Masterclass with John Cartwright at the London Football Coaches Association

I’ve got the coaching feeling back.

One thing I’ve experienced this past year and a half is going after your dream is not straightforward. Sometimes you can stray and become sidetracked with things that are not important. That’s where I give thanks to the masterclass event held by the London Football Coaches Association I recently attended, with guest speaker John Cartwright for putting me back on track.

Before I get into any of the content of the event, firstly I have to say how much I admire the enthusiasm of John Cartwright for coaching and football. You could see with every word he spoke about football development that he cares. He cares about how we are developing players, how we are developing coaches and the future of English football. I’ve heard a few speakers on football coaching/development and he came across as the least arrogant and the most knowledgeable. Confident in what he has learned and expressed it with passion.

The content of the event was even better. It was not how smooth the session ran, or the way he delivered it, but what he was delivering and the messages he was getting across to us as coaches regarding what we should be teaching players at all ages. No notes were taken during any of this event. I wanted to let whatever statements he made that had an impact on me stay with me for those reasons. I did not attend this event to take a session and use it whenever I coach (even though it was an interesting session!) and if you are reading this to find out word for word what the learning topics of his session were or the layout of his session, then stop reading now.

If you do not know already, John Cartwright is the head of Premier Skills, which is based on street football and the premise that you practice what you play and you play what you practice. He spoke on the fact that the days of playing out in the street for hours on end is gone. Playing against older players, different rules, different types of games, different challenges – gone. Players spending hours honing their technique and game knowledge without even knowing it – gone. There is no coach to tell you how to play or organise a game for you. John Cartwright stated that the lack of this street football and the increase in “organised football” has led us to create “robotic players”. Players with no individuality about them; something that makes them different and exciting to watch.

He spoke eloquently on how quick we are to label average players great or legends and for the need to increase the standard of young players from average to great. The content we are delivering to young players is not good enough. We still have players that do not know how to shield a ball, do not know about a weight of pass; we are teaching technique like these too late. He made a statement that stuck with me (not in his exact words):

We are too focused on making sure our teams play well at all age groups and not spending enough time making sure each individual player is equipped to play to a high standard.

He spoke of football in the rest of Europe and the recent England U17 game where they unfortunately they lost 7-0 to Holland U17. I did not watch this game so cannot comment on it. However, he watched as players were still struggling to bring the ball out of the back, found no variation to the pressure they faced and could not adapt, which he said is a problem in this country. The lack of game graft and knowledge is apparent in England. Of course this was only one match but he spoke of this happening at all levels. Players are not equipped with the basic techniques to help them succeed at the higher level as they get older.

His overriding statement was players should be “players” by 16/17. Players right now are too raw at that age and do not possess the level of technique and game graft they should at that age group, because we hold an average barometer to measure players in their development and think they are at a good standard when they could be even better.

He also discussed the topic of parents at matches during development phases at both elite and grassroot clubs. Most clubs adopt the policy of not allowing parents to watch training sessions/matches. However, he endorsed the idea of getting parents more involved in the development process of young players. Parents are around their kids more than a coach is, so why ostracize them from the development process? They could have a great effect in allowing players to take on the messages from your session after they have left you, the coach.  Get them involved in asking their kids about the session, give them takeaway cards on the learning points of the session. Whatever it is, let them be more involved.

I have to say that this was insightful talk – It’s dangerous to go into these sort of events with an attitude of accepting everything the guest speaker is preaching as the truth, whole truth and nothing but the truth. I entered the event with an open mindset, no expectations and general approach of learning from a man that has seen a lot and done a lot.

So I preach the same message with this blog post. I am not stating everything John Cartwright spoke about is true, but it will be foolish not to listen to a man with so much experience.

One thing I know for sure is it kicked the coaching spark back into me after a long time out. It was a pleasure to be in his presence. The most important thing I took from this masterclass is nothing football specific.

No matter what you are doing in life, do it with passion and that passion will rub off on others. Make sure your enthusiasm for coaching rubs off onto your team of players and everyone associated with you. Because John Cartwright did that for me.

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