Youth Football Development: Bounce

“If you can light the spark of curiosity in a child, they will learn without any further assistance.”

~ Ken Robinson ~ 

A brief note on youth football development:

In comparing New Zealand with 1st rate footballing nations (Brazil, Spain, Germany, Holland, England, Iceland, etc…) the average Kiwi does not spend nearly close to the amount of time playing football in structured or unstructured environments between the age of 5 and 10 years. Therefore, upon entering the academy setting at the ages of 9, 10, 11 and 12 players are often technically inefficient in regards to footballing actions, i.e. dribbling, passing, striking, first touch, etc...

Although much of the training in the academy aims to address the technical attributes of each individual player (passing, dribbling, first touch, etc...) most trainings and practices centre around the teaching of game understanding and complex decision making. In order to train such things (decision making and game understanding), which require higher levels of cognitive thought, players must first and foremost be technically proficient (good passers, good dribblers, etc…). If players are not technically proficient, the trainer must devote more time to developing the technical side of the player (which can often be done out side of the academy alone); therefore, compromising valuable time spent focusing on game understanding and complex decision making (within a group of players; team) - key attributes that the modern 21st century footballer must begin developing as early as possible.

The best way for a young player to improve his or her technical proficiency is to spend more time at home - outside of the structured training environment - playing football. Young players with ambitions of playing the game at the highest levels should be spending time with the ball nearly every day outside of training by themselves or group of peers.

Having said that, the school holidays are a great time for players to improve technical proficiency. Instead of taking a break from football, please encourage your player to spend more time with the football “making it their best friend.” Most importantly, players should enjoy spending time with the football, as enjoyment is arguably the most critical component when it comes to a player's longevity in the game and the continued desire to learn, develop and grow.


What is Mentalenty?

It is everything.

It is the corny combination of two words. 

It is what the best organisations search for. It is what the best teams recruit. It is what the best teachers teach. It is what we should be trying to foster in the minds of all young people.  

Super humans that understand the significance of the present moment and its undeniable link to the future. Major players that live in the present - giving the here and now their full attention - and understand that a sound process is the fastest (not always fast) and only way to sound results. Opportunity winners that seek growth along every bend, twist, up and down on the long and winding road.  

Mentalenty is stick-with-it-ness. Angela Lee Duckworth G - R - I - T. The ability to keep on keepin’ on when the going gets tough. To delay eating the marshmallow while still finding joy in the highs and embracing the difficult learning lows. Mentalenty is pure hard work ~ 10,000 hours ~ i.e. a lot of, deliberate purposeful brain bending practice. Perhaps most importantly, mentalenty is never being satisfied with “success.” Whatever that means...

Talent is god given. We do not acknowledge it. Talent is born. We do not worship it. Talent talks. We do not walk with it. Talent is natural. We manufacture it. Talent is an empty shell; a farce for fools - a fantasy. Acknowledging talent is the failure to recognise that every single success story was forged through failure after failure, road block after road block, small victory after small victory and hard work working hard. If not, then tell me, who on earth has the responsibility of hand selecting the chosen few destined for success? Let me have at em’!

Couple talent with strong mentality and you have a dangerous beast on your hands. A monster sparked by the human's inherent love for learning. An animal with a mindset set on growth and maximising potential. A happy being that sees the indisputable correlation between the quality of this moment and the quality of the future. A strong person that fails to abide by the status quo.   

“Don't let a mad world tell you that success is anything other than a successful present moment.” 

Eckhart Tolle

Be Kind. Do Good. Work Hard. Enjoy.


"The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why."

~ Mark Twain ~

Someone once told me, "sacrifice the immediate for the benefit of the future." I listened for a long time, until now.

Stop making sacrifices. Make decisions. Choose. Be deliberate in thought and action. Do not sacrifice. 

