The Ongoing Quest to Successfully Engage today’s Young Soccer Players

George Best street soccer

George Best – the Picasso of his day.

Last week, I came across the work of Sir Kenneth Robinson for the first time. Sir Ken Robinson, PhD is an internationally recognized leader in the development of creativity, innovation and human resources in education and in business.  He is also one of the world’s leading speakers on these topics, with a profound impact on audiences everywhere. The videos of his famous 2006 and 2010 talks to the prestigious TED Conference have been viewed more than 25 million times and seen by an estimated 250 million people in over 150 countries.

He has devoted a large part of his life to the study of creativity. He believes, like the famous artist Picasso that we are born with creativity and as time goes on it is educated out of us. Picasso made the famous quote that “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.”

Sir Kenneth has studied our current education systems and argues that they are not servicing the requirements of today’s youth. Many children are dropping out early and many others are requiring medication, just so they can pass through today’s education system. He proposes a new way forward for education, which would be designed to inspire the creativity of our youth and keep them actively engaged.

What relevance do these ideas have for developing young soccer players? Well, we face a similar problem. Here is a frightening statistics for youth sport in North America: over 70% of young athletes are leaving sports in North America by age 14.  (Source: US Youth Soccer). They are quitting for the following reasons:

  • Lack of Playing Time
  • Overemphasis on Winning
  • Other Activities are more interesting
  • Lack of Fun
  • Coaching/Adult Behaviors
  • Dissatisfaction with Performance
  • Lack of Social Support

Typically, we don’t notice this as they are replaced by a greater number of Under 3 players the following year.

Are we duplicating the same mistakes in our current education systems? Are we only offering rigid, linear development systems which young players pass through, based on their age? Are we coaching creativity out of our young players so they don’t wish to play anymore? Last week, Wayne Rooney spoke of how he wanted to stop playing at age 14 because they (Everton Football Club) asked him to play a different way. He was a young boy who loved the game and was very good at it. The good news is that he was talked out of quitting by Colin Harvey, a senior coach at Everton. However, how many other creative players, like him, have been lost to the game?

Not every young player will go on to play as well as Messi and Ronaldo but surely we have a duty as coaches and parents to stimulate their senses so they, not us, can find out how good they can be.

At the moment, I’m looking at the rapid growth of street soccer and futsal in Europe. I am seeing very dedicated and creative young players practice the latest freestyle skills and demonstrate outrageous plays when they play futsal. It makes we wonder if both are a better avenues to remove the pressure on young player’s in todays structured academy environments. Street soccer and futsal both develop creativity by placing less adult restrictions on young players. They can and will practice for hours with a ball to learn a new move. The young players also seem more able to transfer these new skills into street soccer and futsal games, than regular youth games.

Is it because both street soccer and futsal provide young player’s with an unstructured environment, on their own terms with less direction from adults where they are left more to experiment and improvise? It is said of today’s generation that they are overwhelmed and inundated with information and with choice. The result is that it can be more challenging to successfully engage today’s generation and over  long periods.

What I propose is creating more environments where creativity can be encouraged and nurtured.   Environments where young players are inspired and want to learn to get better. When I was growing up, I was inspired by watching George Best – he was the “Picasso” of the soccer world then. Today’s young players are inspired by Messi and Ronaldo –  they are inspired by both and want to be like them. Not every young player will go on to play as well as Messi and Ronaldo but surely we have a duty as coaches and parents to stimulate their senses so they, not us, can find out how good they can be.

I don’t have all the answers but surely we must be looking outside the traditional soccer learning methods in order to achieve this.


Resources: Watch  Sir Kenneth Robinson’s video presentation on “Do Schools kill Creativity?”

Creativity and letting players solve problems

INDIA-THEME-FOOTBALLWhen I started 1v1 Soccer in 2000, my main aim — one I haven’t changed, by the way — was to provide young players in North America with training and learning experiences similar to leading soccer nations.

During that time we have studied training models in the UK, Brazil, Spain, Holland, Germany and Italy. My main metric has always been how many players we have successfully prepared to move to higher levels of play and the goal remains to have some of our players signed by our partner club, Wolves FC in England or other professional clubs in Europe or North America.

Recently, I came across an article online by Gary Allen, of the Virginia Youth Soccer Association, outlining what he believes is the “stifling” of development for players in North America. Allen talks about many of the challenges that we have identified as impediments to young players in North America developing to world class levels:

1) Fast-tracking players to “play up” age-groups

2) Asking players to limit development to playing in specific roles using skills they are already strong at

3) Placing players too early in competitive environments where they cannot take risks

4) ID decisions being made at young ages to exclude the majority of players

Allen argues that by placing young players in competitive environments too early we are identifying players as young as 8 based on a perceived set of skills based on the “now.” The problem with this approach is two-fold. A lot of other players are then excluded from that early age from the best development and coaching opportunities. This is similar to what Malcolm Gladwell outlined in his number-one best seller Outliers-The Story of Success.

