Helping them get 'unstuck'
I watched an 8-minute video from an interview with Paul Tisdale that the English Football League released, about his experience of working with the Brentford FC striker Ollie Watkins and it has had a profound impact. In fact, so much of an impact that you should know too. My takeaway: Paul talks about Watkins being a 1-dimensional player when in his youth playing for Exeter. He had the physical and technical attributes to be a professional, with speed, control, goal-scoring ability being better than most. Yet, as a #11 he would 'wait' for the ball. He understood his role singularly and would often go without touches on the ball as he would wait to receive the ball. His performances would drop and would look like he lost his way and lost his potential. Think about your team(s) as I did mine and think about players that you might have in your environment who this situation can apply to. I can identify three players, right now, that I work with who behave in a similar way. They have wonderful talents and can change the game, but are often 'waiting' and 'stuck' in their position. They can leave the game feeling frustrated, or leave me frustrated that they aren't as involved or are so 1-dimensional that once an opponent identifies their strength, he's done. This is why the interview had such a profound impact. Paul talks about challenging Ollie in a new way. In ways that he was not used to playing. Ask any #11 what their role is on the field and they'll tell you it is to dribble, to cross, and to score. Yet Paul realized this clearly was leading to Ollie being 'stuck' so he gave him new challenges. The challenges were to complete 3 headers, 3 interceptions, make 3 tackles, and pick up 3 loose balls per half, guaranteeing himself 24 touches per game. He then goes on to admit that he knew Ollie couldn't do it and Ollie started out by asking the CM to flick the ball up so he could get an early header in! However, the challenge changed Ollie's mindset to now thinking about the whole game and this is what is so profound to me. He is now motivated to get involved in all aspects of the game, not being so 1-dimensional or so 'stuck'. He then explains how he exploded from there, with 'man of the match' performances and he has never looked back. Of the three players I identified, I will see one tonight and within the small-sided game set up, you can guarantee he will have similar challenges to help him become unstuck and to be involved in the whole game. In closing, I think this is also relevant to 'position specialization' and players certainly being pigeon-holed into the specific demands of a position in a game/system of play. If we train players to play positions with the whole game in mind, I think we will see more rounded players that have the confidence to get involved in the game and not be so 'stuck' positionally or tactically. Thank you to Paul Tisdale for his words, and to the EFL for sharing the interview. You can watch the interview here.