Guardiola: ‘Let children play day and night, and let them make mistakes’

Pep Guardiola, in a exclusive, passionate interview, revealed part of his football ethos regarding youngsters earlier this month.

Man City’s shock exit from the FA Cup gave Guardiola chance to take his squad away to the Middle East to get some warm weather training and while in Abu Dhabi, Man City’s Editor in Chief Chris Bailey caught up with City head coach Guardiola and part of the 30-minute chat was dedicated to Pep’s thoughts about developing youth talent.

It’s a fascinating listen/read…

How old should we start kids at competitive football? Do we start them too young?

“Lionel Messi started when he was six years old, but of course he is an exception,” said Guardiola.

“You have to let each player’s body develop. Nature is more intelligent than us and it really decides and it’s no good putting them in the gym to develop. The guy who is going to be faster will be faster, the guy who will be taller, will be taller and the guy who will be stronger, will be stronger.

“It can go year by year depending on the player. But the important thing is the talent. If they have the talent, they have it regardless of their physique.

“Sometimes it’s a big problem with players who have been told they are good enough by their manager, social media etc. They have to know when they are not good enough.

“I was manager with players who were 28-years-old and they improved dramatically to the age of 32 because they were still able to learn at that age.

“Sometimes when when we say players are good and they are 17, we say they are ready for the first team, but no, no, they are just at 10% of where they need to be.”

What about younger players, can they play too much competitive football at an early age?

“At that age they have to play and play as much as possible. Play in the street – in my day we could and now maybe it’s not possible – but play and play and play and that’s all and let them play day and night and let them make mistakes,” added Guardiola.

“Some advice to help them understand how we play the game is good. As quickly as possibly they need to understand tactics and why we decide to play the way we do.”


Do you get more pleasure out of winning a trophy of seeing a player develop to his full potential?

“With the type of players you win titles, so both.

“In a professional way I understand completely why we have to win titles, that is why we are here.

“Of course the pleasure is help a player reach his potential, but in reality they deserve the opportunity. But of course it’s a big pleasure if they think that you have helped them in their careers.”


Will we see a Pep Guardiola Academy when you finish managing?

“Maybe I would like to finish where I started. Maybe I will finish there, but for the moment I have a few years in front of me as manager at City.

“I take pleasure from seeing players learn, you’re like a teacher of mathematics in a school. When I was in the Barcelona Academy just seeing the players training trying to fulfill their dreams was amazing.”


In 20 years can you be an influence as great at Johan Cruyff?

“I don’t think so because Johan Cruyff’s influence was huge. His influence is not comparable. He was the most influential person in the world of football for the last 50 or 60 years.

“He influenced a lot of players and most of those are now coaches. We can never pay a big enough tribute to him.”


Frank Martin’s message on point, as study reveals problems with parents

Any parent of any sports-mad kid will have witnessed it, and this week the problem was met head on.

South Carolina basketball coach Frank Martin, incensed by a recent incident at his son’s basketball match, voiced his thoughts on the parents who continually berate officials and try to coach from the stands.

In Sky Sports’ #supporttherefweek a survey from the U.K. broadcaster and the Football Association found a lack of respect for referees at elite level was encouraging poor behavior at grassroots level.

In a survey of 2,905 grassroots soccer officials, 91% believe the apparent lack of respect for elite level referees is a “big or fairly big problem” for grassroots officials and the behavior towards them.

Also, 78% felt parents’ criticism of refs was a “big or fairly big problem” – and that leads perfectly on to the point that Martin made in his recent press conference – a clip that has gone viral.

It’s a must-watch couple of minutes for any parent on the damaging effects their actions can have on the very ones they claim to be helping.

Spurred by seeing a parent “losing his mind” in a 4th grade basketball game, Martin – a fiery presence on the sidelines when coaching – highlighted the problem head on and urged parents to keep quiet.

“I know this: I’m probably the most animated coach that you’ve probably ever seen when my team’s playing. I go watch my kids play, I don’t say boo. I don’t wave my arms, I don’t try to coach my kids,” said Martin in a news conference transcribed by The State.


