For the third year running, I made the trip up to the National Exhibition Centre in Birmingham to attend the Grass Roots Football Show. This event is becoming an increasingly popular weekend in the football calendar both for coaches and players at Grass Roots level.
The show has a range of things to keep the customers busy during the day. There are coaching sessions, ranging from demonstrations from elite level coaches, to small sessions where youngsters attending can have a go themselves. There are seminars to debate hot topics in the game. There are then a vast array of stands for companies in the industry to show the latest equipment and hi-tech tools to assist players and help coaches improve their sessions.
In terms of the faces at the event, Robbie Savage has been something of an ambassador for the event for a number of years, and this year was no exception. Always keen to give an opinion, I sat in on an interview with him by Birmingham based reporter Tom Ross, and he came across really well, and he is always willing to have photos taken and sign autographs for young fans (and some older ones too). Also there this year were the former Hull City and Preston manager Phil Brown. Still sporting a decent tan, but thankfully not singing, I watched two of his coaching sessions, both were excellent and made a lot of sense, and I will definitely take some things from the sessions into my own coaching. It’s quite interesting watching coaches such as Brown, and others in previous years who have been sacked by their clubs and ridiculed in the press. In such a results driven and money oriented industry, it’s very easy to sit on the sidelines and criticise, when in reality, these guys are at the top of their profession and are very good at their jobs. Also interesting was that the players used in these sessions were one of the Stoke City academy sides, who were excellent in both attitude and ability. Again, those on the sidelines would point the finger at the likes of Tony Pulis and write him off as a direct, long ball merchant manager. No evidence of that here, plenty of ability and technique on show.
Also making a repeat performance were Coerver Coaching, who’s reputation is rising both in the grass roots and professional game. Their philosophy is based on ball mastery, and having first seen this two years ago at this event, I then went to complete their coaching youth diploma, and am attending the follow up “Play Like The Stars” course in a few weeks time. I’ve been impressed by the methods they use to improve technique in young players, and it seems more professional clubs are using their services in their academies (and included in the list, yes you’ve guessed it, Stoke City). I have also used many of their techniques with adult players as well – it is my belief that it’s never too young to learn and improve. For the second year running, Coerver brought along a young lad from the Newcastle United academy who has been taught using their methods, and is a shining example of how effective they are. I look forward to hopefully seeing him shine in the game in years to come, and for coaches in the game, particularly those coaching young players, taking part in one of Coerver’s courses will really enhance your coaching and ways to perfect the technique of your players.
The show is usually a bit deadly for me and temptation to spend on lots of football bits and pieces. Having recently lost my job, I had to be more careful this year, however there were plenty of things to test my resolve. It seems that the days of a coach taking a session with pen and paper in hand are gone, with an increase in the promotion of apps for tablet devices, prominently the iPad. The latest of these, Master Tactician Pro is a complete tactical application where you can effectively manage your team including match statistics. I remember from my days managing a Ladies team where they liked to have match reports on the website afterwards, so as well as making notes during the game I was also scribbling times of goals, chances, etc…. This can all be done on this neat little application, which also works in tandem with the iPhone and your laptop as well. I admit that I have downloaded the app, particularly as it was in special offer for the weekend and if you’re quick you may get it before the price goes back up.
Also on show was the i-Drills application which is more for the training ground, where you can create your own drills on your iPad, print out and share by email, and also has over 100 drills already included. I did resist buying this one, not because I didn’t think it was any good but I’d recently purchased a very similar (and more expensive!) rival app, so am going to stick with that for the time being, however for just a fiver the i-Drills app represents great value.
On display both on a stand but also in the coaching arenas was a new website for educating coaches on the way to deliver sessions which has been developed with the help of the academy at Premiership new boys Southampton. TheCoachingManual.com is a high quality video resource including videos of sessions, assistance with tactics and systems, psychosocial elements and sports science, plus Q & As and forum, everything a coach should need to help their development. One of the parts of learning how to coach effectively is to watch as many sessions as possible, and it’s not always possible to see professional clubs in action in this way, so this website provides an excellent resource. There are example videos to watch before paying the monthly or annual fee to gain full access, and I certainly intend to check it out this week. Having also gained help from the excellent Inside Soccer website, this may well be another must have for grass roots coaches.
A lot of the sessions at the Grass Roots show used a new device called Crazy Catch. A very simple idea, and the sort of thing that’s been used in other sports for a while, for example cricket, but this was the first time I’d seen it in action so much. Effectively, this is a ball trampoline, so allows the ball to rebound at pace and test the users ability to control the ball, or for goalkeepers to practice their handling technique. It’s such a simple idea, and I admit I wish I had this as a youngster going out to kick a ball around on my own. When I wanted to be a ‘keeper, it was frustrating when I had no one to shoot at me. One of these would have been great.
A couple of interesting seminars that are regularly at Grass Roots are provided by Bill Beswick and Tosh Farrell. The latter is an academy coach at Everton, and has been involved in the development of players such as Jack Rodwell and Wayne Rooney. He has a fantastic manner which engages the kids, but also is very good at developing technique in his methods which bear some similarities to the Coerver method mentioned earlier. It’s always a treat to watch one of his sessions. Bill Beswick is a sports psychologist who has worked with many leading teams in football and other sports in the world, more recently with Steve McClaren at FC Twente. His seminars are always interesting, entertaining and though provoking, and his stand has a range of books and DVDs to assist coaches and teams.
There were other stands as well, with the FA making an appearance for the first time, and also a new sporting social media site that I was aware of previously, Sporting Connect, developed by Rob Lovesey an amateur footballer and entrepreneur, and Brentford goalkeeper Richard Lee. I admit that the Watford connection with Richard means a hint of bias from me, and I did see him in Subway at the show but left him to eat his lunch, but as a resource for players, coaches and referees to find work or connect with others, it’s a great idea and is free to join.
An enjoyable weekend in England’s second city, and I certainly recommend the show for both coaches and young players. The numbers seem to be increasing every year, with complete teams turning up resplendent in their team colours, kits and tracksuits. I hope that more from the professional game take the time to go and take part, as Robbie Savage rightly said, every professional player and coach have come from some sort of grass roots set up, and it remains an important part of the national game.