This week I'm featuring a blog post from my friend and former colleague Chris Smith. Chris was the very first head coach I worked with and is currently a lead development coach for Nottingham Forest academy. In this blog, Chris talks about celebrating a goal from his Under-7 team and the underlying work behind that goal that no one sees.
"We've just scored a last minute winner, without thinking I jump up and punch the air. I might have made a noise, who knows. My colleague, coaching on the next pitch turns around, I'm not sure if the look on his face is confusion or disappointment, "Calm down, Mourinho" he says.
Here's how I attempt to justify celebrating a goal in an Under 7's tournament...
For those of us that work with young players, there is no such thing as 'one game' or 'one goal', certainly not in isolation. We've seen the journey, the high and lows. We've seen the hard work and the learning that has gone in to that player being in that position at that time and taking that shot. It doesn't happen in one second in one match, it happens because of every second that player turns up and practices with a great attitude, because of every time they spend hours in the garden with a ball, every time they play with their friends in school. That goal isn't the hard work, that goal is the payoff for that work, a moment they can enjoy, remember and tell their friends about.
I celebrated because of who scored the goal, because I'd seen his journey. At least part of it.
I work at a Development Centre for a Championship club, just below academy level. When I took over my Under 7 group back in November, one face stood out. Polite, sociable and with the biggest smile I've ever seen. He listened, played with the amount of chaotic energy only a 7 year old can and thanked me before leaving. That smile never left his face, and it hasn't for 6 months.
But I was a little worried. Compared to others in the group, he seemed to take longer to understand or struggled to keep his focus. His technique would let him down, not because it wasn't there, but he would get rushed or kick the ball before thinking. He is 7, this is all fine and normal, the most important thing is that he's still enjoying himself, the smile is still there every week.
Then I saw it. The week before we had worked on movement off the ball, this week I saw him make a darting run in to space to receive a throw-in. I was sure I hadn't seen it before. Then it happened again. And again. It didn't look completely natural, I could see he was giving it some thought. His teammates were noticing, he was receiving the ball in space. This time maybe he put so much thought in to the movement, he wasn't prepared for what to do next. But it came, the movements became more natural, he had space and time to think. Suddenly he began to trust his technique and good things were happening. Week after week he seemed to add an extra string to his bow.
In my short coaching career, I've not seen a player make such visible and noticeable progress in such a short space of time, in this case just a few weeks. When the next Under 7's Inter-Development Centre Games Program came around again, I was excited to have him involved. But as sometimes happens, things didn't go to plan, more precisely, not to the coach's plan anyway.
Our goalkeepers train separately to us, different pitch, different night. When we have games, it is more than likely the outfield players (and coach!) haven't met the goalkeeper before. The one we were sent, this boy was incredible! I never thought I'd see a 7 year old coming of his line to catch a cross, he stopped anything that came close to him. Add in my new little superstar, we were looking in pretty good shape. Before the second of 3 games, my goalkeeper says to the team "I play outfield sometimes too, can i have a game out?", my little superstar tells the goalkeeper he will help out and go in goal this game, he likes to play in goal too. Who am i to argue with him? We lose 4-2, but my goalkeeper and player both come off smiling, they enjoyed their role reversal.
Fast forward to the last few minutes of the last game. My player doesn't need to prove anything, in the 6 months I have known him he has continued smiling, listening, working hard, asking questions and thanking me each session. I've enjoyed watching him play every week, in every way the model young player, no matter how effective his movement or touch. But when he pops up in the area in the last minute and scores that goal, I'm just extremely happy for him. That's all.
When we finish I say "Well done, you deserve that goal", he almost looks embarrassed, thanks me for letting him play and walks over to his mum, smiling the whole time. I don't think anything ever changed for him over those weeks, he plays football with his friends and it makes him happy. Long may this continue."
About the Author
Bao "Terry" Cao is currently a coach at Manchester United Foundation and the FA Development Centre for girls. Terry is licensed by both the FA and USSF. He shares his personal experience of being involved in youth soccer as both a coach and an outside viewer.