Football is an elitist sport. Not just at the professional level where the gulf between players and fans salaries grows wider by the year, but also at the grassroots level, where those who grew up playing the game tend not to be very welcoming to those who didn’t. As I found, even breaking into “casual” 5-a-side can be difficult for adults who are newcomers to the game. But fortunately, this is not impossible. In this first blog post, I describe my journey from a 36 year old who had never kicked a football to becoming the founder of the first-ever 5-a-side football coaching provider for adult beginners in London.
I have always done all sorts of sports but team sports, since I grew up in Paris and went to a school with sadly no access to any kind of pitches. This is why I was keen to take up a team sport later on in my life. I tried rugby but quickly realised that I wasn’t built up for it, so four years ago I decided to start playing football even though I had pretty much never touched a football before...or even watched a game on TV! I spoke to a lot of people to get some advice on how to quickly learn how to play football; I basically wanted shortcuts so I wouldn't look like an idiot on the pitch. Frustratingly, I always got the same answer: "You just gotta play more if you want to improve”. Following this advice, I joined a few 5-a-side leagues across London but quickly realised that you can’t “fake it till you make it” in football...nobody was passing me the ball, nobody was calling me to play again. This is when I decided to look for a one-to-one coach. There are some in London, very few actually, but these people were simply not able to put themselves in the shoes of an adult beginner who can’t even kick a ball, let alone do kick-ups. It was also rather pricy and boring so I gave up on that idea. I almost joined an actual football club, mainly for their training sessions, but I got turned down since I was...wait for it...a beginner and couldn’t really take part in their weekend games. I couldn’t believe it, I was living in a city where everyone you meet supports a team and talks about the Premier League as if they are pundits on the matter...but where there is nowhere for an adult to learn how to play the ‘beautiful game’. It was all this that made me believe that football is an elitist sport. Not in the conventional way of differences between social classes and backgrounds, but between people who had a chance to learn how to play as children and others who didn’t. So I bit the bullet, like they told me to, and carried on playing in a couple of 5-a-side leagues. I gave it all...I broke a couple of fingers, then I broke my hand (an unexpected joy from this is that I’m now routinely searched whenever I cross airport security), before smashing my head against a lamp post as I was rushing to get to a tournament. Sixteen stitches later, and a team who won without me anyway, I decided to take a step back and reflect on what I had done so far and also what I could change to further enjoy this new hobby of mine.
The first realisation was that I was better off playing friendly games with friendly people, who are a rare breed in 5-a-side leagues. So back in October 2016, I created my own 5-a-side league, using the website Meetup. At the time of writing this first blog post, there are around 30 guys coming every week to play football with me. Anyone can join, as long as they are intermediate/advanced players, and they show respect - perhaps even empathy - on the pitch. In other words, if they are nice people. And it worked. I got better. Admittedly nowhere near the standard I would ideally see myself, but I met a lot of lovely people from all around the world who all come to share the same passion for football (and in some cases, drinking).
But one thing was still missing. Even in these friendly games, it was still difficult for me to really get involved. Whilst I could turn up and play without being ignored or shouted at by my teammates, the fast pace of the games meant there were limited opportunities to work on my technical skills. One poor touch and I would be tackled. One missed shot and I wouldn’t touch the ball again for another five minutes. And I wasn’t alone. I noticed other less experienced players would turn up and have the same difficulties, and then wouldn’t come back. It was at that point that I began to think ‘what if there was something where beginners - not proper players - could train and learn the basics of the game’.
It was turning 40 and becoming a dad that encouraged me to start a new journey. I wanted to share what I had learnt along the way and also to give others the opportunities to improve that I didn’t get in the past. Whilst I am not the most technical player out there, as a teacher by profession I am able to plan very thorough training sessions that break down all the basic football skills i.e. dribbling, passing, shooting, as well as some more specific 5-a-side team strategies.
I do the coaching. It wasn’t my intention, at first, as I was quite happy to just book a pitch and hire a coach to train me and a bunch of other people. But the problem was that I never found that guy. I tried a lot of coaches but most of them were unreliable, and when they did turn up they were unfriendly or unable to speak in front of people. One of them even vanished with all my balls. I am sorry if they are reading this but really, I couldn’t believe it...and yes, please don’t hesitate to contact me if you are a coach and feel like you could make a difference! So once again, I bit the bullet and took my Level 1 football coaching course to start training people from October 2018. I don’t intend to become the next Arsene Wenger or Zinedine Zidane (after all, both men are out of work at the moment if I’m not mistaken?!), I just want to help adult beginners who don’t know where to start their football career...
That's the end of my first blog post, that was a long one...I hope you found it interesting and didn't give up halfway. Please don't hesitate to let me know if you can relate to all that, in one way or another, and I hope to see you at one of our training sessions!