Things didn’t go quite so well for the Eagles yesterday.
After several weeks of really gratifying improvement as a team things turned pretty much to sh*t when we returned to Southwell School in Hamilton to play a side we’d beaten 5-0 earlier in the season.
I did suspect things might be challenging and I did say to the players that it was an excellent opportunity to see how far we’ve come as a team…
But they’re eight and nine year olds and a team we’d thumped not so long ago was too easy a target not to play properly against.
Before that, though, we had a pretty poor start to the day. We waited for a player at the Domain more than 15 minutes after the scheduled leaving time only to find out, after we’d decided we had to hit the road, that no, he wasn’t actually playing this week.
It was all a bit of a rush, then. We arrived in Hamilton and found the grass hadn’t been cut for, probably, weeks and the sold underneath was virtual slush. As I was trying to get a warm-up organised the coach of the other side asked, ever so politely, if I wouldn’t mind reffing the whole match. So there was a lot going on in a short space of time.
To make matters even more challenging, I’d decided to make a few changes to the line-up that had worked so well previously. Yes, change is good, particularly when you’ve got players still learning the game. But dramatic change to a successful formula? Not so much…
We were a couple of goals down early, probably inside ten minutes. Basically our defensive structure fell over because we decided not to defend. The effort without the ball wasn’t really there, unlike out last two games in particular, and we let in two break away goals against a goalie who was standing in a goal box that was still in the icy shade of the massive hedge behind the goal. He was still thawing out after what had been the first proper frost of the winter. That and my libero had decided to take up more of a number 10 role, which left us a bit short on numbers where we needed them.
So that wasn’t a great start, but before during and after the goals we were camped down the other end. We had lots of chances but the decision making wasn’t the best. My libero/number 10 decided he was gonna hit one in from 30 yards, no matter what, which meant pretty much every touch was a shot. The other team had a lot of goal kicks and we had more than a few corners.
A couple of my other senior players decided they’d do it on their own, which meant lots of running down blind laneways and frustrated team mates. After knocking the ball around so well previously we reverted to what our opponents on Saturday were doing. Only they had a couple of players who, on the day, did it a bit better (and yes, aided by not having as many defenders to deal with at the pointy end as they should have).
We eventually got a goal back only to cough another soft one up right on half time.
Our chat was built around me asking: “What have we learned so far today?”
The unanimous answer was: “We’re not spread out enough and we’re not passing the ball.” Bingo.
It changed a bit in the second half, but not by much. Most of out players still seemed to have it in their heads that we were playing a weak team and that they’d get themselves a goal or two. Despite the evidence to the contrary.
We were, in the words of my Dad (who was a hockey player but coached my brother and I when we first took up football) ‘too bunched’. The players appeared to want to do it themselves so were just following the ball around like beginners. That meant, of course, when we did have the ball – and we had it a lot – there weren’t actually all that many options to pass the ball to.
Thus compounding the limitations of our performance.
We got another goal back when one of their defenders put the ball through their own net from the 73rd corner of the game (as an aside, after the game I had to explain what is and isn’t and own goal to the corner taker’s parent who wanted to claim the goal for his child) but the kids were knackered from all the extra, unproductive, running they’d done.
So of course we coughed up a couple of late goals to underline what had been one long coaching-point of a match. I wanted to take the players into the changing rooms and give them a good old fashioned bollocking, but we didn’t have any changing rooms, they’re kids, and, well, I’m not Fergie.
A day later, however, I’m almost delighted for the plethora of opportunities for development.
Firstly, me. I know what my best balanced and most productive line-up is and I changed it too radically. Baby steps and small adjustments will probably work better. I also must ensure the team’s at the ground early enough to get a proper warm-up in, particularly now that it’s cold. The kids just weren’t ready to go. This may end up with players being left behind when we’re travelling…but I’m sure that will only happen once before they get the message.
I also learnt a new term. Apparently, my team put in a ‘Matamata Performance’. I found that out from the coach of one of our older junior teams. There are days when our club’s teams turn up in Hamilton, or further afield, when it’s wet, muddy and horrible and just don’t play. A ‘Matamata Performance’.
Secondly, the players. They now have a practical example of what happens when they don’t perform their individual roles within the team structure. When they don’t keep their shape. And when, if I’m being brutally honest, they decide that as individuals they’re more important than the team.
Winning is much more fun than losing. The players totally get that. And winning is an outcome of performing well, putting the effort in, playing as a team… hopefully me banging on about that will now have a little more weight because they’ve experienced what happens when they don’t do it.
I’m looking forward to training this week already.
(Oh yeah, I learnt one other thing. Apparently one of my players is on $5 a goal. I felt like I’d been punched in the guts when I heard that. This is so damaging to the player and, of course, his team mates. Something else to deal with this week. I’m really looking forward to that conversation.)