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Tuesday, 29 November 2016 10:17

Development Debate/Will Henry Blog

There have been a number of articles I have read recently on youth development within the game and it certainly divides opinions.

One day I read about how winning wasn’t important it was all about the young player learning without the pressure of having to win. The very next day I read an article about how we are perhaps developing players without the mental toughness and know-how of how to win games and be successful.

I’m not actually sure there is a right or wrong, I think there needs to be some middle ground found to develop both sides to a player. Football aside, life itself is very tough if you think about something as simple as when you reach your late teens and you apply for a job.

You may experience a feeling of hope when you get an interview, yet you are competing against others for the position, you need to be better than them to get that job. Then there is the jubilation if you are successful and get the job, beating others. The flipside being if you don’t get that job you experience disappointment and maybe sometimes question why “so & so” got that job over you and suffer self doubt.

Take that back into football and when the whistle blows to start a game, your objective is for your team to score more goals than your opponent and win the game. If you win you will have positive happy feelings and if you lose you will have that feeling of disappointment.


Whether its grassroots football or academy football there will be coaches, managers and parents who all have different agendas as to what they want from the player and/or the team and this can bring different kinds of pressures on the player. Is it a team coach wanting to see their side top of the table when they pick up their local paper? Is it an academy coach pushing to get a player through the system to stand a chance of becoming a professional? Is it a parent who wants their child to be the next Ronaldo/Messi?

Perhaps some elements of this pressure are needed to instil a drive or hunger in a player, to get them to work hard to achieve an end goal. Every person is different and some will thrive in this environment and some will struggle and lose enjoyment and be put off the game. It’s not easy trying to cater for all.

If as a coach you try and take the pressure away by explaining it’s not about the winning it’s about players experimenting, trying things out in training and games in particular to get better and develop the player may well thrive in this environment and go on to become a better player. However there may well be those that lose interest if mistakes are made and their team is getting beat more than winning.

I am just trying to play devil’s advocate here because there are positive and negative aspects to both ways hence finding some balance somewhere between the both is the key.


I recently went to watch a grass roots game which involved two young goalkeepers at my goalkeeping school up against each other. I stood quietly in the corner of the field out of the way and watched the coaches of the teams and the goalkeepers themselves.

At one end “Goalkeeper A” was taking his own goal kicks, at the other end “Goalkeeper B” wasn’t, the centre back was “kicking” it up the pitch as far as he could! Also “Goalkeeper B” when he had the ball in his hands got the shout from his coach “Big Kick” on a handful of occasions. Watching this unfold it was interesting to see there was no variation to how the team tried to get up the pitch. Watching the “Big Kick” though it was clear to see that more often than not with the positions of his team mates, with the rushed nature of the distribution, the opponents would more often than not win the ball back and be on the attack.

Perhaps with more variation which stems from the coach a mixture of playing out from the back and at times delivering a longer pass (notice how I’ve used the word pass rather than kick....) may have provided a more rounded learning environment for not just the goalkeeper but all of the players.

If it’s deemed “Goalkeeper B” can’t get as much distance as the centre back, firstly is the coach helping that goalkeeper in their team sessions to develop this aspect of his game. Secondly by trying to set the team to play out from the back the goalkeeper can actually be involved in the process and the outfield players learn more about positioning, making space, offering different angles of support and develop by getting better on the ball in tight situations so they all benefit.

Both ways, playing out and “kicking” it long have positive and negative aspects but being able to do both will make better more rounded players. Perhaps one way to achieve the development side and the winning side if we relate this back to the topic of winning against development would be to batch a group of matches with a particular theme.

What I mean by this is that perhaps for matches 1-4 the coach says the focus of these games is to “win them” but for matches 5-8 the focus is on “experimenting and practising” aspects of the game they have worked on in training and explain it’s not a problem if they don’t go right and the team lose the game thereby taking the pressure off them. This way the players will experience both sides to the game.

It’s a difficult one and I’m sure these differing debates and articles will continue for a long time!



On the theme of development it’s great news that Swindon Town’s young goalkeeper, Will Henry has been invited to St George’s Park to be part of an England Goalkeeper training camp. Funnily enough, if you look back to my last blog in September, I stated then that I would be amazed if he wasn’t on the England radar! (Anyone want to know the lottery numbers this week LOL)


When I was at Swindon I was looking for a scholar goalkeeper and looked at around 7-8 goalkeepers as triallists. Some were simply not up to scratch for the level we were looking for, a couple were very close but I was sold the day Will walked in. We were fortunate that I got tipped off that Bristol City were allowing Will to leave. It was a strange scenario at Bristol City as the first team goalkeeping coach, the academy goalkeeping coach and the academy manager at that time wanted to keep him but one senior member of the staff at the club felt he wouldn’t make it as a professional and over-ruled the others saying he should be let go.

Straight away not just the way he was in goal stood out but how driven and committed Will was as a person. At the time Tim Dittmer from the FA was in one day with me as part of my Advanced Youth Award and I said to Tim then that this young man had a great chance of developing and making it.

When Will was thrown in to make his football league debut against Rochdale away as a scholar, the thing that stood out for me was that he wasn’t fazed in the least by it; he was actually excited and thrived on the pressure. His performance that day penalty save aside was outstanding for a young goalkeeper and I mentioned again that he should be on the England radar at the very least.

I already felt before that game Will was heading in the right direction to earn a professional deal and off the back of that game I recommended to the Sporting Director that we offer him a deal because at that time other clubs could have easily snapped him up for a relatively small figure of around 10k.

Once again the next game at home to Shrewsbury on the final game of the season in front of a much bigger crowd saw Will play with great maturity and composure showing once again nothing fazed him. Since my departure in the summer Will has continued his development at Swindon under Dean Thornton and done well in the games he has played and I’m not at all surprised. Not only does Will work hard in training, he’s in the gym on days off developing his body physically to cope with the demands of senior professional football and everything he does, he does in a professional manner.

He is a very respectful humble person yet has a self confidence and a passion/desire to succeed in the game and I’m sure he will. He still sometimes coaches for me at Steve Hale Goalkeeping School and he does so with great enthusiasm and is a good role model for the young goalkeepers who love having him with us and he also shows signs that long term he could also become a good coach as well!

Having spoken to Tim Dittmer (who heads up the national youth goalkeeping) this week he has been impressed whenever he has seen him play and its fantastic for Will to be recognised. His next step will be trying to force his way into one of the national squads and knowing Will he will be doing all he can to achieve this!


So from everybody at Steve Hale Goalkeeping School we wish Will all the best this week at St Georges Park, I’m sure he will gain a lot from the experience.



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