In our previous post we examined the problems faced by John Stones building play from the back for England. We considered the situations he faced when receiving under pressure and whether sticking with a methodology of trying to build possession against a high press was favourable. (Click here for the article).

Comparisons were made to a 10 year old facing the same situation and the question of how we (as coaches) could support in that situation follows naturally. Again picture the scene, your 10 year old centre back receives a pass from a team mate, turns to escape the pressure and loses possession to your opponents centre forward, who collects the ball and slots it past your goalkeeper.

What happens next?

The immediate consideration for a coach has to be the potential impact of your response. A critical, aggressive or challenging reaction could exaggerate the effect of the mistake on motivation, confidence and self esteem. No reaction at all could appear cold or conversely allow the player opportunity to reflect individually. A pause could allow time for a team mate to react and demonstrate an understanding of the situation. An encouraging comment highlighting the intent, if not the execution, being a good one may allow this young player an opportunity to try again in a similar situation and maybe even get it right.

It’s happened before though!

So this isn’t the first time this has happened and you want the player to understand what to do in that situation. You could tell him. ‘When they put pressure on make sure you turn away from the striker and use your body as a barrier.’ That may work. It might be the child needs that one quick instruction to make sense of the situation and understand the solution. Although, how many times as a parent have you found yourself saying ‘how many times do I have to tell you…’

The key to learning something new is having a motivation to do it and the key to it having a long term impact is having some ownership over how you came to the solution.

Take learning to walk. Our motivation is that we want to get somewhere, we want to reach something that’s beyond our stretch, we want to have independence and be able to explore. The ownership comes from how we do it, pulling ourself along on our bellies, rolling, crawling, moving on our knees, walking a few wobbly steps. Is your role as a parent to provide feedback (‘move your left leg, pause, now your right one’) or to occassionally provide support (cover sharp corners, show you’re impressed by the miracle that’s taking place!) and allow them to self correct?

Anticipating it’s probably the latter, you are allowing your child the motivation and ownership of the solutions to learn. So how can we implement this within a coaching context?

How about if we help the child to identify and understand what the problem is (turning to protect the ball from pressure) and then putting them in a situation where it happens lots and lots. By giving them lots of exposure to the problem (just like the child trying to move across the room) and allowing them opportunity to explore potential solutions (just like the child learning to walk, they’ll probably fall down lots as they learn!) we can enable them both motivation and ownership of the solution – remember, this is key to learning something new!

It is possible that just exploring the solution themself won’t allow the child to come to an effiicient idea. So, this is where the real skill of coaching comes in, knowing how and when to support the child. One effective method could be to ask them a question, for eg. What’s the hardest place for the defender to steal the ball? How can your body help you to protect the ball? What happens when the ball is inbetween you and the defender? This piece of support is similar to covering the sharp edge of the coffee table, you’re still allowing them to fall but helping them be more aware of the problem. There are lots of other ways, but we’ll explore them in future articles. The most important thing, is that we remember these are children learning something new to them, just like the child learning to move, and we must offer support but be patient and as much as possible and allow them to own the solution to the problem!

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