Implementing the FAI Player Development Plan.
With the season now over for some parts of the academy, we can now reflect on how the FAI PDP plan was implemented accross our own games and the many others that we have observed from many club visits over the past eight months.
This season was my first in six years where I was part of the coaching team for u10s girls. Nicole my 17 year old daughter who has a PDP1 qualification had taken the team at the start of the season and I was the designated driver/assistant.
When the PDP plan was introduced by the FAI Ruud Dockter the FAI High Performance Director travelled the country with staff from the FAI hosting seminars on how the plan was to be implemented. The plan seen a new emphasis on developing better technical players from the younger age groups and introducing a unified coaching
philosophy as opposed to the win at all cost mentallity.
Pitch sizes combined with the number of players on the field of play were all now age appropriate with a gradual build up through the age groups to the full size game. Small sided games encouraging many touches on the ball was the starting point with U6 & u7s playing 4v4, u8/9s 5v5, u10s/11s 7v7, U12s 9v9 with offsides and u13s plus 11v11. Along with this there was a recommendation on sqaud sizes and the duration of players playing times on the pitch ensuring that all players regardless of ability were treated with respect and got a fair number of minutes on the pitch. At the younger age groups the pitch was divided into thirds and a retreat line was introduced in the final third to encourage the player in goal to start the play with a game related decision and a pass to his defenders.
A unified size five football was also to be introduced with a different weight per age group. This ranged from 290g u6/8s, 320gs u9s/11s, 370gs u12/14 into 450g regular weight at u15 and above. Initially this was a huge outlay and cost to all schoolboy clubs to roll out new footballs throughout their clubs with many having multiple teams at each age groups with meant a range of different footballs.
We as an academy and in conjunction with our sister club RFA Swans have adopted the PDP plan and have carried it out on a weekly basis with both our boys and girls section. Across the course of the season we have travelled to many grounds and in general the implementation of the plan has being brilliant. The pitch sizes can vary throughout and that can be for a number of reasons at each individual clubs including our own, but on 90% of occasions this is not an issue. Each club as the home teams provides the appropriate match ball and the roll off roll on substitutes have worked extremely well. There always seems to be players getting plenty of football.
The retreat line was introduced to encourage a new philosophy or way of playing into our players from an early age. The goalkeeper at the time is now encouraged to make a game related decision before performing a football action and playing a pass to either of his defenders. The opposition are allowed one attacker inside the retreat line to make it a 3v1 scenario (GK + 2 Defenders v 1 Atacker). Its our responsibility as coaches to encourage this as the correct way of playing regardless of the enevitable mistakes that our young players will make in the learning process.
Over the course of the season the referees or facilitators in charge have being fantastic. I have personally witnessed the referees bring both sides together at the start of some games and together with both sides identify the retreat line that's marked with a red cone and explain the rule to both teams pre match. However as a grassroots coach this is where my frustration beings. We have done so well to this point to put the plan in place, change the sizes of the pitch and playing squads, give players equal time on the pitch, identify a development phase opposed to the forementioned win at all cost, identify where the retreat line is and then bang! The first time the opposition keeper has a goal kick the defender is asked to kick the ball out, straight down the pitch as far as possible. Let me state this hasn't happened every week but between the boys friendly games that we have played and agreed that we were playing in relation to the PDP plan and our girls games it's definitely up at a minimum 75% where the plan goes out the window.
On numerous of occasions our coaches have being left looking at each other going what's that all about. Yes before anyone start's I get that it's none of my business on how other coaches at other clubs choose to coach or implement things on matchday. Maybe they are instructed by the club or its the clubs playing style to do what they do. For me they have taken away the opportunity for our front player to go about defending from the front in a 3v1 situation. You may argue that they are challenging our players in a different way, but I don't know too many u10s or u11s that fancy heading the ball.
This leads me to the question. Should the referee the man in the middle be asked to encourage the retreat line part of the PDP? Is encourage too soft of a word? If we are to develop technical players from a young age and we as clubs have bought into the PDP plan should the referees be asked to enforce the retreat line. My other question is why do coaches in charge of grassroots teams continue to have their players wallop the ball up the pitch from a goal kick? It's clearly for the fear of making a mistake, putting yourself under pressure and the unthinkable scenario of conceding a goal from your own goal kick.
