Whether to prioritise efficient fundamental movements before ball contacts with young players is an interesting debate. It’s one which former FA player development coach, Paul Holder, considered in his article Strictly Ballwork, which was published in The FA’s Insight journal in 2010.
“Traditionally technique development has revolved around repeating the point of contact on the ball, starting with no, little or restricted movement. This is still valid for those that need it, and cannot and should not be dismissed, but we really need to see technique as movement or movements, and good movement needs to be seen as essential to good technique” wrote Holder.
The point is, that for players to progress in the game – either at grassroots or professional level – individuals must have a mastery of agility, balance, coordination and speed as a base foundation in order to begin to provide the football responses to the game’s many varied demands.
Try and break down all the movement components needed to move into position and strike a volley from a diagonal ball and you will see how complex this can be for a young player.
“If players suffer with their technique, we may be tempted to go back to basics and this, more than likely, leads to a practice without movement and a focus on the point of contact. This could be a glaring error. Players can only execute effective techniques in a game if they have good agility, balance, coordination and speed (ABC’s),” added Holder.
“Striking a stationary ball might be different, but hitting that sweet spot on a ball that is shifting all over the place and at different speeds requires players to move efficiently, quickly and instinctively. I would replace ‘going back to basics’ with ‘go back to fundamentals’ (ABC’s) as it may have a completely different effect.”
What is not being proposed here is a return to military-style drill-like movement sessions or gym routines for Foundation Phase players. Instead there is an enthusiasm to recreate some of the informal play-like activities enjoyed by previous generations which helped build these fundamental skills.
The unique aspect of Sheffield United’s approach is that the methods being adopted to improve young players’ movement skills are child-like and age-appropriate. In short, they involve play.
“What we’ve tried to do is devise a movement skills programme which is multi-sports, play-like and creative,” explained Cox. “We encourage playground activities like wrestling, play-fighting and chasing. It’s built around everything that helps kids learn how to use their body. It doesn’t look like a sports science programme, it looks like play,” he added.
The England DNA demands that players possess a high level of skill and decision-making. The importance of a creative, robust and adaptable movement capability must not be forgotten. The exciting thing is that all of these things are right for development during the Foundation Phase.
To learn more about Foundation Phase DNA, click here.