Jason Hopkinson interview

Hastings manager and Brighton coach Jason Hopkinson took his time out to give his views on football youth and how he believes progress could be made.

I started coaching about twenty years ago, and I think I have always made progress and enhanced my skills wherever I’ve been as each place as been a learning place for me. I played for Eastbourne United and I know the preferences I’d choose when choosing the style with which I’d like to be trained.

So much emphasis from a very young age is on winning. I believe that when there is a young local team, they are often trained by a Dad and his child normally plays for his team. Now you know and I both know that a father who is coaching his son is always going to want his team to win. Unfortunately this is at all costs. The team is going to have the same “best” eleven out every time they play and quite often his son is going to be playing every game.

Now know disrespect to any fathers’ that are coaching because many do a good job, but kids at that age are raw. They take in a lot of what they are told and at that age, to pick up bad habits could be detrimental to their development. When nobody is there to teach them how to strike a ball properly or to pass and move what you see is all the players running around chasing the same ball on a pitch that is often too big for them, meaning the fastest player on the pitch will normally be the best.

I think parents should be kept out of the way and I in my opinion and I know this is drastic but I think you shouldn’t have children playing competitive football till they are about 13. This way you can hone the children’s technical skills and teach them all about the game. They still have plenty of years of development left and at that age they would be ready for an eleven aside game of football where all their acquired skills could be implemented.

If you are teaching a young child who is small but good technically, you can really press on helping to make the child better without the fear of him not getting noticed because of the bigger children and the faster children. This way the best players are picked, not the most physical. If you get the foundations right in a young child, with the help of good coaching, the rest will follow.

Not only do I have a problem with competitive games at a young age, I also cannot see why children are running around on freezing winter days chasing after a ball, learning nothing and getting nothing out of the game but a cold. There’s no point training on an artificial pitch, which isn’t great for your knees, and then running round and getting no enjoyment out of the football at the weekend. They should play in the summer on grass when it’s warm, so they can fully focus on what they have learned, thus making them better footballers. Practice makes perfect and when you have the perfect conditions to practice in you will almost certainly development into a better player.

I’ve taken teams to different countries such as Holland, Germany and Italy and the difference in coaching at youth level is clear to see. They have a rotation policy where each player has to have a certain amount of minutes on the pitch. I think they have made that a rule in England but only at the top, top level. Everyone should be given their chance to show what they could do because for all anybody knows there could be a wonderfully talented little youngster who may have failed to impress because of confidence or any other reason, but then gains a little confidence and is never given the opportunity to play again. That is often how talented youngsters get missed.

You can see as well, especially in Holland, how the focus on training is almost solely technical. Height and pace and strength is not much of an issue to the coaches as they are aware of the important attributes. At 7 or 8 years old how can you possibly tell if a young child is going to be tall or quick? You can have an inkling but to make a decision at that age is ludicrous.

They are also stressed at to get the ball ‘on the deck’ and play it around. Long balls aren’t part of how they are taught and the way they play at that age is so important. The focus on winning is less and the focus on solely developing is much, much more.

When I’m teaching youngsters I think I’m getting far more right than I’m getting wrong. I work with a fantastic team and we have our ideas on the right way to play the game and that’s what we teach our youngsters especially.

The mentality of the players is so important and this applies to any age group of players. You can be a fantastically gifted player but if you have the wrong mentality it’s likely you’re not going to make it to where you want to be. You must have the will want to train hard, in your own time as well as training sessions. You must always give 100% in everything that you do and as coaches we must have the required discipline to make sure the players apply themselves and give 100%. If they have the right mentality and basic abilities, it is up to us coaches to do everything we can do to help them get to the top.

There is so much talk about the England team being unsuccessful but I don’t think they are doing anything major wrong. You look at the likes of Steven Gerrard, Wayne Rooney and Frank Lampard and you think to yourself these are some of the most technically gifted players of our generation. I think the problem lies with all these unnecessary friendly’s that nobody particularly wants to play or watch and it seems to just be the F.A wanting to get more money.

Instead of these friendly’s I think the England team should have training camps where they learn to work together and bond more as a team. If you can get these undoubtedly world class players to click, then England will have themselves a very, very strong team but it comes down to making them work as a team and I think the only way that can happen is them spending more time together than they already do.

Rufaro Fielding

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