Monthly Archives: February 2013

Development Centre

6.30 on a Friday evening. Usually the time I am coaxing the kids, tired and grumpy from the week’s exertions or dizzy at their weekend liberation, towards the bath. This winter, it’s been the time that no.2 son and I strike out to the pro-club development centre, for which he was scouted.

“Off to [pro-club town name]”, we say with a carefree disregard for geography. Our actual destination is a municipal leisure complex 30 minutes drive across town from us and 40 miles distant from the pro-club’s home.

No.2 son is proud to have been selected for this centre. It has, I fear, become part of his identity. At school and at his junior club he keeps company with lads playing at five other local pro-club set-ups and this gives him an equality of arms in the race to footballing respect.

He has enjoyed attending the sessions. At first he was nervous about which kit to wear, but quickly reassured himself that he looked the part. He has tried hard every week, tiring himself so as to almost fall asleep on the car journey home. He recognises the training is different to that at his junior club, explaining that, there, all the players are good.

My impression of the development centre is mixed. I was surprised at its informality – no registration, declaration of medical condition or emergency contact number records (until the new head coach took over last month). Between being chatted up by the scout and a car park lecture from the new head coach, there’s been no communication with parents about what to expect or what the aims of the sessions are.

The coaching drills have not always been well-adapted for the age group. One pass and move drill was never successfully fulfilled as the boys couldn’t follow the movement instructions and their passes were too wayward and control too sketchy for a complete cycle of passes to be completed. One week, in the small sided game, the coach kept exhorting the boys to ‘relax’. I could understand what he meant, but couldn’t think of anything six and seven year olds playing football were less likely to do.

I have been a little more anxious on the touchline than normal. I want no.2 son to do himself justice and have always been aware that sooner or later selection decisions will be made. I’ve found myself turning from the play to the coach to check whether any good contribution from no.2 son has been noted. Time and again, it seems to me, the coach has turned away at the moment my lad performs.

Generally, though, the training has not been much of a spectacle. The weather has been close to freezing every night, so if I’m accompanied by no.1 son we retreat to a distant corner of the AstroTurf pitch and have our own kick about.

I have not seen any evidence yet that the training has benefited no.2 son’s game. There has been a focus on passing, which is at odds with the philosophy of his junior club where parents are warned against the sin of shouting ‘pass’ at boys who are being coached to be confident on the ball. It’s also at odds with no.2 son’s own particular marauding style of play. The passing drills could have been and may still be a perfect complement to his natural approach, but I feel the experience has come a little too early for no.2 son to make the most of.

In the small sided games, more structure is expected of the players than no.2 son is used to. In one match, he was told seven times by the coach to play on the right, not to gravitate to his preferred central position.

Despite my ambivalence, it’s been a positive experience for no.2 son as he has  held his own in more challenging company. It won’t be long until we know if he will be invited to carry on. I am worried that no.2 son will take badly a decision to stand him down. If it happens that way we will do our best to salve his injured pride and I’ll be back on Friday bath time duty.

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Filed under coach says.., individual development, scouted, skills

The pick-up line

In the five school years separating my two sons, the scouting efforts of our local professional clubs have intensified. As an under six and under seven, no.2 son’s ‘friendly’ competitions have been frequented by sharp-eyed scouts. His club has fulfilled invitations to several professional clubs’ academies for ‘extra training’. While this training takes place, a word in the ear of the junior club coach would lead to a parent being ushered into a room to discuss their lad joining the academy structure.

Five years before, only a handful of no.1 son’s teammates were scouted. Most notoriously, one of his friends was scouted and booted with a long-lasting detrimental affect on his confidence and interest in the game. Adjacency to that experience had set me against the scouting enterprise for boys of six, seven and eight.

Last year I found myself regularly made awkward by other Dads on the touchline (including Obsessed Dad) asking if no.2 son had ‘been picked up yet’. As more boys in his junior club’s squad were invited to join pro clubs’ ranks and outreach centres, what had seemed unlikely began to be a possibility. I discussed this potential quandary with Mrs TL. We agreed that if it were to happen and we were happy with the arrangements, we would ask no.2 son; if he wanted to try it out, we would not deny him the opportunity.

