Earning the right to win: How We Make Footballers challenge their players to reach their potential

Success and victory in football are never guaranteed. Earning the right to win – a mindset that the best players in the world all share because the importance of it was drilled into them from a young age.

How do you make a child understand that success must be earned? For many, it comes with what they learn playing with friends and older siblings. When family or playground bragging rights are on the line, nobody is going to go easy on a younger child based on their age.

This teaches them that success has to be earned and when it comes, to savour it. The more gratifying and hard-earned a victory, the better it feels. And the better it feels, the greater the desire to experience that feeling again – breeding a winner’s mentality.

Take Declan Rice for example. Now one of the finest midfielders in the Premier League and a mainstay of the England setup, Rice grew up playing with his older brothers Connor and Jordan. 

They did not want to lose to their youngest sibling and so Rice learnt from a young age that he was going to have to try hard and earn success against his own family.

Speaking to the Football Association as part of their Growing Up series, Rice tells the story of how he was determined to become a better player to compete with his brothers.

Needless to say, as a future Three Lions international, he did that: “When I was six or seven, I’d be going to play with them at five-a-side and I remember dribbling around all their mates who couldn’t believe it, for a young kid to be doing that to them.”

Rice did not always win, however. His brothers would occasionally outdo him. And the failures he experienced were as instrumental in his becoming a professional as his success.

They taught him to deal with setbacks – and none was bigger than when Rice was released from Chelsea’s academy at the age of 14 after seven years with the Blues.

Through the lessons of his childhood and bouncing back from defeat, Rice knew that hard work could help him overcome the blow of being told he was too small to make it at Chelsea. He knew he could earn a chance at another academy by increasing his efforts.

Within a few months, Rice was snapped up by West Ham United. After a little over 12 months, he signed his first professional contract as a 16-year-old was handed a senior debut at the age of 18 and followed that with his England debut two years later.

There are hundreds of other stories like Rice’s, of players who were told they were not good enough but who had a steely determination running through them, thanks to their upbringing.

This is why belief in earning the right to win and learning from failure is an important component of the We Make Footballers philosophy

Our franchisees help teach children that work is the key to progression and that they should never take their talent or ability for granted. We ingrain this in our players by constantly challenging them to improve.

We do this by not shying away from taking decisions to move children up. If they are finding football too easy, then it is time to put them against older or better players.

Otherwise, they can be lured into thinking that football is so simple that they no longer need to work as hard as they can to better themselves. 

Whilst it can be tempting to leave the star player at an age group where they dominate so that the team does better, that is no good for the individual. 

We Make Footballers franchisees identify and prioritise what is best for the individual development of every player and will always take the right course of action for them.

The idea of challenging children to drive improvement is common across sports. In baseball, children initially learn to hit with a heavily weighted bat. They find this hard to start with but eventually, it builds strength in their arms.

Once enough practice has been done, the weights are removed. The child now has the strength and technique to hit the ball much further with a normal bat because they had to overcome the challenge of doing so with the heavier bat.

The same concept applies to children playing football as an age group up. They are facing more experienced opponents with higher skill sets. These opponents will not go soft on the younger child just because of their age, meaning that winning is achieved on merit. 

A young player will learn much more in this environment than they would dominate against children their age every week, where they can make mistakes that go unpunished and subsequently uncorrected, leading to bad habits. 

Alan Hansen once famously said of Manchester United’s Class of 92, “You can’t win anything with kids.” Not only did Sir Alex Ferguson prove that statement wrong, but by chucking Gary Neville, David Beckham, Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs, Nicky Butt and Phil Neville into his senior side at such a young age, he presented all six with challenges to overcome.

That made them better players in the long run, capable of staying at the top of the game for over a decade. The likes of Wayne Rooney and Michael Owen thrived after being chucked in at the deep end as teenagers, having accelerated their way through age-group football. 