What greater pursuit is there than a life lived deliberately? To pour one's entire energies into the tank of becoming the best one can be - footballer, scholar, writer, trainer, flyfisher, mother, father, compassionate human, the lot…

Somewhere though, someone got confused. Instead of making decisions, he or she began making sacrifices. Instead of framing actions with deliberate intent, actions became sacrificial. e.g. "If I want to be the best footballer I can be - to pursue my maximum potential in the field - I have to sacrifice all the above: free time, friday nights, friends, family, food, sex, drugs and rock'n'roll, relaxation, enjoyment of the immediate present now.

Here’s the question though, when did the deliberate pursuit of something become a less than proposition? When did a life of purpose, or a desire to maximise one’s potential, take a back seat to life's most immediate pleasures? When did a life lived deliberately become associated with sacrifice and loss instead of reward and gain? Since when did devoting oneself entirely to an idea - a purpose - a dream become delusional? 

And yet, still… heavy chunks of metal on wings glide effortlessly through the sky before our very eyes, the mere touch of a single blue button separates loved ones across the globe, and football boots are now neon green and orange high tops. When did deliberate purpose lose its correlation with utter joy and happiness? Perhaps it’s that truly meaningful moments are made from years and years of hard work, toil, grit and refusing to quit despite the many road bumps along the way. 

It is a beautiful privilege to discover purpose and passion in life. Instead of sacrificing the immediate for the benefit the future, frame decisions as deliberate and supported whole-heartedly. Accept the process. Commit to it. Enjoy the pursuit. “What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” Do not sacrifice it away. Surely do not sacrifice your one wild and precious life.  

Be Kind. Do Good. Be Deliberate. Don't Sacrifice.


"Now so much I know, that things just don't grow if you don't bless them with your patience." 

~ First Aid Kit (Emmy Lou) ~ 

You've got to catch them and continue to catch them, until they are able to catch themselves.

Catch them when they are fixed. Help them see that every opportunity is an opportunity for growth. There is no other way. 

Not judging them too early. They are still young and just beginning. Bless them with your patience. Watch them grow. 

Catch them and continue catching them, until they are able to catch themselves. 

Inevitably they will end up catching you. 

Be Kind. Do Good. Catch Them. 

Don't Eat The Marshmallow

In the world I reside - youth football development - marshmallows are everywhere (watch the above video for reference). Big, pink, fluffy, cavity causing, marshmallows tempt the tongue tips of youth football players and their families everywhere. 

Youth football marshmallows come in many forms. Complacency creeps into little Johnny's feet when selected for the A - squad. Academies praise the physical prowess of a physiologically mature ten year-old over the technical and problem solving abilities of a miniature prodigy. Coaches thrive on "boot and scoot" tactics, encouraging players to smack the ball safely from the back instead of forcing the team to learn how to play out of the defensive third. Parents live for the adrenalised rush of watching their kids win over witnessing children learn how to solve complex football problems. The number of U-17 National team superstars (95%) that never fulfil their footballing potential or go on to play in consecutive world cups let alone sign professional contracts. Marshmallow pitfalls are omnipresent in the world of youth football development tripping up players and their families by the multitudes.

Marshmallows are soft and so are the players and families that eat them too soon. If the ultimate goal is to become a professional footballer - the most sought after profession in the world - an elite youth footballer, as well as those supporting him or her, must have an audacious ability to delay gratification. Yes Mum, that may mean not bragging about your son or daughter being the best player on his or her highschool team. Coaches with ambitions of winning tournament trophies just to collect dust on attic shelves may have to reframe their approach. Maximising a young footballer's potential often means choosing the adverse decision over the popular one. Making decisions with development and growth at the core. Deliberately seeking out struggle. Finding value in failure. Taking uncomfortable risksEncouraging loads of mistakes that may prove costly at first. Emphasising learning at all costs over a winner takes all attitude. 

That’s why where I coach, we’re constantly reminding our players and their families, Don’t Eat The Marshmallow. It’s our motto for developing well rounded footballers and people (it's important not to forget that part). It’s our way of communicating to the young player that they aren’t that good… yet, no matter what their mates, the local news, or grandparents tell them. If the ability to delay gratification (to not eat the marshmallow) is the greatest predictor of a child’s long term success in any area of life, it’s about time we stop telling our children how good they are now and start teaching them to never get ahead of themselves and to shut their mouths when the marshmallow's dangling at the tip of their tongue.