Gladwell argued that in youth sports players born in the early part of the year are typically selected ahead of other players born later in the year due to their earlier maturation of development (for example, the difference between two children, both technically “age 9” but one born in January and one in September, can be huge) and that this separation at an early age means that only a small number (the ones born in January, February or March) received access to the best training programs, with longer hours and the best instructors.

Allen outlines that the second problem with this approach is that if players are selected at age 8 because they are faster and stronger than the other players, then they will be expected to keep developing and using these attributes only, at the expense of developing other parts of their game. When promotion and relegation issues are at stage in youth sports or ensuring that teams are accepted into the top leagues, the individual player’s joy and passion for the game soon takes a back (and in many cases a permanent ) seat to the overall goals of the team.

I have mentioned elsewhere the opposition many players and parents put up when coaches ask players in North America to play different positions or consider playing within an age-group which may be a year younger. This can be a problem even when the players are enjoying greater success by improving learning or their overall confidence. It is not “conventional” and therefore not easily embraced.

As Allen points out our culture in North America does not allow the “failure” required to learn at any age or stage — immediate success must always be achieved. Remember, the traditional competitive team system in North America has not, as Allen argued, helped produce even one truly world class player in 30 plus years, amongst a population of about 300 million, if you combine the US and Canada.

So what are the solutions?

First of all players must be taught the joy and passion of the game. A coach in BC named Rick Gruneau recently sent me an email speaking about some of the differences he had experienced when he spent a week at the Spanish club Espanyol, in 2010. He asked the coaching staff what the two most important things were that they taught in training, the answer was immediate, though, for a North American, surprising: “Joy and technique.”

Joy because, as the coaches put it, “We are a small club (compared to Barcelona and Real Madrid) and these players are precious investments for us. Every time a player burns out or leaves the game we not only feel that we have failed the player, we lose our investment in him.” And technique, because soccer is “primarily a game where the challenge is to exercise the best technique possible under pressure.”

Rick went on to recount his amazement at the “joy” in training sessions when even in the most competitive training there was a lot of laughing and mutual back patting, where players would spontaneously break into applause when another player did something out of the ordinary technically. It was not something he had ever experienced back in Canada.

Technique+Game Intelligence=Success

pep guadAs young players advance in the game, it is important that they start learning game intelligence and combining this with technique. When they start playing at ages as young as 4 or 5 the more athletic and skillful players enjoy early success at simply running with the ball and going past players either with skillful moves or sheer speed and determination. They are too young at that age to think about sharing so their runs with the ball generally have two outcomes — they run into a mass of opposing players and lose the ball or they end up scoring a goal.

Unfortunately, due to the prevailing attitude of many well-intentioned coaches and parents, goal-scoring in this scenario is considered the only way to measure success on the soccer field, so it is rewarded and praised without proper attention being given to other technical aspects of the game.

Good technique is a base requirement but what will really determine how far our players will go will be their ability to consistently make the right choices and create solutions on the field.

Between the ages of 6-10 young players should learn and experience group behavior. It is an important step for them socially to help others around them and accept being helped by others. During this stage of development they should also begin to understand sticking to assigned areas of the field and the importance of being rotated through different positions so that they begin to learn all aspects of the game. Again, within the model of measuring improvement solely via goal-scoring as described above, being assigned a defensive role on a team is often seen as a “punishment” or “a place to put weak players.” As coaches we need to fight against this.

Around the same age, however, we begin to see pronounced differences in the technical ability of players, and funneling these players into more elite programs. Personally, I believe that this is too young, but certainly in North America it is at this age that young players begin to receive additional training and the first separation from their peers via the streaming process of “rep” and “select” takes place.

But what qualities do the world’s top clubs look for when evaluating young players? They generally begin to consider players as young as 7 but cannot invite them into formal training programs until the U9 level (that is, at the age of 8). Spain has been the leader in recent years with respect to youth development. During my trip to the top-flight Spanish club Sevilla FC in 2011 they confirmed that they look initially for good technique and pace.

They then look for young players who understand the game. On the field, are these kids looking around at all their options? Can they make intelligent runs into open space? Can they make correct choices when to dribble and when to combine with teammates? These same qualities are highly prized by our partner club in the UK, Wolves FC, although they will generally pay greater intention to the physical characteristics of players, as in England the physical demands on players are generally much higher than in Spain.

According to the English FA’s Technical Guide for Young Player Development — The Future Game, young players of the future will be required to release the ball accurately and instantly over a variety of distances using both feet and on any surface. A quality first touch will be critical as will the ability to operate successfully in congested areas with speed and precision. Retaining possession will be a key feature of play for Elite players and so will possessing the “craft” to disguise techniques and “out-smart” their direct opponents.

The ability to exchange passes quickly and accurately with teammates on a consistent basis will increase in importance as a player gets older, rather than repeatedly taking players on in 1v1 attacking situations. As players mature they will have to demonstrate their ability to decide what to do and when to do it within the demands of game situations.

If all of this sounds like too much “theory” just consider the success in recent years of the Spanish national men’s team —winners of the 2008 and 2012 European Championships and the 2010 World Cup. Every player on the team, regardless of his position, has a flawless first touch, knows how to move the ball quickly, makes sound, quick decisions in all phases of the game and is willing to combine all these qualities with his teammates to form a team that is the only one in soccer history to have won three major titles in a row.

