My Learning Space

learning space

So many coaches talk about the “right way” to introduce kids to the game. I think that we should let the kids introduce themselves (Mark O Sullivan, 2015)

This blog is my learning space. In this post I want to  shine a light on some of those who have inspired me on my learning journey. If you click on their names you will be directed to their twitter account. I would advise you to follow them.

Dr Martin Toms – Cultural Isotopes                                                       https://drmartintoms.wordpress.com/2014/12/30/sport-is-in-your-bones-as-well-as-your-blood-and-dna-the-analogy-of-sport-as-a-cultural-isotope/

Richard Bailey– Positive early experiences of sport matters  http://talkingeducationandsport.blogspot.se/2014/11/positive-early-experiences-of-sport.html

Mark Upton– Learning v Performance & challenging traditional coaching http://www.sportsrelations.com.au/blog/blog/2014/06/01/learning-v-performance-challenging-traditional-coaching/

Nick Levett – The Value of Play / Grassroots coaching                                             https://footblogball.wordpress.com/2014/05/08/interview-with-fa-national-development-manager-nick-levett/

Lynn Kidman –  Learning Opportunities                                                                     https://footblogball.wordpress.com/2014/03/03/interview-with-lynn-kidman/

Jean Côté –  “If you want to see what autonomy looks like then look at the face of a child that has just learned to walk. That smile is self-esteem growing”                                                                                   The Dynamic Process of Development Through Sport http://www.kinsi.si/upload/clanki/099200_264.pdf

Celso Borges – Portrait of a Professional Footballer as a Child https://footblogball.wordpress.com/tag/celso-borges/

Henok Goitom – Professional soccer player/ Community developer

Ian Renshaw – The Child in Sport: Meeting their needs in early structured competition https://footblogball.wordpress.com/2015/03/10/dr-ian-renshaw-the-child-in-sport-meeting-their-needs-in-early-structured-competition/

Janne Mian – Professional Senior Elite Coach, Sweden- Happy Birthday Janne!!!!

Double Gaze- Analysing and Coaching 1v1 Attacking Situations

Double Gaze

Recently while working as a guest coach for a group of young players I  noticed an interesting behaviour that seems to be quite common among young players today. The coach was working on 1v1 with a focus on attacking. He set up a simple exercise.

1v1 a

Red A passes the ball to blue A and immediately applies pressure.

1v1 b

Blue A and Red A are in a 1v1 situation where Blue A tries to score and Red A defends.

On completion the same action is performed by Red B and Blue B

I then suggested that a game situation (in this case it was 6v6) where the emphasis was on taking on an opponent in 1v1 situations. After observing this game situation for 10 minutes we went back to the original exercise -with a slight adjustment.

1v1c

Both 1v1’s occur at the same time

1v1d

The goalkeeper will immediately evaluate the most immediate danger and get drawn to that situation

What I am interested in is how the player reads and responds to the ever changing dynamics of the game, the organisation of information and action through perception and decision making and the flexibility to adapt to changing circumstances through high quality adaptive behaviour

The goalkeeper has reacted (See diagram above), moved to his right and closed off the most immediate danger If the attacker on the other side  sees this then he should know that he has an almost free shot at an empty goal. On every occasion the attacking players were so concentrated on the ball and trying to beat their man they didn’t see the opportunities that were opening up behind the defender.

1v1e

I asked the goalkeeper to leave his goal while both 1v1’s were in progress. I froze the play and asked the attackers if they noticed anything?

I had noticed earlier in the session that the players despite showing good technical quality in 1v1 attacking situations kept their focus almost entirely on the ball and some focus on their direct opponent where they were taking most of their perceptual cues. In the game situation the players often dribbled passed one player and straight in to another defender ( the more physically advanced players got away with this) or into a space already occupied by one of their own players. Despite the fact that the actual dribbling technique was very good it seemed that quite often the decision making and awareness around that technique was poor.

