The culmination of my first season in charge of the local kids’ team was to be a day at the Stockport Junior Blues 6-a-side tournament. It’s an annual thing held every July with some 200 teams taking part and one of the largest events of its type in the UK. It features teams ranging in age from U7-U16, many of who’ve travelled from all over the country.
As is standard with anything connected to City these days, it’s massive – loads of pitches, bouncy castles, hot dog vans…it’s a pretty impressive set-up to be fair. After arriving, dumping my bags and locating a few of our kids, I went to the registration tent where I was greeted by my co-manager. Our first game was due to start at midday, though he’d been there since about 10am. “Just been watching a few games!” That’s what he’s like.
He scanned the fixture list with a grimace. “Some good teams here today”. “Yeah.” “I think we should do things differently.” “Like what?” “Forget the mixed teams for the day…let’s go A and B.” This had been a bone of contention for some time, my feeling being that we are generally so crap, it makes no sense to try and split our lads according to ability. He meanwhile, is of the opinion that having clearly defined A and B teams will instil some sort of hierarchy, thus providing an incentive for the poor saps dumped into team B. Faced with a long, undoubtedly stressful day ahead, I couldn’t be arsed arguing the toss. “Okay then, whatever.”
According to the phone calls and texts received the day before, we had 16 ‘definite’ and a couple of ‘he’s ill…but I’ll see how he is in the morning’s. With us having to submit 2 teams, each scheduled to play 9 (NINE!) games – we desperately needed everyone to turn up. We ended up with 12, leaving my mate and I only 6 players each. No substitutes, then. Marvellous.
So my beaming co-manager (he’s really in his element today) gets his notepad out and frantically starts scribbling out lists of names and formations. Within a minute or so I get my half-dozen kids allocated. I’ve got the B team, naturally. I cast an eye over my charges and immediately alarm bells are ringing. God bless ‘em and everything, but this really isn’t looking good. Still, ‘hope springs eternal’ and all that. I put my manager head on and try to work out what’ll be the best way to get through this with minimal loss of dignity for all concerned – myself, the kids and the already irritated (the A and B team ‘plan’ hasn’t gone unnoticed) parents.
I get the lads together and explain that because we haven’t got a keeper, they’re going to have to take it in turns. Each match is only 5 minutes long but with 10 teams involved and all fixtures to be played on a single pitch, the wait between games is going to drag. I do my usual team talk, “try and stay focused…pass the ball…when you get near goal, have a shot…first to the ball… get your tackles in…it’s a hot day…plenty of fluids…try and go for a wee before the game, not during… just do your best…enjoy yourselves.”
We did alright in the first game. A hard fought 0-0 draw – but at least we kept some sort of shape and looked like we might do okay. “Well done lads, that was good. In the next game try and attack a bit…don’t just all stay camped round your own goal.” The team took the last part of this instruction to heart and this resulted in us adopting a revolutionary 0-0-5 formation. We got beat 7-0, meaning that on average, we’d managed to concede a goal every 40 seconds.
It was now about half two and we’d only played twice. The kids were bored out of their heads, it was boiling hot and their packed lunches had long since been devoured. Parents had lost interest and were either slumped in deckchairs with dead eyed stares or dutifully queuing for ice creams. I estimated that at best, it was another 4 hours or so before we’d be finished.
Finally, as 7pm neared, we were done. Our record for the day stood at played 9, won 0, drawn 1 and lost 8. Goals scored 1, goals conceded 26. What a fantastic end to the season. My co-manager’s verdict? “That was brilliant, wasn’t it?!” Resisting the urge to scream “NO, YOU FUCKING LUNATIC – IT WAS SHITE!”, I instead opted for something more conciliatory, “It’s all an experience for them, I suppose.” I consoled myself with the fact the kids were delighted with their medals (everyone gets a medal!) and I had a few weeks break from this nonsense.
Two weeks later, he was on the phone. “How do you fancy doing the FA Coaching Badge – Level 1? I think it’ll be good for us in our development as coaches. I’ve got the dates here, the club are going to pay!” “Erm…yeah okay, book us in.” The course was to be held a month later, 2 full weekends and 2 midweek evenings – not a problem as I had nothing planned, it wasn’t beyond the realms of possibility we might learn something and plus, someone had to keep an eye on him.
After asking around, I learnt that the course itself was a piece of piss. Part theory and part practical, bit of first aid, child welfare element, demonstrate a couple of drills…job’s a good ‘un. What I wasn’t prepared for was the fact that having not played properly for years, participating in the drills being demonstrated was destined to prove absolutely knackering. By 10am on the first day I had given up the pretence of showing off my limited football ability, it was simply a matter of keeping my breakfast down and trying not to pass out.
There are two distinct types of people doing these courses. Firstly you’ve got the bright-eyed, athletic types – young lads doing it to augment their studies, hopeful of making a career out of coaching. Some planned to go onto university, others to go travelling and get some work out in the US. This lot are there with drive, energy, focus, shin-pads and pencil cases – not merely sucked into attending by a snowballing set of circumstances that began with them being coerced into helping out their kids’ football team.
The other group then, comprised of shell-shocked, panting men in their 30s and 40s – beer guts, receding hairlines, questionable levels of fitness, each sporting a mish-mash of vintage, ill-fitting replica football gear. People whose Sunday mornings normally involve nothing more strenuous than a lie-in, reading the papers and perhaps getting dressed at some point. People like me.
The course turned out to be a good experience. Most of it was common sense, but a few useful pointers were picked up. The main thing I gained was a fuller appreciation and understanding of the use and application of multi-coloured plastic cones and bibs in modern coaching. The FA and their appointed tutors bloody love cones and bibs, simply can’t get enough of them.
Newly qualified, I was armed with the knowledge that if I stride around the pitch with a purposeful look on my face, placing cones and bibs at regular intervals, there’s a much-improved chance I’ll create the impression that I know what I’m doing – thus guaranteeing at least a modicum of respect from kids, parents and fellow members of the coaching fraternity. Satisfied with this development, I looked forward to the start of the new season.
Copyright Red News – February 2012
Doing It For The Kids – Part 1