Taking all these factors into consideration, we have put technique at the cornerstone of all our programs. Good technique is a base requirement but what will really determine how far our players will go will be their ability to consistently make the right choices and create solutions on the field.

A key reason I watch our Futsal games from the stands and watch video of the games is to evaluate how well the group and individual players are progressing with this. It can be an overlooked area of players’ development but it is a vital one. A combination of good technique and game intelligence can take our young players to higher levels of the game. I often tell the tale of Pep Guardiola being chosen for Barcelona — the club team that has supplied most of the players to the Spanish national side — as a skinny, slowish youngster because of his leadership qualities and game intelligence which far outweighed his speed and or other physical attributes at an early age.

Apparently his career in the game worked out rather well in the end!

How much is too much Training?

This article was written by Ian McClurg and is an excerpt from his book Play the 1v1 Way! The article has also appeared on two UK based coaching websites and

4I frequently get asked how much training young players should do, and how much training is too much. It is my belief that this depends on the athlete, and also the type of training they are following.

I’m a firm advocate of the 10,000-hour training rule — the theory, as advocated by Malcolm Gladwell and others, that if you truly want to be good at something, you have to devote at least 10,000 hours to practicing it. That means that if young players wish to become world-class at their chosen sport, they should be training anywhere from 10-20 hours each week.

Of course, the type of training a player follows is also crucial. In football, for example, I believe that young players can train for more than the 10-20 hours per week range, without negative side-effects, if the training is based on technique and players are enjoying playing small-sided games. They also have to be in an environment where there is no expectation on winning and losing. At professional clubs in Europe, young players typically start training in academy teams at U9 (aged 8). They may have had two years of “informal training” once or twice a week until then, before entering a more structured environment at the U9 level.

At U9 level, young players in Europe typically train 4-6 hours per week in a team session and 1-2 hours in individual technical sessions. At the U9-U12 levels, training time can increase to 8 hours per week for team sessions and two hours in technical sessions. Changes to the academy system in the UK have increased coaching contact time from U9 to U12 from 4 hour per week to 8 hours per week. For the U12 to U16 age groups, the coaching contact time has been increased from 12 hours per week to 16 hours, mainly by having the young players attend the academy one full day a week instead of attending school. At the U17 to U21 levels, the players are typically training 16 hours per week.

By contrast, let’s consider what happens in other sports. Young athletes in the British national cycling program train 10 hours per week at ages 12-16 which increases up to 40 hours between the ages of 17-21. Elite British swimmers typically train 15 hours from ages 12-16 and 25 hours  from ages 17-21. Between ages 12-16 young performers at the Royal Ballet School train 25 hours per week from ages 12-16 and 17-21. Even though the physical demands of these activities are different than those placed on young football players, it is still clear that in terms of the sheer commitment of time, these other sports ask a lot more of their participants when young.

In North America, young football players typically start playing as young as U3 and can be involved in club academy programmes by age7 or 8 and training 2-3 times a week by then. In my opinion, it is not the volume of training hours that places physical and psychological stress on these young players but the quality of the work. Having young players work on their technical ball skills with futsal-type training where they are training the majority of their time individually with the ball or within small groups, allows young players to develop at their own pace without the pressure of winning games. They can take responsibility for their own development in these types of environment, experimenting with new things.

At European academies there is no real focus on physical development until the age of 14. This contrasts with the environment in North America where the pressure on coaches to win games in order to qualify for the highest-level leagues means that development becomes short-term. Coaches in this environment tend to believe that they can improve team results through a greater emphasis on fitness and other physical attributes. As a result, a greater physical demand is placed on young bodies that are still growing and developing.

Another significant difference from elite player development in Europe versus North America is that in Europe, programs typically run 42 weeks. That’s right — and it can be hard for some North Americans to believe — there are ten weeks during the year when players get to take a break. Youngsters are given significant time off at Christmas, Easter and also during the summer months. In North America, players typically do not take time off during the course of the year, other than perhaps a quick few days at the end of the summer competitive season.

All elite athletes should have significant down-time during the course of their 12 month training cycle in order to recharge mentally and physically.

Here’s another factor we need to keep in mind when thinking about over-training that is often overlooked, but makes so much sense it’s amazing we don’t do it more often— we need to check with the players themselves about how they feel their training load is affecting them. When parents ask me whether their children are over-doing it, I typically ask that the athlete keep a log of their physical energy levels and mental state (mood) after each activity. This allows athletes and their families to fully understand which activities, club team, academy team, school or other sports are placing the greatest demands on the athlete, especially those athletes who play multiple sports. If the athlete is physically or emotionally overwhelmed, then it is time to either cut back on some activities or alternatively work with their coaches to block off rest days.

The athlete will know their body and mental state better than anyone else so I always recommend that they are central to the decision-making process.

Remember — our bodies are quick to tell us when we are doing too much. We have to listen to them — and when working with young athletes, we must help to make this “listening” process clear.