My point was that I wanted the players to understand the value of being aware of the events that were unfolding in the wider view behind their direct opponent . This would help them become better at organising information and action thus becoming better decision makers. I described it as almost looking in to the future- you want the future to take place behind the defender in the 1v1 and you want to influence it as much as possible.

Nick Levett (Talent Identification Manger at the English FA)  in one of our recent discussions gave a very good description of this- “They are recognising the local and global picture of the game and finding the techniques to solve the problem. I would rather that they had that in their locker than a technique and then try and work out how to use it, when that situation may not occur perfectly, ever, for them to do so”.

 

Teaching Tactical Creativity- Dr. Daniel Memmert

DANIEL m

Daniel Memmert is a Professor and head of the Institute of Cognitive and Team/Racket Sport Research at the German sport University of Cologne. He is a football and tennis coach with a PhD in cognition and a habilitation in creativity in team and racket sports from the Elite University of Heidelberg. Daniel is a reviewer for several international sport psychology journals and transfers his expertise to business companies and several professional football clubs (German Bundesliga, Champions/Europa League)

What I am interested in is how the player reads and responds to the ever changing dynamics of the game, the organisation of information and action through perception and decision making and the flexibility to adapt to changing circumstances through high quality adaptive behavior. At the heart of this is an understanding that skill is the technical and tactical dimensions of the game working together as complimentary pairs. Skill development is an ongoing learning process of adaption. Daniel Memmert’s book “Teaching Tactical Creativity in Sport: Research and Practice” has taken me to the roots of this thought process. A key feature of a traditional sports coaching programme is a focus on decontextualized skill training (movement skills are seen as bits to be assembled, a linear approach). In his book Daniel challenges this pedagogy and promotes the influence of context, the possibilities of creativity in children and how vital it is for young players to experience the global form of the game in early development

Footblogball: One of the main ongoing themes in your book is looking at providing greater opportunities for the young player to develop and retain a wide visual attention. This you suggest will make the player more creative and aid to the emergence of a more skilful adult player. What in your opinion are the coaching behaviours that may narrow a young player’s visual attention?

Daniel Memmert: Coaches always try to point out different circumstances, objects and possibilities in game forms to the players through instructions. Those instructions result in reducing the players’ breadth of attention. They cannot perceive all players or possibilities they have for their passes and decisions on the field. A key point is to use game forms in training sessions that “directly talk to the players”. This means that feedback is directly “coming from the game forms”, so that the coach has to give less feedback from the outside and providing instructions that reduce the player’s breadth of attention.

Footblogball: Playfulness correlates with a particular way of thinking in young children. A way of thinking that encourages creativity. Yet many adult coaches are uncomfortable with the word play. They assume that it just means throw in a ball in and let them at it. Of course it can, but within the training environment “playfulness and this particular way of thinking” can provide the coach with great possibilities to set tasks that can challenge the child. I believe that this child-centred approach places greater demands on the coach especially with coaching interventions and task integration. Would you agree?

Daniel Memmert: Yes, we say that it is not only throwing in a ball, and therefore we speak of deliberate play, but we have to precisely keep an eye on the constraints, the environment and the rules of the game. If you establish good rules, field measurements on how big the field is and how many players there are with how many balls, the environmental conditions result in the children being able to solve tactical problems in a better way and receiving feedback from the environment rather than from the coach in a specific way on what they can improve. This is very important.

Footblogball: Cognitive effort is an important condition for skill learning (Gabbett, Jenkins &Abernathy, 2009). What is it that makes many coaches reluctant to explore and encourage the cognitive potential of young children in sport when in the long term it may lead to more positive outcomes?

Daniel Memmert: Actually, cognitive factors have been underestimated so far. We are very much concerned with different cognitive factors including working memory, breadth of attention, perceptual load, anticipation, perception, and motivation. We believe that the last percentage points are especially inherent there. It is important to always challenge the players with the tasks – to cognitively challenge them. They have to always think about new things including the variation of rules and the environment within the game forms, as well as the fact that there is always variability in order to learn the development of various tactical ideas over and over again and how to transfer them into different contexts.

