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.