people.  Whilst some of this can be attributed to diet much can also be as a result of our sedentary lifestyle, which is supported by the drop out rate of children from sport.



There are many many research projects that clearly illustrate that one of the top reasons for playing sport is to be with or to make new friends.  Sport is a wonderful social tool and should be embraced but this tool is often overlooked in place of short term wins, trophies and titles.  In order to compete for these accolades children must be banded into teams of similar ability and often this means disbanding teams on annual basis as children develop in such non linear ways.  What is the social results of a child being pushed out of a team because his development has not kept pace with his friends, how does they feel now that he has to join a team where he doesn't know anyone?  Also let us not forget the parents as they have made bonds with the parents within the team too.  What are the psychological results the feelings of ‘i am not good enough’.  Now many will answer with it toughens them up, prepares them for life, this may be the case but do children already have enough pressures, targets and tests and shouldn't sport be a sanctuary away from this shouldn't it just be fun?

Is there another way and how can this be overcome?

We believe there is but it would need to be overcome through long term education.  Our organisation has recently run a pilot whereby a competitive league system was run with a number of caveats.  All children had to have equal playing time, there were no coaches coaching, there were no set positions, children were mixed ages and mixed ability and did not need to undergo a trial.  Parents were to congratulate but not to comment in anything other than a positive manner.  Can this be delivered en masse we re not sure but we are going to have a damn good try?  We know there is something much greater at stake than a league trophy we have the long term participation of children into adulthood in our hands and it is not a responsibility we are going to squander for short term gain.

Why do we continue to shout instructions?


Every Instruction Shouted is a Learning Opportunity Lost


In a recent short research project we found that the average time between instructions in Mini Soccer was less than ten seconds.

Get it out, not in there, pass, shoot……….

Go around the footballing fields in any part of the country and even before you get to the pitches you will hear the din of adults…..as you get closer and closer the din becomes clearer and you will start to hear the contents - get it out, pass, shoot, not in there. A constant line of instructions with the pawns trying their hardest to react to them although many of the instructions will mean nothing to a 7 year old (shape is one I often hear shouted).  Having asked a number of coaches about their need to send instructions to the children the majority answer with reference to developing players, I am shouting the instruction to help them, if I don't shout pass how will they know when to do it?


It is this final question that is really the crux of this article, how will they know?  If we were to review this from a schematic point of view (a system of organising and perceiving new information) it will illustrate clearly why an instruction will not help the learner.  In the first instance Schmidt suggests that we need to develop Generalised Motor Patterns (GMP) for each of the skills that we can produce such as passing, shooting, dribbling and these skills can be learned within a number of frameworks such as a coaching environment, play, deliberate practice.  However, unless put into the context of the game in which they will need to be exhibited the skills are nigh on useless.

In order to be able to execute the skills within the game a player needs to develop both their recall and recognition schema.  The recall schema provides information to your GMP so that you can make the correct decision.  For example when running on goal the keeper comes off his line this should provide you with the information to perform a lob in which your brain goes to the filing cabinet that holds this information on how to perform the lob and how much height, power and spin is required to execute it.  As we then perform the technique our recognition schema will tell us through the feel of the action whether we have been successful even before the ball has reached the goal.


So how does an instruction effect this process, quite simply put it prevents the recognition schema from being built.  The long term aim of each of the processes is that they become automated and in effect we do not even need to think about them, in order to be able to achieve this the cues mustcome from play and trial and error and not external cues otherwise the experiences cannot be stored for recall at a later date.  For example if as the player was running through the coach shouted “lob him” this would not be stored for recollection as the player has responded to the cue not the environment in which he found himself.

Whilst this ability to learn new skills and be able to replicate them automatically at any given time is of huge importance it is our belief that the failure to provide this environment is not the biggest issue surrounding over instructing.  Evidence is clear that there are huge benefits of sport such asincreased health, improved cognitive ability and career prospects.  However in this instance we will concentrate mainly upon health issues. The World Health organisation has recently described the obesity epidemic as a ticking time bomb and for the first time in human history there are more overweight than underweight people on the planet.  Whilst some of the blame can be put at the feet of the food industry or people’s poor eating habits we must also acknowledge that people’s movement has declined.  With all the other pulls on a young person’s time such as the technological advances and the attraction of the X Box we as coaches must make sport and other movement activities as appealing as possible.  

