Introduction by David A. Cooper:-Most boys have ideas about being professional football players when they grow up. Of course, very few of them ever succeed in that ambition, but it's fun to be able to play well at any level of the game. Most of the people I went to school with would tell you that I couldn't even kick a ball, so what can you possibly to learn about the game from me? Well, let me tell you my story, because it will help you more than you might imagine. I couldn't kick a ball for the simple reason that no one ever told me how to. I saw people kick footballs often enough, but they always did it too quickly for me to spot that they were doing it differently from me: I just used my foot as if it was a snooker cue! Now, you can't really make an error much more basic than that, but no one put me right until I was in the fifth year of Secondary.
indentAn strange thing happened that year. For the first time, we were allowed to choose which sport we wanted to do. All the people in fifth year who were good at football decided that they wanted to play basketball instead, but all the people who were hopeless at football chose football, and so a whole bunch of us who couldn't kick a ball were given a PE teacher all to ourselves: he taught us all the basics right from the very beginning. It was an absolute revelation to all of us: we rapidly went from being completely hopeless to reasonably adequate within a couple of months. The potential for us to be good footballers had been there all along, but it had never been unlocked. This should really alarm you, whether you're good at football or not: when talent goes missing, everyone loses out as a result. If the "hopeless" players had been coached properly from the beginning, we wouldn't have spent years standing around on football pitches acting like cardboard cutouts. The good players fancied that they were better than they really were: they looked great weaving in and out between these immobile players and shooting the ball into the goal past a goalkeeper who was little more than a middle goalpost. If the "hopeless" players had been taught the basics, they would have forced the good players to improve too, and the better the hopeless players became, the better the good players would have become.
indentIn my class in primary school was one of the sons of a famous football manager. I'm not going to tell you his name, but my primary school was in Aberdeen. That boy was a good footballer, but there was another boy in my class who was far better: he would have had good reason to think he could make it into the professional game some day. Sadly, he didn't get there. Part of the reason for that was undoubtedly that he spent hundreds of hours playing football against rubbish players like me. Lesson one, then, is this: if you are one of the good players, you would do well to help the "hopeless" players to improve their game. If no one else is bothering to coach them, you need to step in and do the job yourself: if you can turn them into adequate players, your own game will improve too, and that improvement may be the key to you achieving your own dream.
How good a player do you want to be? How good a player do you think it's possible for you to be? Most professional footballers are nowhere near as good as the great players, which is strange, because in other sports the gaps at the top are much narrower. The fastest 100m runners cover the distance in under ten seconds, but the slowest ones you see in top competitions rarely take more than eleven. Football is not a simple sport like that, because it depends on many different skills and not just the ability to run fast in a straight line, but the very best players are invariably good at all of the essential skills, while the more ordinary professionals are only good at a few, but they can be dismally poor at the rest. If you want to be a top player, you need to work at the things you're least good at as well as the things you find easy. How many times have you watched matches where a team wastes every corner and free kick that comes their way? Every corner and every free kick within range of the goal should be a serious threat, and yet I've seen entire games in which every player who takes a corner of free kick did one of the following four things: patted the ball to someone who was in the worst position possible for doing anything with it, kicked it straight to where the keeper was standing, blasted it half a mile over the crossbar, or crossed it way over the heads of the guys waiting to deflect it in. But when you watch the best players in the world, every corner is nearly a goal, and every free kick scares the pants right off the goalie. These are cases where the ball is sitting still on the ground when kicked: it's a basic skill which you'd think they'd work at, and yet clearly they don't, because if they did they'd be within ten percent as good as the best. So why is the gap between the best and the rest so vast?
indentI reckon it's down to attitude. If you're lazy, you'll get good at the skills you care about, but you'll neglect the rest. You might be satisfied with being half as good as the best players with some skills, but the best players won't settle for anything less than being nine tenths as good as the best person for any particular skill: they'll keep working at it until they get there, and even then they won't stop working at it. They are dedicated to the art of the game; determined to become the complete package. Does that sound like your attitude? I hope so. You need to make sure that you work at the parts of the game that you hate: all those skills which let you down. The top people in maths don't just want to pass their exams with an A - they want to score 100%. The top people in football don't just want to play in the professional game - they want to outclass everyone else on the pitch in every aspect of the game. That should be your goal.
If you want to become a top footballer, you need to spend a lot of time kicking balls. Time spent sitting in a school classroom being taught badly by people who have been trained to be teachers by people who know absolutely nothing about teaching is not going to help you become a better footballer. Some of you may not care all that much about learning boring stuff like maths and English, but teachers will either keep wasting your time with it until you do learn it or until you get too old for them to care about you any more. There is only one way out: don't wait for them to teach you, but teach yourself everything from this Web site instead. If you can get way ahead of the stuff they're supposed to be teaching you, they won't have any excuse to keep you locked up in school any more and you'll be free to dedicate yourself properly to football, or whatever else you'd rather be doing. Some of you might believe that you are hopeless at maths, English or whatever, but the truth is that you are no more hopeless at those subjects than I was hopeless at football: you just haven't been taught properly. This Web site has been written to teach everyone everything without leaving anyone behind, so please give everything a go.
A course will be written here in the future.In the mean time, exellent videos are available for teaching football skills. The BBC made a particularly good one with Michael Owen some years ago.