In 2016 the Welsh National team reached the finals of a major tournament for the first time in 58 years.
This is undoubtedly the biggest success story in the history of the game in Wales. The challenge now is to ensure that qualifying for and competing at major tournaments moves from being the exception and becomes the norm.
For this to be achieved we need to bring the long term vision we have for football in Wales to life. Football is the world game and there are many ways to approach it derived from many different cultures. If Wales is to continue to compete at the highest level it is imperative that throughout the country a cohesive approach to how the game is taught and played be established and introduced.
The national syllabus will aim to provide an understanding of how this can be achieved by outlining a clear and simple framework to help coaches working with players from the Grassroots through to the Elite.
To pave the way for continued success on the world stage.
To highlight the importance of the Grassroots game in Wales. To help raise standards within all levels of the game in Wales.
To create a clear framework for learning for players and coaches within all levels of the game in Wales.
To communicate a style of play that can be worked towards regardless of team shape/structure.
To illustrate how world class player development drives but is also underpinned by world class coach education. To provide a reference point for coaches working at all levels of the game in Wales.
To help develop potential into elite players and coaches who can compete at the pinnacle of the world game.
Identity can be seen at the core of any high performance team and the success of our National teams is underpinned by a unique way of playing and thinking. Players and coaches share team membership collectively with a strong sense of ‘we’ and ‘us’ and are
willing to sacrifice personal interests for the greater good of the team - an environment where everyone is valued.
The team always supports in times of hardship and displays a strong support network in order to cope with training and game demands. Strong leadership is key for our identity and creates, advances and embeds a collective sense of ‘us’. Our leadership has the power to influence team members and strengthen what we are and what we want to be: TogetherStronger
First kick to National team
It takes time to become an elite football player.
Although it seems a simple game on the surface, the complexity of the game means a very high level of technical ability, decision making and tactical understanding.
A player’s football education begins the second they kick their first football and continues until they become the best player they can be.
Grassroots football relies on a huge amount of very hard working people who give up their time on a weekly basis to provide an environment for children to enjoy the game.
Some of these players may go on to make a living as a professional football player but statistics tell us that this will be unlikely for the majority. However we hope that when they grow up they remain in the game as a lifelong participant regardless. And this could be in a number of ways. They may play semi-professional football or amateur football, they may become leaders, coaches or referees, they may become volunteers, they may become administrators or sponsors, they may become fans or they may simply end up as parents with children who want to play the game.
Falling in love with the Game
How do we know the players are falling in love with the game?
Do the players come back? Do they arrive with smiles on their faces? Do they leave with smiles on their faces? Are they improving? Can you hear them talking about the session/game and what they did/enjoyed about it? Do you ask the players what they’re favourite sessions are?
Coaches – be a part of the future success of Wales.
You may have the next Gareth Bale in your group… However we still have a responsibility to inspire/educate/develop each and every child under your guidance
We can’t underestimate the role of the coach/parent/guardian in the process of how players perceive themselves!
Parents/Guardians firstly ask yourselves why is the child there?
•Is it because they love football?
•Is it to be with their friends?
•Is it to improve as a player?
•Is it to stay fit and healthy?
•Is it a combination of all?
Then ask yourselves…
•What if the team loses? And continues to lose?
•What if your child is a substitute?
•What if your child gets taken off?
•What if your child makes a mistake that leads to a goal?
•What if your child scores a goal?
•What if your child is player of the match?
How does the conversation go on the way home? What questions do you ask them?
•Did you enjoy the game/session?
•What was your favorite part?
•What did you do well?
It’s important we understand that football is one part of a person’s life and that skills learned by being a part of the football world such as teamwork, discipline, challenge and reflection can also be applied within everyday life.
When coaching players we should try to take a holistic approach with the development of the person in mind.
This approach should help develop the mentality of the person with the right level of challenge, insightful and relevant feedback which in turn should help develop confidence, composure, communication and character.
Give them the best chance
The reasons for developing life-skills are:
•Not many players that begin in the grassroots game will end up in the professional game
•However, all players can become better people by using the power of sport and football
•Players can develop skills that are transferable to education and work.
•Committing to something and seeing it through
•Setting goals and seeing them through
•Managing mistakes in a thought out way
•Listening to different opinions
•Saying please and thank you
•Keeping places tidy
• Time keeping
• Accepting responsibility
• Delegating responsibility
• Supporting others
The importance of small-sided games
Small-sided games are very beneficial for both
young and developed players. Studies have been
conducted to show, and observations confirm, that
children get more enjoyment and learn more from
playing in small-sided games with adapted rules.
They get more touches of the ball, learn quicker
and have to make more decisions during the match.