In order to make sport attractive we must give children more control over the activities in which they partake.  By giving the children control they will focus on their efforts and enjoy the sport, furthermore they will practice more and look to attain higher levels.  We need to get away from an purely instructional coach led environment and involve the child in the process and provide a 360 degree learning process rather than a simply coach knows all approach.  



There are numerous reports and research into why children leave sport but in these reports the overwhelming reasons are that they are no longer fun and too much emphasis on winning.  Think about the last time you did anything and you had someone constantly telling you how to do it, how much fun was it?  Little Bobby has just been watching his hero use his favourite skills and has tried to use it in the game to the crescendo of “just play it simple” how many times “play the simple pass” Bobby was dreaming of doing the Elastico past the last defender to score the winning goal in the World Cup……he was very quickly brought back to the cold muddy pitch in the middle of February and instead of experimenting and trying new things he is only encouraged to play simply, children don't want to play simply they want to be their idols they want to be creative, try new things be exciting dare we say it be children playing.

CLICK LINK:            https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ReKw6J5tK2c

What we need to do is give the sports back to the children and relax, remember it is just a game but this game has far reaching and long lasting consequences if we get it wrong.  We need to encourage more play, more spontaneity and remove the 50 minutes of pain for 10 minutes of game and in that game the adults need to be quiet and let the children work it out for themselves as Melunsteen states “once the ball is moving the coaches need to be quiet”.

If we go back to that original paragraph and the answer “if i don't shout pass how will they know” and analyse this for a bit.  Lets take the positive out of this- the coach shouts “shoot” and the child shoots and scores, the result of this is that the child feels great for scoring, the team feel great the coach feels justified and the parents are happy that there is a goal scored.  On the face of it the shouting of an instruction is a positive part of the game.  In the short term I would agree with this but should we just be looking at the short term?  The longer term effect is that instruction has between limited and no effect on the child’s learning and the more disturbing effects could be that this promotion of an adult centred approach will result in many of the children leaving the game and organised sport forever.  The roles and responsibilities of a coach are not to be underestimated as they can have massively positive or negative long term effects on children’s lives, short term wins should never ever outweigh the long term.

Partnership with John Farnworth

We are absolutely delighted to announce our partnership with John Farnworth.  We think that john's ethos matches our very closely and he will be a great ambassador for our partnership.  John will help us meet our aims of instilling a love of sport in children and provides a fantastic role model for children to aspire to.

We have a number of intended collaborations with John including supporting the delivery of the Freestyle Elements of the PRO Scheme, helping to coach the children and the coaches, delivering at our Presentation Evenings, being an integral part of our Schools Programme and one very special event that we are to announce soon (children get practicing).

We look forward to welcoming John up to the North East very soon and all our competition winners will be in for a treat.

The Power of Association

I have had review of some of my habits and have been finding them quite difficult to shift not all of these are bad habits some are just habits, one of the weirdest ones is my shopping habit.  I cannot stand big supermarkets, I don't like the way they are laid out, how busy they are, how impersonal they are and how they hold so much influence.  So every time I go to go shopping I get in the car with all good intention to not visit one of the big four supermarkets but instead spend my money elsewhere.  Once in the car, music on and mind elsewhere I am on autopilot and before I know it I am walking the aisles of Asda or Sainsburys thinking how did I get here.

I am having the same issue with my Friday night ritual, every night I am thinking I am not having that cheeky wine tonight and like the supermarket I end up watching a film with a glass of red in my hand and thinking why have I done that.  I was talking through this with one of our advisors and he mentioned the power of association and what has happened is that you now have associated your shopping habits and Friday nights with a particular behaviour and it is now very difficult to break.  