Footblogball: For me Isolated technique training in young children is conditioning, it is linear and it decreases the width of the focus/attention leading to many young players being friendly with the ball but strangers to the game. The ability of the player to adapt their movements to the dynamics of the game through the organisation of information and action through perception and decision making is how expert performance is expressed. Comment?

Daniel Memmert: An isolated technical training only results in the problem that techniques cannot be related to situations and therefore a tactic cannot be trained. We know from studies that technical training is not as effective as combined technical-perception training and cannot be applied as variable. It is important that children experience in which situations or constraints they have to use which technique. Only then they will be able to apply those techniques in real complex game forms or the real match.

Footblogball: I like the idea of “1-D Games” that you introduce in your book. You use these games to promote tactical understanding, self-organisation with a focus on one basic tactical component.  Within these games we integrate exploration, solving problems through trial and error and we help our players learn to adapt to changing circumstances. Could you care to elaborate on the importance of these games from the point of view of repetition without repetition and skill acquisition (understanding that skill is the technical and tactical dimensions of the game working together as complimentary pairs)?

Daniel Memmert: We know that when game forms become too complex, not in a situative but in a tactical way, different if-then-rules cannot be learned appropriately. Therefore, it is necessary, that only one tactical component is the center of attention of the game form, but in a very complex and variable way through always changing environmental conditions. Only then tactical training is possible in the fastest and most variable manner.

Footblogball: You also suggest 2- D Games (2 tactical components), 3-D Games (3 tactical components) as a progression as the young player develops and gets older. Would you care to elaborate on this?

Daniel Memmert: When children grow older and a tactical component has been over-learned, like detecting gaps, a second tactical component can be integrated into the game form on which the children have to concentrate. The first component (e.g., detecting gaps) runs on, is automated and can be easily applied by the children, but the training takes place in the second component.

Footblogball: Can your book and its contents help clubs and coaches build a more inclusive sporting structure and philosophy where performance, participation and personal development are seen to co-exist?

Daniel Memmert : The basic idea of clubs and coaches has to be that they always question and search for innovative training norms and training contents. Tactical creativity has been neglected for a long time. We believe that is a very important tool for the training of adolescence and adult soccer, due to the fact that teams can always prepare better for new opponents. Therefore, it will always be related with the individual player being able to generate new ideas and apply them on the field. Creativity and innovation – those fields are involved in the future, and clubs are well-positioned if they integrate those as central components into their philosophy.

You can purchase Teaching Tactical Creativity in Sport: Research and Practice (Routledge Studies in Physical Education and Youth Sports) HERE!

DANIEL m

Analysing the young learner

Learning is an ongoing process of adaption

In the dynamic sport of soccer if we remove things from their context they are no longer the same thing.  If we for instance want to evaluate the performance of a particular player we have to evaluate it in relation to those players around that player. Recently I was analysing the performance of a much coveted elite youth player. This is a very hard thing to do at youth level as many validate the process through results and form their analysis upon this. In youth soccer even if something is done well it does not guarantee that it will finish up well and vice versa.  Take for example the young kid who is told by his coach to “get rid of it” launches blindly a hopeful long ball/clearance that results in a fast attacker running on to it and scoring a goal. Another young kid tries to play the ball out of defence, he succeeds a few times but on one occasion slips and this allows the oppositions forward to take the ball and score a goal.

The young player in question felt that he had made the correct decision on one or two occasions when the opponents almost scored a goal. These incidents could easily have been interpreted as his fault.