The approach, when it came, was so similar to the fixing of a teen’s first date. The enquiry about whether we wanted to go out on Friday night came not from our suitor, but via somebody else – a Dad whose son was already involved. I asked that the scout call me direct. Unfortunately, this encounter was in front of no.2 son, meaning all my ‘mates’ wanted to know every hour whether the date was on.

After four days and no phone call, the coach came up to me at a club training session. He chatted me up: called me by my first name; said no.2 son must be attracting a lot of interest; reassured me about the development centre he was being invited to join. I mentioned the bad experience of my older son’s teammate. The coach was straight: the development centre’s role was to find the most talented kids. At some point, when they had had the opportunity to impress, some would be dropped. That was the purpose of the enterprise.

I presented it to no.2 son as an invitation to train with a different club, that different boys would be invited at different times and it didn’t matter if he only went for a few weeks. He had his own take on it. When we talked about New Year’s resolutions, he said his was not to be dropped by the pro club.

So, Friday nights during the winter, I have been driving across town to a floodlit astroturf pitch. I admit I am proud that no.2 son has been selected. Like so much else in following my kids’ sports, it creates conflicting feelings. I continue to wonder what pro clubs want with six and seven year olds.

There’s a new head coach in charge of the development centre. Last Friday, most of the parents of the eight year olds were told, ‘Thanks, but no thanks.’ The word is that the six and seven year olds are next. I’ll blog again about this – perhaps the teen dating analogy will persist and it will be like being dumped by a first girlfriend – and also about the development centre itself, from my perspective on the touchline and what I understand it means to my son.

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Filed under parenting, scouted

Sore loser

No.2 son lay down on the astroturf. It wasn’t fatigue, sun-bathing or an injury. It was a sort of frustration and detachment. His team were losing, again.

Mrs TL squirmed. The Head Coach trotted onto the pitch, helped him up, led him to the side of the pitch and had a quiet word. But a heavy mood had set in and no.2 son remained stroppy and down.

The next Saturday, back on grass, but the same anger and bad temper returned. No.2 son saw his best friend and teammate beaten in goal. He shouted angrily at his mate from the half-way line.

Midweek practice has been similarly affected. After several homeward journeys of tears and grumpiness, we agreed with no.2 son that he would give the Wednesday night kick-about a miss if he couldn’t be sure he would enjoy the session – whatever the score in his match.

So where has this inability to tolerate defeat come from?

High stakes matches? Not at all.

Is there pressure from club and parents to win? Not that I’ve noticed.

No.2 son plays for our local club, which has an exemplary attitude towards football for primary school children. In the early years, most sessions are spent with every child having a ball to develop players who are comfortable with the ball at their feet. Small sided (three, four, five) games are gradually introduced. They take up the last third of each practice session. Nobody records the scores. It was only a few months ago, no.2 son would tell me the score was 1-1 and that he had scored three goals. But recently, he’s left in a terrible mood if his team hasn’t won.

A fortnightly festival brings no.2 son and teammates up against other clubs. Scores aren’t kept, rankings aren’t tabulated. But each game is a mini-competition for the children. And there’s a little more atmosphere, created by the likes of Obsessed Dad and Twitchy Dad.

No.2 son’s brush with a pro-club development centre has probably encouraged him to take his game seriously, although the same principles are followed at the development centre.

Maybe it’s the influence of no.1 son, who plays in a club league and for his secondary school, that has made his younger brother over-competitive. That’s the no.1 son whose club side have played 13, lost 11 this season and who is getting more pleasure than ever from the game – so maybe it’s not him.

I believe it comes from within. For all the coach’s and organiser’s efforts to make the game fun, the parents’ studious avoidance of caring who won and lost, there are some children who see play in terms of winners and losers. Given the language of sport that suffuses their juvenile existence, maybe it’s surprising how many don’t react like this. And when they are young, defeat – albeit a loss only they are conscious of – distresses. For the time being we walk a tricky path: encouraging no.2 son in a sport he does so enjoy, but helping him deal with the inevitability of defeat.

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Filed under individual development, parenting, winning and losing