On reading further into this subject the power of association is hugely influential there have been countless studies on how association effects peoples behaviours through the subconscious.  One remarkable study showed that by simply reading out a list of words that can be associated with older people causes a decrease in pace of walking away from the classroom when compared to walking to it.

This got me thinking about the language we use when working with children and how careful we must be in our choice of communication.  There is often a discussion about the use of positions within the developmental stages of football and we as a group are strong believers that children should not be pigeon holed into positions.  When looking at when adults decide on positions for children all too often these are based on physical characteristics and not what the children actually want for example the big lads at the back and the fast players up front.  But what are the children associating with such communication, if we were to say you are a defender or you are a forward what are the children associating with the labels that adults give them?

Well we asked them and below is what they said

As you can see there are a mixture of answers but the general tone is negative, a couple of players mentioned afterwards that defenders are not as valued as forwards.  

We asked the same question of forward players:

As you can see the tone is slightly different it has a more positive slant and talks about glory and goals.

What is the long term effect of labelling children in the developmental stages, keep in mind that some children as young as six are being told you are a striker or you are a defender?  If you were to read this in connection with the Mindset work from Carol Dweck these labels could be seen as quite damaging to the mindsets of the children and their ability to reach their true potential.  It would be interesting to further study the drop out rates from sport for children that had positional specialisation from an early age and those that were free to sample all positions.  Early specialisation studies are clear that within a singular sport that Early Specialisation leads to premature drop out so it would logically follow that Positional Specialisation would be similar.

As for my own personal power of association unfortunately I am still visiting Tesco and having a wine or two on a Friday perhaps I need someone to keep telling me I am a finely tuned athlete so that my associations change.

I hope that people take this observation in the manner it is intended, it is there to make us think about our communication and help us to keep children in sport for that little bit longer.


As always all comments are more than welcomed.





A Great Week in Berwick

This summer saw the fourth and largest trip yet with 24 children of all ages taking in all that Berwick has to offer.  All previous trips had a significant football element with sport being the main focus however as the years have gone by so the focus has shifted from the sporting aspect to the social. 

The environment we have been trying to create is one of self reliance and freedom within certain boundaries and as always these boundaries were 100% respected, so much so that yet again the staff at Haven Berwick commented on the politeness and all round behaviour of the group.

Whilst we did play football most days and as always the standard was particularly high the greatest success of the weeks were that children were allowed to be children, they were given responsibility of money and cleaning up for themselves but the most rewarding aspect was seeing the friendships grow so that they are all now as thick as thieves.

This was going to be the last year running the residential trips but we have reversed our decision and are expecting to take at least 40 children next year as Northumberland & Tyneside join the trip.

Launch of Summer Programme 2014


What is so different about Newcastle Futsal?
We could go on for page after page about what makes us different - in fact check out the about us section. But for us the main difference is that we use empricial evidence and latest coaching theory to shape our methods.  It is well known that what is uncovered in academic literature takes between 20 and 30 years to become mainstream knowledge.  As we keep up to date with this research and indeed undergo our own research (we have one published academic paper, one under review and one just cleared ethics) you can be sure that your children are receiving the best possible coaching.  Simply put we do not go along with the crowd we challenge conventional wisdom and put theory into practice.

The only technical coaching organisation that guarantees to make significant improvements to children's ability.

We use Futsal/Futebol de Salao as the cornerstone of our technical development as it is proven to help develop players with their decision making skills, quick passing, use of skills in tight areas as well as pattern recognition, anticipation and confidence.

Are players made or born, it is our contention that there are certain attributes that are genetic but everything else is trainable. But we all have our own opinions and we would love to hear yours.

Our organisation is evidence based and underpinned by academic theory.  We do not reply on subjective opinion but on fact and empirical evidence.

We are currently undertaking a small research project based upon the theory of athlete self regulation, it is the contention that athletes who take responsibility for their own training programmes will train longer and thus attain higher results and furthermore will benefit from longer term learning.  We will publish the results once known.

