It was a cold wet Saturday morning and my son could be heard shouting from downstairs "dad, are you ready yet it's time to go". It was Bradley's very first day training with his new football club and the excitement was very evident on his face. Bradley was headed to training for an under U9's side and was practicing for weeks.
That morning was one of the biggest eye openers I've ever had and it came with one short question as the coach greeted myself and my son. "Hi Bradley how are you mate, what position do you play then kiddo?". At under 9's the kids still play small sided games so the question was even more confusing to comprehend when I look back on it now days. Here was a thirty seven year old coach, Uefa qualified and with a well renowned reputation asking my eight year old son what position he played in?
Now you're probably thinking what's the problem, what did the coach do wrong?. Well the answer in my opinion is the coach didn't do anything wrong, but for a coach within development to be asking an U9's player what position he played? that for me underlined a problem many are not addressing within development football and one my son learned as the years went by. Why are some coaches letting kids pick and choose positions and why are some coaches limiting kids to positions, especially in an age where street football is not nearly as popular. It got me thinking about a legendary Johan Cruyff quote I remember reading, Cruyff said "I let all youth teams play the same way, like the first team. I always put the emphasis on learning. Sometimes I had the suspicion the youth coaches were more concerned with winning. They cared more about their own reputation. I cared only about the interest of the club. When a player with talent couldn't defend I put him in defence so he could learn, but that could cost a point. But I didn't care, I was busy developing the player."
That U9 season Bradley played up front, he scored goals for fun in a very talented young side. The next four years was more of the same, goals and pace combined on show weekly. Bradley was scouted at the age of thirteen for a well known Premier Division Academy. Quick, nimble and born to score goals is how his uncle once described him. By age fifteen Bradley began to struggle. Physically Bradely had grown quite a bit, he just shot up within a short space of time, he was just shy of 6 foot and for a kid had developed into an imposing figure. Bradley was no longer lighting quick but he was much stronger. Bradley was moved into central midfield for the U15 of ******* Football Club. In the previous season the goals had dried up and he had lost his spot in the side towards the end of the season.
The downward slope continued during that U15 campaign, Bradley began the season in the side but looked lost from the get go. Midfield was new to Bradley and defensively his game was lacking, Bradley after all was always a pacey forward who scored goals, this midfield role was not suited to his game at all. Bradely eventually asked for an opportunity to play up front later that season, but it just wasn't happening. He was not the same nimble young pacey boy he had been. By U16 Bradley was back playing with his friends for his local side in Tamworth. He had been released from the academy on the basis that he needed to improve a variety of aspects to his game, he had fallen so far behind other kids at that level. The release has a hard one for Bradley, he even quit the game for a couple of seasons by seventeen.
Now days Bradley still plays Sunday league, his journey to making it as a pro got no further than U16 academy level. To this day I help out with bringing Bradley's son 'Leon' training. I made it my business to be the one that dropped him to his very first session with his new team and even gave him a little pep talk in the car on the journey there. I remember the coach asking Leon "where do you like to play kiddo?"....Leon didn't hesitate for one second with his answer as I nodded his way "I'm happy to play anywhere, enjoy, listen and learn sir". Leon has played a variety of positions already this season, he is enjoying his football which is most important, but enjoying it in an environment and circumstances where the game is teaching him, the game is developing him, whatever standard he desires to play at when he is older this kid will have all the tools to achieve his ambitions.