Young players need to be able to express themselves. If they’re fearful of making mistakes, they’re being prevented from being creative and from learning how to deal with challenges.” – John Kennedy
When Celtic assistant manager John Kennedy was growing up, he played football with his mates at every opportunity. There was always a ball taken to school, and playing a sport of some sort was just the way kids entertained themselves. He remembers chalking a tennis court on the street and playing tennis when Wimbledon was on TV, and even playing baseball and NFL at times. He says,
“I grew up in a housing scheme and going outside to play with your friends was how we passed the time. I think it benefited me as a youngster because we had to make our own entertainment and find things to do.”
As a young player, John also benefited from the experience of playing in lots of different environments at more than one club. With hindsight, he realises how much he gained from this, but admits it wasn’t always easy. He says,
“It was daunting; I was nervous and felt vulnerable going to these new places, and in my mind I’d be questioning if I was good enough to be there.” Although he wasn’t aware of it at the time, the coaching approaches he experienced as a young player would go on to influence his own coaching style: “It was just playing and getting comfortable with the ball, effectively learning without realising, and because there was never any harm in making a mistake, it took away the fear.”
The world has changed and kids now grow up with computerised entertainment at their fingertips – including football. John knows that many people feel this change – the lack of street football and jumpers for goalposts –many say, has been detrimental to the game, but he believes in embracing change and taking advantage of the benefits that can always be found. He says,
“I think the information and the access to information we have now is unbelievable compared to ten years ago. We can get access to any information or any idea we want at any time and use it to our advantage to prepare the team, to work with players, and to develop people.”
The only downside he sees is the tendency to obsess over performance at a young age. He says,
“I think sometimes we try to replicate a bit too much. When you’re 11, 12, 13 years old, it should still be about enjoying the game and celebrating fun. If it’s too structured, it takes away the fun. There needs to be a base structure, but young players need to be able to express themselves. If they’re fearful of making mistakes, they’re being prevented from being creative and from learning how to deal with challenges.”
In Football as in Life
For John, coaching isn’t just about football, it’s about developing players. He makes the point that some coaches try to get young players emulating first team players in training, commenting that the danger here is young players might just switch off and not engage in the session. Young players don’t want to stand around listening to lengthy explanations of what they should be doing, they just want the opportunity to get on and do. He believes in doing drills, providing lots of opportunities for touches at the ball, and putting youngsters in situations where they need to make decisions. A coach can guide, but it’s only through making decisions for themselves that a player can grow – and ultimately take responsibility for their development and future in the sport.
The same applies in coaching. John says,
“When you become a coach, you can become a bit guarded because you’re still finding your way. It’s only by doing that you can become more experienced, and experience removes the doubt.”
Mistakes need to be made to encourage creativity, and accepting responsibility for those mistakes allows learning to happen. Just as in football, so it is in life!
To listen to my full podcast with John click here