If this year’s Brisbane Strikers Under-14s players think living up to coach John Reid’s expectations is difficult they probably have good reason. But if they stick with it, the struggle should be worth it.
That’s because Reid is not the sort of coach who settles for so-so. He sets his bar high and expects his players to strive to jump over it. And he expects them to play the Strikers’ way.
Many years of developmental coaching, including three and a half years of PlayStation 4 National Premier Leagues coaching with Brisbane Strikers, mean that he is as qualified as anyone to talk about combining the Strikers’ football philosophy with FFA’s National Curriculum coaching principles.
“A couple of years ago Dave (Large) and I sat down and we said ‘what should be our style of play?’” said Reid last week.
“I suggested an aggressive, attacking style of football, dominating possession of the ball and being the aggressor to take the ball forward and try and score goals at every opportunity. That fell in line with what Dave was thinking about as well”.
Reid said one of the key principles he was trying to get across to his players concerned the direction of their passing while playing possession football.
“How I want football to be played is not with too many square passes,” he said.
“The square pass is a dangerous pass and my kids have been punished for it all season. Right from the outset we said we don’t want to play any square balls in our half of the field, and we have done, and lost goals. So it’s been a good learning curve for them.
“I’d rather not play the ball square fifty times. I’d rather go back or forward forty-eight times, because you are going somewhere. The best way to play the ball forward is to get the ball coming back to you because there’s less pressure on you and you can make a better decision”.
Reid said the emphasis in the Strikers’ program in coaching the Under-14s is to start teaching them “job descriptions in the shape of the team and roles and responsibilities in attacking and defending, so that they get a complete education on the function of the team and the roles of the players within it”.
However, technique remained an important part of the players’ development in this pivotal year that combines the skills factor with the quest to mesh all the individual parts of a team into an effectively functioning whole.
“We spend a lot of time on technique,” Reid said. “Because even at the highest level, in the international teams I’ve been watching this week, they are all spending time with technique.
“It’s a key part of being successful as a player – getting better outcomes. So we spend a lot of time on technique, especially in the recovery sessions on a Monday. We try to limit the intensity and focus on technical skills and a little bit of relaxation and recovery before we build it up again for the next game”.
With the season heading into its last couple of months Reid said his players were beginning to make progress in absorbing and implementing the information he has been imparting.
“Since the Western Pride game, and last weekend against (SWQ) Thunder, everything is starting to fall into place in certain areas,” Reid said. “One of my players had his best ever game (against Thunder). So there is a lot more confidence growing in the team, everybody is starting to read from the same page and I think we’re looking to be more consistent between now and the end of the season.
“I’m really pleased with the way we’ve turned a few average performances around to two very good performances”.
But Reid said there was still plenty of room for improvement between now and season’s end.
“I think the one area that everyone can improve in, and what everyone is crying out for, is scoring goals,” Reid said.
“We don’t spend enough time as a finishing school getting quality in the cross, timing runs, combining our play in the front third and taking good chances when they come along.
“We’ve shown the kids lots of footage of counter-attacking goals, build-up play goals, and they’ve seen professional teams do it. But because of the training cycle and programs that we’re working on I can’t really say I’m going to go off on the next six training sessions and focus just on finishing in the box.
“So what we have to do is build midfield through, bring in wingers and then culminate in the last week of that cycle in supplying balls into the ‘nine’ and ‘ten’ for goal chances”.
Reid is often an animated coach in the technical area on game day, tending to get more vocally involved than most other juniors coaches at the club. He said this was a requirement dictated by the personnel within his squad rather than a reflection of his personal style.
“With this squad I’ve got a very quiet group,” Reid said. “They lack communication so I’ve constantly had to remind them of what their job is and where they should be.
“Having said that, over the last couple of games everybody is taking more responsibility and understanding that communication is a huge part of support play.
“But I don’t like to see things that we’re working on in training being overlooked in games. When we’ve been working on a theme through the week, if they drift away from the theme I quickly remind them and get them back on track,” he concluded with a laugh.
While Reid said he had some reservations about the standard of the football being produced in this year’s Under-14s competition, compared with that of the previous three seasons, he also had no doubt the competition had plenty of good players.
His own squad, he said, was no exception.
“In each of the groups that I’ve had (since 2013) there’s been a core of three or four players that will progress within the club, or can progress outside of the club. Last year two went on to Brisbane Roar and one of them has gone and trialled overseas. I see this group as no different”.
Reid said that in order for them to progress in their development over the remainder of the 2016 season he wanted his players to consistently replicate some new qualities they have shown recently.
“We’ve put the emphasis on dominating possession over the last three or four weeks, and we’ve done that in the two games that we’ve just recently played – we’ve dominated our opponent by keeping the ball,” Reid said.
“The biggest change that I’ve seen in the culture of the team is to be more competitive. The little ones have become more aggressive and more competitive and that’s leading to us maintaining possession. At the beginning of the season the smaller boys were getting knocked off the ball, not competing enough, but now they are really aggressive and we are a different side.
“I want to see these kids go on with it. If, in our competition, Brisbane City are the yardstick then we’ve already outplayed them for one half. We want to go on and outplay them for the full game.
“They are a good side – they’ll have the majority of the state team from there, so that’s got to be our yardstick – to go and give them another good game of football.”