Please check out our About Us section to see why you should or even have to give this a try.  Don't worry it won't say we provide an inclusive environment that is safe and children learn at their own pace blah blah blah.  If you have to say this then your in trouble its like an airline saying fly with us because we won't crash or a restaurant saying eat here because we won't poison you.

As part of our syllabus we have incorporated many freestyle elements such as juggling, getting the ball from the floor to the air and tricks and traps such as the Enigma and Round the World.  Come and learn how, show off to your friends or get yourself on YouTube.  If nothing else it huge fun learning and trying.

Give them the freedom and they will surprise you.

So today will be one of the proudest moments as a father and my son could hardly sleep last night and I think the first time he has got up early since the last holidays.  For a number of years he has watched other children get up and collect the school’s coveted prize the Head Teachers Award and around 6 months ago he made the announcement that “Dad I am going to win that, I just need to find out what I need to do to get it”.  I have to be honest I didn’t think he would be able to achieve it, but he had his mind made up and during a recent parents meeting he made the announcement to his teacher’s surprise and asked what he needed to do.  He was given a list of things he needed to improve upon and off he went on his journey.

Well today he has achieved his aim and my wife and I are going to see him accept his award with the biggest smile on his face.  I can say without fear of contradiction that this was all his own work.  He made the decision to aim for the award, he found out what he needed to do, he planned it and then put the plan into action.  Not one other person can take any credit for what he has achieved it has all been done on his own.

This has got me thinking does this self motivation cross domains, can what he has done in an education setting cross into sport and vice versa, is this motivation an innate or genetic ability or is it a learned behaviour?  I am not a geneticist or a scientist so I will not go into any depth mostly because I don’t know but also because it will send you off to sleep but I will select from some anecdotal evidence.

My son comes to just about all my sessions and anyone who also comes will know we work from a very athlete centred approach whereby we ask children as young as 5 to think for themselves rather than having a coach hold all the power we like to delegate this power to the players.  With the youngest of children this might mean allowing them to set their own pitches, pick their own teams, set their own rules to the older ones analysing performance through video feedback and setting their own detailed plans for improvement. Through this self analysis my son spoke with me just a little before his decision to win the Head Teachers Award about his weaknesses in his football.  He had realised that due to his size he was being pushed off the ball and also that his burst of speed needed work. He then asked if he could have a personal trainer to help him work on these areas and would it be okay if he worked with the older lads so he could get used to it.  We agreed with everything and off he went, has it made a difference, probably too early tell and actually so what if it hasn’t this is not the important issue, what is important is that he is thinking for himself.

It is only now that I have made the link between the two.  Could it be that because he is constantly in an environment where he has to take responsibility for his own learning in sport that this has crossed to his education? Could it be that he is just genetically pre-disposed to being self regulated.  Having spoken to someone who knows a thing or two about genetics his comments were “you may have a genetic advantage or indeed disadvantage (thinking about a pre-disposition to certain diseases) but without the correct environment these genetics cannot flourish.” In other words you may be the fastest person on the planet but if you are not allowed to run what good is that.

Having looked at the literature and in particular Gamser’s work in this area although not 100% conclusive there are certainly strong links being found between children taking their self regulation skills used in sport to their education and vice versa.  Furthermore, she has found that an overwhelming number of elite athletes are also high academic performers and that one of the main reasons for this elite performance is the ability to self regulate.  But caution has been made that such self regulatory behaviour will generally only show in an “inspiring environment where individual goal setting is allowed”. Seems to be a link here between the literature and the views concerning genetics.

As a grass roots coach, can we use this in our domain as although we do work with some elite or aspiring elite athletes the majority of will not likely become such?  Not only can we use this approach I think we must; otherwise we are at best missing a trick at worst denying children a very important life skill. Lets not forget as a participation coaches we have a much bigger role to play than coaching sport.  How can we foster such an environment within our coaching, we must let go of the power, trust the children, inspire them, encourage them, let them make mistakes and let them learn from them. This is better known as an athlete centred approach  –  “the key to a successful athlete centred approach is one where the coach utilises this leadership style and empowers the athlete to learn and understand about their own needs and performances and takes ownership of the training regime.” (Arai, 1997).

