Archive for August, 2012

First of all you read the title right! FC Barcelona in the UK offering coaching?  A friend of mine was taking his child along so I couldn’t pass the opportunity to observe the worlds greatest team’s coaching methodology!

The first thing I noticed was the coaches manner, personality, delivery, teaching ability, whatever you want to call it there was serious command for their space and the children are in line.  Even the “liveliest”  of kids were snapped into line and ready to work.   The question is though is this because it is Barcelona or is the respect and authority achievable by all coaches?  Either way it was there!  At one point a coach explained the drill and then added on the end that he did not want to see certain behaviour as it was disrespectful to each other as team mates and developing players.  A philosophy built on moral values!

Each session started with a warm up but not as one may think.  The Barcelona way demands the ball as the main “actor” and must be present in everything that is done.  Warm up with the ball, rest with the ball, work on acceleration…with the ball.  Interestingly the warm up consisted of all the ABC’s etc but was specific to the theme of the day.  Also it lasted about 20-25 minutes with short drinks breaks between progressive exercises.

The main content was delivered in an hour session with only 2 distinct drills being set up.  This suits me as the children never left the theme of the day whilst also there was enough “openness” in the drills to close down various teaching points. Interestingly this allows the drill to be personalised where there was difference in ability at certain points of the drill.

The second half of the morning consisted of a similar warm up followed by very open games with a barrel of rules to abide by that were there to promote the theme of the day.  There was some form of scoring system (not always about the ball going in the goal) and the children were engaged with achieving the game.

During games, drills, warm ups coaches observed like hawks constantly intervening and stopping the activities to explain, reinforce, correct and improve the players.

Overall I think the most outstanding part was the communication of the coaches.  The Spanish coaches were firm but fair and demanded discipline but did it in such a way that the children responded and worked at every task set.  I spoke with one of the coaches who told me that when he keeps on top of the discipline the children think freely about football and the task.  If the coaches don’t get on top of the discipline the children think freely….NOT about football.

Generally the expectations are high but, and this is hard to explain, it wasn’t about how good the drill looked.  Sometimes the drills were difficult and the children weren’t able to do it all perfectly.  I know some coaches who would not like this and regress thinking that the children need total success.  Here the children were praised for aspects of the drill that they did well in context.  Interestingly a seemingly good pass was not praised as it did not fit into the context of the drill and therefore deemed incorrect.  In another example a player dribbled around 5 players and scored.  This was met with a sharp scolding as the drill was to pass and move and the team need 5 passes in order to score.

Due to the fact that there were only 2 drills in the session the players had time to access the drill and improve their performance and understanding along with the constant intervening by the coaches.

Another example of intervening was in a drill where the theme was “dribbling”.  Now, there was a passing and shooting in this drill also but after a while the coach intervened.  He wasn’t happy with the way the players were accelerating once they had dropped the shoulder to take on the player.  All a bit slow.  So he demoed and gave example and clarity to the children.  He could of picked anything in this drill really but the theme is the theme and this is what he observed as important.  Players re focussed and progressed in the drill.

The methodology seems complete in that it covers the 4 performance factors and in every drill there is purpose relating to a theme.  there are a handful of teaching points available within the drills that coaches can emphasise to the complete group or personalise to individuals.

For obvious reasons I think that this is not the complete picture as there was talk about “functional movement” something that if tailored correctly could really enhance the capability of the players in performing some of the drills.  I am sure that there are elements to the development in Barcelona that is not exported but frankly I am not sure the UK can handle all of it at once.

As I write these random thoughts and observations I keep remembering one single word that shapes the reason why Barcelona are Barcelona.  This word is PHILOSOPHY.  Barcelona create players to play the Barcelona way.  There is no movement away from the Barcelona way and it suits the players that play for Barcelona.  They are humble about their way and method but do not see any other way…and why should they.  They are open to sense and logic which probably is already in their method.  In my tennis experience there is lacking of individual philosophy and even worse when it is dictated to coaches from the top (LTA).  A philosophy should be based on your own thinking, logic and it also needs time to grow and develop.  Be under no illusion that Barcelona are not constantly striving to improve their philosophy and method but it has to suit them and it has to make sense.  From U10 to pro Barcelona teach their way and as they put it, it reduces the confusion for the young players.

The other word that appears twice in the above paragraph is SENSE.  This is a word I heard a few times and again in conversations.  Everything that is done has purpose and the players try to execute with sense.  There is some reason to everything no matter how fine.  As I mentioned before, things that make no sense in the context of the drills are not praised no matter how good the outcome might be.  This is because in the context it makes no sense at all.  Dribble around 5 players when you are supposed to pass two yards.  Makes no sense and in the end this cannot help develop the player.  Sense and understanding seemed to be key and then practice this sense and understanding and become better.

