Saturday, March 01, 2003

Bringing an English perspective

Bringing an English perspective to London soccer
By SEAN MEYER, The Londoner

Ian Knight has been brought to Canada by the Greater London Soccer Club to raise the skill level of the 200-plus boys and girls playing on the club's 11 teams.

A bad break for an English soccer star has turned positive for about 200 kids learning soccer in the Forest City.
The Greater London Soccer Club (which was started in 1995 with a single team and now has 11 youth competitive boys and girls teams) has hired former professional English footballer Ian Knight as club head coach.
Knight will oversee the creation of the club's youth development business plan. In turn, the plan will be used as a blueprint to involve parents, coaches, and most of all the kids themselves, in the development of their soccer skills.
Marcel Naarden is the club's league representative for the London District Youth Soccer League.
"The majority of our kids are really soccer-oriented. That's their focus. We thought to teach them the best possible skills we needed to bring in someone who has played at the highest level."
Knight certainly possesses the knowledge and game experience the club wanted. He played for 20 years, first with the English under 21 national team, and professionally with Grimsby Town and Sheffield Wensday.
A serious leg injury led to a premature end to Knight's professional career (although he was able to return to action after breaking his leg in seven places during a game in 1987).
And Knight already had experience working with London kids.
"London soccer wanted an opportunity to see the game at the professional level and that brought a group of kids over to England. That's where I first came in contact with the group (here in London)," Knight says.
"I brought a group of kids to Grimsby (where Knight has served as academy director in the past) and gave them the opportunity to play with our youth teams. It was a great experience for them."
Club rep Naarden says they recognized the need for someone like Knight - not just for the benefit of the players, but the coaches as well.
"We all needed to learn some different skills. Some of the coaches too had reached a plateau," Naarden says. "I think we needed to see things in a different way. Ian helped bring that different set of eyes."
Upon starting work with the club, Knight used those fresh eyes to get a good look at the players and the level at which they performed.
"My first impression, what impressed me, was the enthusiasm, the focus on the sport," Knight says. "There was good attendance, the enthusiasm. As a coach, you know if you have that, you can teach the skills they need."
From that point, Knight went to the club executive and explained the business plan he envisioned to help move forward the skill level of players in London.
"A big part of the plan is to educate the players, but also the parents as well. They are part of the process and we want to have them involved," Knight says. "Sometimes what you do away from the game is more important. If you only focus during practice, during the game time, what you're learning won't take. That's why we have the parents and the coaches involved."
The development plan includes a variety of information designed to set out not only what the kids will be learning, but what is expected of them, their parents, and the coaches and even how each group will be evaluated.
The core values listed in the plan include employment of dedicated coaches, provision of relevant and ongoing training, establishing a comprehensive monitoring and inspection system, to provide regular get-togethers to share opinions and to behave fairly and consistently in all matters.
Naarden says the development plan is a blueprint not to just soccer, but to a lifestyle for the players involved.
"We want to make the plan a part of their lifestyle. To make it a focus like hockey is, like baseball. There's so much potential for this sport, and not just locally, we want to do whatever we can to take the next step," Naarden says. "It's not going to happen overnight. But we want to develop the kids not just as soccer players, but as people."
Knight agrees the changes won't happen overnight and will require a continued level of dedication from the players, parents and coaches.
"Everything around this is player-focused. The education both on the field and at home. We need to build their level of play, but at the same time not put extra pressure on them. They are there to have fun and we have to remember that."
While it may be too early to see the results of the new coach's work, Naarden says he has seen some changes already.
"We've noticed changes - little, different things. There's been a difference in their attitudes I think. The players are more committed. They are setting their goals a little farther ahead. And that's good to see."


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