A higher level of concentration is also required
because the ball is never far away.
Children are also much more involved in the game
and enjoy it much more than playing on a large
pitch. Fewer players on the pitch and smaller teams
ensure that each participant gets more individual
attention. There are also more goal-scoring
opportunities (which is what children want) and the
goalkeepers are in action more often (except in 4 v 4
matches which usually do not have goalkeepers).
Children are also more involved in attacking and
defensive situations, and in this way they are more
often exposed to more repetition. They enjoy
themselves and learn more.
Statistically small-sided football highlights many
benefits for children compared with 11-a-side
• Players touch the ball five times more often in 4-a-side football and 50% more in 7-a-side.
• Players are three times more often in one-against-one situations in 4-a-side football and twice more often in 7-a-side.
• Goals are scored every two minutes in 4-a-side football on average and every four minutes in 7-a-side.
• Goalkeepers are involved in the action two to four times more often in 7-a-side football than in 11-a-side football
• The ball is out of play 8% of the time in 4-a-side football, 14% in 7-a-side and 34% in 11-a-side.
From a physical viewpoint small-sided games can be very intense.
They should not be underestimated and games should not last too long.
Substitutes should be available at the side of the pitch and used regularly which should help the rhythm of the game/exercise to continue at a high level.
We specify that mini footballers should play no longer than 60 minutes every 24 hours.
How Players Learn
Learning is wonderfully messy and certainly does not happen in a straight line. Indeed, learning is not ‘paint by numbers’. In all player developmental journeys there will be set-backs, disappointments and frustrations, but also lots of wonderful experiences that will stay with the player for life. Maximising the opportunity to learn allows these moments to be captured and nurtured.
To learn effectively, players require support and guidance. This often will form a large part of the coaches role, however it is important to understand that this cannot be purely coach-led. The player has to understand their role in maximising their learning and to this end the player is accountable to themselves, their teammates and indeed their coach in committing to being the best learner they can be. In ensuring a two-way relationship, this also applies to the coach.
It is possible to have a player/group with a thirst for learning, yet get stifled by the environment created by the coach. It is vital that these two areas work together, where players feel free to contribute, explore and embrace. The game requires players and coaches to see problems and difficulties as opportunities. The game needs players who persevere through adversity and embrace challenges, as they know it will help their overall player and personal development.
Our principles drive much of the coaches’ role, session content and player learning. Being guided by principles of play rather than steadfast rules of operation means learning is more transferrable to a variety of situations, therefore matching the ever-changing demands of the game. In maximising player learning, we try to develop players who are adaptable and display knowledge in a variety of situations.
Engaging athletes in reflection improves their understanding of how to perform effectively as well as cope with the demands of performing (Faull & Cropley, 2009).
Reflective practice also increases commitment to goal setting and ownership over performance (Richards et al., 2009).
Reflective practice can also be used to open dialogue between the player and the coach (Cropley et al., 2012).
Benefits have been shown for using a structured written approach.
Can be used in conjunction with match analysis.
Should be used within a culture that supports reflective learning and development.
KEY STAGES OF DEVELOPMENT
Beginning (U6 – U8) Learning football through fun game related practice
Focus on fun, enjoyment and engagement.
• Basic technical development using both feet
• Creativity & inventiveness with no fear to find a way
• Use variety to stimulate and motivate the player
Players with enthusiasm and motivation with a love of the game.
• Can use a range of techniques
• A willingness to take risks and ‘make things happen’
• Motivated to train and engaged on improving
Foundation (U9 – U12) No amount of fitness or compensate for deficiencies competitive spirit will ever in functional game skills
Training, learning and engaging.
• Training focused on teaching a range of techniques
• Creativity & inventiveness with no fear to find a way
• Challenge players to use both feet in all activities
Engaged players with enthusiasm and love of the game.
• Broad technical proficiency
• A willingness to take risks and ‘make things happen’
• Agile, co-ordinated and well-balanced footballers
Youth (U13-U16) and decision-making through football awareness, perception game-related practice.
Embedding game understanding and sound decision-making skills.
•Development of position- specific techniques
•Introduction to tactics and role within a unit
•Skill-based problem solving
Well rounded technically sound footballers that can make decisions in games.
•An understanding of positions and roles within the team
•Game intelligent, capable decision-makers
Performance (U17-U21) Developing a tactical specific game related problems.
Refinement of players’ technical, tactical,
physiological and psychosocial capabilities.
• Balance of technical refinement
with decision making activities
• Tactical appreciation of roles
• Detailed understanding of how to
optimally prepare for competition
Balanced players with the
fundamental resources to meet the
demands of the modern game.
