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Stick in the Mud

Part of our unnatural and unjustified negativity [sic] relates to the dreaded "hoofball", and the decline of Engish national football. This article I came across puts forward an interesting theory: British youth football ?40 years out of date?.

"It only becomes apparent when the month of October drifts in like the tide. Winter, and the pitches change. The football changes and the reasons for the two big blokes become apparent.

"The young developing starlets can no longer play football, all the teams can do on the thick mud is hoof the ball goalwards, bypassing the creative midfield and ignoring the skills of the wide men."

Michael Kenrick     Posted 04/11/2010 at

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Paul McGinty
1   Posted 04/11/2010 at 22:04:37

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Based on the article the present seems reminiscent of my days playing in the 60s and 70s and early 80s in Wallasey. Having been in New Jersey for twenty years plus now, I am struck by the number of really good English born coaches making a living here training American kids and teaching good technique early. In NJ the Match Fit, PDA , Red Bull and Tab Ramos Academies take the best players and develop them into College and pro prospects. We are going to see higher levels of player performance as MLS develops and improves. Coming to the game later than in England the organisation of the sport over here at the grass roots levels is really strong and well structured, certainly in the North East USA. Good coaching comes at a price however and right now a lot of talent is excluded because many of the Academies work on the basis of pay to play, As the pro-teams expand their reach thats going to change which can only be a good thing for the further development of the game over here.
Dean Adams
2   Posted 04/11/2010 at 23:27:53

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My 13 year old plays on a full size pitch. Its a man sized pitch. He is far from man sized. The "big" kids can hoof the ball half the length of the pitch so they are useful to expand the game area that is being played.

What hope do these kids have of playing skillful flowing football, when one over sized kid can have such a huge advantage?

The writer of the article knows so well why the national teams of the UK are so far behind the rest of the world. The whole set-up needs modernising so that we can encourage the skills that make the game enjoyable.

Michael craves a game that is enjoyable and watchable, full of exitment. Well he is right not to enjoy some of the dross that passes as Premier league, however I do not believe that is EFC that create such negative gameplay.
Jimmy Hacking
3   Posted 05/11/2010 at 00:22:17

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In the five years I played football at secondary school (91-96), I don't think I once saw a blade of grass.

11 v 11 on a rock hard, full-sized pitch of dried-mud... "Hoofball" is too classy a description. The only lads who did alright were the freaks who were six-foot-three by the age of twelve and could kick the ball from end to end. Goals were being scored by opposing goalkeepers, it was bloody farcical. in the full-sized nets, kids couldn't even jump and touch the crossbar!

I remember our (fat) PE teacher once telling us that in the school's entire history (and this was a BIG school, 1,600 pupils), they hadn't produced a single professional. Is it any bloody wonder?
Dick Fearon
4   Posted 04/11/2010 at 22:15:45

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Qualified coaches working within a properly structured development plan is a far more important element than underfoot conditions. During a couple of months in the UK it gets a bit soggy so there is a case of shifting seasons for juniors.

Not explained by Dan Pope is how is it that Africa, South America and other parts of the globe are producing tsunamis of great players when kids in those areas rarely see a blade of grass or anything like the training aids that UK kids take for granted.

Blaming weather conditions is a cop out. Years ago it was UKs climate that was blamed for a lack of tennis champions. If that really was the reason why is it that Eastern European and Scandinavian countries produce so many Wimbledon winners?

Perhaps it is more likely that home based kids are too soft. A bit like young Saudi princes who love the game and never miss a training session only to make their servants do the laps.

Dick Fearon
5   Posted 05/11/2010 at 00:32:12

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I am in total agreement with you fellows who say that 'big kids' dominate at the expense of average size ones. I once proposed to our state association that when selecting representative squads they should have two lots for each age group. One for the biggies and one for the rest.

The rest are not always littlies... in fact they often outgrow the early developers. The problem is that they have missed out on all the intensive coaching and experience recieved by the biggies. I would have been classed as a biggie but in my case that alone did not benefit me.

Christine Foster
6   Posted 05/11/2010 at 00:33:05

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Interesting article, I do believe football itself has changed at the senior level but not at grass roots, I think its too simplistic to just blame the pitches / bad weather etc ( what about Germany, the Netherlands etc..)