Here is an example of one of those situations.

tom1

Blue centre forward runs on to long ball behind the Yellow backline

tom2

Goalkeeper reacts quickly and clears the ball before the forward can reach it

tom3

The player I am analysing (left centre back) immediately calls for the backline to push up and get a compact shape in relation to the ball. The reason for this is that he knows that while the ball is travelling in the air neither team has control over the ball. The player shows good game intelligence in understanding this and wanting his team to be in a good position to defend or attack depending on who wins the long clearance. The player sees that the clearance is going to be met by an opposition player first. He wants his defensive line to drop a step just before the clearance reaches the opponents foot. This way they are already in a good position to deal with a long ball.

tom4

The Yellow left back pushes up in a straight line while the rest of the defence pushes up at an angle in relation to the ball. A long ball is played between the left back and left center-back creating a possible 1v1 situation with the goalkeeper.

tom5

Remember that 3 of the back 4 reacted correctly (pushing up at the correct angle in relation to the ball and dropping a step before the clearance reached the opponent in anticipation of a long ball behind them. They were already in a good defensive position to recover.

tom6

The left center back in a risk/reward decision making process managed to recover and minimise the goalscoring possibility for the attacker by closing off a big part of the goal (see red area), while at the same time closing off or delaying a central pass to another attacker (see red area). This forced the player to shoot into a very narrow area of the goal where the goalkeeper stood. The end result was an easy save.

What I am interested in is how the player reads and responds to the ever changing dynamics of the game, the organisation of information and action through perception and decision making. There should be an understanding that skill is the technical and tactical dimensions of the game working together as complimentary pairs. Skill development is an ongoing learning process of adaption. Even if a correct decision is made for one situation but something in the system (the team) creates an imbalance (in this case the left backs poor decision making) there needs to be an immediate process of adaption (organisation of information and action through perception and decision making) if the system is vulnerable to threat.

The player I analysed showed great ability to organise information and action and the flexibility to adapt to changing circumstances through high quality adaptive behaviour.

“Adaptive behaviour is key to the survival of the human race and specific to football, a trait of high quality players”. (Mark Upton)

Practice and play in the development of German top level professional football players

Practice and play in the development of German top level professional football players (European Journal of Sports Science 2014, Hornig et al, 2014).

GERMANY

A study of top-level German players (including national team players) in comparison with their amateur counterparts suggested that an interaction of playful and organised experiences had positive impact on the development of those that reached elite level.

Those that reached elite level “mostly combined moderate volumes of instructed exercise with extensive forms of game play where play shifted in large parts from non-organised play and other game sports in childhood/youth towards organised in-club play in adulthood” (Hornig et al, 2014).

Senior top level footballers

  1. Early engagement
  2. Moderate volumes of organised football training
  3. Extensive game-play within organised in-club practice/training
  4. A lot of non-organised leisure football-play during childhood and youth
  5. In many cases participation in other sports

National team players specialised later and played more spontaneous football in childhood. Played other sports in adolescence and more organized football only in adulthood compared to amateurs

This research corresponds with other research that stated that world class athletes did not differ from national class athletes in more sport-specific practice/training but in more variable involvements (Carlsson,1988,Gullich, 2014, Gullich and Emrich, 2014, Johnson 2006; VanRossum,2000)

Read the full report here

Investigating the Complexity of Youth Athlete Development and the IOC Consensus Statement-

cropped-1-essinge-lek-shot1.jpg

“Without our context we are not what we are. We are not a list of attributes. My aim is not to fracture and break apart what should be together, not to de-contextualise. And that’s the oldest approach on earth”. (Juanma Lillo)

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) in an effort to advance a more unified and evidence informed approach to youth athlete development organised a consensus meeting of experts in the field in November 2014.They critically evaluated the current state of science and practice of youth athlete development. In a research paper published May 2015 the IOC presented recommendations for an approach that is sensitive to the conditions required to aid the evolution and emergence of healthy, resilient and capable youth athletes/people, while providing opportunities for all levels of sport participation and success.