• Technical excellence combined
with game intelligence
• Positional understanding within
various systems of play
• Players obsessed with technical detail,
role clarity and optimal preparation
Peak Height Velocity
Peak Height Velocity (PHV) is the period of time
in which a young person experiences their fastest
upward growth in their stature – i.e. the time when
they grow the fastest during their adolescent
growth spurt. This usually happens earlier for
girls than for boys.
Growth spurts can have both physical and
psychological effects on young players which
is why patience is key during this stage of
Balance, coordination & speed - These
components can be naturally developed through
short and sharp activities including, fun competitive
football activity, small-sided games, passing and
receiving exercises & coordination exercises.
Technique to skill - This period is widely
recognised as a key time to develop technique
using both feet (how to pass, dribble, shoot,
receive the ball etc.) and then progress to skill
based activity (when and where to use the right
technique under pressure).
Aerobic - following increases in growth and
maturity the players’ capacity to work for longer
periods in small sided games and activities can be
used to develop overall fitness.
Strength & power - following increases in growth
and maturity the players’ capacity to generate
force and repeatedly complete high intensity work
will be greater during this period.
There is a tendency across world football
to select players at the youngest ages
who stand out due to physical stature,
known as birth bias.
1. If the physical barrier was removed
which players would be most effective?
2. Are the best players in the team born in
the early part of the year?
3. Are the best players reliant purely on
being stronger and quicker than the
4. Compared to other children in the age
group would these players be classified
as early developers? (i.e. a similar size/
stature to children in older age groups)
The Future Player
How the game is changing
The amount of sprints and high
intensity activities performed by
players at the highest level of the
game has doubled since 2002.
The time that the ball is live in
play is almost 12 minutes more
than in 1990.
Consequently speed, agility and
acceleration are now central to
the athleticism of the best players
performing at the highest levels.
The future player?
• Football intelligence
• Flexibility – roles
• Defending 1v1
• Attacking 1v1 – flair
in the final third
• Ability to manage
situations in the game
• Ability to interchange positions
• Solving problems in real time
• 1 touch passing
The Principles of Play
We have a domestic landscape in Wales where young players are exposed to various playing philosophies adopted by their individual clubs. Additionally, the majority of young players making up Welsh Regional and National squads from U12 through to U21 play outside of Welsh club football competition, and are therefore also exposed to differing styles and strategies. Due to this diverse nature of player development, it’s important that the ‘Welsh way’ playing philosophy adopts clear principles of play that are always present regardless of team shape, tactics or the animation of tactics.
The principal challenge and ultimate gauge for success of developing players is facilitating the transition of youth players to first team. A major factor in achieving this goal is determined by the linkage between the various development phases that cover regional, intermediate and first team squads.
Explaining the Principles of Play
Create and exploit overload
Understand when and how to exploit a numerical advantage against the opposition.
Understand when and how to switch the point of an attack based on the pressure applied from the opposition.
Understand when and how to play through, around or over the opposition based on the type of pressure applied.
Understand when and how to combine, create and finish in the attacking 3rd of the pitch.
Once the “principle of play” for a session has been established i.e. breaking lines, the general part is used to train the principle in practices that provide the players with repeated opportunities to develop that particular part of the game. For example in a general session based on breaking lines the players should repeatedly have the opportunity to make decisions on where and how to play forward based on where the pressure in front of them is coming from.
In this part of the session the practice used will allow the players to work on the principle of play in a more “match like “scenario featuring actual positions and/or formations relevant to an agreed philosophy/game plan.
Specific sessions will usually be introduced during the youth phase where players are beginning to be taught position specific understanding and its relevance to the game.
Prior to the youth phase players should be taught general principles of play which will provide a grounding of the main moments of the game through repetition and fun.
A WORLD-CLASS COACHING NATION
The Welsh coach education program is at the forefront of the world game. Welsh Coach Education programs not only educate and upskill all coaches working within Wales but they have also educated some of the biggest names in world football. Former players such as Thierry Henry, Sol Campbell, Marcel Desailly, Jens Lehmann, Patrick Vieira, Mikel Arleta and Freddy Ljungberg chose Wales to complete their coach education at the end of hugely successful playing careers. Wales is globally recognised for its coach education culture and excellence.
Arsenal, Barcelona and France great Thierry Henry said:
“The way they see the game is how I see the game. The way they do things in Wales, the philosophy, is the perfect match.”
During breaks ‘terminal feedback’
Player-Coach interaction during predetermined breaks in play.
Feedback can take a variety of forms(individual, unit or collective). The coach can draw upon a variety of resources (e.g. tactics board or video clips).
Example: Using a tactics board to the show the 2 strikers how to press from the front.