Development football v win at all cost?
After all that the main point of the PDP plan that's getting all the focus at the moment is the calender football debate. Regardless what time of the year we eventually end of playing the quest to develop technical footballers will continue.
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As the dust somewhat settles on last Sunday mornings game in the MSL u12 Shield Final we can now reflect on what was another historic day for our sister club RFA Swans on the pitch. The Swans players, coaching staff, a crew of parents and supporters all descended on Willow Park FC in Athlone. The hospitality was second to none and the playing surface like the Aviva in pristine condition. Swans were up against Portlaoise, who we have played on a number of occasions this season both in competitive and non competitive games.
The game started brightly, with a quick tempo and an atmosphere of nervousness in the air. In the opening exchanges both teams struggled to get the ball down and the main form of attack was a direct ball over the top. This was actually causing both sides a few problems. Mid way trough the first half Swans got their first passing move going when Ava Cummins found captain Ciara Purcell who in turn found Abigail Molly, Abigail's shot just flew past the post. Portlaoise responded with a few chances of their own but Swans Keeper Rachel Flood stud firm. Katie Tully , Emily Pierce and Emily Mc Sherry were all working well and getting some vital interceptions and tackles in as the half developed and Portlaoise began to get a foothold in the game. However towards the end of the first half a fantastic block by Emma Manning who was just after being introduced as a change in the Swans defence saw the ball land to Purcell who slid a quality pass to Grace Daly. Grace's first touch was excellent as she headed towards the Portlaoise goal but her shot just went past the outside of the post. Portlaoise then played another pin point pass over the top of the Swans defence to their on rushing striker. Rachel Flood dashed from her goal to put pressure on, and thankfully the Portlaoise shot having trickled past Rachel's foot found the foot of the post. Half Time 0-0
The second half got under way in more or less the same fashion that the first had ended. It was increasingly looking like the one goal was going to win the shield for either side. Swans began to play with a bit more composure and started to get the ball on the ground and string some passes together. Portlaoise made a number of changes and it was soon after this that one of the players introduced took the game into her own hands. She picked the ball up in midfield and dribbled at and through the swans defence with blistering pace to find the bottom corner of the Swans net giving the girls from Portlaoise a huge boost and grip on the title. The Swans girls needed a response and as mentioned previously the change in approach soon paid off. Emily Mc Sherry out wide found Abigail Molloy, who passed infield to the skipper Purcell who played a ball over the advancing Portlaoise defender. Livewire Grace Daly raced on the ball and with the Portlaoise keeper advancing from her line Daly expertly lifted the ball over and out of the reach of the keeper into the net. 1-1 and scenes of celebrations on and off the pitch. The girls celebrated the equaliser with each other in great fashion. Coach Steve Cummins who is a lifelong Everton fan that has being clearly watching too much Liverpool this season raced down the like Jurgen Klopp fist pumping and embracing his fellow coach Ed Purcell.
With the score now level the last ten minutes were going to be a crucial. Again just like a boxing match both teams exchanged blows in terms of decent attacks and shots on goal. Our girls have had many battles this season and over the past few weeks have had a number of very competitive games in which they had to dig very deep. The game looked like it was heading for extra time until up popped goal machine Abigail Molloy . After some great work and a serious of passes on the right hand side of the pitch , Abigail picked up the ball, dribbled past two players before releasing that rocket of a shot at the Portlaoise goal. The keeper did get a hand to the shot but thankfully it was too hot for her to keep out. Heartbreak for Portlaoise, but unbelievable joy for the Swans as the ref blew the final whistle. History makers, Champs, and unbelievable celebrations. We at both the academy and our girls sister club RFA Swans pride ourselves on sportsmanship, respect and integrity. Our post match celebrations were put on hold until we shook hands and thanked our wonderful competitors and their coaching staff for an amazing game of football. We have build up a great relationship with Dave McCall and his Portlaoise side this season. As Steve eluded to in his post match comments, all the games between both sides are always heartstoppers and I'm sure we will have many more of them next season.