Various systems interacting over time to influence development

“While sports science and research tends to focus upon the biological and psychological training necessary to become an elite performer, success in sport is much more complex than this. Underpinning any athlete’s “bio-psycho” make-up is the socio-cultural environment in which they are brought up”. (Dr Martin Toms).

 Development is also dependant on the integration of organisational systems (family, team, sporting organisations, governing bodies, communities, cultures). One of my favourite sports interviews appears in the first edition of Blizzard magazine.  Speaking with Sid Lowe, Juanma Lillo mentor to Pep Guardiola explains his thinking on clubs, coaching and society. Lillo talks about how people always want to separate things. “It’s as if, if we do not separate them out we are not able to see them. How do you know that the cause was not an effect of something from before and that the effect is not going to cause something else- in the context of countless other variables”. Juanma Lillo’s holistic “big picture” thought process is echoed in the research article The Dynamic Process of Development through Sport by Jean Côté (Professor and Director, School of Kinesiology and Health Studies Queen’s University, Kingston, Ontario). Here it is suggested that the power of developmental system theories to help explain sport participation and performance resides in their ability to conceptualise sport involvement as a system of integrated personal and social variables that interact and shape development. I believe that the IOC has also looked through this lens when questioning the whole underlying philosophy for developing youth athletes. By investigating the complexity of athlete development, they are promoting an understanding that it is a” complex mix of experiences/factors that shape the development of a young person and hopefully their future success”. (Mark Upton)

According to the IOC the ‘culture’ of specific sports and youth sports in general, has become disproportionately both adult and media centred. There is a need to address interactions between athletes, coaching styles and practices,  the effects on youth athletes from parental expectations and the view of youth athletes as commodities, which is often intrusive with a fine line between objectivity and sensationalism.

The IOC view specialisation in youth sports as a concern that needs to be addressed appropriately and realistically. Youth athletes involved in a single sport should be allowed experience appropriate diversity and variability within that sport. This should support the learning of foundational skills and sport-specific technique and biomechanics to minimise injury risk and optimise performance, along with consistent adequate rest and recovery.  There should also be a balanced emphasis on other priorities (eg, family and school, life skills and social development).

The limited success of talent identification and athlete development programmes is nothing new to this blog and according to the IOC consensus statement not surprising. Many developmental programs begin (seemingly earlier and earlier) with a subjective assessment of talent. This is followed by a structured programme of training in a specific sport. This traditional linear approach is not without its problems. Athletic development is multidimensional and difficult to assess in youth, and the trajectories from the novice to elite levels can vary greatly among athletes. Development is built on an individually unique and constantly changing base, including the demands of normal physical growth, biological maturation and behavioural development, and their interactions. The IOC also points to the fact that we know little of those who are systematically excluded (cut from the system), who drop out or are injured (overuse or overtraining) or experience burnout .

General principles of the IOC statement

▸ Youth athlete development is contingent on an individually unique and constantly changing base of normal physical growth, biological maturation and behavioural development, and therefore it must be considered individually.

▸ Allow for a wider definition of sport success, as indicated by healthy, meaningful and varied life-forming experiences, which is centred on the whole athlete and development of the person.

▸ Adopt viable, evidence-informed and inclusive frameworks of athlete development that are flexible (using ‘best practice’ for each developmental level), while embracing individual athlete progression and appropriately responding to the athlete’s perspective and needs.

▸ Commit to the psychological development of resilient and adaptable athletes characterised by mental capability and robustness, high self-regulation and enduring personal excellence qualities—that is, upholding the ideals of Olympism.

▸ Encourage children to participate in a variety of different unstructured (ie, deliberate play) and structured age-appropriate sport-related activities and settings, to develop a wide range of athletic and social skills and attributes that will encourage sustained sport participation and enjoyment.

▸ Make a commitment to promote safety, health and respect for the rules, other athletes and the game, while adopting specific policies and procedures to avert harassment and abuse.

▸ Across the entire athletic development pathway, assist each athlete in effectively managing sport-life balance to be better prepared for life after sport.