Phil Foden, Jude Bellingham and Bukayo Saka are the latest talents to follow in their footsteps. Marcus Rashford and Raheem Sterling both burst onto the scene as teenagers and remain key components of current England set up several years later.

One of Ferguson’s predecessors at Old Trafford once said, “If they’re good enough, they’re old enough.” Sir Matt Busby was referring to his Busby Babes, who went on to overcome the tragedy of the Munich Air Disaster to become the first English club to win the European Cup.

The best managers develop the best players by challenging them to overcome more difficult assignments through hard work and learning, ultimately teaching them to earn the right to win.

We Make Footballers franchisees do the same – and there is rarely a better feeling in the coaching game than seeing a young player achieve the standards you believe them capable of.

 

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.

 

What Makes a Good Grassroots Football Coach

What makes a good grassroots football coach goes beyond simply being able to teach a child how to play a 10-yard pass. 

The best grassroots coaches possess special characteristics that not only help players improve, but that also have a profound impact on the lives of the children they work with.

From the ability to take feedback on board to adopt a child-centric and player-focused approach, here are some of the attributes which the best grassroots youth football coaches in the UK all have in common.

A positive attitude and approach

A grassroots football coach must ensure that the players they are working with enjoy themselves. For many children, their future relationship with football is shaped by what happens through their early experience of the sport – the experience given to them by their grassroots coach.

When players enjoy themselves and look forward to every session, they will end up falling in love with football. It is a relationship that will last a lifetime, regardless of their ability, success or the level they go onto play at.

To have that impact on young players, a grassroots coach must be positive, enthusiastic and passionate about their role. 

Children better engage with coaches who show great enthusiasm in what they do. That enthusiasm is infectious to players. If the coach appears indifferent to the session ahead, that often rubs off on their players – and there is nothing enjoyable about indifference.

Players respond more quickly to the methods and teachings of passionate coaches. When children see that a coach clearly loves what they are doing and cares deeply about it, they will be filled with belief that what the coach sets out for them to do is geared to helping them improve. 

At the same time, the best grassroots coaches acknowledge that things might not always go to plan. When that is the case, a positive attitude is a must. No child is going to respond well to being embarrassed, humiliated or told off when they get something wrong.

Instead, the coach has to look for the positives. Identify why the player failed at the task, coach them through what to do next time and help them achieve their target. Praise the good and offer feedback on the bad.

There is no better feeling in football as either a player or coach than seeing an individual master a skill they had previously struggled with – and climbing such mountains can only be done through a positive attitude.

Being a great two-way communicator

It is not merely enough for a grassroots football coach to be a great communicator – they have to be a great two-way communicator. Listening to players and taking on feedback is every bit as important as being able to get a message across clearly.

When it comes to outwards communications, a good grassroots coach will know that talking is sometimes not enough. They will also use clear demonstrations or diagrams to make their point, knowing that different children find different learning methods beneficial.

Asking for and listening to feedback from players is one of the easiest ways that a coach can find out if what they are doing is working. An honest appraisal from a child or parent can inform the approach taken for an individual child going forward and open them up to further improvement.

Players will feel more comfortable giving feedback to an approachable coach. The best grassroots coaches show their players they are willing to listen and make them feel comfortable about saying what they think. It is to the benefit of everyone that they do so.

Being flexible

Receiving feedback from players or parents is only useful if a coach then acts upon it – which is why the best grassroots football coaches are flexible in their approach.

Every child is different and so a one size fits all approach to coaching is an ineffective method. Coaches who are steadfast and rigid in their methods will have far less success than those who are willing to experiment and be flexible.

When one approach does not work with a player, a grassroots coach should not seek to lay blame at the feet of the child or question their ability. Instead, it showed be viewed as a challenge – how can the coach help the player overcome their struggles and master the skill?

Children are not the only ones who should be learning with every session. Coaches too can always improve or reinvent themselves as time goes on, building their knowledge through trying new coaching techniques in a never-ending quest for becoming better.

