Irish Grassroots Football

That’s Not Coaching. It’s Abuse.

Here I go again, giving out about adults on our side lines, I won’t stop until we change a mindset that is preventing our kids from developing.. I know most adults don’t set out to harm kids and usually have the right intentions but so many let the game become about them and to be honest the leagues have not helped in the way the game is structured. The question, is winning more important to me than the welfare of my players? Win at all costs adults, is what I’m talking about. Those wanting to win more than the kids themselves.

So Imagine you’re undertaking a fairly difficult task: assembling a piece of furniture from you know where or filling out an application for a new job, the night before the interview or standing on the top of a ladder painting the edges of a window sill. Do you think it would help if several people shouted at you during the process?

I’ve heard coaches call players “pure shi@!” in front of other players. I’ve heard adults us a derogatory terms to describe an opposition player and in most cases their own.

The question is, would you shout at your child as he/she tried to work out a question whilst doing their homework. Would you scream at them as they attempted to cycle their bike for the first time. Exactly, then why shout at them as they try to figure what to do next before the receive the ball or when they look up to see what’s on and it is that exact moment that they will decide what to do but it is also the same moment that adults will shout about 4 to 5 different different instructions. Every year kids drop out of sports for good, because they don’t have the right person to nurture their talent. If you want to coach, then become one. You won’t find a great athlete who coached himself to greatness.

“If you’re not making mistakes, then you’re not doing anything. I’m positive that a doer makes mistakes.” John Wooden

Recently I heard a coach’s attempt to motivate his players during halftime team talk, he gathered them around him and told them that they were s-h-i-t-e, he pointed at some and berated them with negative words. All to often this seems to be happening, clipboards flying, bottles thrown, equipment being kicked, insulting players and referees, and singling out several players to the point of tears. What I find more shocking is that most of these kids parents are standing on the line and there is never any intervening from them, we just except it because this is now the norm.

Why are we still allowing this?

We parents may not condone it, but we’ve learned to accept it. We put up with it because parents worry that if they question it, there will be repercussions for their kid.  Less playing time, most fear. Why do people feel that the choice is putting up with it or denying the kid a sports experience. Its funny how people start to justify it in their minds.

Really we should know better, and more parents have to be prepared to step in and question the coaches actions. let’s not forget, most of the people involved haven’t a notion on how to coach kids.

Maybe the screaming and shouting worked for pasts generations, even if it was in less numbers. In fact I don’t think it was as bad as it is know; when I played football our parents never game to the game, so we only had two adults either side watching the match, two people screaming at you seems like nothing compared to 30 adults + that now come to most games.

“No-one likes to be criticised. Few people get better with criticism; most respond to encouragement instead. So I tried to give encouragement when I could. For a player – for any human being – there is nothing better than hearing: ‘Well done.’ Those are the two best words ever invented. You don’t need to use superlatives.” – Sir Alex Ferguson

Schools across Ireland have adopted some of the tough anti-bullying rules to which our own children are accountable. Shouldn’t we demand the same from our coaches? – could you ever imagine a schoolteacher behaving in such a manner during class time.

What I’ve noticed over the last few years of coaching — and yes, this is based on casual observation — is that the best teams with the best coaches seem to be have the calmest sidelines or least the ones that are trying to develop the kids in the correct manner. Rather than shouting specific instructions at players — and chastising them for every mistake — these coaches have already taught their players what to do, they have been working on a plan. The game is there time to show the coach what they have learnt at training that week. They trust these kids to take responsibility. Sure, the kids make mistakes, but there is a lot to be said for playing without fear. There is trust amongst the team. They play better, learn to be instinctive, and — gasp — have more fun. FUN is what it’s all about, that’s why kids get involved in the first place.

