Grassroots Coaching

Football Coaching – A Tall Story and the English Dilema

When on football coaching courses I’ve had the pleasure of talking to some excellent professional coaches and have always been intrigued as to what pro-clubs look for in young players when assessing potential. Is it a reading of the game, ball control, imagination, creativity, quickness of feet?

Despite the coaches’ best efforts I’m told that many pro-clubs prime interest is how big the player will be at adulthood. Judgements are made not on the basis of technique but potential physical stature. Football today is a sport for athletes, but in England it has become a game for the big & strong. In youth football from grassroots up, the biggest, fastest players tend to get noticed. So here’s an interesting list of British players who have won the Ballon D’Or (world football’s “Best Player” award) since 1966.

  • 1967 George Best – 5ft 7”
  • 1977 Kevin Keegan – 5ft 7”
  • 1978 Kevin Keegan – 5ft 7”
  • 2001 Michael Owen – 5ft 6”

The two players voted “best ever” in a recent FIFA poll? Pele (5ft 7”) and Diego Maradona (5ft 5”). Who is the current Ballon D’Or winner? Lionel Messi (5ft 6”).The current Spanish squad, the World and European Champions, includes the talents of Iniesta (5ft 7”),Xavi (5ft 7in), Silva (5ft 7”) and Villa (5ft 9”). Diminutive match winners each and every one.

Fitness, stamina, strength and speed all help to make a player. But the essential ingredient in the making of a footballer is technique. Mastery of the ball must come first. In English youth football, bigger, stronger, and faster players won’t focus as much on technique if strength and speed will carry them through. Smaller players, who rely on craft and creativity, are often muscled out of the game. The current Barcelona side is the perfect example of what can be achieved when the focus of youth development is on technique.

The odds of any grassroots player becoming a professional are shorter than winning the lottery. But every professional is introduced to the game at grassroots level. How many Michael Owen’s, Kevin Keegan’s or George Best’s have been lost to English football because clubs search only for the next giant of the game?


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