I honestly think if we trust them enough and give them the freedom they will surprise you with the long term results.  My son has surprised me with the results of his hard work and I am off this afternoon to be the proudest dad in the room.

Pictures to follow.

4 Venue Champions League Tournaments


4 Venue Champions League Tournaments - Bigger than Ever.

After the first time we ran a dual venue Champions League Tournament we have decided to make it even bigger this time with tournaments running in Gateshead, Stocksfield, Newcastle & Cramlington.

The Format:
3 Teams all assigned a pro club of the children's choice
On Arrival Player pick a pro player from a hat - Messi, Ronaldo, Bobby Charlton?
They will then be given a value based on their age

When playing games every time they score, assist, save, get MOM, Golden Moment or Funniest Moment they increase in value.

At the end of every day the players get to make transfers ready for the next day's play.

We then publish the score of all the children so they can see how much they improved over the week and the players who got the best Funniest Moment, Best Golden Moment and Most Man of Matches will win a new NFC Full Kit.

The days run from 10-3pm Monday to Friday with an early drop off if required and are priced at just £35.00 for the full week or £10.00 per day.

Please note we do not bother providing the children with tacky medals that they will just discard when they get home.

Are we fostering an environment of creativity or stifling it?


Last week was my daughter’s parent’s meeting and I usually face these with fear, not because of my children underperforming or misbehaving or any other issue akin to this but because I normally have to spend the time biting my tongue and listening to how my children are not happy to being moulded into a one dimensional system that simply grooms them for the job market.

To my amazement and joy instead her teacher spent the whole time talking about how creative my daughter was, what a wonderful imagination she had but she only wished she would share it more with the group to help inspire the rest of the group to be more like her.  My daughter will often write stories or dances or make up plays and the teacher has now asked that she bring them in and show the class to see if the rest of the group would bring in what they find of interest and make the whole class a better learning experience for others and that through this each child might find their passion.  She then made an apology that since she has taken over the class they have spent more time in practical work and separating the class into groups and getting them to come up with their own challenges in subjects they find both interesting and also challenging. Apology, are you kidding me this sounds like classroom heaven, I asked if I could come back to school, I was not even offended when she said you are small enough to get away with it.


Last night she had to do a small piece of homework on Red Kites, the note in her homework book was remembering what we talked about today can you write a page of what you know about Red Kites? She sat there for about ten minutes writing a new song and when questioned she said I wasn’t really paying attention to what happened in class I was bored so I am not sure what to write. Now some might rush her off to the nearest behavioural clinic and diagnose her with ADHD or tell her off for not listening in class but she is 8 and cant be bothered to listen to what others know she wants to find out herself. So instead she spent the next hour and a half finding out everything she could about Red Kites on the internet copying and pasting and in the end she produced 23 pages of work. I think she could probably join the RSPB now, and is one of the UK’s leading experts in the subject. But not because of what she has been told what to do but because she has been given the freedom and inspiration to go and do it herself using the best possible tools for the job.

Can we use these tools in the coaching arena, are we there to inspire children to come up with the best results THEY can or simply replicate what the coach or manager knows? Should a coaching session be totally structured by the manager only looking for a narrow outcome or should it allow for multiple outcomes. Should we stand there at the front and tell them everything we know or do we first find out everything they know and challenge them to find out more? Do we teach new skills through detailed instruction or does can you get the ball from A to B and watch how they solve it get a better response? Most importantly what do they prefer and are all children different and can you adapt each session to allow for these differences in children? Our job like a teacher’s is to inspire the children to fall in love with the game, to want to practice and play and try new things without fear of failure or ridicule if they go wrong.

If as a coach we only allow them to do what we know we will only get replicas of what we know, if we coach a narrow outcome we will get a narrow outcome but if you allow players to come up with their own answers to exciting problems to solve you will be amazed with the results. It might be messy and chaotic and it might take some time to get results but what you will get is players who will think for themselves, take responsibility for their actions and hopefully take this into other areas of their lives.