The coach utilises this technique to give players a clear idea of what is required from a practice or block of work.
They are drawn upon in a bid to prevent the necessity to intervene during play and can be used to address ‘what-ifs’.
Example: Showing players how you would like them to defend against a counterattacking overload prior to commencing a 3v2 ‘wave-game’.
The coach identifies a problem during play, pauses play, provides feedback,rehearsal and restarts practice from the same to reinforce the solution.
Coaches must be mindful that this approach is time consuming and can disrupt the flow of the session and player motivation.
Real time ‘concurrent’
Player-Coach interaction during periods of play; the practice remains uninterrupted.
The coach uses the technique to ‘reinforce’ or ‘correct’in a concise manner.
Example: ‘Excellent pass Gareth;great use of weight to break the line.’
•Practical exhibition of a skill or technique.
•Realism and accuracy is key in painting a clear picture.
•Adept players within a group may be called upon.
A demonstration of a one-touch, ‘round the corner’, disguised pass as an element of a passing practice.
•Issuing a clear and concise directive to a player/group.
•Used as a tool to ensure a practice’s flow.
•Well-aligned with ‘concurrent feedback’.
“Try to play forward as often as possible”.
“You must attempt to face forward using a one-touch turn”.
•Prompting a player toward self-solving a problem.
•Well-chosen prompts such as ‘show me how you might…’ or ‘what options do you have?’.
“Show me how you might link-up with the #10 in this position”.
“See if you can use a disguised pass to break their midfield line”.
• Facilitating group discussion among players.
• Players collaborate toward solving a specific problem.
• The strategy goes hand-in-hand with scenario-based coaching.
“As a group of defenders, discuss how you might deal with their striker who keeps dropping between lines”.
CONDITIONS & RESTRICTIONS
• Using realistic conditions on
players linked to his/her needs.
• Also can be implemented to support session topic.
“When switching play the ball must go through a central midfielder”.
“Before scoring the ball must visit all three thirds of pitch”.
• Placing tailored challenges upon an individual to support learning.
• Challenges can be based technically,
tactically, psychosocially or physically.
“Gareth, in this block you mustlook to find a way to beat the full back in 1v1 situations”.
To develop a positive youth environment as a coach:
•Try not to stop the practice too often
•Opportunities to explore and problem solve during practice
•Present information the player can see, hear and experience in real time
•Don’t always offer an immediate solution - alter the rules and conditions first
•Have breaks for social interaction, giving the players opportunities to discuss strategies and tactics for solving game related problems
•Give frequent praise for good play AND effort, but avoid a running commentary
How to adapt
When observing a practice, the coach should
ask themselves the following questions:
• Is it working?
• Is it too easy?
• Is it too hard?
Then based on the answer, the coach should be
able to adapt the practice to ensure it’s pitched
at the right level for the players being coached.
CHALLENGE - PLAYERS
• Rules/Conditions - Less touches/no tackling
• Numbers - Overload/floaters
• Time - Less/More - Challenge
• Inclusion - Players make the rules
• Individuals - Player specific targets
CONDITION - AREAS
• Area Size - Bigger/smaller/wider/longer
• Pitch Geography - Specific pitch area
• Pitch Zones - Wide channels / pitch in thirds
VARY - TARGETS
• Goals - How to score a goal
• One goal each end
• Two goals each end
• End zones
• Target players
• Number of passes.
• Equipment - Bigger goal / smaller goal
How does Talent ID work?
Our network of regional scouts work across Wales, the UK and beyond observing players whilst assessing them on several aspects of the game, in turn providing a holistic report on the potential of the player and
the most suitable outcome for them in moving forward.
From a technical perspective players will always need to have excellent receiving and passing ability, and the capacity to decide how best to adopt these attributes dependent on the type of pressure they are subject to. In addition to this, players will need to master specific techniques and skills depending on the position they play within the team.
Questions will then be asked on how the players conduct themselves from a psychological point of view. What happens when they lose the ball? Who takes responsibility on and off the pitch? Do they interact amongst their peers? Does their game demonstrate a good level of understanding? The socio-psyche aspect of the game is vitally important if a player is to enter the Welsh national pathway and progress. Demonstrating such attributes provides the scout with a great insight into the players’ potential upon entering the programme.
The scouts will approach all games with the same philosophy irrespective of the playing level.
The decision-making process of the scout is influenced by 3 key areas:
• The technical ability demonstrated by the player.
• The football intelligence of the player.
• The attitude and application of the player.
Within the player profile you will fail to see any reference to ‘specific height’ etc. Why? Quite simply because we try to see past the physical attributes of the player that has yet to go through maturation, yet not losing sight of their potential physical ability in the years to come.
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