The drills and games seem to be few (similar in spanish tennis) but teaching is abundant.  Clear techniques, tactics and requirements allow the players to grow, develop and become well rounded players.  SIMPLES!

If you have read this far you won’t mind one more little interesting point…..

Some of the coaches have limited English (I even spoke to them in Spanish) and I have begun to think of language as being an issue. The instructions given by the foreign coaches in English were short, concise and easy to comprehend.   Since I have been learning Spanish I have found when translating  material from Spanish to English how simple the language is in terms of being able to understand what is being said.  I put my hands up here that when coaching I have sometimes gone into too much detail and elaborated topics when there is no need.  Children require simple language with simple requests for easy understanding.  Again another “simple”!

Un abrazo






WOW! What a great effort so far from team GB.  Although there are some questions that are arising and some interesting debates on how did this happen and what are we to do to maintain and grow this success?

Are we just a sitting down country?  Surely not. And we can build on the successes of Ennis, the boxers and even the gymnasts who put in a historic performance.  There is a slight “British” feeling of we just take part in some of the events as we celebrate coming 13th and the like and although an improvement (I think), is it enough of an improvement given the time scales?

Anyway, this is where we are and so what are the plans for the future? We need to be careful now as the legacy of the Sydney games is seeing the Australians struggle.  Clearly the investments in cycling has paid off along with good coaching and good athletes and we are still dominant in rowing.  The thing that has stood out for me is that in some of these events, the athletes have only been participating for short time spans (last 4 years for example) and this says something about the sports requirements, does it not? There was a track athlete (I forget his name and the event) but he stated in his post race interview that he had been on the lash for the last 2 years and only begun to work hard for 6 months prior to the event.  Not a great training model but again only 6 months to get to Olympic standard?  It is interesting as Andy Murray dedicated his entire life to winning his gold medal.

On 5 Live just the cycling director was asked how to get young people in the sport or any sport and once again I forget his answer.  This is because I drifted into thinking that young people don’t need to be in cycling as one can be Olympic standard in a short space of time.  This however assumes that the person is a strong, well-rounded athlete with the mentality of such a sport (one which I don’t possess).  However, I am not sure this could be said about a skill sport like tennis.  The development pathway for a young person (starting in primary school) suggests Athlete before sportsman/women and this is where possible we are missing a trick.  This model is somewhat unproven and difficult to follow logically in a technical sport such as tennis but, having said that, I believe that physical competence only helps develop technical skills and that the rate of skill development is and can be sometimes too quick at the expense of training other attributes required in the sport.

Now following on from “Athlete first” as a model of developing people to participate and ultimately compete at the highest level they are capable of, one must look at what goes on in schools.  There is no hiding from this! I don’t believe there is a need for 5 hours nor do I believe “sport” is the answer.  This might seem odd..but wait

Why do children do “extra curricular” activities?  Isn’t it because the schools can’t offer expert teaching, time and resources in some of these activities so one must source them outside of school?   Also since they are not done in school, it makes the attractive?  I understand that this is not possible for everyone but one must consider what the purpose of school is and prioritise.  Maybe there needs to be sports provisions in ADDITION to the curriculum.

Now I firmly believe SOME physical activity must go on and I also believe it needs to be delivered correctly (by qualified teachers who can teach children + have the extensive knowledge of athletic development).  There is an issue of P.E teachers who don’t have a high enough level of knowledge but are great teachers of the information they do have, and Coaches who are terrible teachers but have the knowledge.  A combination seems logical!

In terms of the hours, I think that 2 per week should be sufficient, providing quality and content are the primary concerns.  When I say 2, I mean 2, not 45 mins because it took 15 minutes to get changed and put trainers on the right feet, stand in a line with fingers on lips and take the register.

In summary,

  • Athletes first – Sports later
  • Quality delivers – TEACHERS with knowledge!
  • 2 solid hours per week
  • Athletic Development Curriculum – (movement – function, agility, speed, control, balance etc  coordination, sending/receiving, etc)
  • Provisions for sports (after school clubs, additional “games” lessons)

Is this impossible?  Will it cost that much more to educate current teachers or train new ones and have the dedicated within schools?  That sort of job sounds good to me and I would do it and do it well!

We could call it Athletic Development Co ordinator (lol)

I think that we have to run with the passion and success of the Olympics and allow those educators with passion for developing young people become the vehicle to future success (in sports and health and life).