John Allpress – English FA.

In May 2007 John Allpress from the English FA visited New Zealand to give several seminars on Player Development in England.

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John Allpress from the English FA

He made the point that nobody is born a great footballer and that players such as Rooney, Beckham, Walcott and Owen have developed the right mixture of attitude and capability in order to ‘stay the course’ and achieve excellence. Allpress spoke about various psychological habits which top players instil into their minds. Included in these habits are persistence, determination, emotional intelligence, questioning, experimenting, imagination, self-evaluation, open mindedness and attentiveness in practice.

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Theo Walcott; the ability to ‘stay the course’.

John Allpress made the point that, “Coaching alone does not produce learning.”   Good Coaches have an understanding of what learning involves and how their actions help or hinder it (see ‘How Footballers Learn’ on this website). He went on to expand on this by describing the ‘Coaches’ Skill’.   This involves designing learning activities that are varied, challenging and enjoyable.   The Coach needs to have the capability to deal effectively with differences in the players’ abilities and to ask the right questions in the right way at the right time. Allpress used the term “skilful neglect,” thus making this a challenge for the Coach to allow the players to learn as much as possible for themselves, without interruption or intervention from the Coach.

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Players should be encouraged to learn as much as possible for themselves.

John Allpress advocated for a holistic approach to the development of footballers.   This approach takes into account other aspects of a player’s development.   This he called the ‘4 Corners’ approach to learning, which consists of the technical, psychological, physical and social facets involved in the growth of a young footballer. Allpress explained that the ‘technical’ element is sport specific whereas the psychological is about the individual.    The physical part of the model can be regarded as both generic and pertaining to sport.   The social side refers to outside influences encountered in everyday living. He then expanded on these areas by explaining that the technical corner refers to all elements of the game linked to techniques, skills and game understanding.   Unopposed technique practices are used, as are skill practices using uneven sides and small sided games with even numbers.   This culminates in the 11 – a – side game. Matters in the psychological corner were discussed, with the emphasis being placed on knowing about the individual, their personality, their behaviours, and how they learn.   Other psychological aspects centred on a player’s approach to the game, their performance, competitive instinct and how to cope with the stress that can occur in professional football. In the physical corner Allpress examined the stages of growth and maturation and how this can affect a young player’s progress in terms of advancement.   Often a less physically developed player can be ignored for representative honours in place of a less skilful but more physically advanced player.   This can cause some talented players to be held back, or in the worst scenario, drop out of the game completely.   In discussing the physical domain, John Allpress considered general movement, the importance of balance, coordination, and agility.   Interestingly, neural speed was included in the physical corner, as opposed to psychological.   Neural speed would be connected to the necessary decision making characteristic which is an integral attribute of top footballers.   Football is a physical game, therefore, the importance of speed, endurance, body strength, diet, nutrition, hydration, rest and recovery was high on the priority list. The social component in the four corners, talked about how outside influences can affect the progress of a young player.   Peer group pressures can impact in either a positive or negative way depending on the social network in which the youngster moves in.   The environment in which a young player moves in can have a positive or negative effect on the players learning.

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David Beckham; the right mixture of attitude and capability.

The mentoring of a young player can be a useful tool in his/her progression (see; Football Philosophy (Existential)) on this website. John Allpress ended his discussion by mentioning the 6 R’s of learning skills. Resilient players can learn to manage their successes and failures to their own advantage. Resourceful players search for knowledge by questioning and trying out inventive and imaginative methods to improve their game.   They take every opportunity to practice, experiment and consolidate new learning’s. Players should be encouraged to reflect on their own performances and find ways to improve.   To become their own ‘coach inside your head’ who is realistic and positive about themselves. Relationships with others is inevitable in the team game of football, therefore, the challenge is how to work effectively with your teammates both on and off the field of play. Finding out what is relevant to your own learning needs and being able to focus on attaining them as early as possible. Taking responsibility for your own football learning and trusting your own judgement in your advancement….. John Allpress followed up his lectures with several practical sessions in Auckland and Wellington using selected local youth players.

Below are further notes which I took from the John Allpress seminars:

This seminar explored Learning; how to create Learning Environments within coaching when concerned with Youth Development.   Coaches who always solve problems for athletes are focused on Short – Term solutions with Short – Term rewards rather than placing trust in athletes believing they are capable of developing these skills, which will ultimately lead to world class performances in the Long Term. The FA Academies have changed from the Adult Approach to being focused on what athletes Need to Learn, thus creating an environment that meets the Needs of the Players.   Interviews have been conducted with some of the worlds greatest football names, it was noted how South American and African players often come from a background of not being coached.   They just played the game and learned as they played.   Learning is ‘what you do when you do not know what to do’.   Many young athletes give up hope when they think that they have failed.   Failure is often linked to a performance result or to an Unrealistic Coach or Parent’s Expectation.

Werder Julio
South American footballers often come from a background of not being coached.

It is important for all concerned to realize that during development, performance moves in an upward and downward cycles, and that during difficult periods, Athletes Need Support from Parents and Coaches.   It is always easy to criticize athletes from the sidelines and some coaches ‘play the game’ for athletes by constantly shouting instructions but never letting the athlete Solve Problems for Themselves.

Football development is about problem solving and decision making.

Athlete development is all about problem solving and decision making; this is because Athlete Development is about Learning.   Learning is a Long – Term Process where mistakes and consequences of these mistakes are vital components if solutions are really going to be absorbed by the athlete. Coaches who always solve problems for athletes are focused on Short – Term solutions with Short – Term Rewards rather than placing trust in athletes, believing they are capable of developing these skills, which will ultimately lead to World Class Performance in the Long – Term.   THE COACHES GIFT:- To give players ownership and responsibility, plus time and opportunity, to practice and compete.   THE COACHES SKILL:- Design learning activities that are varied, challenging and fun.   THE COACHES CHALLENGE:- Skilful neglect, to allow athletes to learn as much as possible for themselves without interruption.   THE BEST PLAYERS DO MOST OF THEIR WORK AWAY FROM THE COACH.