Forget fear – why failure is something our young English players should embrace and learn from

Fear of failure has hung heavy overall levels of English football for many years. Never was it more obvious than when England reached the knockout stages of a major tournament and some of the best players in the world become crippled by the pressure, unable to deliver the sorts of performances they regularly turned out for their club sides?

England’s Golden Generation could not get beyond the quarter-finals of Euro 2004 or the 2006 World Cup. They froze against Portugal both times, especially when confronted with the dreaded penalty shoot-out, which every Englishman feared above anything else.

At Euro 2016, the fear of failure meant that England was eliminated in the round of 16 without even making it as far as spot-kicks. The underdogs of Iceland played with freedom, knowing that nobody expected them to knock out England’s millionaires.

The moment that Iceland took their 2-1 lead, England became paralysed with fear. Nobody was willing to take the risks necessary to get the Three Lions back in the game, in case their risk-taking went wrong. At a time when England needed the inspiration to deal a blow to the plucky underdogs, nobody in white was able or willing to provide it.

Thankfully, a change in the way that English football approaches and deals with fear have been ongoing for some time at a grassroots level. Whereas in the past a mistake would result in punishment, mockery, and embarrassment, now it is encouraged as something to learn from.

Creating a generation of footballers who are willing to take risks and become better as a result will ultimately mean the crippling fear that England showed against Iceland becomes a thing of the past. 

We have already seen it beginning to disappear. England played with previously unseen freedom in reaching the semi-finals of the World Cup in 2018 and then the final of Euro 2020. Players like Raheem Sterling, Phil Foden, Jack Grealish and Bukayo Saka were encouraged to take risks and express themselves on the biggest stage.

We Make Footballers want their franchisees to continue to produce a fearless nation of talent who view failure as an opportunity to bounce back. There should be no fear of making a mistake because mistakes are how we learn what works and what does not.

In all walks of life, failure is necessary for growth. Whether it be missing out on a promotion at work, being pipped on the line in a running race or failing an exam, when failure strikes, we should analyse why and learn from it. Failure is an opportunity rather than an ending.

Imagine you are coaching two young football players. One is fearless and willing to try anything. Shooting with their weaker foot, a Maradona Turn in a tight position, playing out from the back even when being pressed. 

They know that there is a chance that it might go wrong. But they know that if it does, it is an opportunity to learn. They might not hit the target but they will learn that next time, they should take a touch onto their stronger foot.

The Maradona Turn could prove to be the wrong option when there was an easier pass back up the line. And there are occasions when you need to put your foot through it rather than attempt to keep possession.

Failing in any of these given scenarios helps a player grow. Players who embrace the prospect of failure with a willingness to learn from their mistakes will ultimately benefit in the long run as they discover ways to achieve success.

Now imagine the other player. They are petrified of making a mistake. As a result, their body is tense whenever they play. They cannot relax through fear and are subsequently stifled.

In a game situation, they will only ever try things they know they are capable of. Nothing out of the ordinary, like a bicycle kick or a chest back to their goalkeeper under immense pressure, for fear of embarrassment or the reaction, if it goes wrong.

It is the same on the training pitch. They will not stretch themselves or do anything challenging because of the anxiety of it ending badly.

Out of those two players, the only one who is going to have a chance of fulfilling their potential is the one who is willing to fail, dust themselves down and try again.

The other will never progress because you cannot progress if you are too scared to try something new for fear of it not going your way.

We Make Footballers franchisees create an environment where there is no fear of failure. When there is a culture in place whereby failure is accepted as part of the process rather than a big deal, then fear evaporates. 

No child at a We Make Footballers academy will feel like that second player because mistakes are there to be learnt from, rather than punished. You can never get better unless you push yourself with challenges that might end in failure.

Take weightlifting for example. If a weightlifter just lifts the same weight over and over again, they are never going to get stronger and progress to lifting something heavier. 

To successfully lift the next weight, they have to practice at it – and more than likely, fail several times – before it becomes achievable.

A good football coach finds a way to stretch their players with achievable targets. As the weightlifter progresses, they would not suddenly quadruple the amount they were lifting.

Likewise, in football a certain amount of failure – but never so much as to make the player give up – will ultimately lead to success. We Make Footballers franchisees are taught how to get this balance right so that they can help their payers reach their potential.

Our stated mission at We Make Footballers is to contribute to England becoming the best footballing nation on the planet, creating a better football experience for all and resulting in a World Cup win.

Franchisees across the country helping remove the fear of failure from young players is one way to move towards that.

 

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.

 

Coaching kids vs coaching adults – What is the difference?

The sport might be football and the aim might still be to put the round thing in the back of the net, but there are some significant differences when it comes to coaching kids and coaching adults.

When coaching adults, you are dealing with people who have already had a football upbringing. Their approach and attitudes are already shaped, meaning that the adult football coach is either refining a player or trying to remould them.

