Tag Archives: development centre

Touchline companions

Saturday morning and the 1&onlyD was in a mood. She was indignant and she was frustrating in a way she has honed and polished: refusing to make a decision between two options. And time was pressing, she wasn’t dressed and as each minute passed, she became less communicative.. until with seconds to spare she made her move and was out of the door.

In my daughter’s defence, she was being asked to decide between going with Mrs TL to watch her younger brother play football at the local Powerleague centre, or come with me to a supermarket where her older brother would be bag-packing to raise funds for his club. Neither are prospects to thrill a ten year old girl at the start of her weekend. And in my world, where all shopping activity is loathsome, she made the right decision and went with her mother.

For as long as I have been a touchline Dad, I have had my children as companions on the side line. When no.1 son first strode out for his club, his younger brother was a new-born, who would stay with his mother, while I would bring the 1&onlyD with me.

For a few months, hanging out with Dad seemed to satisfy her. When spring came, and football moved outdoors, Saturday morning Dad-and-daughter time became at once both more exciting and more irksome. The excitement was the playground by the football field, where we swung, span, climbed and played monster games for half the morning until I bribed her with snacks to let me watch the boys’ match.

The annoyance for her, piled on top of the boredom of boys’ football, was the weather. Our home ground has a micro-climate – one that belongs 300 miles further north, not south of our NW England home. The 1&onlyD protected herself from the cold and wet by, variously, draping herself around my shoulders, sitting on my feet or clinging to me beneath my coat. If the sun did come out, she would occupy herself with daisy chain making. daisy chain long

The following season, I would often have both the little-ones as touchline companions, while Mrs TL had a hard-earned child-free hour in the gym. Even more fun in the playground, more snacks and more chilly grumpiness at the game. On at least one occasion, I watched a match with a pre-schooler clinging to each shoulder. A good thing those junior matches are short.

Something similar was happening on weekday afternoons with Mrs TL at swimming and gymnastics lessons. One occupied child and two malcontents, willing to offer a few minutes of good-humoured quiet in exchange for a treat.

We are now in a different phase (or more accurately, have been through several phases). The boys choose to come with me or Mrs TL to watch the other play. In no.1 son’s case, at a recent indoor cricket match, he showed himself to be a very tense spectator. I had seen this before, particularly at his younger brother’s weekly sessions with the pro-club development centre. He could not contain his longing for his brother to do well in that rarefied environment. And if no.2 son wasn’t playing at full throttle, or seemed to be missing the point of a training drill, no.1 son would be stage-whispering corrections, sighing and predicting the imminent end of his brother’s time on the slippery slope of junior academy football. Behaving just like lots of the adults around us, in fact.

It is fun standing alongside one son watch his brother and his teammates. Even more important for us is the opportunity it gives a boy and me to have a kick-around, using a spare goal or space beside the match. I marvel at the tricks and skills they have learnt and my hands sting from the increasing power their shots acquire. Their company distracts me from becoming too wrapped up in the match. I can enjoy it with a little distance.

No.2 son is less keen to stand and watch, so if I’m puffed and need a break watching the match, he will often tour around half of the pitch to join his brother or whoever is a substitute at that point in the game, eager for a kickabout with some bigger boys.

But if there’s nobody willing to play, he will stand and watch the game for a while. This is always something I cherish. He stands amongst the touchline dads and mimics their shouts, their grunts and groans as they kick every ball and make every challenge for their sons. I’m not sure they are listening, but he’s telling them how ridiculous they sound. It keeps me very quiet.





Filed under parenting, social animals, touchline zoo, young shoulders

Not dropped

development centreWhen I was approached by a scout about no.2 son joining his club’s development centre last year, it felt like I was being chatted up. And when his affiliation with that centre was brought to an end last week, it had elements of a relationship break-up.

There was the, ‘it’s not you, it’s me’ line. Actually, the coaches blamed, at different times, their club and the FA, while emphasising what fine footballers all the boys were. There was also an equivalent to the cheesy, ‘there’ll always be a place for you in my heart’ line. The boys, you see, weren’t dropped, but were still part of the club and at some time in the future might be asked to play again.

I’m making it sound worse than it was. At the end of the session, the two coaches brought all the under eights and their parents together and explained that the club had decided very recently that the centre should be for 5-7 year olds. Their academy squad was one of the strongest in the region and so the focus would be on the younger age groups. The coaches made a genuine attempt to explain and soften the news, which was appreciated.

No.2 son has built into his identity attendance at the development centre over the last 12 months. Him being cut from it was the eventuality we had been bracing ourselves for almost since it started. The experience (described here) of a teammate of his brother, who lost his love for the game when dropped by a professional club, was the warning.

Perhaps because it wasn’t personal, because the club or the FA were alleged to be ‘to blame’, no.2 son has so far taken the news equably. He went to training with his club team the next morning and played with his usual enjoyment and vigour with me in the garden today. He did try to peel the professional club’s sticker off his bedroom door tonight, which seems a proportionate response.

Looking back on the last 12 months, what to make of no.2 son’s experience at the development centre? In the early weeks, in fact months, I thought it was indifferent. Some of the coaching drills seemed poorly designed for the age-group and no.2 son just didn’t seem to be ‘getting it’. The experience, I had felt, had come a year or so too soon for him.

But over the summer, perhaps because I was missing weeks pursuing cricket duties, I saw real changes to his game. The centre’s focus on passing and movement became an effective counterweight to his natural marauding game. He didn’t shy from using his weaker left-foot and when his club season began he set out to use skills in matches. He won several ‘man of training’ awards and was comfortable and confident with the other boys. That ability to establish himself amongst a group of peers could be the most enduring skill he has developed.