Realising it is about the players, not the coach

One of the biggest traps a grassroots coach can fall into is thinking that they are Jurgen Klopp or Jose Mourinho – coaches with an ego to make it all about them.

There are numerous reasons why top Premier League managers are desperate for the limelight. Often, it is to relieve pressure on their players. Other times it is to try and coerce their board into a new signing or referees into favouring them or casting doubt on the integrity of the opposition. And some just like the sound of their voices.

Grassroots football is a world away from the billion-pound industry that is the Premier League. The best grassroots coaches know this and make everything about their player’s enjoyment and improvement rather than making it all about them.

Results are not important when it comes to children’s football. The best coaches do not worry or think that their team losing reflects badly on them; instead, they realise that failure is just another path to success and that individual improvement and enjoyment matters more.

The grassroots coach is there to help children have fun. They are there to serve their players and give them a football education. Child development should always come above winning, which is why the players are the most important part of any grassroots football academy. 

Setting a good example

Children are impressionable and that means that to be a success, a grassroots coach must lead by example. Many young players will look up to their football coaches as role models, so what a coach says and does matters.

Setting an example starts from appearances. A coach who turns up to a coaching session in jeans and a flat cap like something out of Peaky Blinders will not be taken seriously. 

Players will think if their coach cannot be bothered to dress appropriately on the training ground or professionally go about their business, why should they? Appearances set the standard for what happens on the pitch. 

A grassroots coach can lead by example by being punctual and organised. If the coach arrives five minutes before training starts and is still trying to layout drills or plan what is going to happen when the session is meant to be underway, then their players too can start thinking it is acceptable to be late or unorganised.

Everything that grassroots coach does whilst working with their players can make an impression and inform what they think is acceptable in football and life. Setting a good example is key.

Getting to know players as people

The best way for a coach to understand the players they are working with is by getting to know them as people. This is especially true when it comes to children through the impact that a grassroots coach can have as a role model.

Football can be a powerful force for good in the lives of young people. It gives them focus and can help keep them out of trouble. The professional game is full of players whose stories feature a theme of “I don’t know where I would be without football.”

A coach who takes an interest in a player’s life off the pitch is in a better position to understand their background. This in turn can help to make a positive impact on a child’s life, both on and off the pitch.

When it comes to football, a player will better respect and trust a coach who they feel is looking out for them. That leads to improved performances through motivation and hard work.

Away from the sport, if a child believes that their coach has their best interests at heart then they are more likely to look up to them and listen. A strong relationship between coach and player can be a vehicle for change.

We Make Footballers are the UK’s number one football coaching academy for children aged 4-12 years old. 

If you think you have what it takes to become a grassroots coach, please contact us through our website to find out more.

 

 

The Power of Visualisation

David Beckham puts down the ball 25 yards out from goal in front of the Stretford End. It is the final minute of the last match of World Cup qualifying. The England captain knows that if he scores, his side is going to the World Cup finals. He takes a short run-up. He strikes the ball perfectly. It bends up and over the wall and crashes against the back of the net. 66,000 fans explode with unbridled joy. What does Beckham do? He turns around, picks up another ball and repeats the free-kick. For none of this is happening on Saturday 6th October 2001 at Old Trafford. It is all taking place in Beckham’s mind in the weeks, months and years leading up to him scoring one of the most famous goals in English football history.

This is the power of visualisation. To some, the notion that imagining a moment or action happening can make it more likely is the sort of thing that only happens in the movies.

Proof that it is a real-life route to success however comes from both science and the mindsets of world-class athletes in numerous sports over the past 50 years, all of whom used the power of visualisation in different ways.

Formula One world champion Niki Lauda would use it to prepare and familiarise himself with the task ahead. Walking every track before a race, he imagined his breaking points and the racing line he would take. Having already driven the race before in his mind, Lauda found it easier to do it the second time around when sat in his car. The result? Three world titles and a place amongst the greatest racing drivers who ever lived.