The soccer whisperer — a philosophical, practical approach to the ‘beautiful game’

Published in the Hamilton Spectator – Monday August 25th, 2014

Ian hamilton spec article Aug 2014Ian McClurg grew up in the peaceful countryside outside Belfast, but at a certain age had to come to the city for school. This was during the Troubles in Northern Ireland.

“My first day, a bomb went off about two miles away and the floors of the classroom shook,” Ian remembers.  He was terrified.        The most frightening thing about such experiences was that, over time, they ceased to be frightening. Ian got used to them.   Then there was soccer, and he thrived at it.

Somehow, maybe as a result of the dynamics of all that, Ian developed a kind of “larger view” attitude about life. There is, for instance, an almost philosophical cast to the work he does as one of Canada’s most innovative nurturers of soccer talent.

His family came to Canada when he was 17, after Queen Elizabeth’s cousin Lord Louis Mountbatten was killed by the Irish Republican Army in 1979, and Ian was already a formidable player. He’d learned on the street, neighbourhood play, working on fundamental skills.

By age 14, he was already playing on adult men’s teams (he favours intergenerational play as a route to skill-building). ”My dad played some semi-pro in England,” he says, “but didn’t pressure me. I was self-taught.”

OK, philosophy. What is the why of soccer? The cause behind a kicked ball? In Aristotle’s terms, the “motive” cause would be the propulsive force transmitted along the muscles of the leg, but the “final” cause, the ultimate object of kicking it, would be … what? The inside of the net? Goal scored? Game won?

The real goal, if you ask Ian, is a skill well-developed, a human being made more whole, more accomplished and confident.

When I talk with him in his home, after reading his book (yes, he has written a book outlining a system of thoughts on soccer and coaching), I’m taken right “through” the game, out the other side.

He refers to the chaos of soccer (the continuous, unpredictable flow, in contrast to the set plays in football, baseball, basketball, even hockey); the importance of improvisation; the primacy of skill-building, mastering the ball itself.  ”You see kids, when they master the ball, they enjoy it so much more,” says Ian.

He dislikes the obsession with results that still dominates conventional North American coaching — winning matches, climbing league standings, as opposed to overall development of the player and his/her skills.   It’s a narrow model, the North American one — instant gratification, quick hits and fixes, over-competitiveness, facile quantifiable metrics that don’t draw a true picture.  ” The dropout rate in all sports here is 70 per cent by age 14,” says Ian, who spent several years as staff coach for Toronto FC Academy.

Europe’s different. They have welfare officers attached to teams in some clubs there to help with challenges beyond the field.             Ian, who started 1v1 Soccer FC in Ancaster 14 years ago, incorporates many European ideas, but the 1v1 approach is uniquely his own.

It’s holistic, involving diet, cross-training, character-building, patience, humility, problem-solving, intelligence and, above all, rigorous work on fundamentals, a broad range of technical skills for the individual, as opposed to over-specialization for results-oriented utility on a team.

Ian’s approach is making deep inroads, despite resistance from powers-that-be. Academy teams like his are now eligible for provincial soccer association competition, whereas previously they weren’t.   ”In 2000, Germany started having skills coaches working with clubs throughout the country,” says Ian.   It paid off at this year’s World Cup.

His book, Play the 1v1 Way, edited by Paul Challen, is a compelling read with an eclectic scope: part philosophy, part practical tips, engagingly written.

Ian’s now taking his passion to another level, beginning a master’s degree in soccer talent development through Real Madrid Graduate School (yes, in Europe they have graduate degrees in soccer).

For more on the book, go to

It’s about the player (Surprise, surprise!)

We hope you enjoy this excerpt from our newly released book “Play the 1v1 Way – Soccer Tips from an Emerging Talent Centre” . The book can be purchased online at

OK. Let’s get something clear right from the kickoff: If we are going to produce successful players, we as coaches and parents must put them at the central point of learning! Our focus, as coaches, must always remain on the technical, tactical, physical and mental development of the individual. Every child that enters any sport’s training program must one day leave the program, not only a better player, but more importantly, a better person.

The player’s academic education must work hand-in-hand with their learning as a player. The top soccer clubs in the world such as Barcelona have long held that manners, values and education are very important components of a young player’s development. Now, that approach has to filter down to the grassroots levels of the game.

That may seem obvious. But many coaches and parents seem to think all players are the same, meaning that every young person’s development will follow the same path. In my experience and in the experience of many top professional players, that is simply not true. Players learn at different paces, and respond differently to training. Often, human development factors like physical and emotional maturity, rather than pure soccer skills development, influence their status and progress amongst their peers.

It seems that at earlier and earlier ages we are trying to identify talent and make decisions on the level a younger player will reach.. But for the most part, this is not useful. I remember Arsène Wenger, the manager of the great English club Arsenal and one of the best developers of young soccer talent, once stating that if someone looks at a player younger than 14 and tells them you that he or she will become a professional earlier than 14, they are lying. I often relate that quote when talking to parents or other coaches about a player’s “future success”, because, for many years in the development cycle, you simply can’t tell. You see little indications along the way, but never a definite indication of how far young players can go until the age of 16-18.

