Implementing FAI PDP

Implementing the FAI Player Development Plan.

With the season now over for some parts of the academy, we can now reflect on how the FAI PDP plan was implemented accross our own games and the many others that we have observed from many club visits over the past eight months.

This season was my first in six years where I was part of the coaching team for u10s girls. Nicole my 17 year old daughter who has a PDP1 qualification had taken the team at the start of the season and I was the designated driver/assistant.

When the PDP plan was introduced by the FAI Ruud Dockter the FAI High Performance Director travelled the country with staff from the FAI hosting seminars on how the plan was to be implemented. The plan seen a new emphasis on developing better technical players from the younger age groups and introducing a unified coaching

 philosophy as opposed to the win at all cost mentallity.

Pitch sizes combined with the number of players on the field of play were all now age appropriate with a gradual build up through the age groups to the full size game. Small sided games encouraging many touches on the ball was the starting point with U6 & u7s playing 4v4, u8/9s 5v5, u10s/11s 7v7, U12s 9v9 with offsides and u13s plus 11v11. Along with this there was a recommendation on sqaud sizes and the duration of players playing times on the pitch ensuring that all players regardless of ability were treated with respect and got a fair number of minutes on the pitch. At the younger age groups the pitch was divided into thirds and a retreat line was introduced in the final third to encourage the player in goal to start the play with a game related decision and a pass to his defenders. 

A unified size five football was also to be introduced with a different weight per age group. This ranged from 290g u6/8s, 320gs u9s/11s, 370gs u12/14 into 450g regular weight at u15 and above. Initially this was a huge outlay and cost to all schoolboy clubs to roll out new footballs throughout their clubs with many having multiple teams at each age groups with meant a range of different footballs. 

We as an academy and in conjunction with our sister club RFA Swans have adopted the PDP plan and have carried it out on a weekly basis with both our boys and girls section. Across the course of the season we have travelled to many grounds and in general the implementation of the plan has being brilliant. The pitch sizes can vary throughout and that can be for a number of reasons at each individual clubs including our own, but on 90% of occasions this is not an issue. Each club as the home teams provides the appropriate match ball and the roll off roll on substitutes have worked extremely well. There always seems to be players getting plenty of football. 

The retreat line was introduced to encourage a new philosophy or way of playing into our players from an early age. The goalkeeper at the time is now encouraged to make a game related decision before performing a football action and playing a pass to either of his defenders. The opposition are allowed one attacker inside the retreat line to make it a 3v1 scenario (GK + 2 Defenders v 1 Atacker). Its our responsibility as coaches to encourage this as the correct way of playing regardless of the enevitable mistakes that our young players will make in the learning process. 

Over the course of the season the referees or facilitators in charge have being fantastic. I have personally witnessed the referees bring both sides together at the start of some games and together with both sides identify the retreat line that's marked with a red cone and explain the rule to both teams pre match. However as a grassroots coach this is where my frustration beings. We have done so well to this point to put the plan in place, change the sizes of the pitch and playing squads, give players equal time on the pitch, identify a development phase opposed to the forementioned win at all cost, identify where the retreat line is and then bang! The first time the opposition keeper has a goal kick the defender is asked to kick the ball out, straight down the pitch as far as possible. Let me state this hasn't happened every week but between the boys friendly games that we have played and agreed that we were playing in relation to the PDP plan and our girls games it's definitely up at a minimum 75% where the plan goes out the window. 

On numerous of occasions our coaches have being left looking at each other going what's that all about. Yes before anyone start's I get that it's none of my business on how other coaches at other clubs choose to coach or implement things on matchday. Maybe they are instructed by the club or its the clubs playing style to do what they do. For me they have taken away the opportunity for our front player to go about defending from the front in a 3v1 situation. You may argue that they are challenging our players in a different way, but I don't know too many u10s or u11s that fancy heading the ball. 

This leads me to the question. Should the referee the man in the middle be asked to encourage the retreat line part of the PDP? Is encourage too soft of a word? If we are to develop technical players from a young age and we as clubs have bought into the PDP plan should the referees be asked to enforce the retreat line. My other question is why do coaches in charge of grassroots teams continue to have their players wallop the ball up the pitch from a goal kick? It's clearly for the fear of making a mistake, putting yourself under pressure and the unthinkable scenario of conceding a goal from your own goal kick. 

Development football v win at all cost? 

After all that the main point of the PDP plan that's getting all the focus at the moment is the calender football debate. Regardless what time of the year we eventually end of playing the quest to develop technical footballers will continue. 

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