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Player lead game days with MatchPlay Cards

Game days are traditionally lead by coaches who are directing players with instruction but a recent festival with academy sides of Dundee, St Mirren and Wigan Athletic proved it can be done differently. The unique player-led festival is

We sat down with Lead Foundation Phase Coach at Dundee United, Matt Boyle who shared how a player lead festival can support players and coaches.

The role of the coach?

It comes as no surprise to players to be leaders of their own game, given the player centred approach used across the academy, players regularly run their own games team huddles in training and leading their own peer to peer feedback, as Matt shares....

“We picked two teams but the players picked their own teams, the only other input we had in the game was every 5 minutes we called “rotate” and the kids would move around the pitch so every kit played different position during the 20 minute game.”

"Kids are kids, it doesn't matter if a coach is there or not, they just want to play. At Dundee we are all player centred teams, you will see lots of games, lots of challenges and tons of fun. It is working because the amount of kids we are seeing playing in the first team is high."

“Some of the stuff that came out was really powerful, it empowers the players, it is their game so let them go and take charge” Matt Boyle Dundee United

Adding MatchPlay Cards into game days

Using MatchPlay Cards to facilitate players discussion and add game day challenges, Matt preselects challenge cards that focus on themes of training from the academy programme.

“We picked 4 different MatchPlay Cards, one for each game we played. What would happen is, a player would come and turn a card over and whatever the condition was that would be their challenge for the game.”

“The player who came off then got given the MatchPlay Card of “Manager Mode”, it was their responsibly to go and give the team talk, share what they thought and what to look out for.”

“It gives them something to try in the game, encouraging them to think and then gives us something to talk about in the debrief.

“One way we would use individual challenges with MatchPlay Cards a lot in our academy fixtures would be to pick out 4 cards that we will then use in our playing units. We then just put them in the changing room and let the players explore their positional challenges sharing them with other players.”

“It gives them objects for the game and gets players to think differently”

Capturing player learning

"We use Reflection MatchPlay Cards to change the conversation with parents and players. When we play Rangers FC we know it can be really tough with the top academy players they have, we know that parents will "what was the score?" or "how did you play?". That is why we gave the players Reflection MatchPlay Cards to take in the car.... "Who was the best player you played against or the best moment of today?"

"It changes the conversation, you can still ask about the score but that may come later on, the more important question is what is on the card"

"The impact on the kids is that it creates intelligent football players, it is almost creating street players. If I watch a game I see a lot of players waiting for instruction but at Dundee United we just see kids play and feel free about their decisions. They have the freedom to go and make mistakes."

The player centred approach taken by Dundee United is reaping it's rewards given the number of players graduating from the academy into the first team and further beyond over the boarder to other cubs.

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