Over the years, we’ve all seen many parents who have given up on their children “making it” as young as ages 7-8, and who, after that, no longer support their child’s interest in the sport. As well, “playing up” in older age groups becomes the barometer for parents to gauge their child’s progress, or as “proof” that their child is succeeding. Coaches are lobbied, competition amongst parents begins, and the end result is that young players are placed under pressure to perform from a very early age.

Many parents have brought their children to our program and instructed us to “make them more aggressive.” On such occasions I’ve taken the “educational” approach and expliained that the most important component for all young players is to master the ball, feel comfortable with it and spend time improving basic skills like dribbling, 1v1 moves, turning, passing and shooting. Young players must be placed in situations where they are allowed to try things, use their imagination, and more importantly, enjoy the game and have fun! If they are not enjoying it, guess what? That’s right: they are not going to spend any time next week with a ball at their feet!

There have been many of our more skilled players who have participated in skills classes for several years before they’ve become comfortable in games. One of our young players, aged 6, had a very placid personality and used to run away from the ball and turn his back whenever it came to him. He spent well over a year being very methodical in learning skills such as the step-over but was never confident enough to try the moves playing with others in games. Then all of a sudden, in his own time, he started to do drag-backs, step-overs and go on mazy dribbling runs! What happened? The boy did not change his basic temperament, but because of the confidence that he had developed with the ball, he was now playing at a much higher level. His father, in the early days, had focused on his son’s lack of aggression and had asked that we make him more aggressive in 1v1 challenges. But to the father’s credit, he had listened to my advice, kept encouraging his son and was able to enjoy watching the boy’s progress!

It was a classic win-win-win situation — for the player, the parent, and the coach! The development of a young child cannot be fast-tracked without consequences. It makes little sense, except in rare cases, to have a child jump several grades at school, and it’s the same thing for sports development. Nature provides its own built-in development path, and we as soccer coaches have no right to mess with it!

Here’s a great example: When the young North Ireland star George Best signed at age 15 for Manchester United in 1961, United’s legendary Manger Matt Busby instructed his coaching staff to “let the boy develop naturally.” Within two years he was playing in the first team, and within seven years was the best player in European, if not world football! A young Lionel Messi, who emigrated from Argentina to Spain with his family when he was 12, was not “rushed” at Barcelona. Even though he had fantastic talent, he could have likely played for Barca’s first team much sooner. But the coaches at the famous La Masia Academy allowed him to progress gradually like the other young boys, and he was provided with the opportunity to develop as a young person, in tandem with his development as a player. And did he develop!

So, let’s go back to our first premise — that we need to make sure we keep individual player development at the heart of our coaching efforts. Let’s make sure we help our young players grow in all areas, both physical and emotional, and at their own pace. Our job is simply to give them opportunities for that development to happen.


Just Released – Play the 1v1 Way! Soccer Tips from an Emerging Talent Centre

New Book Outlines Steps for Soccer Success

centre - full onBurlington/Ancaster, Ontario – A new book by Ian McClurg, technical director of 1 v 1 Soccer FC, outlines the academy’s unique approach to developing young players.

The recently-released Play the 1 v 1 Way: Soccer Tips From and Emerging Talent Centre is aimed at parents, coaches and players, and details both McClurg’s philosophy on development, as well as practical tips for building young male and female players looking to take their game to the next level.

A launch to celebrate the publication of Play the 1 v 1 Way will be held at the Cavallo Nero restaurant In Ancaster , Ontario (370 Wilson St E, Ancaster on Sunday April 13th from noon to 4pm.

Buy Now Button with Credit Cards   Play the 1v1 Way: Soccer Tips from an Emerging Talent Centre

$19.95 CDN  – See below for US and UK Orders

“When a player gets serious about the game, and wants to improve, they are often looking to go on to play professionally or at university or college,” says McClurg, who founded 1 v 1 in 2000. “What we’ve found, in talking with top clubs across Europe and North America, is that the one thing their coaches are looking for above all is technical ability. Does a player have the skill on the ball to be able to make decisions quickly and accurately? That is what we try to teach in our system, and what I’ve outlined in the book.”

Unfortunately, says McClurg, the traditional club system often places too much emphasis on results, pressuring teams and players to win games and progress through promotions rather than looking to improve the skill of individual players.

“That’s where the academy system comes in,” he says. “We’re not under pressure to win game and trophies, so we are able to take the time to give players the skills they need to move forward. We have a number of partner clubs in Europe who are continually telling us that those are the skills they are looking for in youngsters.”

As proof of the success of his approach, McClurg, a former Ontario provincial coach and holder of the UEFA A licence (the highest available worldwide) cites two 14-year olds who visited English professional club Wolves FC last March and are returning for three weeks of additional training this spring as evidence of just two players who have flourished in this system. As well, several players in the academy are under consideration for spots at US universities and planning visits to professional clubs overseas.

In addition to the technical aspects of the game, Play the 1 v 1 Way stresses the importance of what McClurg refers to as the “development triangle” – a model that places equal emphasis on coaching, family support and the individual player.