Alternatively we can do what we have always done and get what we have always got.

It is the start of the Trial Season in Grass Roots


So with the Grass Roots Season nearly over clubs are already starting to look to next season and with this anticipation comes the prospect of the trials.  Due to the many formats in mini soccer and youth football, 5 a side, 7 a side, 9 a side and 11 a side nearly every year clubs need to attract more players and add to their squads.  Some do by joining teams together, some through referrals and some through dare I say it poaching, and some through trials.

Having had a number of parents ask me recently when I am holding my trials for my U10 mini soccer teams I have started to question the use of trials.  The parents have looked at me kind of strange when I state that I don’t hold trials, even though I reason that “what can I learn about my players in a few hours that I don’t already know.”  Anyway it seems I am certainly in the minority on this one so I have started to question myself, perhaps I am missing a trick here?

I have therefore posted on Twitter and Facebook the question who is holding trials and why?  I have had very little answer to this but those that have answered have generally supported my original thoughts in that, it is what we have always done when we need new players.

This got me thinking even more about the trial process and my thoughts on talent identification as a whole.

The top clubs in the world spend millions and millions of Pounds/Euros every year on talent identification attempting to bring the best and most gifted children into their academies.  Whilst there are some success stories I think we can say that as a whole the academy system has not been a raging success in identifying giftedness and nurturing it into talented adult performers.  So with this in mind how can Grass Roots Coaches be expected to perform any better and thus if this is the case are trials of any benefit at all?

In my experience a trial at a grass roots club usually takes 1-3 weeks with coaches watching a number of games.  This is a very small snapshot of performance at a given moment in time.  It neither confirms the players giftedness over a pro-longed period  nor does it give much indication of the opportunity to develop into talent.  In many cases (I would actually say most) it is simply an illustration of that person’s maturity at that given time and thus possibly effectiveness as a player not giftedness.

I am often asked by parents, spectators and other coaches do you have any potential superstars, or who do you think is going to make it. My answer is always the same “I have not got a clue, too difficult to say”. What I would say though is that if I was picking a player who might make it I would not be just looking at their ability today but instead at a number of social and psychological & environmental factors.

Daniel Coyle’s Thoughts:


Looking deeper into the trial process it is clear that lots of clubs use the ‘trial’ as another word for an open day to welcome children to their club and as aforementioned to attract players where there is a deficiency in playing numbers.  If they attract too many they try to accommodate them but all too often there is a finite level of resources, but still help the children find other clubs. But then there are some clubs it appears use the trial in the true sense of the word even as young as U6/7/8.  Every year they start a fresh and each player must trial again for their right to play in the team and children from across the region trial for places in the ‘top clubs’ with promises being made to entice them.

This throws up even more questions, what are they looking for, what are the motives, what are the long term goals, for whose benefit is this?  Research into children’s motives in participating in sport are very clear – enjoyment, fun, learning new skills, being with their friends. So does this trial process support the research findings of why children participate in sport or run contrary to it?

As the trial process is simply a glimpse of performance and as a result of non-linear and fast changing development patterns of children what happens next season when the promising young player may not be so much quicker than his peers, is no longer the strongest player on the park or has hit a growth spurt and lost co-ordination.  Will he lose out in the trial process to the next batch of trialists and can no longer play football with his friends or work with the coach he has built the relationship with? Therefore is the trialing of young children just a conveyor belt where at the beginning of each season the perceived most able children are brought in at the expense of others?

As the result of this process often culminates in positive on field performances it can therefore be seen as a successful way to conduct recruitment of children to Grass Roots Teams. But could this actually be viewed as poor process good result (or poor process good short term result).  There is after all a greater responsibility on coaches other  than to win more games than you lose and this needs to be kept in mind at every step when working with the youngest age groups.

Having thought long and hard about the trial process I have decided against it for me my teams. For me it just does not fit in with my philosophy and the reasons why I coach at the 7-11 age group but I wish all children undergoing trials this summer the best of luck.

As always all comments welcome.

