Jonathan Pugh: coaching blind footballers

Guide 17 - 21 21+

England Blind head coach, Jonathan Pugh, outlines his coaching approach and how he works with players on and off the field.
1. Building blocksDuring our training sessions we teach smaller parts of the main game. We incorporate technical skill games to help teach what we need to do in the game. You have to remember that some of the players we work with may never have been exposed to what we're asking them to do in a game. For example, at grassroots level, blind players won’t always have had the need to walk or run backwards. Asking them to do an overlapping run or to cover in a certain way may be something they've never heard of or experienced before – so we need to break it down and look at the skillsets needed in our overall framework.

2. Guided scenarios Once we have done the ‘how to’ work we make sessions messy and unpredictable by using game scenarios. We let the players experience the scenarios live and see how they come out of them. During this part of a session we try to leave them alone as much as possible. If we do need to intervene we will use guided discovery type coaching.

3. Individual programmes
All our players leave training camps with their own individual programmes. They are given aspects of the game to work on and think about, so when we join up again they come in with a better understanding of what we're trying to do. It gives them the opportunity to improve as an individual as opposed to me over coaching when they are on camp - which is probably how the programme looked 10 years ago.

4. Pitch markings
We break down the pitches into different areas - L1 L2 L3, R1 R2 R3 and middle thirds. So when you're coaching it's quite easy to say I want you to receive a ball in L3, player to screen off your L2. So, it's painting a picture in a way they can totally understand.

An England Blind player runs with the ball during a training session, but has four defenders between him and the goal.
The use of pitch markings helps the guides to accurately describe the players’ location and surroundings.

5. Triangle of noise During games you get a guide behind the goal who gives information to the attacking players: how many people are in front of them, where the space is. I will guide the middle area and provide tactical information but more focused on build-up play. Then you’ve got the goalkeeper who works with the defence. Using that triangle of noise the players can learn length and width perception, so even through the staff just saying a couple of words they will have an idea of where they are on a pitch.

6. England DNA
Like all the England teams, we have an England DNA that we work towards. All the players know what is involved in our DNA and what we're trying to do. So, they do come in to represent England with as much information and preparation as we can give them.

7. Will it help
All communication is guided by our 'will it help' mentality. Before we speak to a player we ask ourselves ‘is it going to help the situation or not?’. We try and refrain from making snap judgments on what's just happened and instead take our time. We found that less is more when speaking with the players and recognise the importance of giving the players the opportunity to play the game. Our aim is to make communication relevant rather than speaking for the sake of it. I have ‘will it help’ written on my hand at games as a reminder.

All the players receive a voice recording in the evening before a game, giving them specific tactical information and responsibilities 

8. Jigsaw puzzle of talentMost of our focus in training is all about team ethic and teamwork. The players understand the benefits of working as a team in a game you can't win as an individual. It’s part of the culture that we have tried to embed with the players. Our belief is that although there are better players who have different skillsets, a winning team is about a jigsaw puzzle of different attributes coming together. That is what we believe should make us better.

9. Matchday challenge At a tournament we can play between three and five games potentially every other day, so we never really have time for rest. The games we play can last for nearly two hours - we have 20 minute halves, 40 minutes total, with a stop clock, so we're talking about 2 hours of running. Sometimes the games will finish as late as 10pm. When we’ve finished, I’ll sit down with the coaching staff and go through all the footage and information because we know we could be playing at 10am the next day and need to prepare straight away.

10. Voice recordings
We use a WhatsApp group during a tournament so all the players receive a voice recording in the evening before a game, giving them specific tactical information and responsibilities. This gives them time to take everything on board but in the morning they can revisit it and ask any questions in the pre-match meeting. Before the game key points are reiterated and any final adjustments are made, but we find that doing it this way has limited the need for long talks, giving them time to focus on their own personal preparation. This is a fairly new way of preparing for games but it has worked really well.

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