‘I sit in the stands and I don’t say a word’

“With all due respect to most parents out there, I probably know more about basketball than most of them, OK. But I sit in the stands and I don’t say a word. There’s two guys refereeing a fourth-grade game on a Sunday morning. What could they possibly be making? 20 bucks a game?

“I used to do that. I used to make 12 dollars for 10-and-under, 15 for 15-and-under, and 17 or 18 bucks for high school-age kids. OK, so on a Sunday morning instead of being at church, those guys are out there trying to make a couple bucks, to pay their bills, feed their families.

“Do you think they really care what fourth-grade team wins? Do you really think that they like sat at home and said, ‘Oh I can’t wait to officiate that game tomorrow, because that one team, I can’t wait to get that 10-year-old kid and embarrass him in front of people.’

“Do you really think that’s what they’re doing? I don’t try to tell my kid how they should play. You know what I tell my two boys when they come at me, ‘Why are you asking me, man? I didn’t run your practice, go talk to your coach.’ ‘But ah —’ ‘don’t talk about your coach in front of me, because if you are then you’re not playing basketball.’

“You don’t understand why you didn’t play better? Go talk to your coach. I’m not your coach, I’m your dad. Somebody disrespects you, then I’m here. If you fail, good, deal with it, I’m gonna help you get up. But don’t come talk to me about coaching. I do this for a living, man. I’m not going to criticize a guy that’s trying to help you.

“And then the other part — so that’s the officials. Do you think those coaches coaching fourth-grade kids are making any money?


‘Yelling at the kids – they’re 10 years old, man!’

“So there’s someone that’s giving up their personal time on a Sunday, for free, to help other people’s children, yet, we’re gonna have the adults in the stands yelling obscenities at the officials? Criticizing every decision the coach makes?

“Yelling at the kids, like the kids — they’re 10 years old, man! Like if they’re a LeBron James and Dwyane Wade playing in the NBA Finals, like they know how to handle their coach over here and their parent over here yelling at them. Then we wonder why kids get confused man, why kids rebel, why kids don’t know how to listen. How can you listen when you’ve got so many voices in your head at the same the time. You know what life teaches you? Shut things off.

“And that’s the part that’s frustrating to me, if someone wants to be so animated when there’s a basketball game going on, then go coach the team, go run practices, show up everyday at 6 o’clock at night and run an hour-and-a-half practice.”

Martin’s concerns are obviously not limited to basketball and the results from Sky Sports’ survey, referred to earlier, is a prime example of the damage that is being done in soccer by over-zealous parents.

Martin though believes that questioning authority is a problem in society, and certainly not limited to sport.

“It’s not a basketball thing, it’s a societal thing — where we’re always questioning authority,” Martin said later.

“We feel it’s our responsibility to get loud and create a scene, especially in front of young kids. When kids see that, they think they can question authority as well.”

Martin, who has extensive coaching experience, and says he has witnessed parents facing off on the court in front of children, believes it will eventually lead to a serious incident occurring.

“And something really scary can happen,” he added. “That’s my biggest fear. Kids deserve better.”

A focus on football work-rate and why hard work is a talent

GoPlay Sports met up with Celtic Under-16 coach and International Soccer Academy Manager Willie McNab to discuss work-rate in football. And he explained that the focus and determination needed to work hard, consistently, is a talent and should not be taken for granted or devalued.

“When you play against a guy like Ashley Barnes, it’s perpetual motion, he’s non-stop, always on the move.

“Thierry said something on commentary, it should be a pre-requisite of what you are looking for in a centre-forward. Run around, chase lost causes all game, and he did that and we’re congratulating him for that, but it should be the case for everyone.

“Why doesn’t every player do that? That’s want you’re asking for from a centre-forward.”

The above was an extract from Jamie Redknapp’s post-match comments after the recent Burnley v Everton fixture at Turf Moor. The subject was Clarets striker Ashley Barnes, who had, as they say, ‘put a shift in’ to help the hosts to a well-deserved 2-1 win.

Redknapp was referring to something Thierry Henry had said in commentary – essentially that the work-rate Barnes had shown should be a “pre-requisite” for every striker.