Will it take someone to be scape coated for people realise that some of the shouting is actually bullying. It’s time we woke up to this and put a stop to all the abuse on sports fields all across the country. We all know that in the heat of the moment we might accidentally drop an F-word and get a little irate, this passion is sometimes hard to control. That isn’t what I mean. It’s the constant verbal abuse, every week at every single game and it generally comes from adults who haven’t a notion about coaching.

Stand for nothing less than Zero tolerance.

When you call a kid a name or belittle him, that’s abuse. Plain and simple. It should be treated as such. If you cannot coach without screaming, don’t coach. I appreciate how much time and effort it takes. I coach kids, too. But if you can’t do it without tantrums, kicking every single ball – find something else to do. This is abuse. Parents may not be aware of the long-term effect coaches like these have on their child, but there are effects. Study after study has shown that verbally aggressive language doesn’t motivate. In fact, it harms.

“Football is all about decisions, players will make the right or wrong ones. Whats important is that a coach is able to distinguish the two. The brain is brilliant at remembering our own errors and talented at pointed out others errors too. It bookmarks failure and highlights the disappointments. It takes some effort to think about and convey what others have done well and what others are strong at. As coach we should be striving to compliment every single one of ours players at least a couple of times in a match. The right amount of both at the right times.”

Most of us love sports. What I remember best was the fun I had with teammates, the joy of sweating, of competing, of having a mutual goal, playing for each other, shaking hands afterward. I still find this enjoyment today when playing 5v5 with my mates. Children will remember fondly those coaches who demonstrated balance in their coaching, who tried to teach the skills, rules and sportsmanship, who instilled confidence in them, who encouraged them when they made mistakes, who never ridiculed to the point of making someone cry or feel demotivated.

When a coach corrects or criticises, it should be done without malice or creating fear. Far to many children are turning their backs on sports due to their coach. Let’s make this a hard, firm policy in all our sports programs at every level. Let’s put these coaches in the spotlight with zero tolerance for any type of ridicule, humiliation or abuse. It’s time people got educated on what development in a sport actually is!!

Failure is not fatal, but failure to change might be.

Stop the Abuse

Don’t sit-back and excuse any short of abuse. Some simply don’t know better because their child doesn’t share or has become immune to the bullying. Worse, many shrug it off because they think that is an acceptable way to coach. It’s no longer the norm, kids of today are completely different to those of yesteryears. We need to shift the mindset of the past to one of player centred coaching, the future.

Could you imagine a game, where a player makes some horrible mistakes which lead to several goals and instead of ridiculing or the custom moans and groans from the sideline, we said nothing but only words of encouragement. No coach pulled the kid off or shouted at him for his/her mistakes. Kids know when they make mistakes, worse you can do is highlight it in front of all his team mates and opposition players, still is the ultimate ridicule. Mistakes are bookmarked in a players brain, criticism from team mates and/or coaches are also bookmarked, in big red writing.

We have become so absorbed in winning that the process is warped. We enter into coaching to help the kids progress, to assist the team because the last guy decided to leave at the last moment. Once we start, we become so involved with winning and not losing that the process of participation, character & player development, player safety become less important. Modern day coaching requires continuous learning, this is what the kids expect and what you should expect of yourself. That is the game, it’s challenging and it expects you to keep up with the modern methods and player development. Learning is imperative – it’s quite simply the entire process.   

Psychologist Dr Alan Goldberg writes:

Unfortunately when coaches subscribe to this creed, when they put their needs to win in front of their athletes’ well being and learning, then serious problems develop. Interactions with coaches who believe that the end always justifies the means, that the outcome of winning is far more important than the process of teaching and playing, do significant, long term damage to young players. When winning is more important to the coach than the experience of his/her  players’ participation, then EMOTIONAL and sometimes PHYSICAL ABUSE are the end result.