For our Swans Girls, coaches and parents we would like to congratulate you all on an amazing season. Steve Cummins and Ed Purcell have being brilliant all season long, friends, mentors, and quality coaches to the girls. We hope to see this side continue to grow and improve and most importantly continue to enjoy their football.
Swans Squad in Full. Rachel Flood, Emily McSherry, Ava Cummins, Katie Tully, Emma Manning, Zara Corroon, Ciara Purcell, Abigail Molloy, Grace Daly, Emily Farrell, Emily Pierce, Amy Leavy , Caitlin Reddin (u11s)
It's hard to believe that we are now half way through our last block of coaching for 2018. We can't believe that this year has flown by so quickly. We have had many activities that have being going on behind the scenes and we apologise for not being with you in a while. Here is a flavour of what has happened since we were last with you.
Our academy continues to grow and we have now eighty plus players on a weekly basis. Our current academy pathway looks like this. Mini monkeys 4-5 years of age, Academy Minis 6-7 years of age, u9s academy, development Sqaud up to u13 & premier squad up to u13s. We have now also introduced one to one sessions.
Many of our players are now also with league representative squads and a couple of our older boys went very close in the hunt for a Kennedy Cup place with various league representative sides.
In October a selection of our lads went to Glasgow. Our boys trained with international partnership club Celtic at Glasgow green centre and at the famous Lennoxtown. As a group we also attended Celtic v Hibernian on the Saturday. An entertaining game that Celtic won 4-2. Former Dundalk player Daryl Horgan stopped to take photos and sign autographs with our boys outside.
We will be busy for the remainder of the year finishing off the remaining weeks of the calendar year. 2019 promises to be a good one with an announcement due early in the year on the boys section but also I'm sure we will have a number of our premier squad players involved in u13 national League trials. The u13 national League kicks off in March.
Booking lines for all our programms for the new year will be open mid to late December. It's important for you to book early to avoid disappointment.
Remember you can contact us on email@example.com through our any of our social media apps or on 0872069383.
One would be forgiven for thinking that it was 12.30pm - lunch time in a school playground, rather than 8.30pm on a Tuesday night. In fact, the following were the exact words of a local Rochfortbridge lady as she spoke to me through the fence of the gaa Astro pitch:
"All we could hear was the laughing, and loud chatting at first; but as we got closer, our eyes were captured by the group of young women all in their pink uniformed training kits; this all looks very professional"
For inside that fence, our u17/18s Real FA Swans girls’ club side were hard at work. Zipping the ball around the now greasy surface from the due and mist that was steadily descending, our girls were barking instructions at each other in an impressively competitive environment. Each knew the consequence of losing and the embarrassing forfeit waiting for them - the topic of the jokes that provided a competitive edge to the game.
This particular group of girls have being with their coaches just over six years now. Yes, like all teams we have lost some players along the way, but we have always gained a few each season. Our leadership has not always being perfect, but as a group, we have a fantastic bond with all players, coaches, and parents. We are with each other three times a week and often arrange trips in and out of the country, as well as attending FAI Cup Final Days and Women's’ International Matches. Let's just say we have each other’s back.
Over the past number of weeks, it has become very clear that when it comes to schoolboy/girls’ soccer in the country or in the development of the game there is plenty of lip service and hot air floating around without any real substance. Self-serving people who hold a positions of authority emerge; these are people who like to use that authority to suit themselves and their agendas rather than looking at things with rational eyes and from a player-development point of view.
As a group, our girls expressed interest in playing Sunday football this year. This was for a number of reasons. Saturday part time work now comes into effect for many of our girls; with the work experience they are gaining from Transition Year placements, the employers are now giving them some paid work at the weekends. Furthermore, our girls finished second behind Athlone Town last season and apart from one other game versus Birr Town, we scored five or more goals in each league game. Athlone Town have since entered the U17s National League and have had a commendable season to date. During last season we turned up at another venue on a Saturday morning to be faced with eight players in the opposition. The opposition claimed that they didn't want to inform us of their inability to field a team on the Friday night in fear of getting a fine from the schoolboys/girls’ league. The final straw for the girls came during a home game. Having had a fantastic first half and playing some excellent football, shortly into the second half we were asked to blow the game up early as we had scored too many goals. As coaches we try and find a fair solution to this and put a restriction in place. It seems, however, that whatever you try to do you get ridiculed. We already had players playing in different positions on the pitch, and imposed a possession emphasis of ten passes. The game finished with ten minutes gone in the second half.