The truth is that the game has been sanitized to the point where it can only be played on astroturf and is a non contact sport.
Frankly I get more enjoyment out of watching the Championship than watching other Premier league games (other than Everton)

Growing up around Merseyside my family always had its share of winter related injuries but also had great matches caused by the conditions too.

Kids had to master playing in rain, snow, mud etc.. learn how to bring a ball down first time, learn how to use the conditions so that a ball could skimm off the surface or stop dead to allow someone to run onto..

Its the game. At least it was.

If we are talking about world class football, the kids still have to excel in good or poor conditions to be noticed.

By easing the passage by removing the elements of weather and allowing them to develop we risk removing the hard yards needed to succeed.

Better pitches, better facilities all would help, but I don't think moving a season would make players better overall.

For all the hype of the Premier league I really don't believe its superior (player wise) to the old 1st Division, its just that the rules and the interpretation has changed
Dennis Stevens
7   Posted 05/11/2010 at 01:55:40

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It simply seems to me that we still favour strength, stamina & pace over technique, which is much as it has always been as far back as I can recall.
Jay Harris
8   Posted 05/11/2010 at 03:33:42

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I played about 20 aside in cobbled streets with John Bailey (Everton), Tony Evans (Cardiff and Birmingham) and Franna G (Walton Jail but still the best player as a kid). There was also Billy Newnes who was a great footballer but went on to become a top jockey instead.

We used to practice heading against the wall and whoever got over 1000 first would get to choose the 2 teams.

Most kids from around there made it to Southport, Tranmere, Marine or South Liverpool so it didn't do us any harm to play in adverse conditions.

However, that was just ball skills and I agree with Dick that these days the quality of the coaching is critical plus these days the kids are much younger.

Our path was via Liverpool Boys at the age of 12 or 13 and if you were lucky and had a good game when the big club scouts were there you would get trials for one of them.
Jason Lam
9   Posted 05/11/2010 at 06:37:30

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What has this article do with Everton?

Seriously, why isn't this a problem in Spain? It's the bloody British weather. You can pass the ball through slosh.
Sam Morrison
10   Posted 05/11/2010 at 09:03:40

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1000 headers Jay? Really?

I'm surprised you're not still there.
Dick Fearon
11   Posted 05/11/2010 at 09:25:28

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Jason (#9). Do you seriously believe that only Everton related-matters should be raised? Your coment, 'what has this article to do with Everton?' would make it appear so.

Tell yer what, let's start another Billy is Bullshit topic. That's bound to keep the usual crowd spitting venom all over their key boards. Er, what else is there to fire up Toffeewebbers? We can get stuck into Osman and Hibbo again or whoever is the current whipping boy. (In Osman's case, that is understandable.)

Perhaps the Dithering Dave mob can find something new on that subject. Then there is the matter of warm beer and cold the pies. Now that hasn't been an issue for some time. Maybe it's time to resurrect it.

Now that bloody yank, the new one, not one of the others, has hinted at groundshare, I can see a few weeks of repetitious rubbish in that topic by itself...

If this or any other football-related site concentrates without diversion only on matters related to one club, there is a danger of spinning faster and faster in ever decreasing circles toward oblivion.

David Hallwood
12   Posted 05/11/2010 at 11:38:35

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I had a cousin who played for Everton youth at the same time as Anichebe, he was a really great prospect centre mid, small for his age, but skill to burn and not afraid to put his foot in.

I used to watch him when Everton youth games were played in Netherton, and the games I watched profoundly depressed me. Given that we are held up as a good example of developing youth, my abiding memory is Andy Holden standing on a raised podium a la Hitler, screaming ?Close ?em, Close ?em? and ?Get rid of it? as ball after ball was hoofed and 16 & 17 year old were encouraged to bust a gut and follow the ball. I wonder how Messi and Iniesta would?ve developed with that type of ?coaching?.

Eventually my cousin was let go, for being? yes you?ve guessed it ? too small. To conclude, yes we do play in freezing conditions, but we always have, but even if we played in tropical sunshine, until we change the way we coach young players, we will be stuck in the mud metaphorically and physically.

Adam Carey
13   Posted 05/11/2010 at 11:34:06

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I don't think it's that easy to pinpoint this to just weather or bad coaching. It's clearly a mixture of both.

I remember being a reasonably good centre back up until the age of 13 when other players had early growth spurts and suddenly I could no longer out run them or win headers against them. I hadn't had the coaching to allow me to adapt quick enough to this, or to move to another position easily.

