Bluffers, Blaggers and Egos – my guide to how to spot a bad youth coach

I have been so busy promoting and writing my book ‘Losing my Spurs – Gazza, the Grief and the Glory’ that I haven’t had time to write any blogs. To be honest there hasn’t been anything that has really caught my eye enough to write about. Then a friend was speaking to me about his boy starting to play competitive football and how he was worried about the quality of coaching at that level and the dangers of being overcoached. I shared his concerns as I have always thought that some coaches do more harm than good and have often questioned their motivation. I did offer some advice, but when I thought about it afterwards, I felt I had not done a good enough job in explaining what to watch out for. So here is my guide to the Bluffers, Blaggers and Egos.

There are 3 different dangerous coaches to look out for:

  1. The Trophy Hunter

The first thing you should do when talking your child to a football club or to football coaching is have a conversation with the manager or coach. When you talk to the coach of your kid’s potential team if all they talk about is how many games they have won or how many trophies they have won then pick your child up off the ground, run to your car and get out of there! Winning trophies and matches is the by-product of successful coaching and it should never be the other way around. It should be all about how your child is progressing and whether they are enjoying their football. In my experience, the managers who are chasing trophies are doing it for themselves. They want the kudos of being a ‘successful’ manager and coach rather than developing children as footballers, the team is all about their ego, stay clear of these coaches.

2. Subbuteo managers

When you go and watch your child playing in a game, stand near the manager and just listen. If you hear words of encouragement to players who have made mistakes then you may be on to a winner. If what you hear is ‘Pass’ ‘Shoot’ ‘Kick it’ then stop the game, grab your child off the pitch, run to your car and go home! I can remember many years ago managing a Charlton Athletic academy team and we were playing against a top Premier League side and their manager was a well-known ex-professional footballer. He spent the whole game telling the kids what to do. It was like he was playing Subbuteo moving players around and playing the game for them. Obviously, they did well as he was a better footballer than the ten-year-old children on the pitch. It took everything I had not to do the same and to stick true to what I believed. We lost the game, but I walked away happy with the knowledge that the children in my team had developed in the game and were making improvements. Funnily enough, the first question I was asked by the Academy director afterwards was ‘What was the score?’ which made me chuckle. The problem with telling children what to do every time they get the ball is what happens when you aren’t there? I can tell you; you end up with a footballer who has no decision-making or problem-solving skills. In the game in question, there were times I could see the players in the other team waiting for the shout as they didn’t know what to do. If your coach is fairly quiet in the game other than encouragement but then talks to players afterwards in a two-way discussion about what they could or should have done in certain situations then you have a good one.

3. Bluffers and Blaggers

Other coaches to look out for are the coaches who just point out things that have gone wrong but with no advice about what to do about it. They would be the ones on a sinking boat shouting “Hole, there is a hole!’ at the top of their voice until they inevitably sink to the bottom of the ocean. You can spot these coaches and managers as they will be shouting things like, ‘Start winning your tackles’ ‘Stop losing the ball’  ‘Finish it’. These statements are no help whatsoever to a young footballer. They need hows, if they keep giving the ball away then coach them. Is their technique the problem? Are they panicking and need to calm down? Are they short of confidence and need building up? That is your job. If you are just pointing out problems then you are actually doing more damage than good as there is nothing worse as a player than having your faults constantly being thrown in your face but without feeling like you know what to do about it.

So hopefully this might help a few people in finding a suitable environment for their children to play, improve and enjoy their football as at the end of the day a smile on their face is the only thing that really matters.

Education – my part in its downfall (conclusion)

I am now onto the final part of my blog on the crisis in education in the UK. I have looked at parents, the children, the teachers and tests. In the last part I will be looking at the government and school management.

