You probably don’t know who Dario Gradi is, but if you are a coach or are interested in developing people, you probably should. Gradi is the Director of Football and runs the Academy (soccer school, that is) at Crewe Alexandra, a club in the third tier of England’s soccer leagues – not bad for a Cheshire railway town with a population of 70,000. But what Crewe is really known for is youth development. Their business model is essentially to develop young players better than anyone else and, in the end, to sell their contracts to larger clubs for enough money to fund the city’s football program. This year Crewe sold one of its top players, 18-year-old Nick Powell, to Manchester United for 6Million pounds. And Powell is just the latest in a string of polished, complete players who have made the premier league and/or represented England internationally. When you see one of those Manchester United jerseys around town, you can rest easy knowing that a few pennies went to fund youth soccer development in Crewe.
Not only is Gradi, the mastermind of Crewe’s academy, unsurpassed in quantity of players developed for a club its size but it’s players are known for the completeness of their development, with completeness defined as a) playing the sort of-FC Barcelona-like possession brand of soccer that the world emulates but few can replicate and 2) being relatively balanced and poised young men in a world know to distort egos and perspectives.
Given his track record—Gradi is arguably the positive outlier in developing soccer players in England–I try to follow his work a bit. I recently came across this short clip of him talking about using feedback journals with his players. The idea is to get them to be self-critical after games and to analyze and assess their own performances honestly and insightfully- something that’s often hard to do with over-achieving teenage boys but that–done well–makes them better players, certainly, and probably better people.
Alas, Gradi found that if he asked his players how they’d done, “nobody ever thought they had a bad game. We could have lost 5-0 and everybody played well.” It was also, Gradi notes, hard to ask players to sit and reflect on the game in a cold dugout for 30 minutes right after. And by the time practice rolled around the setting wasn’t right either. “At training you get the chance to talk to the boys. But that’s not the same as talking with them.”
Anyway, listen here as Gradi describes how the use their self-evaluation journals.
What do you think?
PS: Here’s Nick Powell in action. Check out the goal against Cheltenham at :11.
As for me I’m wondering whether a self-evaluation journal could work in developing teachers and coaches as well as players.