We talk to Leatherhead Youth FC General Manager, Paul Jones, about what it means to become a Red2Blue Club. Paul oversees all aspects running Leatherhead FC. The club is structured as a charity, and is very involved in the local community, ensuring there are no barriers to participation. Here, Paul talks to us about how important Red2Blue has been in helping young players to deal with stress and building the right culture within the club.
You’ve been a qualified Red2Blue coach for a few years. Can you talk about some of the benefits that you’ve seen with specific players or coaches?
The main benefit has been getting the players to understand that pressure exists and what that looks like – both in a football environment and outside of football. What I’ve always loved about Red2Blue is the ease with which players can draw upon the tools and the learnings they get to be able to deal with the pressure. It’s there and it can be practised.
With the coaches, the main benefit is giving them the ammunition to be able to deliver a session and embed Red2Blue into it quite naturally. Then we can make it more deliberate afterwards so that it reinforces the learning of the players. I’ve done it in a classroom to set the scene for the players, but the real learning and practising is when they’re using it on the pitch.
We don’t instruct the kids that we’re going to do Red2Blue now. We drop it in to the session, create some pressured environments, like for example taking free kicks, and see how the players that are drawing upon their Red2Blue deal with it versus those that aren’t. We then discuss it afterwards to make it relevant so that they think ‘Ah, that’s what we were just doing’.
So, you’re using the off-pitch training to review it and then reinforcing it every time you go on the pitch?
Yes, it allows the coaches to be a little bit creative with how they do it. With the scenario-based stuff that we do in the classroom, it becomes endless. In a session a coach draws something out from a player, and sees how they cope with it, and then brings the discussion around to Red2Blue. It gives the coaches a little bit of freedom to go and deliver it quite subtly during a session.
We only see the boys for an hour and a half in a session, so if we said for half an hour, we’re going to concentrate on Red2Blue when they want to be kicking the ball about, we’d be killing sessions. But he simplicity of Red2Blue allows us to discuss it in short bursts when they’re having a drinks break, for example, and then get back on the pitch and see it in action. I think that’s one of the main benefits.
What does being a Red2Blue club mean for Leatherhead?
As a Red2Blue coach, I was always interested in getting it in to the club so that it becomes the norm. I practiced with a couple of squads to see how we could deliver it and how it was received. I see it as us investing in our members, making the offer that we give as a football club even better. We’ve got fantastic facilities, we invest in our coaching, we’ve got somebody to oversee the culture, we have professional staff working here, what’s the next step? What can we offer the members so that they really feel the benefits? The more we can offer, the more we’ll recruit, and set ourselves apart from other clubs – so Red2Blue is another USP.
How does Red2Blue contribute to building the club’s culture?
For us, the culture is a big thing. Eighteen months ago, we went through a review of the club and surveyed the parents, the players and everybody else to find out what people wanted. We’ve spent the last 12 months or so trying to grow the club feel, and what that means to us. What does Leatherhead Youth Football Club stand for?
Culture to fits into that massively and Red2Blue fits into the culture, because we want it to become part of the norm. We want parents to know about it and talk about it, it’s visual within the club. It’s not just a session we deliver here and there but becomes part of the day-to-day environment of the club. And that goes for the staff through to the players, some of whom are under 7 years old, coming in or their first experience of so football.
The club’s hosting so many cup finals for the leagues this weekend so the pressure’s going to be heightened. Staff are working long hours – it’s going to be busy. If we have that culture around the club that everybody comes together and everybody can cope and support each other, we’ll thrive on weekends like that. That’s on the staffing side of things, and if they’re deliberate about it, it becomes deliberate around the rest of the club.
The final piece of it for me with Red2Blue is taking away the stigma in a football environment that mindset needs to be used to solve a problem and shift it to be a development tool that’s there for everybody to access. It’s not just for the striker who hasn’t scored for the last four games. It’s for the person that’s really achieving and scoring every single week. How can they use Red2Blue to get even better? It’s something that’s helpful for everybody and being deliberate about it in our delivery means that people will practice it.
In the past, I’ve been approached by parents whose children are struggling so they’ve asked to do a bit of Red2Blue. Now, it’s shifted to parents approaching us not because they have a problem they’re trying to solve, but because they’re interested in Red2Blue and want to gain more knowledge of it. So, we’re already starting to embed it; it just needs to be on a grander scale – we want to give it to everybody.