There are a lot of coaches who may vehemently disagree with me and defend their treatment of athletes as good, solid coaching. They explain that they’re just making their athletes mentally tougher and physically stronger. You know, it’s the old “if you baby them, praise them too much or falsely build self-esteem, then you’re really hurting the kids because you’re making them weak” argument. Or, “I may occasionally put my kids down in the process of coaching, but I only do it strategically to get them to tough it out and prove me wrong. Deep down, I really do care about them.” Then there’s my favourite: “This is a very hard, dog-eat-dog, competitive world where bosses yell at their employees and everyone has to learn to deal with getting his self-esteem regularly stomped upon. I’m just teaching these kids how to handle it now!

Here are my thoughts on this kind of “good” coaching: If it looks like a duck, flies like a duck, swims like a duck and quacks like a duck, IT’S A DUCK! ABUSE IS ABUSE, REGARDLESS OF WHAT KIND OF SPIN YOU PUT ON IT! ABUSE IS NOT GOOD COACHING, EVEN WHEN IT RESULTS IN WINNING!

Athletes who play for coaches who are more concerned with their own needs than those of their players, may occasionally experience outward success if they manage to stay in the sport long enough. These athletes may be part of a winning team or championship effort. They may even win gold medals. However, the emotional and psychological price that these athletes end up paying in the long run for their “success” is an extremely high one. The damage that abusive coaches can do to preadolescent and adolescent athletes oftentimes haunts them well into adulthood, negatively shaping their future performance experiences and relationships both in and out of competitive sports. Depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, identity issues and recurring performance problems are often the result of this kind of negative coaching. Abusive coaching is a serious epidemic in our society and it’s time that responsible adults, i.e. other coaches, level-headed parents and competent professionals step up to the plate and drive this garbage out of the ballpark once and for all.

Football is known as “the beautiful game”. If the game leads to stress, then it isn’t really “beautiful” in any way. Fact is – the game does not cause stress in those who play it – it is the expectations of the coach that do!

To conclude: We need to change the mindset of adults all over the country, sport is about participation, learning, teaching, developing and having fun. Winning comes with great teaching, the very best coaches see winning as losing and losing as winning, – we learn from both.

Similar Articles to Read

  1. Are you the ideal youth coach? 
  2. Coaching abuse – the dirty not so little secret in sport


I always like to hear your opinions. Please comment below or email me If, you don’t have anything to add then please forward this on to a friend. Thanks for reading.

I’m also on twitter @Coachdiary

Coaching Irish Grassroots Football

A Coaching Philosophy……

One of the most important aspects of coaching is to have a Philosophy. Your club should definitely have one and so should each and every coach involved with the set-up. The coach should have a guiding principle for training and coaching the team. A few bibs, some cones and balls is not what I’m talking about.

The right attitude and coaching principle is what i’m referring to. Your philosophy will be ideas that determine everything you do as a coach; from how you speak to your players, how you handle the parents and communicate your coaching style.  The style in which you want your team to play. Your coaching philosophy will give you and your players an insight to what your all about.

What is a Philosophy?

Coaching Philosophy is a set of values, governing principles and beliefs, which determine why you do what you do and how you behave in the context of your coaching role. You must ask yourself the Question, Why do I coach? 

Why have a Philosophy? 

Your philosophy should be a long term project, in which you never stop learning and adding to along the way. You will see the benefits if you stick to the plan. Knowing the way you want your team to play provides a clearer outlook on how to structure your sessions and what you work on over the season.  This season I worked solely on possession. I wanted the kids to always play from the back, be able to move the ball across the back, middle and front under pressure. Every session was planned always with a different possession exercise that challenged the kids both physically and mentally.  This way I was able to see how the players developed over the season. Having a plan for the season you will give you clearer idea on what goals you want to achieve as individuals and as a team.

“It is your consistency in behavior which creates respect and trust in your players, leading to a quality relationship”.

Stick to your Philosophy

My philosophy teaches success is many different ways, getting a group of kids to play together, as a team, play to their very best, and reach their ultimate potential while having fun. As you gain more and more experience coaching, your style of play might change but how your direct and coach the kids, your core values and beliefs as a person should stay the same. If you have a philosophy, the only thing that should change is what you believe in, never try to be anyone else.