However, my 6-year-old lad began training with our local team and I'm impressed so far by the progress the kids are making, regardless of the weather. They are learning basic skills in much more depth than I did, so maybe we have begun to learn from our coaching deficiencies?

Clearly a bog of a pitch will lead to longer hoof balls but the coaching needs to take this into account. We need to learn to adapt to the conditions better, and to be more fluid in what positions we can play. That is where other Countries seem to be ahead of us.

Mike Oates
14   Posted 05/11/2010 at 11:45:18

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I've seen a multitude of problems in my lifetime playing, watching, coaching football.

I've seen coaches from UK professional clubs teaching youngsters to "get rid", "press up", spend hours running, sprinting, spend hours teaching how best to play offside!!, push through the tall, the strong, the loud lads at the expense of small, skillful, thoughtful lads. I watched games where the kids were faced with shouting from managers, coaches, parents etc ? most complete and utter rubbish.

I spent 4 years abroad in a place in Switzerland which was a couple of miles from both Germany and France. In all three countries, the facilities were first class, indoor, outdoor, beautifully kept multiple pitches of various sizes. Coaches who spent hours on skills. learning how to trap, move, pass, keep ball. NO parents allowed to be close enough to the lads to disrupt them. The sesaon would close down mid-December through the end of January/early February to avoid having to play in absurd conditions.

We are 40 years behind.
Dave Roberts
15   Posted 05/11/2010 at 11:45:33

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I've followed my grandson from under-8s football through Junior Sunday league to the adult brutality that passes for amateur football. He is now 18. Fortunately he is about to leave for a football/academic scholarship in the USA after an interview at the Reebok last month and a trial in Salford a week later.

The common denominator throughout this trying 10 year period?

God awful, abysmally negative and aggressive coaching.

As a midfielder, my grandson would spend most of the game watching the ball sailing over his head, no matter what the conditions. From the sidelines the commonest instructions are 'get shut'... 'channel and chase'... 'get stuck in'... 'take him out'... and I have even heard 'bury him'. In one game, my grandson picked the ball up just inside the opposition half, turned, beat two opponents and sent a lovely through ball to the striker who slotted it home. I was chuffed.

During the half-time huddle he was bollocked by the coach on the basis that turning was dangerous in that position and he should have played the ball back to a defender who could have shunted the ball up the field. I told the coach to fuck off and he told me I shouldn't swear in front of kids (it was under-14s) and he was right. But I couldn't resist telling him he shouldn't be coaching kids. He pointed at his badge and smiled.

That is what needs to be cleared out of the game today, coaching that is not interested in talent but only in a kid's ability to fit in with the prevailing view of how the game should be played. Any demonstration of individuality and talent is castigated and driven out and it doesn't matter how good you are, if you're not built like a brick shithouse, you're not good enough.

Conditions could stand a bit of improvement, but they are no worse now than the conditions that threw up Alan Ball, George Best, Bobby Charlton, Tom Finney and Stanley Mathews... not to mention Dixie Dean. Kids will find a way of honing their skills if only coaches will let them, encourage them and show them the way. Most of the junior coaches I have come across have no idea how to do any of those things.

Coaching is where grassroots football has to change. Coaches need to be re-educated and if necessary Brazilians, Spaniards and Germans should be brought in to help in the educational process. But I doubt the FA would ever consider that because their egos are too big and they still think it is 'their' game.

Perhaps England's performance in the World Cup may encourage them to think otherwise but I won't hold my breath.
Jay Harris
16   Posted 05/11/2010 at 13:02:57

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Sam, my memory might be fading and I probably couldn't even do 10 now but some of used to spend all day playing keep-up, etc.

I kid you not, and I wish I was still there. No responsibilities, no liabilities ? just play footy all day and go home for tea.
Sam Morrison
17   Posted 05/11/2010 at 13:20:04

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In that case I'm impressed. I could never head a ball that many times. In fact, in ten years of Sunday League, I probably haven't either.
Danny O'Neill
18   Posted 05/11/2010 at 16:51:44

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I coach an U-16 team and have done since they were U-11. I am continuously frustrated by the whole English approach to football at grass roots.

