Killing The Dribblers


Recently I took in a representative U12 training session held by 'elite coaches'.  One moment stood out for me during the session and inspired me to write this piece.  There was a seven aside game set up towards the end of the session, the coaches had based the entire session on possession based football up until this point.  The team in the yellow bibs were in possession and one of their players received the ball to feet in space.  The young player carried the ball at speed committing two opposition players and but for a last ditch challenge would have been able to release a team mate clear on goal.  This happened quite a few times during the session with various players from either side before the coach stepped in.  The coach emphasised 'using the easy ball' and highlighted the wastefulness of possession at the end of each dribble.  The coach highlighted the loss of possession as poor decision making and demanded more quality.  I couldn't help but stand there thinking to myself "why was he highlighting the player on the ball and not the runs surrounding him, I felt the decision to dribble in almost all the occasions I witnessed had in fact been a correct decision.  Play continued and sure enough both teams improved drastically at keeping the ball, but it had become possession without purpose. Situations where players had been in space with no progressive passing options and taken a decision to run with the ball were now replaced by situations where every single player on the pitch was looking for a pass without considering their surroundings whilst receiving the ball.  I couldn't help but wonder would the players be less afraid to dribble when circumstances dictated it to be the best option to do so had the coach highlighted the decision making of where and when to dribble when he had stepped in rather than solely focusing on the end result of the initial good decision to dribble.  


I recently got into a twenty tweet debate with a coach by the name of Danny Jones who is also a professional football scout according to his profile, unfortunately Danny has since deleted all but one of his tweets in what was a interesting debate.  Danny in his tweets went on a detailed rant about how kids should be encouraged to dribble and make mistakes in games, he felt by making mistakes over and over that eventually their decision making would evolve.  My point back to him was that kids should not be encouraged to do anything, I believe kids should merely be guided in their decisions.  The logic that simply allowing kids make mistakes over and over again until they eventually learn didn't make sense to me and got me thinking about a conversation I had back in 2016 with Albert Viñas Aliu who is the managing director of the Spanish football methodology Smart Football.  That methodology focuses on development of the football brain and has detailed scientific studies providing evidence of how kids learn.  I can remember one quote in particular that is relevant to my debate with Danny Jones.  When speaking to me about how kids take onboard information and learning that sticks Albert made the comment "If you want players to learn they need to make mistakes, but a football technician is a brain configurator who must know when, how, why and where to act.  If we allow mistakes to happen over and over without correction they become a habit, we must guide the decisions in such a way that it allows the player give each answer".  That quote probably sums up my argument in the debate with Danny.  I believe that yes allow kids make mistakes, but use the mistake to learn and do not expect the mistake to correct itself simply by allowing it happen over and over again.  I suppose a far fetched analogy of both sides of the argument would be:

SCENARIO 1:  If kids kept running across the road but sometimes get hit by a car, keep allowing them to do that until they figure out a better way to cross the road because sometimes they are getting hit.  (My thoughts on that are, sometimes the kids don't get hit so is learning really happening if there is sometimes success?)

  When a kid crossing the road gets hit pull the kid or his friends aside and ask them why they got hit.  Ask them what they feel the solution would be.  Who knows, one of them might press the traffic light button.  

And how does that analogy relate to dribbling in football?  The kids must understand why they dribble, where to dribble and when to dribble if dribbling is to become effective dribbling.  To refer all this back to the first paragraph I would say that the initial decision to dribble should not be faulted just because the end product failed, to use another analogy similar to above that would be like telling the kid who pressed the traffic light and crossed when the light went red he made a mistake to cross because the car still hit him.  Sometimes during a dribble the fault is not always with the man on the ball but in how team mates and their runs in relation to the dribble impact the outcome.  


Everywhere you look nowadays there is conditioned training sessions being run that involve limiting a players amount of touches on the ball.  We all know these conditioned games "two touch only boys or girls".  I believe conditioned games like these are counter productive to quality decision making in terms of the limitations they place on players.  Decision making of when to dribble, where to dribble and why dribble is a form of intelligence in the game, a decision taken away by such limiting games.  Training should not force decisions to be made in my opinion, training should in fact promote all decisions to be made with the end outcome being development of good decision making both through failure and success, we can learn from mistakes and success after all.  


There is an old saying on this side of the world that a player who always dribbles and takes players on with absolutely no thought process behind it or consideration for surroundings before that decision is made is known as a 'headless chicken'.  Those type of players are the most frustrating players to play with, ask any footballer and most will echo those feelings.  It is important we don't discourage dribbling from the game, but it is also important we begin to focus more on the decision to dribble.  The difference between dribbling and effective dribbling lays somewhere in the decision making of each scenario.  


It is important that running with the ball to create problems for defenders doesn't disappear from our game. Losing the ball following a decision to be positive in this way must not be seen as a failure if the initial decision to run with the ball was the correct one.  WHY, WHEN, WHERE.........Dribbling is a vital and very effective part of our game when understood correctly.