Mike Tyson used the power of visualisation for another purpose – to breed confidence and belief that he was the best in the world. He would box Muhammad Ali over and over in his head, always winning. Having beaten the greatest boxer who ever lived numerous times in his mind, Tyson convinced himself he could never lose to any mere mortal opponent during his heyday. And he hardly ever did.

Jonny Wilkinson visualised winning the Rugby World Cup for England from the moment he first started playing the sport. Very few athletes have ever had the razor-sharp focus as Wilkinson. It meant that when the opportunity presented itself for a last-minute drop goal in the final against Australia in 2003, he was not daunted or overcome. He could seize the moment because he had been there before inside his head.

Wilkinson talks about the power of visualisation in his autobiography: “If you have realistically imagined situations, you feel better prepared and less fearful of the unexpected.”

And what of the science behind it? During the 1980s, the US Olympic Team began experimenting with visualisation. Athletes were asked to visualise running their race, imagining how they looked and felt. When they were hooked up to a machine to measure the response of the body, it was discovered that the same muscles fired in the same sequence when they visualised as they would if the athletes were on the track.

Visualisation, therefore, helps to hardwire patterns to the brain through muscle memory, whereby the process to complete an action becomes second nature. 

What the US Olympic Team discovered is that you can train your body and mind almost as effectively through visualisation as you can practice. The major benefit of this is that athletes can visualise anywhere. On the team coach to games or events. In the evening when they are sat at home after dinner. In the shower. Whilst eating lunch. Suddenly, practice is not restricted to the training pitch, nor does it have to take a physical toll on the body. The power of visualisation can be utilised anytime, anywhere. 

This is particularly helpful when a player is out injured. They may not be able to train physically, but they can keep themselves ticking over mentally and remain connected to their sport. There are other chemical benefits to visualisation too. When a person visualises, the brain releases dopamine and noradrenaline, two hormones that are both proven to improve performance.

When an athlete visualises themselves taking that penalty kick, the body becomes trained to respond by releasing dopamine and noradrenaline. When it then does so when the situation arises in real life, the chances of success rise.

Football coaches who work with young players at the grassroots level tend to focus less on the mental side of the game. That is not the case with We Make Footballers, where franchisees are encouraged to embrace the power of visualisation. The reason for this is because it is even more effective in children. The power of visualisation works when the visualiser truly believes that they can achieve what they are imagining and that it will one day come true.

Dr Leslie Sherlin talks in her book ‘The Rise of Superman’ about how it is easier to work with children as they have few inhibitions, they are less cynical than adults and are more open to believing that anything is possible.

She writes: “Children are too young to know what impossible means. ‘Can you do something?’ ‘I don’t know? Let me go try.’ And they’re too young to know what to be afraid of.”

To a child, it is not impossible or unlikely that they will one-day captain England at football. They are therefore more susceptible to the power of visualisation; their belief is stronger and the effects more profound. Children do not just imagine themselves in such scenarios, either. When a child plays football in their back garden or down the park, then they will often pretend to be their favourite player. 

This is another example of a different strand of visualisation. They imagine that they are taking a free kick like Cristiano Ronaldo. Dribbling like Lionel Messi. Flicks and tricks like Neymar. This sort of visualisation is powerful. A child who watches the best in the world to imagine they are that same player will copy the same little details that make said player so effective. They will dribble with their head up like Messi. Strike the ball in the same sweet spot Ronaldo does. Take the first touch to get into space to perform a piece of skill like Neymar.

Beckham, Lauda, Tyson and Wilkinson all dreamed of being the best in the world at what they did from a young age. They visualised it over and over again, took what they had imagined doing and put it into practice on the training pitch. When the time eventually came along for their moment of sporting glory that would write them into the history books forever, they were ready for it.

Whether it is the free-kick that sends England to the World Cup or the We Make Footballers student scoring with his weaker foot for the first time, that is the power of visualisation. 

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.