Whenever you talk to him Lions’ Head of Coaching, Tony Gold, is always passionate about nurturing our kids footballing ability with a long-term view on creating a new generation of players who ultimately play for our first team as adults.
‘Kids have so many distractions these days; football has to be structured as you can’t play on the street or in playgrounds for hours on end. They don’t get that free-play to develop football ability’.
This is why Gold sees it as vital that Lions juniors all work as hard as possible on their skills outside of their time at Rowley Lane; ‘One hour a week of coaching isn’t enough. I set all my boys homework to play with a ball for 15 minutes a day – in the garden, indoors, wherever. Every kid from 9 should be able to comfortably do ten keep-ups using both feet. This has to be practised, and doing simple drills alone is a lost art, but is of massive benefit’.
Despite his frustrations at limitations of training opportunities, Tony is delighted with the progress made since he took over 18 months ago.
‘You only have to ask David Hyman and Andrew Landesberg at the number of issues they have had to handle, which has fallen dramatically, but what has pleased me the most is the attitude and focus of the kids; this is improving and the further you go down the age groups, we are starting to nuture that in-built focus amongst all the boys’.
Better football than we have ever played
Tony is very candid in his assessment of each age group, and undoubtedly has a knowledge of every team, and is often at Rowley Lane on a Sunday, sometimes watching from afar.
‘From Under 7 to Under 9 we are playing better football than we have ever played. Their game understanding is ahead of where they should be and some of the football is excellent. I am close to the Under 8 Blues and White teams in particular, and anyone would be impressed watching these boys as an example of our younger age groups’.
Tony is glowing in his assessment of the Under 10s as a stand-out year, which he describes as arguably the best year group at the club. ‘I want to get every year like the Under 10s where the standard is very high across over 40 players. It’s almost impossible to assess the boys as there are so many technically strong players and they give us a great chance to produce more than one outstanding team. Whilst it’s a long way off, they can deliver a number of players who can one day play for the first team as adults’.
The Under 11 and 12s are undergoing some changes at a key time in development of the boys from children to youths which Gold understands can cause issues. ‘Historically our White teams in these ages have been very, very good, but they aren’t having it all their own way at the minute as fitness, physicality and development – as well as other distractions – tests the boys. It will be important to see the kids who stay focused, committed and work hard to come through this period of change’.
They have the right mentality
Another age group who hold huge promise are the Under 13s, which Gold assesses as ‘having all the potential to produce a number of players through into the first team and beyond. They have the right mentality, which I always repeat is key. These boys want to do well and seem to have what it takes to keep their focus for the years ahead’.
‘Something similar can be said of the Under 15s. They have some nice players, but the next couple of years will all be about the attitude, and whether the desire to push themselves to a high level of football can be found and maintained’.
Finally, the Under 14s, which Tony is also keen to see push on to greater things; ‘They are another well organised age group, and have a good team ethic. Commitment is key here, but they have some boys who we know can get better and better if they want to’.
Those who are desperate to succeed will do so
Despite a number of boys coming through from Under 18s to play in the Herts County Premier Division with the first team this season, Gold biggest frustration is that not enough kids are showing that staying power to prioritise football . ‘It’s not exclusive to Lions, it’s a national problem as boys of that age seem to lose their focus, which is a huge loss for them and us’.
Gold – who is also Co-Manager at London Colney FC, and aiming to take them to the Ryman League next season – wants to inspire the boys to change this relaxed outlook. ‘I hope we are ingraining in younger ages that there is something amazing about having a long, exciting football career which can challenge you, be one of your life’s passions, and allow you to experience so much’.
‘It’s up to the individual, and those who are desperate to succeed will do so. Those who are content kicking about at Power League when they get to 21 years of age are missing an opportunity which they can’t get back’.
‘You only have to look at our Veterans team, which is filled with players who have been to multiple Maccabiah Games, are still competing at a high standard, but have also been friends and team mates for decades in many cases’.
Our managers are doing a great job
At Lions, it’s important that every part of the structure is in place, which Gold works tirelessly on, and while he knows it’s never perfect, he’s pleased with every aspect.
‘I must praise the managers who by and large are doing the right things to encourage good football, working with their coaches to create that drive, desire and quality from the boys. They also make sure there is a ‘fun factor’ especially in the younger boys’.
‘Our coaches are now better than ever. I want the profile of young coaches who can truly reach the kids and inspire them. It’s hard to find great ones, whose schedule allows them to commit, but we are on the right track and I never stop looking to improve what we have’.
Gold also notes that it’s vital for all our managers to have completed at least their FA Level 1 badge to enable us to retain Charter Standard status as well as have a proper understanding of the basics. A number of current managers have taken on further qualifications, which can only improve our club.
Change is vital every year
As the second half of the season begins, Gold is already looking to plan for next season. ‘We’ll be looking at coaches, managers and squad make-up so we do our best to get everything right. We’re not perfect and we make mistakes but every decision is taken with the individuals in mind and with much discussion amongst coaches and managers. Change is vital every year; it keeps things fresh and allows each kid to develop at the right pace for them, make new friends, and face new challenges’.
Come what may, Gold’s wish has always been the same; ‘We want to produce boys who can play for the first team, but whatever age they arrive and whatever age they leave, I just want each player to have improved during his time at Rowley Lane’.