The government making decisions on education is like the queen running Asda. The government are all privately educated at the top schools in the country. They could not be more out of touch with education at state level if they tried. They make decisions based on their experiences at Eton and Harrow. They consistently ignore the expertise of people on the ground floor. They bring in new initiatives, jumping on every bandwagon and fad, desperately trying to garner popularity. They also lie! School cuts are crippling schools. Schools are being forced to cut costs at every corner. Subject leaders were given budgets to resource their subjects every year. Now they are being told there is no money. Experienced, outstanding teachers are unable to get employment as schools cannot afford their wages. This means schools are having to take risks on Newly Qualified Teachers. Don’t get me wrong many of these can be outstanding teachers but they need experienced teachers to learn from and be guided by. At my last school they were on a rolling programme of releasing staff due to cuts in their budget. As a result, at schools in the most deprived and needy areas, children with the most complexed needs are having the specialist staff that they need being taken away. Who now has to do their jobs? That’s right, teachers. Teachers who are already so overworked and stretched that they are leaving the profession by the boat load are now having to take on more work and responsiblity. So many things that were done by parents or specialist staff are being added to teachers’ workloads. Honestly, it is the children who suffer again as the quality of what they receive must suffer. Why did I say the government lie? Because while I was actually seeing this happening, the government were telling the general public that schools were not facing cuts. Lie. they were saying that there was not a staff shortage. Lie. They were saying that they were making reductions in teacher workloads. Lie. One of the ways they suggested reducing the workload- Putting on yoga classes during the school day! When I started the profession the staff room was where you learned a great deal from other teachers. Discussing issues and sharing ideas. Now staff rooms are empty as teachers work through their breaks to complete all the bureaucracy the government throws at them. Yet they think an hour yoga each day will make the difference!

I will now move onto the final problem. School leadership teams! I have always thought that anyone who wants to be a leader probably shouldn’t be one. Some of the people running our schools lack backbone and are too afraid to stand up for what they believe. They do not challenge what they are being told to do, and will follow every new initiative regardless of its value. It is not completely their fault as they have been left powerless by the authorities and genuinely fearful for their jobs. They concentrate only on passing OFSTED inspections and getting good results in their year 6 tests. There is nothing more dangerous than an SLT team sharing an office. Their workload is a lot less than the teachers they instruct, and they spend their time coming up with new ideas for their teachers to follow. More paperwork, more accountability more red tape. I remember one SLT member saying that there was nothing wrong with management at her school, the teachers were the problem. Made me wonder how they judged their own performance if not by how their staff performs. Was it about how tidy the school looks, or how many lovely folders they have. Imagine Gareth Southgate explaining that if the team loses it’s not his fault, he is still a good manager. His team sheet was very neat. They want clones as teachers, people teaching in the same style as they did. Teachers who do not conform are considered weak are put in special measures. When I was key stage leader, I had a good friend who was in my department. She was an excellent teacher but a bit on the “forgetful” side when it came to marking, planning etc. I would often remind her, but took the view that the most important thing was the education that the children in her class were getting. As she was an excellent teacher, they were getting an excellent education. The management team though were not impressed and were hounding her at every second making her miserable in her job. Then an OFSTED teacher watched her teach and told the school what an outstanding teacher she was and how they should be using her expertise more. The next day they asked her to help the other teachers be more like her. Literally 24 hours after having told her that she was not good enough! I am very pleased to say that she told them to stick their job and left for a promotion at a new school. Our loss, no, the children’s loss. As always. There are hundreds of these kind of stories I and others could tell. They have forgotten what the job was like when they were teachers and are oblivious to how teaching has changed. I hear conversations about how they could do everything when they were teachers so why can’t their staff. I can answer that one – IT IS NOT THE SAME! For all the reasons I have mentioned: IT IS NO THE SAME. They need to move with the times or move on.

It is not all gloom and doom. There are some schools who realise that we are in the midst of a crisis. They are genuinely looking at ways to reduce the workload. They are actively recruiting teachers, offering them incentives, realising that there are not enough teachers to go around. Extra time out of class, smaller class sizes, less marking, shared planning and less paperwork. They are recognising that there are lots of ways to teach and that children having a variety of teaching styles is a good thing. Valuing diversity. These schools need to be brave, not give in, believe in what they are doing. These schools unfortunately have to rely on money from outside businesses to make this happen.

I have now left the rat race and am an International teacher. I have more release time to plan exciting fun lessons. The children have specialist teachers teaching drama, music, PE and art in rooms designed for purpose. I have very little paperwork, less planning expectations, no marking policy, no display policy and yet my teaching is the best it has ever been. And more importantly, my children are making more progress than ever before and are happier and less stressed to. The behaviour is exemplary. And I might mention at this point that in the UK I have never been judged as anything less than good and in my final years as a teacher, with my added experience, the majority of  my lessons were judged as outstanding. I mention this just to show I am not an angry or frustrated teacher who couldn’t hack it in the UK! As an International teacher, I also have time to actually talk to them. Help to try and make them happier, confident more well-rounded people. The reason I went into education in the first place. If in a lesson they ask a good question I can go off task as there is no pressure on me to be a slave to the curriculum, a slave to the tests. When I am in front of the class I am not stressed or tired and as a result the children get the best me. Where do International schools get their model from? Private schools in England.