“All three sides of the triangle need to be equally strong,” he says. “And each side needs to respect the influence of the other. For example, parents need to support their kids and help them make the best decisions. Coaches must supply the technical expertise. And the players have to be committed.”

For more information about the launch and the book, please contact 1 v 1 Soccer FC at 289-239-9602 or, or visit them at:
Buy Now Button with Credit Cards  US Orders $19.95 + Shipping

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Success is the prize for those who stand true to their ideas

4Over the next few months, RedNation Online will have the privilege to post thoughts and experiences, as well as excerpts from Ian McClurg’s upcoming book, on soccer development in Ontario and Canada. Ian is the technical director of 1v1 Soccer FC, a training academy in Ancaster, Ontario who has a relationship with Wolverhampton Wanderers F.C. in England. Below is the third installment on the challenges faced for the demands of quick results. Please watch out for Ian’s upcoming columns.

We all have our own take on what defines success. The title quote by motivational expert Josh S. Hinds is a favourite one of mine as reminds me of the importance of being true to yourself. When you coach any sport, you will be challenged. You will be challenged by your players, by their parents, by your fellow coaches and if you work for an organization, your employers.

See also: Time and patience are essential in youth development

What many don’t realize though, is that the best coaches around challenge themselves the most. They will relive situations in their minds, replay them over and over in their heads and question themselves on a daily basis. Coaching is about leading and facilitating performance improvements. So, it is only natural that the best coaches constantly expect improvements from themselves. The trick is to do your analysis, decide if there was a better decision to be made, learn from that…. and then move on.

When I entered coaching, I made myself a promise: I was going to make my own decisions, stand or fall based on what I felt was right and stay true to my principles and what I believed in. I had a vision on how I felt football should be played and have stayed true to several core values. I’m proud to say that I’ve kept that promise. Of course, I have made many mistakes in my coaching career but I have never made a decision that I didn’t want to make at the time.

It is important for me to keep that level of integrity in my work. My wife often teases me that our mortgage would be paid of quicker if that wasn’t the case but she says that knowing full well that my approach will never change. It can be a lonely existence because even your closest coaching colleagues do not always agree. However, I have always wanted strong coaches around me as my type of personality requires me to talk things through before I reach important decisions. I listen to those I trust, gather opinion then make my own decisions. If the going gets tough and criticism arrives I stay the course. I make the best decision to the best of my ability at the time.

Standing true to your ideas can be a liability, however, if as a coach you do not continue to learn, evolve your thinking and refine your ideas. If you do not continue to test your ideas with the changing demands of the profession, then the game will pass you by and you will be making misinformed and incorrect decisions. An example would be my own ideas on teaching defending. As a coach I love the idea and the organization required to teach players how to work as a defensive unit. I’m one of those coaches who loves watching attacking football but can marvel at Jose Mourinho and his Inter Milan team going to the Nou Camp a few years ago and preventing Barcelona from scoring. I have run many defending sessions at coaching courses and enjoyed the challenge.

I remember being quite surprised that the legendary developmental coach Dario Gradi did not spend any time at Crewe Alexandra in England in teaching defending. At the time I did not quite understand it. Later I began to appreciate this more when I began teaching younger players as I felt that with limited time it was more important to spend time on basic ball skills, as a priority.

In the last few years my thinking has evolved a little more. I think that the art of defending is less important in the modern game. Instead it has been replaced by pressing and forcing opponents into mistakes to win the ball back. Now, I do incorporate this type of work in my training sessions. I feel young players should be taught how to close space quickly and work together to win the ball back. The work I do in this area is not like I was taught 10 years ago in my coaching courses! At that time we broke defending down to the finer details of speed of approach, angle of approach, body stance etc. Now, I keep our instructions quite simple. Get close to the ball quickly, and force the player with the ball towards crowded situations where they will be challenged to keep possession.

To the outsider it may seem that my philosophy has changed, given how I have made this switch in how I work on defending. However, in my own mind, I see my role as preparing our players to the best of my ability to succeed within the modern game. If the requirements on the top players are changing then in my opinion the training of our young players needs to adapt also. If we have a clearer understanding that what separates good players from great players is the ability to receive the ball, and then maintain possession and initiate attack even when marked tightly then we need as coaches to spend a greater amount of time developing these skills at the youth levels.

??I read a great story about David Moyes recently. Apparently, Moyes, the long-time manager of English club Everton and now boss of Manchester United, had noticed during the 2012-13 season an increasing trend for all the top teams in European to play more through the midfield area. He viewed the midfield as an increasingly important component for teams and realized that managers were using more innovative formations and tactics within this area.

The part of the story that I really liked is that he then met with Jim Fleming, head of coaching development at the Scottish Football Association and suggested some changes to the coaching courses for the next generation of coaches to reflect these changes. This was from a coach who was 10 days away from landing arguably one of the largest coaching jobs in the world (managing Manchester United.) I know Jim Fleming from when I took my UEFA B license course in Scotland. He was such a knowledgeable and passionate educator back then and it delights me to know that he like the rest of us he still strives every day to get better.