Yes, the facilities play a big part; the majority of our youth football is played on uneven pitches in wide open windswept parks ? rock hard in the summer, bogged in the winter. Go to Germany or Holland and you see organised club facilities right down to the smallest village team.

That however is only part of the problem. It is our philosophy that is at the heart of the issue. We are results focussed even at the youngest level. Emphasis is on winning rather than development. I enjoyed a long playing career at a decent standard so fully appreciate that you play to win, but with youth football the priority should be developing good footballers.

We end up sacrificing the next potential George Best because he is too small and replace him with an abnormally sized 14-year-old who is big and powerful. Trouble is, he's not that good a footballer, just effective. When the growth patterns even out, he isn't even that effective anymore but guess what; that really talented kid you left out 4 years ago no longer plays because he got disinterested.

The Dutch principle is development; the great Cruyff himself said results at youth level are not the measure of success. The evidence is clear: time after time, England are technically and tactically outdone at the highest level (not that it actually bothers me ? Everton first). Blame commitment and passion all you want but the simple fact is as a nation we are not good enough and it starts at grass roots.

Stand there week-in, week-out on the parks and the most common shouts from an aggressive 40+ balding bloke with an overhang as he encroaches onto the field of play will be "get stuck in" or "get rid". Great coaching advice!

I don't speak Dutch but I would hedge a bet if I stood on the side of an enclosed facility with control barriers around the pitch the shouts would be different ? keep the ball perhaps?

Trevor Powell
19   Posted 05/11/2010 at 17:33:38

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In New Zealand, the youth rubgy authorities do not group children by age bands but by size bands. This means that games can not be dominated by big lads. Big lads play against big lads.
David Price
20   Posted 05/11/2010 at 18:37:01

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I've been trying to find my 11-year-old lad a team. He's not bad but too shy and easily knocked out of his stride. Coaches, after a try out, just overlook him, which is their choice so fair enough. I'd prefer him to just learn skills and get ready for the team game in his teens. If nothing else, the spirit you get from playing in a side that relies on each other and don't want to let anyone down is a terrific feeling.

However, as many have said, the coaches leave you in despair. We watched an 8-a-side game on astro, ¾-pitch length. One keeper hoofed it, straight to the other keeper who in turn hoofed it straight back. At no time did either keeper try and roll the ball to a full back, not that they even bothered to look for it anyway. I looked at both coaches who were oblivious to the rank standard of skill being shown.

In other games, the same comments used as mentioned in all the posts on here by the blokes in charge. What's the answer? Some FA follow up towards the coaching badge holder perhaps,
No competitive matches until aged 13 or over. Matches replaced by skill academies, pass and move, control, one touch etc. Something different has to happen.

Good topic, MK ? Jason (#9), post off an fan article/mailbag item. How about picking the team for Saturday, that should get your yearning for relevance up and running.

Leon Perrin
21   Posted 05/11/2010 at 19:56:26

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Problem is if you brought Barcelona into our league they'd get their heads kicked in and win fuck all.

We play a completely different game in this country and we fans won't have it any other way.
Thugs who "put their foot in" (a disgusting indictment BTW) has evolved into our stock in trade.

Pisses me right off unless it's one of our lads stamping on someone.
Jamie Crowley
22   Posted 05/11/2010 at 21:01:41

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@ Dean #2 and David #20:

I couldn't agree more with your analysis of pitch size for the 11-13 year olds.

I'm leaving in about 1/2 hour to drive to Orlando for a tournament my 12 year old is playing in. He's a decent little player, "playing up" with 13 year olds, as are about 5 others on his team. So we're smaller - and they're on a full sized pitch.

The amount of times I see an opposition CB just whack it forward to no one up the middle to try and split our defense down the middle - it's just mind-boggling! Horrible thing is IT'S ENCOURAGED! They take "bigger" kids who inevitably run faster due to a longer stride, whack it forward, and pray they out-run our defense.

I thank God our coach - American - actually knows the game and insists we bring it through the midfield with shorter, controlled passes.

The pitch size US Soccer has these boys playing on only encourages long balls galore. With 90% of American coaches not knowing the game well enough, and caring only about results, is it any wonder MLS and most Americans are just gawd-awful when they play in Europe? They never learn to control a game, bring balls down properly, distribute and work the ball forward.

US soccer has been described completely and 100% accurately by Paul McGinty (#1) and Dean / David.

