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FEATURED USER 🙌🏻 Middlesbrough Football Club

Sitting as one of 27 clubs in the UK to be named as a Premier League Category 1 of Academy, Middlesbrough FC is a renowned player development environment and was the first team in England to famously field a whole starting lineup of academy graduates. Speaking our latest episode of the podcast, the club's Head of Coaching, Phil Shead to chat the impact of MatchPlay Cards© on players and coaches...


Discussing the impact of a heavily games-based approach, Head of Coaching, Phil Shead discusses the role of the coach as a problem setter to support players through the game; “If they can work it out in training, they can work it out in the game. I think as coaches, we can be clever how we shape things, we may leave certain constraints cards out to offer choice.”

“We’ve brought really heavily into MatchPlay Cards© particularly in the Foundation Phase. We are trying to create problem-solvers and decision-makers, they’ve been a great addition.” Adding the impact of MatchPlay Cards© has been to engage players in the learning process “… coaches are now able to give players choice and invite them to pick cards around certain themes.”


If we are looking to develop problem-solvers the game must then ask players to solve problems. Just as coaches of Middlesbrough do, we can add MatchPlay Cards© into training games as secret missions, challenging the opposing team to recognise and identify what is happening in front of them (just like the game would!) or giving adding a single MatchPlay Card© into the game as a scenario for both teams to solve.

"Now there is an ability to engage players and give them some choice. There's a lot of decision making and tactical stuff going on for players, they've been great for us." Phil Shead, Head of Academy Coaching


Taking the philosophy that each player is an individual project, every player in the academy is supported on their journey with an individual development plan (IDP) explains Phil, "Every player has an individual learning plan here and that might not be something that they need to get better at, it might be something that they are already very good at and they want to get better at, super strengths"

“I am fascinated by human interaction and the power it has. Players want to be involved in the learning, you’ve got to make sure the environment is right. In the next five years it’s going to look different again, the more players that come through will want to be part of the part that process, game planning, and decisions, we’ve got to embrace it” Explains Phil.

Foundation Phase Coach, Danny Fowler shared how coaches are connecting players with the the "Middlesborgh Way" by preselecting MatchPlay Cards© that fit the theme and players individual development plans to give players "more power and visual stimulation" adding "we are a heavily games based club and know that football can be unpredictable"

Danny explains one way he is supporting players to be more adaptable using MatchPlay Cards© "I sometimes do it random, where every 5 minutes I will get another player to pick a card as a game challenge, it brings variability to the game for players to solve, its's a psychological test."

"We do loads of games with constraints, it's the power of the cards, you can see their faces light up when we give them challenges. Danny Fowler, Foundation Phase Coach

Using themes across the academy curriculum to support players explore the game, staff are add MatchPlay Cards © into certain weeks; “In creativity week, for example, we give players the pack of cards and say “you’re in charge tonight, choose to two cards and create a game.” There are loads you can do from that point of view”

Middlesbrough was positioned in the top 10 of the Training Ground Guru Academy productivity rankings for 2020/21, representative of the environment they are creating to best prepare players for the future game. Coaches believe in a playful and experiential academy journey for players.

📦 Join Middlesbrough FC and a host of other sporting organisations around the world and shop MatchPlay Cards© for your sessions NOW:

🎙 Access the FULL podcast recording with Middlesborugh FC Head of Coaching, Phil Shead here:


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