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Change of position, change of fortune

DCDuring a victory for my Under-10s side, one of my defenders got injured. This was not too much of a problem as I had another player who could move from midfield to fill that role. The solution worked fine for a while until he too limped out of the action, leaving me struggling to solve the problem.
We got to half-time without too much trouble and were winning 1-0, and at that point I managed to persuade another lad to change positions and slot back into defence. He halfheartedly accepted the offer, even creeping forward into his regular attacking role at times, thus leaving holes and gaps behind him.
I was therefore relieved when my left winger came across and said to me that he would play in defence because he’d operated there for his previous team. I was surprised because I had never considered him to be a natural defender – he is, after all, a strong attacking winger, and it had never even crossed my mind to use him in defence.
But he was an absolute revelation, with excellent positioning, plus strong support and marking skills. At one point he took the ball off the toes of the opposition attacker and ran the whole length of the pitch, unleashing a brilliant shot at the end of it. I am still reluctant to play him at the back because we have some good defenders, and he is a valuable left winger, but I know now he makes a great back-up if we ever need someone to fill the role.
It got me thinking about players and how they generally begin to ‘find’ their positions around nine or 10 years of age. And yet many will play for another few years before actually discovering where they are best. What we should be doing as coaches is constantly experimenting with their roles – maybe hiding inside a player who has been labeled a ‘defender’ is a strong attacking force just waiting to be unleashed on an unsuspecting opponent. It’s rare when it happens, but on the occasions that it does, it’s always a pleasant and useful surprise.


Dealing with the ‘younger’ players in your squad

dave clarkeI was explaining my ‘youth’ policy for my younger teams at a dinner party last week when one of the other guests on my table said: “But your players are all the same age!”

What another coach would understand, but this guest didn’t, is that within an age bracket, say U10s, there can be up to a year difference between some of the players.

And that makes a huge difference in youth teams. some players will grow quicker than others and be taller and struggle to cope with coordination, while the younger ones find they are brushed off the ball easily.

You should try and give each one of your players targets to meet during the season and also give them as much time playing matches as the older ones in your squad. By helping them to develop you may just find a gem that you didn’t realise you had – and a lot of coaches never discover that the players they leave on the bench every week could make a difference to their teams.

You could give players targets at each session or match, like “I will try to head every ball that comes to me at head height”, or “instead of dribbling into the box every time I will cross the ball”. You must make a note of this at the end of the session or match and talk to your player about it.

It is not unlike the top teams who have to bring young players through to the first team. At Chelsea Carlo Ancelotti is keen to bring youth through and that is hard when you have such a strong first team. However Ancelotti reckons he has found a star player through his youth experiments. “In six months we have found a fantastic young player in Josh McEachran. Others from the academy are close to playing for us. We hope to find more.”

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