good leader vs. bad leader

Education – My part in its downfall

In my last years teaching as a primary school teacher in inner London I believe it is fair to say that there was a crisis in recruiting new teachers. When I started teaching back in 1999 if you needed a teacher you advertised, held interviews and then picked the best candidate. In the last few years, you either employed the only candidate and hoped that your doubts would be unfounded or carried on muddling through without enough staff to give the children the education they deserved. On many occasions you just kept re-advertising as there would be no applicants – good or bad. Not that there was a lack of qualified teachers, countless great teachers had left the profession. A teacher over 50 with a wealth of experience and knowledge is a rarity. When I started teaching, they were the people who you learned from and who kept the school on an even keel. The voices of reason.

At this point I should make it clear that, in general, I do not like teachers. I have not always been a teacher and feel like I lived a life before going into the profession. Many teachers went to school, left school then returned to school as a teacher. They have been in an education bubble and know little about many important things in the outside world. Like institutionalised prisoners. They have high opinions of themselves and have an inflated sense of their importance. They moan about how hard they work and can be anal about the most pointless of details. A staff meeting at a Primary school is like a scene out of The Office. Arguments about what colour folders they should have, how big a tick should be and what type of ruler to order. They can’t wait to criticise another member of staff and have an opinion on everyone and everything. They moan about policies behind closed door then follow blindly even when they know that what they are being told to do is flawed or worse still damaging (hands up on that one).

But… they are the most dedicated, hardworking and conscientious people you will ever meet. They take their work home with them and work ridiculous hours for no extra pay. They are passionate about their jobs to the point of obsession. If you were to go for a meal or a few drinks with a group of teachers (and if you are not a teacher, I do not recommend it) then the conversation is invariably about work. I have many other friends and the last thing they want to talk about is their job, unless they have a funny story to tell. But teachers will easily fall into the most inane conversation about phonics or resources or some other mundane feature of their working day. They take any criticism to heart unable to get past it. Many verge on insomnia unable to switch off from their work. They are stressed, guilt-ridden, tired-looking people, many are on medication. Their home lives suffer terribly from the demands that they and their schools put on them. Like nurses, doctors, firemen and the police force they are criticised and undervalued in equal measures. They, like education in the UK, are broken.

Reason 1- children

Today’s children have an ingrown sense of entitlement. They do not hear the word no nearly enough  and always feel like they are owed something. Let me give you some examples. I was coaching football for Charlton Athletic it was a free coaching course and every day the children (who had not paid a penny) were given a raffle ticket. When the week was finished, we had a draw and a child won a bike. The next thing we know the child is crying and the parents are fuming and kicking off. Why? The free bike is too big!

Another time, I was doing booster clubs for exams after school, for free, in my own time. The children were weeks away from their exams and in danger of not passing. The club was put on because we wanted to support the children as much as possible and their parents could not afford tutors. It was immediately after school, but half of the children turned up over halfway through the class, stinking of smoke. When I questioned them, I was told they had gone to the chippie. When I said that they should have come straight to the class I was told that I was lucky they were there at all! Their future not mine. Many had no respect for adults, each other or themselves. But it wasn’t their faults. Really. It wasn’t. They had been exposed to more in their short lives than I had in my lifetime. Through the internet, video games and sadly in their own neighbourhoods and houses. They had seen and experienced things that most adults shouldn’t see or experience. Many of them live in poverty. If you could break through their barriers there was still a nervous, wide-eyed child struggling to get out. In fact, that would be the most rewarding moment in your profession. Unfortunately, many never escape, too deeply entrenched – protecting themselves from their lives. The number of damaged children in our schools is growing year on year – meanwhile the people who used to help and support them are being lost to the profession. The first to lose their jobs as government cuts take their toll. Special needs teams are ravaged and fast disappearing in many schools. The very schools where they are more needed than ever.

I will pause here and continue this into my next blog. Where I will look at the other reasons why teaching as a profession in England is in peril:

  • Parents
  • Tests
  • The government
  • Management

As a note to give some balance. Obviously, I have generalised in this blog, and it is based on my limited experiences. There are some wonderful teachers whom I have encountered in my teaching career who can leave their jobs at the door and who I feel privileged to say are my friends. In the same way that there are many well-balanced, well cared for children who light up your days as a teacher. Worryingly the balance has shifted and continues to do so.

Schoolchildren Quotes. QuotesGram

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