It’s worth noting that Redknapp and Henry are not the only two pundits to have taken on this subject down the years. It’s an emotive topic that is discussed by players and coaches from grassroots to elite level.

But should we really expect high work-rate from every player?

Would we expect every player to be able to dribble around three players and find the top corner of the net? No, because the ability to do that is a talent and McNab argues that hard work should be treated in the same manner.

It’s clear from watching any game, anywhere in the world, that not every player has the same drive and focus to be able to work hard in every game.

Why not congratulate Barnes for working at his optimum?

McNab told GoPlay Sports: “With young players we’re never really questioning the tactical and technical ability. They are always willing to take that on board and you can see them improving on that, but it always seems to boil down to hard work.

“Even when I was a young player, there were always players better than me, but you realize that if your’re willing to work a little bit harder than the man next to me then you have always going to get that opportunity.

“We’re always telling our players at Celtic that and we tell them to watch the best – Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo – but I like Marco Verratti and when Celtic played PSG recently I told some of our boys, who were ball boys, to watch him.

“His work-rate on and off the ball was phenomenal and our boys were blown away by him. His attutide was an eye-opener to our players.”

The discussion about hard work is not entirely new and it’s not only restricted to football.

McNab adds: “There’s a famous NFL video of Benjamin Watson coming from nowhere in the final game of the season to make a touchdown-saving tackle. It was astounding and afterwards he said his old college coach said to him: ‘Hard work like that does not take a whole load of talent.’

“That got me thinking. It’s not in every one to work hard. Not everyone has got that intrinsic motivation. Even out of football not everyone has got that desire to get up at 4am and go to work.

“I believe hard work is a talent. ”

McNab is passionate about the subject and not alone in his theory, n fact he stands in fine company. Sir Alex Fergsuon recently echoed similar thoughts in a motivation speech at Salford City FC.

“To achieve in life you need something extra inside – a dynamo. You need a work ethic in life. Working hard is definitely a talent,” said Sir Alex.

McNab admits talent and work-rate go hand-in-hand for players at the very top of the game, but he says in youth development at Celtic they are always looking for the players who have the drive to work hard and improve.

“You might give praise to a player who goes past four players, or a player who sticks it in the top corner, but what about the lad who runs 60 yards to get a block in? Not everyone has got that in them.

“I think it is a pre-requisite of being at the very top level. There are not many world-class players who make it without hard work. You may get the odd anomaly with a player who is just phenomenal on the ball, but you need to have talent and hard work to make it at the very top.

“We’re always speaking about our players working hard and taking responsibility for their own development,” said McNab.

McNab also believes that the coach can only take so much responsibility for motivating his or her players.

“When I put this idea out there I was asked: ‘Was it not the job of the coach to motivate players?’ And to an extent yes it is,” said McNab.  “But if you have got a player who is constantly needing motivating then you wonder if they are going to get to the next level. Players need to have that intrinsic motivation. They need to have that dedication and drive.”


Growth mindset v fixed mindset

McNab, who has 18 years coaching experience under his belt and is a respected clinician worldwide, also believes the notion that hard work comes easy to everyone can also be detrimental to the grafters in the squad.

“It can be a little bit disrespectful to hard-working players also. If you are always saying, ‘work doesn’t take a lot of talent’ to three or four players who know they are not as talented as some other boys, but they work tremendously hard then they are probably thinking to themselves ‘maybe the coach doesn’t think I’ve got something’,” said McNab.

“It’s the whole growth mindset vs fixed mindset.

“I try and put myself in the players’ shoes and if I’m a hard-working player and the coach is saying it doesn’t take a lot of talent to do that and everyday in training they are working hard are being the hardest working player, then it can have a negative effect.”


Sweeping the sheds

McNab uses the famous New Zealand rugby union side of recent times as a fine example of a committed, hard-working, but technically talented squad.

“If you look at a team like the old All Blacks they had a terrific work-rate ingrained in them. They would ‘sweep the sheds’ – leave the changing rooms spotless home and away and unload the kit off the bus, they were just so disciplined and hard-working and it showed on the field.

“It takes an unbelievable growth mindset to be able to do that.