Innocently (and understandably) the girls asked why they were getting punished every other week for being the best they can be and for being well prepared? Young women they may be, but intelligent ones nevertheless. This is a question we simply can't answer. To top this particular weekend off, on the Saturday evening an email was sent to all club secretaries stating that a team in the league behaved in a very unsportsmanlike manner. What a farce.
As a club, we have had players participate in the Gaynor Cup competition, and we also had two Irish u16s trialists. Combining all of these factors and guided by our players who wished to stay together as a group and who wanted a higher standard of football, we decided to seek this higher standard of football for our girls.
We informed the current league that we were playing in about teams and age groups that we had intended to participate in the upcoming season. This would be our new u10s & u12s. We also stated in that same email that our u16s/17s will not be participating in the league in the upcoming season. We made contact with, and were accepted into, the new league in which the girls wished to play. Our girls individually filled out appropriate paperwork and made their payment; all was good to go and everyone was looking forward to the unknown but anticipated challenge.
Let me just state that we as a club or, personally as a committee member and head coach, we are not looking for sympathy, support or anything else from this article. We simply want to highlight how a clerical error, lack of foresight, and what a position that holds a little power can do in terms of potentially ruining a girls team or, at least, halting girls progression as footballers.
As the chairman of our small club I should have been aware that there was a procedure in place to leave the current league we were playing in. However this was not the case, and at no stage during the previous exchange of emails were we informed that there was paperwork to be completed for our u16/17s. We now find ourselves in the situation of friendly/development football for the year due to a rule we were unaware of and the league in which we played in last year having highlighted this to the FAI and thus blocked our move. Having had weeks of dialogue with the powers that be in the running of soccer in this country we are no further on and in limbo.
When we informed the players of what the league has done they were heartbroken. In fact they were adamant and as a group decided that whatever happens from here on, they will stick together as a group. I did mention earlier how much of a unit they were. They were also adamant that they would not be forced to play in a league that offered them very little by way of competitive football and player development. The parents of these kids who show huge commitment each week couldn't believe how negative and childish adults were being - all over a simple clerical error. This is definitely of a self-serving individual or a group of individuals who clearly feel under threat from a small club who carry out all of their dealings with ultimate professionalism with players’ development to the fore of what we do.
Colin Bell, the Irish Ladies’ manager said in his little promotion video before the game versus Northern Ireland, “ ...it’s 2018; everyone deserves a chance to play." He also said that he strives for excellence, development and trying to make the girls the best they can be, or something very similar to that. We echo the same sentiments and ideas, and have bought into the whole coach education by adding a UEFA B coaching accolade to our portfolio of Continuous Professional Development.
At the end of it all, the statistics dictate that not many of these girls will be international footballers. However as coaches, we have a duty of care to help them excel, and reach whatever level they can. We also have a duty of care to them to keep them involved in the game for as long as possible, especially when the drop off rate at this age group seems to be rising each year.
Again, I'm just looking to make people aware of the pitfalls that unfortunately reside in grassroots soccer in this country. We as a club have learned from our lack of knowledge - of not knowing about a simple procedure that could at any stage have been pointed out to us. In the wake of recent events, however, one could be forgiven for the view that this nugget of information was not passed on to us for a reason. As this goes to press we are still left in limbo and await clarification from the FAI on where we stand now. The fact remains these girls are being denied the chance to play football in their own country at a standard they deem suitable to match their ability.
Nicole's Man City team emerged victorious a few weeks ago in out first u8 academy futsal blitz. Our competition was played out over four weeks and involved 48 players from our academy minis and a few from our development squad. As coaches we were delighted to see the young players get to grips with and eventually master the futsal ball which they were not used to. We seen many spectacular goals, saves and tackles during the course of the competition. Like the world cup that's just now a day away there were a number of stand out individual performances. However it was the whole team aspect that each group adopted for few weeks that was most pleasing. We hope that all our players and parents enjoyed the competition, we thank you for your continued support and hope to see many of you again in July.