Everyone talks about other coaching philosophies, adopting someone else’s won’t give your own identity. If you start you use words and actions taken from other coaches, that are not consistent with you, the players will expect the same in the future. If you expect your kids to behave in a certain with respect and dignity then you too must also behave the same. Coaching is about life skills, more then it is about you and/or the game.

Don’t let your standards drop and be consistent with everything you do. The kids will respect you more for that. Everything you do will rub off on the players, that’s why it is so important to stick to your philosophy.

The greatest managers in the world all stick to what the believe in and instill that into their players. Repeating the same things over and over again until the players themselves are the ones repeating it back to you.

“Essentially all coaches utilise a Coaching Philosophy”.

o-SOCCER-BALL-facebookThe Club philosophy – Must be clear and concise

The philosophy of the FC BARCELONA is, “that the team is most important, the team is more important than any player (individuality) and the players have the obligation to meet and defend the IDEA of the CLUB”. 

If a clubs has a philosophy and sticks by it, then a coach who is serious about developing his players will benefit from this. If a club does not have a philosophy or fails to stick to it’s beliefs then they are on the road to failure and disruption within the club. Each and every club should have a clear pathway from the small kiddies in the academy all the way to the senior team, this will be the key to the success, not to mention the respect the club gets amongst it’s pears and within the community. No player, coach, manager or member is bigger then the club.

It is the clubs responsibility to challenge the players and progress them to the next level. Two of the reasons Kids play the game; is to have fun and improve. That’s why the philosophy should be the same from bottom to top in order to develop and maximise each and every playing members ability.

To often what happens within the club is coaches stay with the same year group each year, without a clear idea of what they need to teach in order to progress the players. Or they continue with the team, lacking the knowledge to teach a different age group. Either way the players are the ones who are losing out and soon will be come disheartened with the game and give up altogether. The dropout of kids in Irish sport is huge and one of the main reasons is because their mentors haven’t a notion what they are doing nor do they ever intend too.

Having a proper philosophy will attract people to your club, you only have to look at some of the best youth soccer clubs in Ireland and see why they are attracting good coaches and players. They have a philosophy and someone who makes sure it is adhere to, this in turns creates the culture and ethos of the club and improves the performance of all the members.

“The very best coaches teach you more then the techniques and tactics of a sport, they teach you about life”.

What is my Philosophy?

My personal philosophy is something I have worked on a lot over the last year. I am certainly a much better coach then I was last year.  My club philosophy is being re-written as I type but will be written with the same ink.

My philosophy teaches success is many different ways, getting a group of kids to play together, as a team, play to their very best, and reach their ultimate potential while having fun. I want every player to enjoy their experience as part of the team; everyone on the team is expected to put the best interest of the team first, before any thought is given to individual accomplishments.

I read a lot of Horst Wein books and use his Guided Discovery way of teaching, a teaching model where students learn through explorations, but with directions from the coach, these I believe is a great method for coaching.

I expect my players to give 100% in training and play as if they would come Saturday. I do everything with the ball and use a a lot of possession games. I’m reading a book by Jesus Enrique Gutierrez Mayor, (Former Real Madrid Coach) ‘Possession: Play football The Spanish Way’ a collection of some brilliant possession games, I highly recommend this book.

I coach players to play not to win but to give their very best and when you do this they win most of the times. For me it’s about getting a group of kids to play together, as a team, give their very best regardless of the score, play with desire, and reach their ultimate potential while having fun.

No individual, coach or player, is more important than the team. I firmly believe in repetition as a key tool to prepare players to be the best they can be. I’ll always start with the fundamentals, work on techniques and individual skills and teach team defense in depth. I take every opportunity to coach and demonstrate teamwork, sportsmanship and respect for everyone, starting with the coaches, teammates and the opposition. I expect every player to treat others, as they would want to be treated. I will not tolerate bad manors. Every child must appreciate each other, respecting each another is fundamental part of my philosophy.

