Making good practice permanent

Good or bad practice permanently impacts players. It is one of the core principles of We Make Footballers and the print that we have on our shirts. And it underlines the difference that new WMF franchisees can make to children in their local area when setting up an academy.

When We Make Footballers arrives in a town, village or city, children have increased access to the sport. Increased access means the opportunity to play more which, based on the 10,000-hour rule, is only a good thing for their development as players.

The 10,000-hour rule is a concept that can be traced back to a 1993 University of Colorado paper written by Professor Anders Ericson. Titled ‘The Role of Deliberate Practice in the Acquisition of Expert Performance’, the paper states that it takes 10,000 hours to master a skill. The definition of practice makes perfect if you like.

Professor Ericson based his findings on a study carried out on child violin players in Berlin. For three years between the ages of five and eight, a group of children in the German capital all practised the instrument for roughly the same amount of time.

At the age of eight, practice time between the children began to differ. Some continued playing the instrument regularly whilst the dedication of others dwindled. 

By the age of 20, the elite violin players amongst the group had amassed over 10,000 hours of practice each. The less able had less than 4,000 hours.

The ability of every violin player roughly corresponded to how much practice they had put in. There was no sign of any ‘natural ability; a child who had become an elite player after only 4,000 hours of practice. The study showed that the more you played the violin, the better at it you became.

But it is not merely enough to practice something – that practice needs to be overseen by a qualified expert, who can teach skills and pass on good habits which then become second nature. This is where We Make Footballers franchisees make a difference.

When humans learn a new skill, the muscles are trained to carry out the movements required until they become second nature. This takes time; our bodies and mind are often unsure and tentative at first.

After hours of practice though, we master the skill to the point where we do not even need to think about what we are doing. Think about learning to drive. At first, there is far too much going on at once to think about – changing gear, indicating, checking mirrors, braking.

By the time you come to your driving test, however, all these separate processes have become one activity that you can perform with ease through practice, practice, practice. 

You will not pass your test though if you have been taught bad practices along the way, like braking with the clutch down, not stopping at zebra crossings or honking your horn at other road users.

To put this into a football context, imagine a player going through one-on-one with a goalkeeper. A child who attends a We Make Footballers academy will have been taught and practised that when you get such an opportunity, you should prepare yourself for the shot by looking up and, if possible, getting the ball onto your stronger foot.

By embedding this as part of the shooting process, it becomes ingrained in the child’s muscle memory. Every time they get a sight of a goal, it becomes second nature to analyse what the ‘keeper is doing and make sure they are properly set.

A child whose sole football practice comes in the park with no guidance from a We Make Footballers coach will likely have a different approach. If they have never been taught what a difference looking up can make, they might end up keeping their head down when they go to shoot.

Years of doing this – or 10,000 hours – will mean that looking up never becomes a part of their muscle memory for the process of shooting. And once the brain has been taught and wired to perform a task in a certain way, it can be very hard to retrain.

Which of those two young players do you think has the better chance of scoring goals? The self-taught child with their head down or the player from We Make Footballers who are looking up, seeing where to shoot, and setting themselves to do so with their stronger foot?

This is what we mean by good or bad practice permanently impacts players. When a We Make Footballers franchise brings good practice to their area, it transforms the footballing ability of children by teaching them the skills and habits they need to become better players.

Thanks to the coaching of We Make Footballers franchisees, over 2000 children have already joined local grassroots teams. More than 160 players have signed with professional academies.

Those numbers will get even bigger over the coming year. Having already grown by 140 per cent in the past 12 months, We Make Footballers are looking to expand to 50 franchises in the United Kingdom and four internationally. This will help us deliver on our mission of contributing to England becoming the best footballing nation on Earth.

Good practice permanently impacts players. If you want to help ensure the next generation of players gets good practice at the same time as launching a career in football coaching, then you can find out more about becoming a We Make Footballers franchise on our website.

 

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