Move over Maradona

7th September 2001 at 01:00
Jonny Zucker explains how teachers can help England win the World Cup

Back off Jonny or the defender will have a nibble at you!" Alan Ackrell, the Football Association's development officer for Hertfordshire and my coach for the day, shouts instructions at me.

I've decided to go on an FA key stage 2 teaching course because, although I've coached football for many years, I don't have any formal qualifications. Sure I can shout at kids until I'm hoarse to "look up for options" or to "keep your feet on the ground when you take the throw-in", but my technical knowledge needs updating, and I want an overview of the modern game and its place in a modern primary school.

For years we have lagged behind our European counterparts. While we were still letting our 10 and 11-year-olds swarm after the ball on full-sized pitches like a herd of frenzied wildebeest, the French were already experimenting and honing specific skills. That's why they won the World Cup and England didn't.

The FA is trying to reverse this trend and is ploughing pound;6.2 million into its Top Sports programme for KS2. It wants teachers to help spread the gospel by using modern coaching methods and attending courses such as the one I am on.

There are 13 of us, 10 men and three women, at Barking Abbey school in east London. The theoretical sections are tight and well delivered, focusing on elements such as the place of football in the curriculum, safety and fair play and how to plan and evaluate football lessons. You receive the FA's Football Curriculum Guide, which contains pre-planned units of work and theme cards to set up a host of coaching activities. It's simple to follow and easy to use.

The practical aspects are physically demanding but fun. We start with warm-ups, stretching, jogging and games - it's good to see my peers playing "amoeba tag" or running hell for leather to poach balls off the nearest team. It's also fascinating to be in a student's shoes, finding out what it's like to be coached, cajoled and instructed.

These starter activities are followed by detailed tasks involving dribbling, passing and volleying. Alan demonstrates the six most common turns with a ball, including the complex but much mimicked Maradona drag-back. I finally get it after flooring myself several times as my feet become entwined.

At times, Alan has one of us out front demonstrating a coaching point. Sometimes we get it right, sometimes we don't, but he always uses the IPP method for moving us on - improvement, positive, positive: "You could use the outside of your foot to make that cross-field pass, but I like the way you're calling to your team-mate, and your positioning is excellent."

With every exercise and task comes a wealth of practical and adaptable ideas we can use in the school playground. With a set of cones, a pack of bibs and a few balls you can set up countless coaching situations. Cost is minimal, motivation among the children is at a maximum.

And, as football isn't just about learning how to pass and kick a ball, we also work on team building and co-operation. Get a group of pupils working on a common task and they can learn together and experience a sense of communal satisfaction.

Now I've completed the first stage of my FA coaching career, I can move on to attempt the coaching certificate and then coaching licence if I want to. Whatever, I shall bring to my school an array of new information and coaching tips. I feel more able to provide a range of coaching opportunities and to evaluate what aspects of play each child needs to work on. Above all, I'll be making sure when I play the game I don't let any defenders get close enough to have that nibble.

Jonny Zucker teaches at West Acton primary in the London borough of Ealing. The football key stage 2 course was organised by the Football Association in partnership with the regional training unit for Sport London. It is part of a wider scheme called Coaching for Teachers. Tel: 020 7594 9069. Email: rtul@sportscoachuk.orgFor information about FA courses for teachers, contact Donna McIvor: 020 7745 4601. Email: info@the-fa.org. For general information about FA courses, check out the FA website: www.the-fa.org

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