Reflective Practice


The previous Blog was about coaching philosophy and for me reflective practice is what helps you both check your philosophy and helps you develop it as you grow as a coach. Furthermore it is often suggested that in order to be an effective coach one must participate in reflection and also to learn from such experiences.

Let me give you an example, my philosophy is very clear around player development and an athlete centred approach and this this is why this example haunts me. A number of weeks ago during an advanced session I took control of the class because the aims were not being hit as quickly as I had envisaged. For many this might seem the right thing to do, but for me this isn’t as it doesn’t fit with my beliefs. We got some quick fixes and the majority of the children were then performing as I had hoped. However, one child disengaged from the practice and even commented “this is boring” my reply as ashamed as I am to say it was “you are welcome to sit out at any time”. The incident passed, the player got half involved and the majority of the group got the results they had hoped for.

It usually takes me 30-40 minutes to get home after sessions and this is my time for reflection. This incident as soon as I had quiet time hit me like a sledge hammer, why did I behave like that, why did I respond to a simple statement with such negativity, why did I take his comment personally, why didn’t I find out why it was boring and so on?

I needed deeper understanding of why I behaved like that, I wouldn’t normally I would ask why was it boring, I would ask the rest of the group, I would ask how can we improve it, what else could we do, so why didn’t I?

I still haven’t come up with the answers as to why, it could be because I lost my way a little and was using a command style which I am uncomfortable with, it could be because I had wrestled control when normally the children would have it, it could be that I was just tired from a long day. To be totally frank it doesn’t matter why, what matters is that I understood through reflection that it was the wrong thing to do and was not in keeping with my philosophy. I spoke to the child in question a few days later and he apologised for being rude, which made my guilt worse and I apologised for being arrogant we shook hands and played 1v1.

Now this is the key to it all, within 40 minutes of our mutual apology another boy who was being coached in our session albeit by another coach came up to me and said I don’t like this session I want to go home. We’ve been here before so we went to one side had a sit down and we found out it was because his mates were in one group and he’d been split up and just wanted to be with them, easy fix.

But was this just an easy fix, without the previous reflective activity would the original behaviour simply have repeated itself perhaps being framed as poor process but good outcome or if it isn’t broke don’t fix it. But instead through deep understanding of ones own actions, a reflective practitioner looks back at their own practice with objectivity and considers how they can improve. They are not happy to cruise along but instead look for the best possible practices.

This process can sometimes be a painful and difficult one, it is often the case that ones own biggest critic is themselves and the act of looking within can cause much discomfort. But it is also suggested that in order to become the best you can be requires you to remove yourself from your comfort zone.

It is suggested therefore that to become an effective coach firstly a clear and well thought out philosophy is decided and shared, and once this is in place a coach regularly and with objectivity self monitors their practice then if required adjusts and obtains the required tools in order that they may undertake to become what they envisage: an effective coach.

Note: I do not believe myself to be an expert coach but I am simply researching what is believed to become such. I am trying to learn the tools of an effective coach and apply them to my practice. This blog is simply my own opinion shaped by both extensive reading and personal experience and welcome any debate, support or counter argument.

The Grass Roots Environment


Much has been commentated on the current state of Grass Roots or Participation Domain (PD) football in recent months from the lack of or poor state of facilities to the expense of National Governing Body Coaching Courses to over zealous coaches and poor parental behaviour.  Some say that the number of Football Association initiatives have made improvements such as welfare officers, charter standard clubs and respect line. I am not aware of any empirical research that supports an improvement such initiatives have made. It might be suggested however that these steps whilst well intentioned have simply tried to resolve the symptoms and not the deep routed problems from which the behaviours originate.  Again I have no supporting evidence other than a library of anecdotal evidence but my personal experience is that the environment within PD is no better today than it was ten years ago.  I may be mistaken, it maybe because I am analysing it more, it may be that I look back with rose tinted glasses, but regardless it does not feel any better in the trenches. 

So with all the schemes and trials why has there not been any real or significant improvements, it is proposed that perhaps it is simply because participation domain coaches are not creating the correct environments and are not being supported by either their clubs or NGB in doing so. 