Children are more of a blank canvas. The youth football coach can impart ideas and skills on impressionable young minds, setting them on their way to football passion and who knows, maybe even stardom?

We have taken a look at five ways differences between coaching adults and coaching kids.

 

Prioritising the love of football over learning about football

 

When working with adults, the priority is to improve those players you work with. Adults already have a love of the game and enjoy playing football, otherwise, they would not dedicate their spare time towards running around and kicking a ball.

Coaches working with children have a far bigger responsibility than just developing skills and abilities. Yes, creating good players is important. More important though is helping children fall in love with football. 

For many kids, their first experience of organised football will come during their coaching sessions. It is no exaggeration to say that their future relationship with the game can be shaped and formed within a few months by how much enjoyment they get from playing the game.

Those coaching youth football have the opportunity to leave a legacy by fostering a passion for football within their players which lasts for the rest of the child’s life. Conversely, if a coach gives them a bad experience then it could be enough to put a child off football. The responsibility is therefore huge.

Only a tiny proportion of children will go on to become professionals or make a career out of football. Any boy or girl no matter what their ability level can be encouraged to have a lifelong affinity to football, however.

A successful youth football coach is never judged on how many of his players make it into the Premier League, the EFL or the higher reaches of the Non-League scene.

The best contribution a coach can make is by encouraging hundreds of kids to have an interest in the sport – which is why prioritising love over learning is so important when it comes to coaching kids’ football.

Coaching youth football requires greater inclusivity

 

Coaching an adult club generally involves working with a group of players who have similar experiences and abilities, hence why they are on the same team. 

That can make session planning easier. There is not such a broad spectrum of individuals who need to be catered for, meaning that a coach can deploy a one size fits all approach to the players being worked with.

Youth football is very different and that means that coaches need to be more inclusive. There will often be a vast disparity in ability between the best players in the group and the less-able.

Some may have been kicking a ball around from the moment they could walk; others might be taking their first steps into a world of formal practice and training.

When coaching kids, attention must be paid to every individual child. Coaches have to cater for various levels of skill, knowledge and even motivation. 

And going back to the earlier point about prioritising love over learning, the best way to both improve and foster a child’s enjoyment of football is to give them the focus they need. 

That is the reason that We Make Footballers place so much importance on one-on-one training and the benefits it can bring to their academies.

Focussing on every individual can make coaching youth football harder work than coaching adults. It would be wrong to try and suggest otherwise.

But when a coach sees a player master the art of scoring goals with their weaker foot or Cruyff turning their way out of a tight spot because of the hours that coach has put in helping that child, the greater inclusivity required becomes all worth it.

Listen to feedback – from children and parents

Feedback is important whether you are coaching adults or kids. When working with adults, it can inform what has worked in a session and what has not. 

This can then be used to inform what happens in future so that a coach can make improvements and attempt to get the best out of their players.

When working with children, feedback becomes even more vital. The best youth football coaches are those who take the adult glasses off and see the world through the eyes of a child. That gives them a better idea of what will work when coaching the young players under their charge.

Of course, getting into the mindset of a child is easier said than done. Listening to what kids liked or did not like about their football training sessions is therefore the best way to bridge the generational divide and understand how to better work with players.

As well as children, youth football coaches have another invaluable source of feedback available to the parents. Some coaches might seem pushy, interfering with parents as an irritant or barrier to what the coach is trying to do with their players.

And whilst it is true that some parents can be difficult, at the end of the day they want the same as the coach – the best for their kids. 

Parents can pass on feedback in the form of what their child has said about recent sessions, as well as what they have been working on in the back garden or up the park away from coaching. 

If used correctly, parents provide eyes and ears for the coach beyond the limited access that a coach has with the child. This can help them better plan for the individual. 

Fostering a positive relationship with parents and seeking feedback from adults as well as children can benefit everyone involved with the coaching children process.

Competition is used in a developmental way

Competition has been a frequent source of controversy in youth football for many years now. In adult football, the need for it is fairly clear-cut – adults play football because they enjoy it, but also to experience that winning feeling that comes with success. You need competition for that.

In kid’s football, competition should be harnessed differently. It serves as a source of motivation to improve skill levels and can be a lot of fun, so long as too much emphasis is not placed on winning.

There is another important side to the competition which children benefit from experiencing – losing. A controlled amount of failure teaches kids as much as winning; both in the need to work hard to get better and avoid defeat next time and in terms of learning about fairness, respect and sportsmanship.

Nobody goes through football – or life for that matter – without experiencing setbacks. Whereas in adult football the aim is to avoid losing, in children’s football it is no bad thing for the long term benefits it brings. 

Competition is important for both adults and children, but very different reasons.

Youth coaches are helping make people as well as players

Playing football benefits children across all areas of life, not just sports. Children who attend We Make Footballers learn about the importance of exercise for their physical and mental health. 

They develop social skills and make friends through a shared common interest in football. Listening to and learning from a coach helps children become disciplined and respectful. Football helps children understand the progress that can be made and the value of hard work.

