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IN FOCUS: MatchPlay Cards at West Ham United

The Academy of West Ham United F.C. is recognised as one of the most successful football academies in modern football, hence it's nickname the Academy of Football. Joe Cole, Rio Ferdinand, Frank Lampard and more recently Declan Rice have all graduated from the famous academy.

West Ham United Academy Coach, Ross Brooks stopped by on The Coaching Lab podcast to share how Foundation Phase coaches are adding MatchPlay Cards© into sessions to challenge players, here's our top takeaways.


"They have been really interesting for us because as a tool they provide a real stimulus for players. A normal game isn't a normal game with MatchPlay Cards, suddenly you add the cards and they are being challenged in different ways, whether that be individual or team challenge."

"When we add them into game what we notice is that the kids really enjoy it and intrigued about who has what card. We do it in a way that players can choose when to play their card in the game and the competition that creates is fantastic, it is from there where we can create more competition."

"A powerful stimulus" Ross Brooks, West Ham United Academy FC

"What has worked well in our environment is adding them into our small sided games and more tournament format games because we have really wanted to get more of a pysch/ social return on those games."

"We can be really selective around who we challenge with the cards, it maybe we choose a player who is struggling with their communication so we choose a card that enables them to lead and have control."

"Have a look through your deck and then think what player needs what and when do they need it based on what you're working on. We have focus players based on their IDPs."


"When the players arrive they can see on the board and what they are going into, it then becomes about peer to peer and having players discussing their MatchPlay Cards. When use them in sessions it is about using guided discovery, creating an environment where players feel free to talk."

"Sometimes we give a player a MatchPlay Card© for a block period of time to explore that challenge." Ross Brooks, West Ham United FC

"And because we don't use them all the time in every session, when we do use them the impact on players is so powerful. It is about being skilful as to when to use them and what players to use them with, sometimes we choose one or two players who just need that extra challenge."


"We use a lot more open questions, based on how an individual reacts to their challenge, card you observe and then decide how and when to intervene. It may not be that we tell but provoke thought and get them engaged with the challenge they have in hand."

Adding, "As coaches we really challenge the players to be deceptive on how they use them, about the right time to use them and the right time to use them against their opposition. We really like that because it gets them to create problems for the opponent."

"As a coach you are trying to get players to think differently but to also reinforce the thoughts they may have" Ross Brooks, West Ham United Football Club

"It's about understanding that it is okay for a session to be bumpy and a little messy. As coaches we often feel it is a good session when everything goes to plan but more often that not that is not when true learning has taken place. When kids are struggling and finding it hard we can be quick to throw in the hook to save them,"

"In a mixed ability group it is about differentiating because the kids who have good awareness and cognitively strong can adapt to situation but because it isn't a visible trait like a physical and technical trait it is difficult to assess, it is those players who need the extra stimulus." Shares Foundation Phase Coach, Ross Brooks.

"The job of the coach is to create a problems and MatchPlay Cards© enable you to do that. We can pitch a session on technical and physical which can set the bar of where we are at as a group but the players who are cognitively well ahead don't get stretched like they need to, it is that ability to set problems and learn how to play a game within a game."

"The job of the coach is to create problems and MatchPlay Cards © enable you to do that" Ross Brooks, West Ham United Football Club


"There has been a lot of work around Reflection MatchPlay Cards© with players which has been great. They will get some cards and then feedback and share that with their parents or Luke (West Ham United U12 Coach) via email or message."

Most notably, Frank Lampard, Rio Ferdinand and Joe Cole all began their careers at the Irons before going on to have enormous success at other clubs in the Premier League and in the Champions League. The category one academy placed eighth in the Training Ground Guru’s productivity ratings for the 2020-21 season.

"It is about creating time for reflection in sessions and between sessions as it helps players to continue learning." adds Ross.

"In terms of revisiting and recalling information it maybe you use them one week and then revisit them in a couple of weeks with the same challenge cards to check understanding and see what they have got from."

Thanks to Ross for spending time with The Coaching Lab and for West Ham FC to get involved with MatchPlay Cards©, You can SHOP the MatchPlay Cards© series NOW!


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