Coaching

▸ Provide a challenging and enjoyable sporting climate that focuses on each athlete’s personal assets and mastery orientation.

▸ Coaching practices should be informed by research-based developmental guidelines that promote flexibility and innovation, while accommodating individual skills and athletic development trajectories.

▸ Coaching should be context-specific (eg, participation vs performance focus) and aligned with individual athletic readiness.

▸ Coaching education programmes should assist coaches in establishing meaningful relationships that enrich the personal assets of their athletes and foster their own intrapersonal and interpersonal skills (eg, reflection and communicative skills).

▸ Coaches should seek interdisciplinary support and guidance in managing a youth athlete’s athletic development, fitness and health, and mental and social challenges and needs. Conditioning, testing and injury prevention

▸ Encourage regular participation in varied strength and conditioning programmes that are suitably age based, quality technique driven, safe and enjoyable.

▸ Design youth athlete development programmes comprising diversity and variability of athletic exposure, to mitigate the risk of overuse injuries and other health problems prompted by inappropriate training and competition that exceed safe load thresholds, while providing sufficient and regular rest and recovery, to encourage positive adaptations and progressive athletic development.

▸ Maintain an ethical approach to, and effectively translate, laboratory and field testing to optimise youth sports participation and performance.

▸ Develop, implement and continue to evaluate knowledge translation strategies and resources that will enhance injury prevention and promote health in youth athletes.

▸ Promote evidence-informed injury prevention programmes, protective equipment legislation and rule changes that are context specific, adaptable and consistent with maintaining the integrity of the sport and participation goals.

▸ Strictly adhere to a “No youth athlete should compete—or train or practice in a way that loads the affected injured area, interfering with or delaying recovery—when in pain or not completely rehabilitated and recovered from an illness or injury”.

Sport and sports medicine governing bodies and organisations

▸ Sport and sports medicine governing bodies and organisations should protect the health and well-being of youth in sport by providing ongoing education, and fully implementing and monitoring practical, and effective, athlete safeguarding policies and procedures in all youth athletes.

▸ Youth athlete selection and talent development philosophies should be based on the physiological, perceptual, cognitive and tactical demands of the sport, and a long-term, individually variable developmental context.

▸ Diversification and variability of athletic exposure between and within sports should be encouraged and promoted.

▸ Competition formats and settings should be age and skill appropriate, while allowing for sufficient rest and recovery time between multiple same-day contests.

The IOC challenges all youth and other sport governing bodies to embrace and implement these recommended guiding principles.

References

Embracing & Exploiting the Complexity of Player Development (Mark Upton, Cruyff Football Player Development Magazine)

International Olympic Committee consensus statement on youth athletic development (Michael F Bergeron, Margo Mountjoy, Neil Armstrong, Michael Chia, Jean Côté, Carolyn A Emery, Avery Faigenbaum, Gary Hall Jr, Susi Kriemler, Michel Léglise, Robert M Malina, Anne Marte Pensgaard, Alex Sanchez, Torbjørn Soligard,  Jorunn Sundgot-Borgen, Willem van Mechelen, Juanita R Weissensteiner, Lars Engebretsen)

The Brain in Spain (Sid Lowe, Blizzard issue 1, 55-64, 2011)

The Dynamic Process of Development through Sport (Jean Côté, Jennifer Turnnidge, M. Blair Evans, Kinesiologia Slovenica, 20, 3, 14-26; 2014)

Where you grow up matters for sporting success – that’s why Yorkshire cricketers are so good (Dr Martin Toms, 2015, https://theconversation.com/where-you-grow-up-matters-for-sporting-success-thats-why-yorkshire-cricketers-are-so-good-44157 )

Steve Lawrence – The Future Learning Space?