Coaches become mentors and inspirations. Weekly football coaching sessions keep kids occupied, off the street and out of trouble. That element of youth football is particularly important at a time when budgets are being cut and children are finding themselves left behind.

This is arguably the biggest difference between coaching adults and coaching kids. For adults, the football experience given to them by a coach is just that – a football experience.

For kids, football coaching can teach them lessons and instil in them attitudes and characteristics that last for life. A youth football coach is making people, not just footballers. 

Think you have what it to takes to coach youth football? To find out more about becoming a youth football coach with We Make Footballers, please see the We Make Footballers franchise website.

 

 

 

The role of a football coach

The role of a football coach is about much more than just football coaching. From session planning to analysis to giving feedback, it is a multi-faceted role with many responsibilities.
Being a We Make Football franchisee adds even more variety to the job. You become your own independent business owner, an entrepreneur changing the lives of children in the local community by off2ering them the chance to learn and grow as footballers and people.
In this article, we are going to look at the different aspects of being a football coach, what each role entails and the responsibilities that come with it.

The football coach

The most important role a football coach has is, well, being a football coach. The preparation starts before the players arrive for training with session planning to ensure that no minute of contact time is wasted.

No two sessions are ever the same, especially when it comes to plotting one-on-one training schedules for players. 

One-on-one training is the best way to improve and develop the skills of an individual as it allows them to work on areas of weakness identified by the coach. 

At the end of every session, a coach then offers feedback to the player on what went well, what did not go well and further guidance on how to improve.

Often, this is the most rewarding aspect of the job. When a training plan devised to improve a player’s ability with their weaker foot, their first touch or their timing of a run comes to fruition, it means the coach has fulfilled their primary responsibility – making a player better.

Every We Make Footballers coach is FA qualified and undergoes further in-house training with specialist WMF qualifications, offering the highest possible level of teaching for coaches to maximise both their own and their players’ potential.

The football analyst

To improve players on an individual level, the best football coaches are excellent analysts. They have a keen eye for detail and will watch each player closely, identifying areas in which an individual can improve. This then feeds into those individual training plans just mentioned. 

The analysis is not just important on a one-to-one level, either. When it comes to managing a team, spotting strengths and weaknesses in the opposition and being able to nullify or take advantage of them can dramatically improve the chances of victory. This brings us nicely onto..

The football manager

Team selection. Position of players. Tactics. All of those come under the role of the football manager, who is ultimately responsible for results. 

Whilst a We Make Footballers franchise may not have to worry too much about these areas at weekly training sessions, they are still developing players to go into teams at the grassroots or professional academy level.

Those players will have a better chance of success if they understand what a manager wants of them. Training is the first opportunity to impart the responsibilities of different roles on the pitch, what different tactical plans entail and to help players understand that everyone on the team has a part to play – even those not in the starting line-up.

The business owner

We Make Footballers franchisees are not just football coaches. They are entrepreneurs too, operating a sustainable business that provides a service to the local community in a growing market where there is always room for expansion.

After three years, a smaller WMF franchisee with over 240 students can turnover up to £96,000. A larger franchisee with more than 400 students has an expected yearly turnover of £149,000.

And what if the business is not a potential franchisee’s strong point? Well, that does not matter either. We Make Footballers provide a dedicated account manager. 

A franchisee gets all the help and advice they need in setting up and operating a business, learning how to become an entrepreneur who is in control of their own lives in the process.

The community leader

Football coaches are community leaders, providing an important service to the local area. And the role of football as a force for good has never been more important.

Lockdowns have deprived children of the chance to stay physically and socially active. Mental health problems in children increased from 10.8 per cent in 2017 to 16 per cent in 2020 according to England’s Mental Health of Children and Young People survey.

Budgets have been stretched by the pandemic, meaning that physical education in schools is not a priority. The local government is struggling to find the cash to provide services and maintain facilities.

Amongst all of this, We Make Footballers academies provide a safe space for playing football, exercising and meeting like-minded children. The benefits to physical and mental health are huge.

Franchisees become community leaders, offering an essential service and one which can genuinely change the lives of young people in their local area.

The inspiring mentor

How often do you hear about football coaches being inspiring mentors for young players? No one who watched Ian Wright’s Home Truths documentary could fail to be moved by the way the former England international striker spoke about his primary school football teacher, Sydney Pigden.

Mr Pigden was the man who helped Wright get into football. Without his coaching and mentorship, Wright would never have gone on to make it as a professional. He would never have become Arsenal’s record scorer. And he would never have represented his country.

That is the power and the role that a football coach has. They can change lives through sport. They provide the opportunity for children to do something they love once a week and who knows where that can lead? In Wright’s case, it was to pull on the Three Lions at Wembley.

If you would like to find out more about becoming a We Make Footballers franchise, inspiring the next generation of English football talent and making a real difference to your local community, then please see the WMF franchisee website for more details.