“The players that come to the coach and ask how they can get better are the ones that are taking responsibility for their learning. You want players who are committed, that’s the player you want to work with because they have a chance of being a success not only in football but in life.

“If you have got a player who is talented and they are not applying themselves then you would give them a rocket to try and get them to work hard, but if you’re having to do that all the time then they’ve probably got a fixed mindset.

“The people who can develop furthest and quickest are the ones who have that growth mindset.

“It takes a special type of player to work hard every game and not every play is capable of doing that.”


David Beckham 

As far as role models go, McNab says he was hugely impressed when he saw David Beckham play live for Manchester United.

“David Beckham is probably the hardest working player I’ve watched live at Celtic Park. He was unbelievable for Manchester United that night. He dedicated himself to the craft,” added McNab.

“The goal he free-kick he scored for England doesn’t just happen that was hard work and dedication, that was staying behind for hours and hours after training practicing.

“Scott Brown at Celtic is a brilliant role model for our players. His focus and determination is fantastic, but he can play also and he is underrated. He is technically very good and his Champions League stats are good.”

Matthew Briggs

Florida Celtic’s Jonny Burns explains his biggest challenge in the US

GoPlay Sports caught up with Florida Celtic Technical Director Johnny Burns to ask him about his coaching career and life after moving from Glasgow to Orlando.

Burns, the son of Celtic legend Tommy Burns, was given a fabulous opportunity to work in Florida in August 2016 and the former Celtic Academy coach has grabbed it with both hands and not looked back – apart from the occasional glance back at Parkhead.

After a solid coaching grounding at Barrowfield, we asked him about the differences in coaching in Scotland to the US.

“Obviously I was lucky enough to work back home (Scotland) at pro youth Academy level where everything is focused on development,” said Burns.

A Change In Mindset

“The biggest difference for me coming to American is the change in mindset. At club level in America it can be very difficult to change the mindset of a lot of people. A lot of people are focused on winning instead of development, which can be really detrimental.

“I’ve been really lucky to join a club in Florida and be able to given a chance to try and change that mindset and I’m lucky enough to have people who buy into that.

“It really is the mindset of the players and the parents which is the biggest difference. The quality is great, we have a bigger pool to pick from and here you are competing against other sports.”

Asked whether Burns finds it hard to keep his Celtic players away from the clutches of America’s more traditional sports, he says his players, like himself, are ultra committed.

“When you grow up in Glasgow it’s football or nothing. Here we are always fighting with American football or basketball and there is competition there.

“We are fortunate enough to have kids that are very dedicated to soccer at our club and they put all their efforts into soccer and that’s great for us,” said Burns.

‘Females Are Very Coachable’

Following in the footsteps of his late father, Burns came through the Celtic Academy and when his playing career came to and end at 18, he stepped up into coaching. And after learning his trade at Parkhead, Burns, who had been running Celtic’s summer camp in Florida for four years, was offered the chance with Florida Celtic.

“I wanted to broaden my horizons. You can get stagnant if you’re in one place for too long and I just thought it ws a great opportunity to see a different style of soccer and work with boys and girls,” said Burns. “And I’m incredibly fortunate to work with some very talented kids at Florida Celtic and the move has made me a better coach.”

Burns believes he is now fortunate to coach both girls and boys – and he says he coaches them in exactly the same way.

“I treat them exactly the same and I think the girls buy into that. One of the biggest surprises for me is the quality of the female game here. It’s outstanding. And the females here are very coachable, they try and implement everything you say, whereas with boys it is much tougher.

“They take what you say on the training pitch into a game and that for a coach is great,” said Burns.

“It’s also trying to broaden their horizons, so that they know to use their brain and express themselves when they are on the field as well.”

International Touring

We could not let Burns go without a word about our tours and the benefits of travelling as a group overseas.

“I’m taking the 2002 girls’ group to Glasgow later this year with GoPlay, who have been unbelievable with regards to accessibility – allowing parents to contact them. And they have designed a tour around what we want and that has been fantastic,” added Burns.

“We’ve been planning this for a year and a half and it’s all the girls have spoken about. They can’t wait to get there and there is a real togetherness about them, knowing they are going to be exposed to international level players.

“It will develop them hugely to play against a different style.”