One thousand touches of a ball in 30 minutes.
Inside of the foot, outside of the foot, volleys with the laces, control with the thigh, chest and even head.
In 30 minutes Scotland manager Gordon Strachan demonstrated the value of a footballing philosophy that encourages contact with the ball and unstructured training.
Watching young footballers train at an academy session Strachan was shocked by the lack of ball contact. From his car he saw players stationary, standing in lines waiting for a chance to touch the ball, or being talked to by coaches. He didn’t see players spending enough time with the ball.
By his estimation some of the young players touched the ball less than 100 times in 30 minutes.
Returning home he got a ball, put on his training gear asked his wife to let him know when 30 minutes were up and then went to his garage to kick the ball against a wall.
When his wife called time he had completed 1000 touches with the ball.
This simple story illustrates the value of unstructured play when young players get the chance to have plenty of touches with the ball – potentially many times more than they do at some club trainings.
It also highlights to coaches that they need to create dynamic training sessions that ensure time is spent developing players.
Finally, any session that is slow kills enjoyment. Young players have plenty of other things they can do with their time. Enjoyment comes from overcoming challenges and improvement. The role of the coach is to help make a player better. That comes from instruction and time with a football.
Mastery of the Ball
Reviving the fortunes of the Scottish national team is the focus for Strachan.
Once perennial FIFA World Cup qualifiers, Scotland appeared in every World Cup Finals between 1974 and 1990. The Tartan Army will hope that the former Manchester United and Leeds midfield maestro is able to get them back on the world stage in 2018.
Strachan has a simple message for young players.
“Nobody taught me to control a ball or pass it. All you need is a ball and a wall.”
Learning to watch and anticipate the spin of the ball and control it with one touch is essential according to the Scotland manager. There is only one way to master the ball and that is to work with it.
Strachan cites the Barcelona mastermind Andres Iniesta as the player to watch when it comes to demonstrating game intelligence – the ability to use the ball at the right time in the right way.
Linked to intelligence is Iniesta’s bravery and supreme confidence. By leaving his decision to the last moment (something that Chris Waddle mentioned in our recent blog) Iniesta creates opportunities. He is prepared to take the risk that he will lose the ball.
However, such is his mastery, even though he takes risks to produce creative play, Iniesta rarely loses control or puts his team in dangerous situations.
The third pillar of the Strachan philosophy is simple – hard work.
The Japanese dead ball specialist Shunsuke Nakamura is the standout for Strachan in this regard. His work ethic for Celtic was something to be marveled at.
After playing a full 90 minutes, Nakamura would come off the pitch, listen to feedback from Strachan, change out of his match kit and then complete a 45-minute weight session. This attitude made the Japanese striker a legend at Parkhead during his time in Glasgow along with his ability to score spectacular goals from distance.
Keeping the focus on football allowed Nakamura to take advantage of his abilities to be the best that he could be.
This attitude is not the exclusive domain of professional footballers.
A professional attitude doesn’t require money. Rather, it requires belief and desire.
The goal for Top Flight Football Academy is to unlock and build this attitude in all of its young footballers. There is no substitute for commitment and hard work.
To hear more fascinating insights from Gordon Strachan listen to his interview featured on the Big Interview with Graham Hunter podcast.
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