As with every part of being a touchline dad, my feelings are mixed. When preoccupied with wanting the very best for my boy, I regret this experience ending. He progressed when working with expert coaches, alongside the stronger players of other clubs in the region. Back at his club, the playing standard is mixed and his age-group coaches are all in their first or second seasons as volunteers and are struggling to run slick training sessions. Will his development stall and his potential be unrealised in this less rarefied atmosphere?

But I don’t feel like ranting that he has been left on the scrapheap at seven. I just need to look at the example of his older brother, whose potential as a junior footballer was unlocked by dropping to a less competitive standard, where he flourished (see ‘Finding his own feet in football‘).

I am also very aware of his good fortune of having had the opportunity of the last twelve months. A year ago, no.2 son was a strong player compared to his teammates but not outstanding. The very cream had already been tapped up by the local premiership club scouting operations. He was one of a group of boys who might have attracted interest, but most did not. Each of them may feel more aggrieved than he should.

Amongst my varied thoughts is the selfish (or family orientated) relief that his time at the development centre is over. It opens up Friday evening once more. It also resolves a great uncertainty about how long no.2 son would keep going there. My only real criticism of the development centre was the failure ever to explain to us what to expect.

I had a quiet word with no.2 son at bedtime a day after his last session at the development centre. “I didn’t think I could really be a footballer,” he said.

“You are a footballer now,” I tried to reassure him.

“No, a real one – a professional.”

He is probably right. But if he does defy the odds and make it all the way, I fully expect he will have to overcome many greater setbacks than being (not) dropped by his first development centre.


Filed under coach says.., individual development, scouted

Skipping a year

photo(4)As a boy, I was good at school and good at school work. Age 7, my family left South London for semi-rural Buckinghamshire. My teacher wished me well and gave me one piece of advice: “Don’t skip a year at school; stay in your own school year.”

This advice, that I never had to act on, came to mind this week.

On Friday night, I was watching no.2 son at the pro-club development centre, talking with a Dad whose son is also at our club about the under 8s season starting the next day.

Mid conversation, I received a text from the under 9s (not under 8s) head coach. He asked me what I thought about no.2 son “occasionally playing a year up in league fixtures” this season, starting as soon as the next morning. I replied that I was fine with that and sure no.2 son would enjoy it. Instructions to the next day’s game followed.

Little was familiar to no.2 son the next day: teammates, coach, format (7-a-side) were all unknown. But a ball is a ball, goals and fields vary but not in their essentials. No.2 son put in a forceful display, scoring a goal, marauding, tackling, passing and showing up well alongside the older kids. He enjoyed himself. And so did I.

Later that day, text from head coach, “Heard he did well!!!” and an invitation to no.2 son to “keep coming along”. I said I would think about it.

And that’s where I am still at. I discussed it with Mrs TL who was cautious. I asked for no.1 son’s views. He was adamant that his brother should stay with his year group. I am probably the most amenable to the idea.

In favour of joining the under 9s is the certainty of weekly 7-a-side matches against other teams. On Saturday, he showed himself ready, physically and emotionally, for that challenge, which would develop his football faster and further than the alternative. With his year group, until Easter, most of the games will be 4 or 5-a-side, within the squad.

I am also conscious that he is in his eleventh month at the development centre. It’s a benefit that could be brought to an end soon, which will upset no.2 son. The status of playing with older boys may be a timely boost to him.

The strongest argument against is that he won’t be playing with his mates. Having his friends as teammates was what restored no.1 son’s enjoyment of football and probably informed his opposition to his brother skipping a year.

I am candid in this blog that I seek and find pleasure following my kids’ sport. So, what’s in it for me? Watching matches, particularly when no.2 son’s game is developing so fast, is more appealing than Saturday practice sessions. But I have a social life, and running with my Touchline Pal, attached to those sessions. I think, therefore, either outcome will meet my self-interest.

We haven’t heard yet from no.2 son. That’s deliberate. I am only prepared to let him know he has options if Mrs TL and I are ready to accede to whichever route he chooses. I strongly suspect it would be to join the under 9s as that would sate his competitive appetite – but might not be in his wider interest.

How have you resolved the question of whether your child should ‘skip a year’ at football, another sport, school or other activity?


Filed under coach says.., Competition, individual development

How to keep the Coach sweet

jnr soccer coach

You played really well tonight, little bro.’

I was driving sons no.1 and 2 back from the latter’s development centre training session. No.1 son and I had kicked a ball around together, then settled down to watch the younger boys’ football and to chat. No.1 son talked about his younger brother’s style of play, how it contrasted with his own and what sort of player he might become (like Kolo Touré). While we watched, we both noted the frequency with which the coach shouted praise at no.2 son.

In the car, the boys’ conversation continued:

“Did you do what I told you to do?”

“I did”.

“Did you do exactly what the coach told you to do?”


“The coaches like that and that helps you get picked,” no.1 son explained.

There’s talk, which I’m not encouraging, that no.2 son could be moved from the development centre to the academy. This must have been their agenda.

“So why don’t all kids do that – do what the coach tells them to?” I enquired of no.1 son.

“We’ll, they do during drills, but when they are in a match after they’ve been practising passing, they might prefer to dribble the ball, even though that’s not what the coach has been working on with them. But if you remember to do what the coach has told you to do he will praise you, you get more confident, you became better and he’s happy that his coaching is working. Everyone’s a winner.”

Now, we know that not everyone will be a winner. But I think I know someone who will be.


Filed under coach says.., young shoulders

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.


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.


Filed under parenting, scouted