*??(Just to add a quick story about Jim Fleming: When I was on that UEFA B  license course I pulled my hamstring a few days before my final assessment. I was walking around feeling miserable and worried if I would be able to do demonstrations properly for my final assessment, as for this level of coaching certification, you actually have to do a “demo” to prove you can show the skill or tactic in question to your players – it is not all theory!. Jim quickly pulled me out of this with the famous Scottish gallows humour by saying, “the cross you pulled your hammie (hamstring) on wasn’t a very good one anyways!” I broke out laughing. He knew the correct thing to say to me right at that moment and it relaxed me. I’m pleased to say that I was able to do well in my final assessment and achieve that license!)

We all have to keep studying the game, evolve our thinking — but at the same time, stay true to our core values.  I still want my players to focus on their technical skills and play attacking football with flair. However, I do want them to win the ball back quicker now so we can attack again. I’ve placed more requirements and responsibility on them. My ideas are the same and I remain true to playing attacking football. However, how we achieve that, and the methods we use in training on how to achieve get there that continues to evolve.

I tell my coaches at 1 v1  all the time that I coach much differently this year than I did last year and I will coach differently next year. You must keep adding to you knowledge and the methods that you use to deliver your messages. What should not change is staying true to your ideas and how you feel the game should be played. For that you will achieve success. The prize may not come in the form of a big trophy, you may not become richer in a monetary sense, and you may not even get a pat on the back. The prize will be much larger than that – you know that you are continuing to do the right thing to the best of your ability.

Ian McClurg is technical director of 1 v 1 FC, a soccer training academy based in Ancaster Ontario and author of the upcoming book, The 1v1Way: Soccer Tips from an Emerging Talent Centre. For more info, contact Ian at or visit

Time and patience are essential ingredients in youth development

3Over the next few months, RedNation Online will have the privilege to post thoughts and experiences, as well as excerpts from Ian McClurg’s upcoming book, on soccer development in Ontario and Canada. Ian is the technical director of 1v1 Soccer FC, a training academy in Ancaster, Ontario who has a relationship with Wolverhampton Wanderers F.C. in England. Below is the third installment on the challenges faced for the demands of quick results. Please watch out for Ian’s upcoming columns.

Let’s face it: soccer at all levels is obsessed with short-term results. The history of the game has provided us with several different ways to play. Fans have seen Herbert Chapman’s Arsenal side of the 1930’s (with its classic “W M” Formation), the total football played by Ajax in the 1970s, the Milan pressing game in the late-1980s and now the Barcelona tiki-taka style of play that we have been fortunate to enjoy during the last few years.

But Barca’s success especially has been the result of rejecting short-term gains in favour of long-term development. The reality is that the “seeds” for the current Barcelona philosophy and style of play were planted 25 years ago by Johan Cruyff.

See Also: Soccer in Ontario: Build your own from within

A recent article by Paul Grech called Exporting the Barca method argued that the real secret of Barcelona’s recent success has been time. I would have to agree with Paul Grech that for lasting player development success, the hard part is not changing or putting in place a new way of doing things but giving those changes and the system time to mature. An entire club must breath and move in the same way.

Enrigue Duran Diaz has spent a decade absorbing the Barcelona philosophy and is currently trying to plant the seed of that distinctive playing style at the South African club Mamelodi Sundown. He argues that for a system like Barcelona’s to be copied then everyone involved must believe in it both in terms of the on-field game, and the core values that surround a club. He also argues that setting up the structure takes time and requires many seasons, which may be contested without success as measured by standings and goals. It is his belief that the Barca model cannot be successful if others are looking to copy it simply to achieve short-term results.

At 1v1 Soccer FC, we are establishing a new philosophy and one that challenges the current norm in Canada for elite soccer development. Our players are encouraged to play across multiple age-groups, play different                         positions and challenge themselves to get outside their comfort zone to master technical, tactical, physical and psychological strategies that are new to North American players. We know this will take time but we are willing to sacrifice the short-term results in our weekend games to develop better players and people who can go on to achieve their soccer goals and be successful in life. We demand respect for our staff, the game officials, the opposition and in the way our players interact with each other. The rules and spirit of the game must be upheld and the parents must be appreciated for giving up so much to support their children.

We encourage our players to do the best they can be at school, and to be good people away from the field. We want to play attractive football, keep possession as a starting point and take the attacking initiative to our opponents. We want to encourage our players to take opponents on, try things and to be comfortable with failing. When we lose the ball we want to win it back quickly so we can attack again. (At Barca, players are challenged to win the ball back within 6 seconds of losing possession!)

We want our players to be comfortable on the ball technically, to be capable of making good decisions on the field, to work together and help each other both on and off the field and to learn at each practice and at each game. We want to allow our players to make mistakes, take responsibility for errors, work on learning from these errors and be open to seeking and taking advice to improve. As our philosophy is different, we come across many problems every day that hinder our progress and what we are trying to do. Change can be difficult and the short-term and immediate results focus within football (soccer) will always add significant pressure. We understand that!

