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Positive Coaching for Grassroots Football by Craig Brown

The press in Scotland are whipping up their usual frenzy about the state of our game following some recent disappointing results from the national side and our club sides in European competition. Over the years the press in England have been even more scathing of any under-achievement by your teams south of the border.

We all bemoan the perceived technical inferiority of our homegrown talent when compared with youngsters from Spain, France, Italy, South America and the emerging African nations. Now I, for one, don’t believe that things are half as bad as the media would have you believe but nor do I believe everything in the garden is rosy.

By the age of 14, 70% of youngsters in Britain drop out of sport completely. Putting aside the obvious health implications for “sick man of Europe” this has to be worrying for our national game. Without a broad base of participants playing and enjoying football we will never be able to produce world-class players with the regularity that all of the home nations have in the past. Today’s children have every conceivable distraction to compete with sport and football amongst others seems to be suffering at the hands of technology.

The sedentary lifestyle that computer games and TV encourages is a real concern especially when many youngster would rather play sport on their Sony Wii than actually get outside and play the real game!In today’s society, more and more of the time that our young people spend playing football is in a formal context (within clubs). Very little time is spent in unsupervised “jackets for goalposts” play, where my generation honed our skills before being introduced to teams, strips and leagues.  As football people, we must ensure that ever experience that our youngsters have is a positive one and that future generations are free to enjoy football in its new more structured form.

Studies have been undertaken and our children tell us that the reasons they play football are: fun, scoring goals, being with pals and competing. Tellingly, they don’t mention winning as one of their main reasons. Too many dads and coaches forget this and their entire focus is on winning the game, the league or the cup. This win at all cost attitude reveals itself in dreadful touchline behaviour from coaches and parents alike, abusing referees, lambasting children as young as 7 or 8, cheating, excluding the less gifted players and, on occasion, physical violence between opposing teams’ supporters. Is this the environment in which we want to introduce our next generation to football? Surely not!

In my homeland the Scottish FA have recently launched a project with an organisation called Positive Coaching Scotland with a view to irradiating these negative experiences from our game and making football, sport and society in general, better. Tommy Boyle, the world famous athletics coach is one of the ambassadors and believes passionately in the programme.

The SFA are piloting a series of workshops instructing the key influencers in a young person's life (namely parents, teachers, coaches and leaders) how to coach sport 'the PCS' way. PCS is a cultural change programme designed to create a positive environment for young people in sport, by teaching them to:

  1. deal positively with mistakes
  2. improve personal performance
  3. foster a competitive, but fair, sporting mentality
  4. appreciate the value of effort and learning

I believe that this is a fine initiative and the Football Association south of the border are also working hard at educating those involved in the grass roots game. Their recent RESPECT campaign featuring actor and (West Ham fanatic) Ray Winston is a brilliantly cutting piece of work and every kid’s coach should be encouraged to watch that advert prior to taking his team to play a match.

As a grandfather with a ten year old taking his first steps into the sport that I have loved over the last six decades I am backing the hard work of both of the FA s. I would encourage everyone involved in the grassroots game to think seriously about what messages we send our next generation of players and hope we can leave them a legacy of fun, health and joy that this great game of ours can give. We owe them nothing less!

Please check out both of these web links:



Craig Brown

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