The day of a football coach is a busy one, for me before every session the usual routine is to arrive nice and early and take the time to organise my equipment exactly how I need it to be. (Sometimes in reality things look slightly different to what you pictured in your session plan!).
Once I’m set up I’ve usually got time to do something that I feel is really important before my session starts, and that’s to put myself through the exercises. As well as helping me to mentally prepare for putting on an exciting session for our young players, doing this allows me to see each exercise from their perspective. We’ve just added the QUICKPLAY Spot Rebounder to our equipment inventory and prior to the last couple of sessions I’ve been practicing with it myself in order to see first-hand what is possible with it.
Having never used this piece of equipment before it’s something I’m extremely excited about. It allows players to kick or throw the ball at a high-tension net which sends it back towards the player at a faster pace. It’s brilliant for working on first touch and accuracy. Prior to our most recent session I gave myself a challenge to see how many touches I could get in a minute. By this I mean any contact I make with the ball with feet, thighs, chest and head. In a minute I was able to touch the ball 52 times. (My target was 60 but my control let me down a couple of times…nobody’s perfect!). Though this exercise was unopposed with nobody trying to stop me from making contact with the ball, I faced various challenges during this all important minute.
Every time the ball travelled to and from the rebounder my brain had to answer some lightning fast questions. How fast is the ball travelling? What angle is it hitting the rebounder? Where does my body need to be? What part of my body should I use to make contact? How firm should my contact be? These are just some of the potential questions my brain had to deal with at least 52 times in that minute. And the amazing thing is that once these questions were answered my brain had to make the relevant muscles do everything they needed to do. All of this was going on in split seconds.
The process I’ve just described is even more important for young children. It’s how they learn and develop muscle memory and it’s vital for improvement in coordination and skill. The more touches, the more calculations and the more calculations, the more the brain can handle in the future.
At the very top level, according to official Premier League statistics Nicolás Otamendi for Manchester City has had more touches than anybody else in the league and it averages out as 102.75 touches per game. For young players at grass roots level this amount of touches per 90 minutes is nowhere near enough. Playing in a match at grass roots level players would be extremely lucky to get even 33% of this total in their shorted forms of the game.
Whilst there is definitely a requirement for actual game time in the development of children learning to play football; what my little challenge made clear to me is that with a simple exercise it’s possible to get more touches of a football in a minute than some children get in an entire match. And in two minutes it’s possible to get more touches than a Premier League footballer gets in a full 90 minutes!
Young players need to feel the ball and get used to being in contact with it in order to be confident in possession in game situations. I’m a firm believer that it’s our job as coaches to ensure that they get as much opportunity as possible to do this. I think our new piece of equipment is definitely going to come in handy!