To ensure we support children’s development holistically it is vital they are exposed to lots and lots of varied situations. Last week one of our young sides from The iCue Football Academy played fixtures against Laxey AFC Under 10’s teams, overseen by coaches Nick Cowell and Nigel Beattie.
It was such a good experience I felt it necessary to share some of the details with you and hopefully generate some discussion about good practice on a match day for children.
Nick and Nigel had set up small pitches so that on arrival the children played in 1v1, 2v2, 3v3 and variables of those numbers (1v2, 2v1 etc) as soon as they arrived. As a result each child instantly achieved 100’s of touches of the ball, in competitive but welcoming match situations.
Sometimes they faced one opponent, sometimes two or three. They had situations where they were alone, others where they had suport of team mates. At times they were overloaded, others they were matched up or had an overload against their opposition.
In addition to providing the children different technical/tactical returns, this also meant they mixed with different children from the two groups – better, worse, stronger, weaker, faster, slower, familiar to them, unfamiliar to them, self confident or lacking confidence. This allowed great opportunity for psycho-social development experiences, for example being a team player, a leader, building self awareness and confidence, communicating with different people, managing conflict amongst others.
There was a fantastic example of this psycho-social development from Alfie when we got in to the 6v6. Walking off the pitch he suggested our balance when attacking wasn’t good, ‘we need 1 or 2 players behind the ball’ – terrific game understanding and so he was given opportunity to lead the team-talk and share with his mates a strategy of having 3 players attacking and 2 defending when we have the ball.
After playing together in the small sided games for approximately 20 minutes we moved into 6 a side football. Laxey had 4 teams, and so each team would spend time in the 6v6 against our side, and spend 45 minutes in sessions with Nigel. These sessions with Nigel incorproated a variety of activities where the children competed against each other in 1v1’s, 1v4’s and team games.
The iCue players not involved in the game were given a choice, to do a finishing/cross bar challenge or play in 1v1’s, 2v1’s at the side of the pitch. Throughout the match the children chose to do different activities at different times that they were off the pitch.
The 6 a side match started with free play. Using a size 3 outdoor football. There were lots and lots of examples during the game of children finding ways to build possession from their goalkeeper, staying on the ball under pressure. The ball bounced up often and players were dealing with it above knee height (with their feet, thigh, chest). There was also lots of shots high into the tall, hockey size goals, demonstrating an array of finishes.
After 15 minutes the coaches got their teams together for a break and to take on water. When the second period began we swapped to a Futsal ball. This completely changed the dynamic of the game. The lack of bounce meant the ball was on the floor far more often and the childrens touches into space and to change direction required greater dexterity. Passing greater distances became more challenging and finishing more of a 1v1 battle against the goalkeeper, using disguise and creativity.
It should be pointed out here that Laxey’s goalkeeper from the first game, played as an outfield player in their second game.
During the third period we continued with the Futsal ball. The iCue players were now more comfortable dealing with this ball and were able to change direction more efficiently in this period, whilst the Laxey players who had been using a normal size 4 football in their practices with Nigel now needed to adapt and work it out. The younger players from iCue found ways to dribble and combine in order to create chances, and scored a couple of goals as a result.
We then moved into the fourth period, which was Laxey’s strongest team. Most were a year to two years older than their opponents. We returned to a size 3 football and their players quickly realised they could achieve success by finishing high into the goal, leading to some clever attempts at chips and volleys, after finding ways to get the ball into areas close enough to the goal with clever play. Nick had challenged his players to play with less than 3 touches, which encouraged them to move quickly to support one another.
During this period the retreat rule was introduced, to allow the younger players from iCue opportunity to build possession from the Goalkeeper. When the Laxey team went a couple of goals ahead, Nick introduced another challenge to his team, to try to only win possession of the ball by intercepting, not through tackling. The players now had an in possession problem and an out of possession problem to think about. This was excellent for the Laxey players, as it challenged them at a point where they were confident and achieving success, whilst it also allowed the iCue players to achieve a little more success on the ball, whilst keeping the game competitive and realistic.
At the end of the game, the players from the two teams got together. The Laxey players (who had faced situations where they had played better teams themselves) shared some advice with their opponents on the younger team, on ‘what to do when you’re playing a better team.’ This meant the children from Laxey were able to take leadership roles and communicate their experiences and learning to their opponents. It also allowed the iCue players to receive some valuable peer-review on their performances. Post-game review taken care of, without a single cliche from the coach!
During the 90 mintes the children attended the match they achieved success and were challenged, they faced a variety of footballing experiences from 1v1’s to 6v6’s. Within the games they played different positions and the constraints were changed (the ball in this instance, but it could easily have been the size of the pitch, the goals, the number of players on each team). They were given opportunities to take leadership and be independant.
Matchday for children doesn’t have to be 60 minutes of playing 5v5, 7v7 or 9v9. With a little thought we can ensure that children recieve the same varied experience that they do in our sessions each week. Challenging them in different ways, against different children, and ensuring they get as wide and holistic an experience as possible.
Thank you to Nick and Nigel from Laxey for inviting us down to play. If you have any examples from your practice of how you provide a varied match day experience for your players please share them below.