You have a strategic partnership with Gazing Red2Blue so what do you hope to achieve long term?
The main benchmark for me is seeing it as a norm within the club. Red2Blue being visible around the club; being talked about without being prompted; seeing it being practiced. Unless you know about it, you don’t know that somebody’s delivering it, or using it at any given point in the match.
I’d like to see parents acknowledge when their kids are practising Red2Blue. We had a situation with my team during a penalty shootout this season, where the boys were using the Red2Blue language and the parents could hear them. It was great to get positive messages from parents about the use of Red2Blue in that pressured situation, and how the boys were drawing upon it and using it. So that’s one of the benchmarks we set.
The second benchmark is growing our membership. In grassroots football, word of mouth is the best seller of membership growth. I want people to be going out there and talking about Red2Blue: ‘Have you seen what they’re doing down at Leatherhead Youth – it’s excellent. My boy or my girl is there, and they get this.” We’re not just talking about getting a good kit or playing on good facilities. We want them to be talking about all the extras that we’re investing in and spending time to develop so that when parents talk to each other at the school gates, we get inquiries for them to come and join the club. If we grow our membership, it’s only going to help us to keep developing as a club and reinvesting recycling the money that we make into better things, and growing and growing.
How have you personally used Red2Blue to get through tough moments?
I’ve been to so many games this season where I’ve noticed the world’s a little bit angry and it’s spilling into grassroots and kids’ football. There are times when I’ve had to stand in between two sets of parents – I’m there as a club official – and it starts to boil over. Things get shouted onto the pitch and between each other. I deal with those situations by drawing upon Red2Blue. It helps provide a language that I can use to defuse the situation and ensure the people understand that their behaviour isn’t necessarily helpful to their kids; in fact it’s increasing the pressure on those kids.
When I use Red2Blue to get that message out to parents, we are able to have a sensible conversation, which for the most part, really does change the situation. Prior to Red2Blue, I may have ended up in an argument or in a situation where I’m trying to escort them away from the ground. Having the Red2Blue tools at hand and being able to pass that on to others – and seeing positive responses from parents – has helped massively.
It sounds as if the parents need Red2Blue just as much as the kids?
Yes, and there’s nothing more powerful than kids telling their parents about it! Every time we do a bad day scenario in a session to lead into the Control Circles, parent pressure is always one of the top three things that kids raise. I don’t think there’s ever a parent that goes to a football match to watch their children, aiming to be unhelpful. Just like there’s never a referee that comes to referee our grassroots football, thinking I’m going to go and ruin everybody’s day. The sessions with the parents are interesting because it’s hard to do them without pointing a finger. But I think there’ll be receptive to it. Going back to that culture, if we don’t get the buy in from the parents, we aren’t going to change the culture at the club anyway.
What’s the best piece of advice anyone’s ever given you?
A very simple one: Be yourself and act as yourself. Back when I was working on estates in Preston, we had lost of foreign delegates coming over to see what we were doing about anti-social behaviour. I remember being impressed by an old colleague of mine, the warden of the estate, who delivered the presentation exactly as himself and had the delegates eating out of the palm of his hand. He told me afterwards that if he’d changed his delivery, they wouldn’t have been interested because he wouldn’t have been able to deliver it right. That’s stuck with me ever since: Be normal, be yourself – you’ll be confident, and people will buy into you a lot more than if you’re trying to deliver a sales pitch.
What’s the one piece of advice you give to the kids or the coaches that you mentor?
To be deliberate about everything they are doing. With Red2Blue, we give them the tools to takeaway. If they take it away and put it in their top drawer and it stays in there, then they won’t get better. They won’t improve. They need to make sure that they get it out, be deliberate and practice, practice, practice!
It needs to become part of their natural conversation. And they mustn’t be embarrassed about doing it. Doing that little bit extra is going to is going to help them. David Beckham used to go onto the pitch every day for 30 minutes after training and do free kick after free kick, by himself. A lot of players go that extra little bit to help themselves. And you can do that with Red2Blue – you have to be deliberate to start with until it sinks in, and then it just becomes part of the way you train.
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