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MatchPlay Cards at Portsmouth FC Academy

We recently discovered that MatchPlay Cards©️ were being sterilised in the Foundation Phase at Portsmouth FC Academy. James Barlow, Head of Academy Coaching landed on the podcast to share the impact they're having on development future professional players.


Before becoming Head of Academy Coaching at Pompey, James held was Technical Director within England Futsal and a leader in player development at Nottingham Forest FC alongside performance roles at the world famous Loughborough University.


I have always been a big fan of chaotic small sided games, we are now moving from structured practices.


I saw the MatchPlay Cards©️ during COVID and i though what a great way to engage players, set them tasks and challenges, It is hard to keep constantly thinking of constraints to add into small sided games.


It stumbled lots of thinking when I was dong my FA Youth Modules, around how to do we give player challenges and get more out of our games, rather the just playing games but be more intentional.


MatchPlay Cards©️ can be shared either player-player or coach-player.


It is such a high level skill to ask great questions, Reflection MatchPlay Cards do that for you, it saved me thinking of everything. They are a starting point to our practices and starting more meaningful interactions.


"We leave MatchPlay Cards©️ accessible for new academy coaches coming in, I have always said they're there if you ever need them." James Barlow, Head of Coaching, Portsmouth FC



🏟 Adding in-game challenges


Sometimes you can't plan to the best of your ability and you need something to fall back on MatchPlay Cards©️ are a really good foundation to spur curiosity with staff as to how engage players in sessions.


"Are we coaching the practice or coaching the player? Is something we have been really focused on this season, it helps when we pick 3/4 players each week for with individual learning plans as to how and when we intervene, this influences who we give player challenges too and impacts how we give high challenge and high support.


Its not about saying we will intervene 8 times because we need to but it actually be 1 that is really impactful, I trust coaches on that and knowing what players need.


Understanding opposition behaviour is so important in the game and understanding how someone is going to stop you, the more we can bring that to life practices, the better problem solvers players will be, come a match day, players will know have a better understanding as to what they're up against.


We are massive on "games within games", how players can understand what is front of them and then influencing their decision making.


"Players get control of the practice, it becomes more self directed . We need to be brave as coaches..." James Barlow, Head of Coaching, Portsmouth FC

It is two different experiences if as coaches we select MatchPlay Cards©️ or we give that responsibility to the players, one week we maybe chasing a certain outcome in the curriculum so pick specific MatchPlay Cards©️ and be intentional as to when we add them in.


On the flip-side, James shares that players can pick what MatchPlay Cards©️ to add into the game, "In the practice we may see a low in engagement or intensity, we put 3 challenge cards facing down and tell the boys in the next 5 minutes you can pick anyone, the moment you pick it up is the moment we play that challenge for next 5 minutes.


"Players get control of the practice, it becomes more self directed . We need to be brave as coaches, rather than think what do I want out of the practice but more what do the players need, a-lot of the time it is not technical or tactical but a social return. Players need varsity!




⚽️ Getting tacical with game time


"Tradition is that games are played at the end of training but just be brave and put them at the front as your arrival activity or tempo setter." James Barlow, Head of Coaching, Portsmouth FC

It is about variation of how long we play games for and where we put games in sessions as well. At times games last too long, playing for 30 minutes straight may not have a purpose behind it, we also then can't plan as coaches as to how we will coach.


Take a 2 minute game, that would say I can't stop the game and would coach after it or take an 8 minute game, that may been I can add a MatchPlay Card©️ in after 4 minutes to change the game and influence players massively.


The games we do play, need to link to the theme of the curriculum we are on that week. The game needs to allow of individual development. We are then designing the game for the learner.


Access CLUB BUNDLES to support more of your coaches with MatchPlay Cards©️ today 👉🏼 Get in touch




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