Surely the first thing a new manager should be doing even before he pulls on his boots or gets her initials on her track suit is to reflect on why they are coaching, what they are wanting to achieve, who they want to work with, what are their core values in other words commit to paper what their coaching philosophy is. Without this constantly evolving raison d’être it will be impossible to create the correct coaching environment.  I come across 100s of coaches and can say without fear of contradiction that only a tiny percentage have a philosophy or have even considered it. 

This is never more easily identifiable than when a coach says something like “I only do it for the kids” or “winning isn’t important” but their coaching behaviours contradict for example only giving some children small amounts of playing time or spending the whole game commentating from the sidelines with non-sensical statements such as “get it out” or my particular favourite “not in there” if your not interested in winning why does it matter if “they do it in there”.

If coaches truly reflected on their reasons for coaching and winning was truly important at least this could be conveyed to both the parents and the children. Why not just be honest and say my philosophy is this and as a result our environment will be based on winning games. That way parents and children can decide if this is the correct place for them to be. Alternatively by understanding your reasons for coaching and if this truth is uncomfortable one can take steps to actively change this philosophy and by use of ongoing reflection this might help. However all too often no philosophy is developed and thus shared and confusion then reigns within teams and clubs which results in the negative behaviours that pervade the PD game. 

How does this work in practice? First of all it is not an overnight success and takes time to both develop a philosophy and can be a painful experience.  Once this has been completed sharing it is a paradox in that it is both daunting and liberating. You will need to share it with everyone whom you are involved with at the club but most certainly your players and parents. Some children and parents may not agree with your philosophy and de-select themselves but better to do this at the beginning that later on, some may be sceptical, some may think you weird or mad as this is not the norm.  Now this is the beauty about sharing your philosophy, by doing this it sets a standard for all behaviour from coaches, parents and players. For example part of our philosophy is player self regulation, we expect children to remember their own drinks, shin guards, jackets but in return we also expect children to be able to make their own decisions.  So the parents get the benefit of not having to remember everything on match day and in return the children get to play without constant instruction from the sidelines. Because our philosophy is clear our environment simply becomes a mirror of this, without a clear philosophy the environment will always be at odds. 

For me the most important philosophy within our coaching is that we truly believe in player development and an athlete centred approach. We do not believe that everything must come from the coach but instead that the players are empowered to make their own decisions on their training and by self reflection they are able to understand both their strengths and areas for development.  The result of this is an environment where the players question, experiment and do not fear mistakes.  Whilst this has been a direct result of the coaching philosophy the team have developed their own philosophy that enjoying the game, trying new things, expressing themselves are more important than winning and the result should be a bye product of good performance. 

It is my experience that each team is a direct reflection of the coach.  If the coach has poor behaviour the players will follow, if the coach commentates during the game so will the parents. If the coach is often negative so will everyone else be.  But all too often the coach will abdicate responsibility with sentences like “I have a bad set of parents” or “the kids don’t do what we do in training” which assumes fault elsewhere. However there is a paradox here as the coach will often accept responsibility for when things go well, this was titled the windows and mirror syndrome by Jim Collins. Poor leaders look out of the window when things go badly but look in the mirror when things go well.  By creating the correct environment there is no consequence of mistakes they will be seen as learning experiences rather than a need to proportion blame.  Similarly the coach does not take responsibility for success this is simply a result of the learning process. 

Where next?

If it is believed that coaching philosophy is indeed critical in shaping behaviour and creating the correct and positive environment it proposed that this would form part of the NGB coaching education courses.  Furthermore, one would expect that all coaches within charter standard clubs would have a defined and committed philosophy that is openly published perhaps even an award that would need awarding every three years similar to Emergency Aid or Child Protection.  At the very least Charter Standard Clubs would be expected to have published philosophies not just stale code of conducts that get brought out once a year and that the behaviours within the clubs should mirror these. 

Please note that this commentary uses generalisations and accepts that there are exceptions. Much of the information contained is based on personal experience and may not be the norm.

We welcome all comments.