Be Kind. Do Good. Delay Gratification. 


"Beware the lollipop of mediocrity; lick it once and you'll suck forever."

~ Brian Wilson ~

There are two sorts of people in this world; opportunity winners and opportunity losers

Opportunity winners see opportunity in all things, at all times. Opportunity losers on the other hand, either see opportunities and do nothing or are so blind to them in the first place that they continually Bolt by in Usain fashion.

The athletic arena, particularly the football pitch, is the ultimate revealer of opportunity winners and losers. Every team, business and organisation is desperate for opportunity winners — yearns for them — players that work hard, make the most of every training session and strive to bring the best out of teammates. Professionals. Real professionals. Players that grab every opportunity by the short hairs and pull... hard. Players that understand it’s all the little things that count, every bead of sweat and ounce of heart. It’s so obvious. Yet, opportunity winners are few and far between. 

Opportunity losers are everywhere though, walking arenas and fields blindly, moving from place to place and time to time not realising the potential always amidst them within their immediate grasp. Having licked the lollipop of mediocrity one too many times, the opportunity loser now just sucks on it. 

Be Kind. Do Good. Don't Lick The Lolli. Seek Opportunities Everywhere. 



Professionalism is standing for something. Professionalism is delaying gratification. Professionalism is the little steps someone takes that add up to one giant leap for mankind. Setting goals that seem impossible at first and committing to them for the long term. That is professionalism. Hoping for an end result is not wise, nor is it professional. Professionalism is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.

It’s scary though, this professionalism thing and most never conquer their fear of it. Professionalism can beat you ragged, leaving you gasping for air, hands trembling on shaking knees, heart rupturing. It’s easy to never invest yourself, to refuse your full potential. It’s comforting to say, "I failed because I let my heart sit this one out." "I never gave it my best shot." "The conditions weren't right." "The sun wasn't always shining." Professionalism means that you might put your entire heart and soul into something and still fail. The empire you’ve worked so tirelessly to build, like castles in the sand, may crumble before your feet. 

You fear professionalism because it shows others that you stand for something now. That in the search of a flow - state and for future benefit you are willing to put life's immediate pleasures on hold. You've been taught that standing for something makes you a freak. Self-control is alien. Discipline is odd. That the ability to delay gratification is completely bonkers. They've told you, "Sit down Tall Poppy." "Blend in." "There is nothing worse than an over-achiever." "Rising above the crowd is showing off." " Stick with the status quo." And cutting you off at the knees is their favourite activity. "Take a beer. Take two. Take three. Drink up. You only live once. YOLO." Fuck em'. Society's rules force followers. Professionalism challenges. Eating cake makes you soft. Meaningful moment's are created by years of professionalism. 

They say that nothing great comes easy. Yet, everyone expects a golden ticket from the heavens to fall into their laps. It’s called the lottery and it’s a game for suckers. There are millions of golden tickets waiting like butterflies in a field. Professionalism is the net you need to capture yours. Don’t let it flutter into the atmosphere. Grab it. Hold on tight. It might drop you flat on your face, then again, it might take you to the sky. The moment is fleeting.

Be Kind. Do Good. Catch Butterflies.

A Dying Breed

I remember an incident that happened about 22 years ago... It had already been a few years since I encountered kids in the woods... hunting grouse, bushwhacking up a trout stream... or just plain hiking off the beaten path. Sure... there were the kids hiking the Oberg Trail... the high density stuff. But none exploring the wilds. One June day, around 1991, I was standing on the bridge of the Sucker River on Fox Farm Road peering into the waters to see if I could catch a glimpse of a trout... when suddenly I heard the jubilant voices of boys in the woods. They came from the tag alders about 150 yards in the brush. I saw the tips of fishing poles above the bushes before I saw them. They were excited. They had caught some brookies... and they were hooked. But, that is one of the last times I saw a child in the wild. They're a dying breed...  succumbing to all the technology and the fear of ticks.

~ U.J. ~