However, through education and patience our players and their families are finding the ability to change their mind-sets for the benefit of the players we train. And we ask that those players and families trust us when we ask them in turn to do things they might find challenging like playing at an unfamiliar position, or playing in an age group not their own.

The bottom line is that, like Enrique Duran Diaz, I am challenged by focusing only on the things that I have direct responsibility for. The short-term set-backs and frustrations have to be set-aside so that we can successfully continue along our pathway of developing better and better players and more and more of them.

Time and patience are the essential ingredients along the way.

Ian McClurg is technical director of 1 v 1 FC, a soccer training academy based in Ancaster Ontario and author of the upcoming book, The 1v1Way: Soccer Tips from an Emerging Talent Centre. For more info, contact Ian at or visit

Build your own from within

pic 2Over the next few months, RedNation Online will have the privilege to post excerpts from Ian McClurg’s upcoming book on soccer development in Ontario and Canada. Ian is the technical director of 1v1 Soccer FC, a training academy in Ancaster, Ontario who has a relationship with Wolverhampton Wanderers F.C. in England. Below is the second installment that serves as the introduction of what is to come. Please watch out for Ian’s upcoming columns.

A recent documentary on the long-running U.S. news show 60 Minutes provided the soccer world and non-fans alike with a glimpse of what is possible with a long-term development program. The FC Barcelona team is currently recognized as the best club team in the world and some experts argue the best of all time. What is somewhat unique about their academy model is that one of the world’s largest clubs has spent the last 10 years developing their own players in-house. Yes, they have still spent millions of Euros to bring in some of the game’s greatest players. But the fact remains that they have also developed 17 out of the 25 players in the current first-team squad within their own La Masia academy. Some of these players, like Cesc Fábregas and Gerard Piqué, have left to join Arsenal and Manchester United, respectively, of the English Premiership, but have now returned back to Barcelona.

See Also: Soccer in Ontario: Everything starts with a vision

A key reason that this team has been so successful is that the current group of players have grown up together and have all been schooled, quite literally in the Barcelona way. A soccer education is obviously a key component of this program but so also is the academic development of the players. The Barca academy employs teachers to provide lessons in all school curriculum areas, ensuring that the players there receive academic as well as soccer instruction. Several of the players have spoken openly about an almost “telepathic” understanding with their teammates, which has been developed during long hours on the training ground. After Barcelona’s win in the Champions’ League in 2009, two of the team’s midfielders, Xavi and Iniesta, were asked how they managed to string together so many passes together. Iniesta reportedly answered that it was easy, since they’d started doing it when they were 13!

So, what relevance does the Barcelona model have on the grassroots levels of the game here in North America? The most important lessons are, I believe, that coaches and parents must be much more patient in a young player’s education. Parents must look at all options for development, evaluate which options are best suited for their child, and be patient in their progress. At the moment, I see parents jumping from one program to another on an annual basis, looking for the next and greatest instant vehicle to propel their child to superstardom!

On many occasions, it becomes a case of a parent trying to ensure that their child is getting any advantage possible over their neighbour’s child. It also seems that a large amount of time is spent identifying which teams within a 1 hour drive time are the best at a particular age-group and then ensuring that they get their child on this team, playing with the so-called “best” players. The parent assumes the role of “agent” and places the child, like stage acts, at the next gig! How unsettling would it be for young children to move schools every year, and learn math or English a different way every time? How would Barcelona’s top stars of today have developed if their parents had switched back and forth between the academies of Barcelona and its neighbouring club, Espanyol?

Arsene Wenger once said that if your child is good at piano, then as a parent you would seek out the best teacher that you could afford and place your child there. How is soccer any different? Maybe in North America we have to park our need for instant gratification when it comes to our children’s development. Maybe we need to research and find the program that best fits with our child’s development requirements. And just maybe we need to be more patient and stress the love of the game over any potential rewards measured in terms of money or fame.. In youth sports, money and fame are awarded to the few, and on many occasions those “payoffs” are fleeting. However, soccer does provide many rewards that are underappreciated. It can provide a healthy lifestyle, fun with friends and nothing less than the joy of playing the world’s greatest game.

I’m approaching the half-century mark, and willingly spend my time with many others in our over-40 league on a Friday night for this. Maybe our youth and we as parents are missing this. I have heard many times in life that it makes sense to dedicate yourself to what you enjoy the most. When you work at something you will enjoy, the thinking goes, you will be good at it and in turn the rewards will come! I traded the corporate world to pursue a soccer coaching career full-time based on this philosophy…and while the challenges are many, I wouldn’t trade what I do for anything!

Maybe it’s time for us as youth coaches to pave the way in North America. Educate parents on the benefits of long-term development, provide clear pathways for our players to learn, develop and grow. Provide a wide range of programs that can cater to players of all abilities and ambitions and build development programs based on skills development versus recruitment.

It’s time to build it….and they will come!

Ian McClurg is technical director of 1 v 1 FC, a soccer training academy based in Ancaster Ontario. This article will appear in his upcoming book, The 1v1Way: Soccer Tips from an Emerging Talent Centre. For more info, contact Ian at or visit