It's improving to be sure by leaps and bounds, but the constant hoof it up the field mindlessly approach - due IMO to the massive pitch size for 12 and 13 year olds boys (not men!) holds us back.

It would seem to me US and UK soccer aren't all that different - same basic issues and bad skills being drilled in at WAY too young an age.

If they won't change the pitch size at this age group (and they won't) it really comes down to the coach implementing and preaching good football, regardless of results.

I don't know about over there, but they are a needle in a haystack over here.

And as I said before, I'm very, very fortunate that my son has an extremely good coach training the boys "properly".
Jamie Crowley
23   Posted 05/11/2010 at 21:14:05

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One more thing...

I think, although not "Everton related", this topic is a great one. Thank You Michael for posting.

I'm frankly stunned there aren't about 200+ replies to this. It affects Everton in particular if young UK players (and Americans for that matter as we've seen a few in blue) are learning and being taught extremely poor habits and tactics - whether due to weather, pitch size, or poor coaching.

Whatever the cause, it will eventually work it's way forward into the Reserve and First Team ranks.

So a discussion about youth football, it's tactics, set-up, organization, et al, seems very relevant to the future of the professional game and how it's played ? hence relevant to Everton.
Dick Fearon
24   Posted 05/11/2010 at 21:22:58

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Myself and many others have had a pop training methods yet in the midst of all this coach bashing I put my hand up in praise of the countless ordinary blokes who sacrifice their own time for no financial reward in support of kids in all manner of sports the world over. I was 'sucked in' when my sons started playing and enjoyed it so much I was still doing it 40 years later when their children came along.

An old school teacher who turned out to be an Evertonian would travel in his own time without pay from his posh home in Woolton down to Toxteth for our ball practice and matches. From him I recieved my one and only advice about playing. He said, 'Fearon, when you get the ball, kick it as hard as you can.' No mention was made of to who or in what direction I should kick it.

Even at the tender age of nine I would muse that surely there was more to the game than just booting the ball as hard as I could. Nonetheless, across all the intervening years I salute that gentleman for doing his best for us kids.

When I started my own amateur career in coaching, I decided to find out as much as possible about that side of the game. I had the good fortune to see in the flesh some of the world's greatest ever players from my own Everton heroes to Pele, Marradona, Eusabio, Best, Charlton ? the list is long and wonderful and I voraciously read every possible book or article about coaching methods. I honestly thought I knew everything there was to know but, when I started on the trail of coaching badges, I realised how little I did know.

We should direct any criticsm of coaches toward paid professionals and not the ordinary bloke who does the job out of the goodness of his heart.

Jamie Crowley
25   Posted 06/11/2010 at 03:49:13

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Dick -

I agree with you wholeheartedly about volunteer, usually "Dad" coaches. They selflessly give there time for our children. I myself have coached low level young kids in hockey, baseball, and soccer - uncompensated sans the joy of watching kids learn and develop and most importantly have fun.

Difference here in the States in soccer is a lot of the coaches are paid - and their knowledge of the game is frankly horrible. If they are paid, surely you should expect them to know that hoofing a ball forward for some long-legged kid to sprint to isn't really teaching a thing about the game itself. Or most importantly helping the kids to develop.
Tony Cheek
26   Posted 06/11/2010 at 06:58:03

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Here in Norway, they have built small pitches called "ball-bings". Roughly 25 x 10 metres. I am quite sure there are now thousands of them owned by clubs and councils, built on sports parks, schools and housing estates all over the country. Astro turf decked and with fencing around. The idea is that, when kids play here, they don't wait five minutes between each ball contact, as they would do playing on a full-scale pitch.

They are very popular. I am not sure if they are built back home yet and may be preaching to the converted here, but are a brilliant place for kids to develop skills and short passing techniques. See pic here:

Dean Adams
27   Posted 07/11/2010 at 11:40:10

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Dick Fearon

I never criticised the many coaches, or indeed the tactics that they use. The whole point is that 13-year-old boys are dissadvantaged hugely on full sized pitches and only the bigger lads get to play for the best teams. When you try to show them how to pass and move, use skill and foresight, they are up against kids who are physically 6 inches taller, stronger and usually faster.

These attributes do not make them better or worse but it is a huge dissadvantage for a boy who can only kick the ball 20 metres or so on average each time to constantly find the ball being leathered back 50-60 metres in return.

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