Footblogball is back with another Essential Interview. This time it is with Steve Lawrence who discusses  Cruyff, Ajax, Montessori. and RAE. In this interview Steve Lawrence gives us a fascinating insight in to how we can look to challenge tradition and structure the future of youth sport to create a better learning environment for both the young player and the coach.

STEVE LAWRENCE

Steve Lawrence

Graduate from Cruyff Institute Amsterdam (Master International Sports Management 2012). Founder The Football Analytics Lab™ owned by Milk Studios Ltd, London.

Consultant to Cruyff Football and Ajax.

Author of the original master plan for the London Olympics, researcher into relative age effects in football and author ‘The Age Advantage in Association Football’, inventor ‘average team age’ rule for team sport.

Married to Lynne Lawrence FRSA, Executive Director, Association Montessori Internationale. Two sons, Tom, a social anthropology graduate working in social media and Jamie a professional footballer with AS Trencin.

Architect in private practice (Carrick, Howell & Lawrence) for 33 years, graduate from Bath University (B.Sc. 1978 & B.Arch. 1980)

You can follow Steve on twitter

FOOTBLOGBALL: Much of my blog is about exploring ways to create a learning space, a space that promotes development, one that is sensitive to the conditions required to aid the evolution and emergence of an intelligent well balanced and healthy person and player. From my brief correspondence with you I believe that you are also exploring avenues that can lead to similar outcomes especially through your work with Montessori educational philosophy and Ajax academy. Can you briefly explain how this will be structured?

SPATIAL DEVELOPMENT MANIFESTO

The project emerged from an exercise in 2012 to establish a ‘Spatial Development Manifesto’ for Cruyff Football defining the key characteristics of a Cruyff inspired ‘Football Development Centre’. We realised that there was a great deal of synergy between the ideas of Johan Cruyff and the philosophy of Maria Montessori. This is hardly surprising as both are leaders in fields of child development and both had an analytical eye that went back to first principles and then rethought paradigms on the basis of those principles. We see the result of Maria Montessori’s thinking in the tens of thousands of schools worldwide and the results of Johan Cruyff’s thinking in the acclaimed football academies of Ajax and Barcelona where he was instrumental in creating a youth player focussed environment. It is also interesting to reflect on the fact that their lives in Amsterdam overlapped by 5 years and that Johan attended schools influenced by Montessori’s thinking.

In developing the study we identified the following key characteristics:

  • Child-centred pedagogical principles inform all aspects of the football development centre. A football development centre is seen essentially as an ‘educational environment’.
  • The facilities encompassed within a centre constitute a prepared environment for children – this is a quintessential Montessori idea. The environment is designed around children, for children and the spatial planning is maturationally appropriate, child-sized and fit for purpose.
  • The spaces envisaged are intended to accommodate ‘dynamic movement’ of all kinds, in 3D space, at the highest performance levels and follow the principle of ‘design following function’.
  • The facilities are intended to be flexible in their ability to encompass technological apparatus for assessment, measurement and monitoring.
  • Whilst a significant proportion of facilities are designed around participation in high performance activities an over-arching idea is the incorporation within the design of facilities for observation.

Children are naturally predisposed to develop themselves, furthermore their inherent natural instincts take them on an optimal path proceeding at a rate according to individual characteristics and adapted to their environment.

Developmental advancement for these motivated learners depends on two fundamental components:

  1. The provision of a prepared environment.
  2. The provision of appropriate guidance.

The characteristics of such a Cruyff inspired Football Development Centre are that the environment is optimally prepared for high-level athletic and technical football performance.

And that provision is made for maximum information feedback to trainers and others responsible for the children so that optimal guidance can be given.

FOOTBLOGBALLl: How can this philosophy and its contents help clubs build more inclusive sporting structures, one where performance, participation and personal development are seen to co-exist?

A PHILOSOPHY BASED ON OBSERVATION

Whilst the individual performance and training spaces are the principle working components of the Centre the facilities for observation constitute the defining parameters for a ‘spatial planning backbone’ and fall into 5 categories:

  1. Visible observation by spectators.
  2. Visible observation by students.
  3. Visible observation by technical staff and trainers.
  4. Invisible observation by technical staff and trainers.
  5. Observation by technology.

A further aspect of the project is the development of a sport/football based curriculum – not a curriculum for sport but an academic curriculum with sport and football as its inspiration providing source material for the broad range of academic subjects. Also importantly not a syllabus which implies adherence to a chronological programme followed by an age set – the Cruyff/Ajax/Montessori curriculum sets the framework in which the individual progresses at their own pace, guided and supported by the teacher/trainers.

The development of the curriculum is collaboration between the club and the Association Montessori Internationale involving the development from the existing international elementary and adolescent curriculum in use in Australia and the USA.

All of this operates within the context of a multi age group training and educational environment.

FOOTBLOGBALL: What demands does this set on the coach?

THE TRAINER  

The demands on the coach in a child-centred rather than team-centred environment are immense.

Child-centred development means multi age groups, individual training programmes and monitoring mostly by observation not by testing. The coach has to be efficient in documenting progress and engaging others with different skills in guiding the development trajectory of the individual player. Squad construction, mentor group setting and pastoral support all need coordination. This creates a major burden in data accrual and analytics along with time management and communication.

As part of the analysis we have identified the need for a specialised Training of Trainers Programme incorporating both Montessori elementary (6-12) and adolescent programmes dovetailed with Cruyff inspired football coaching education.

FOOTBLOGBALL:: A complex mix of experiences and factors shape the development of a young person and hopefully their future success. In the middle of this complexity is one subject that you are looking to challenge, the Relative Age Effect (RAE). The feeling I get is that you view this as something that represents social inequality. This creates an artificial environment in youth sport one that is the consequence of an adult constructed competitive structure leading to many negative outcomes. Comment?

KNOWLEDGE OF RAE & COMPETITIVE ADVANTAGE

RAE is a function of the widespread use of cut-off date eligibility rules. Cut-off dates are useful for administration – they make adults lives easier and because the discrimination, which arises from them, is invisible and everyone uses them changing the paradigm is challenging.

Whilst eligibility cut-off dates continue to exist, knowledge of RAE can be exploited for competitive advantage in a variety of ways, in squad development, player contract strategy and transfer scheduling. Knowledge of RAE can also inform scouting strategy and assist in developing football education. It will be clear, for example, that a multi-age group youth training structure goes some way to mitigating relative age effects and creates an environment in which otherwise invisible talent can emerge.

FOOTBLOGBALL: You recently went to the European Commission in Brussels and had a meeting with the head of politics and programming for sports. Would you care to elaborate on the subject matter of this meeting?

RAE AS SYSTEMIC DISCRIMINATION

Alongside my work in exploiting the knowledge of RAE I take the view that RAE is ‘systemic discrimination’ – I refer to it as ‘relative age discrimination’. It operates globally and advantages one cohort of individuals whilst disadvantaging another. As such it conflicts with basic ethical values of fairness and in particular it conflicts with the fundamental provisions of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union.

I have challenged the use, by The FA, of cut-off date rules for establishing eligibility within youth football in England. The FA governs all youth football and the imposition of universal cut-off dates by The FA establishes systemic relative age discrimination. I have asked the Commission to determine the use of such rules as illegal.

The meeting with the European Commission was in the context of my complaint. The complaint is being assessed by the Commission’s lawyers and if admissible will trigger a request for a response from the appropriate state authority – in this case probably the UK Department of Culture, Media and Sport.

European Commission written guidance in the ‘Study of Discrimination of Sportspersons in Individual National Championships’ says ‘ Equal treatment requires abolition of both direct discrimination and rules which, …., in fact lead to unequal treatment.’ This is the core of my argument.

It’s my view that an ‘average team age’ rule can, over time, remove RAE and I have asked The FA to engage in piloting projects to explore the potential of such solutions.