I believe ”Perfect practice makes perfect”, players should properly practice the skills being taught on a repetitive basis, so that these skills become as natural as walking and talking. They then get an opportunity to practice with opposition, just like the game.

I always strive to make my session an enjoyable experience that both develop skills, game intelligence and provide positive life long memories for every player involved. Playing football should always be FUN.

I love football and I want the kids to play with a smile. I try to instill in every player, that hard work pays off and the harder players work, the more they will achieve. While being successful is a goal for everyone, at the same time each player should focus on effort – not outcome. A team can always control effort but seldom the outcome of a game.

I expect my players to set goals for themselves and the team. Goals should be challenging enough to require players to extend beyond their present skill level, they must look to improve year on year and develop game intelligence. Every player should have the chance to achieve success and/or failure in game situations, this is the only way they can learn.

When they do things right, I’ll give them positive feedback. When they make mistakes I’ll give them feedback in terms of advice or instruction to help them improve, but always looking for the positives from every outcome and always guided by what they think and say. I listen!

My goal is to keep kids in sport for life; this is the ultimate.

John Wooden – He never coached his teams to try to be better than their opponent. He taught his athletes to prepare themselves to be the best they could be and the result would take care of itself.

 “Consider the rights of others before your own feelings, and the feelings of others before your own rights.” – John Wooden

I want to create a coaching philosophy?

So you know the importance of having a well-articulated Coaching Philosophy. It is a critical component of any coaches careers and if you want to be impactful, we are always learning and evolving. The challenge is to define your philosophy and stick to it.

It’s something that has been mentioned before but it’s true; coaching courses are only a small part of your journey as a coach. The lessons we learn outside our coaching courses as well as on our courses will allow us gain a better idea of what we want from our coaching. All the best coaches in the world have mentors, who have defined their philosophies.

Every coach has certain things they never compromise on. If a coach values ability, they will never let their players sacrifice on technique.

By making a distinction between which values you want to have, but could perform your coaching role without, and those which you must have, you are able to evaluate how your coaching behavior is impacted by these values. The list of what different coaches’ value is as diverse as there are different types of coaches. So it is important once you have established your values, to identify which are your most critical values to you. Most coaches learn from others, they are usually the example of what to do or what not to do.

“be a leader and be player centered”

Many players can talk about a coach who they did not feel had shown the correct behaviour nor treated their players well and as such, you may use these coaches as a reminder of what type of coach you want to become.

So the question to ask is, Why did I start coaching? You must then right down all the reasons and start from here. As you have read, my philosophy has evolved from reading various coaching manuals and books and listening to other coaches. Your’s will be the same. You can define your very own Coaching Philosophy in a short brief  statement, similar to a Mission statement in business. I still need to do that with mine and write down my core values.

This will help you get started:

  • What are your Coaching Motives – The reasons why you took up coaching will affect how you coach.
  • Player- Adpapt a player centered approach
  • The Situation – There are situations in which a particular style of coaching is more appropriate than another.This will deffer depending on the level, ability and background of the players you coach.
  • Your Personality – We are human, therefore, have individual personalities. Some coaches may be extroverted, outgoing and lively in their approach to coaching, while others may be more introverted and go about their coaching in a quiet, calm manner. Personality does not matter, provided that appropriate actions and behaviours are maintained, which relate to the every single situation.
  • Your Knowledge – The more knowledgeable you are as a coach, the more options you will have available to you to plan and deliver effective sessions. You never stop learning. Knowledge will also help you to feel confident and create a positive environment for your players. A coach lacking in knowledge may come across as low in confidence and may be perceived as lacking skills or the ability of knowing how to deal with certain situations, they will more than often have a direct approach to coaching and not very good at listening.

The key to player centred coaching is you, this is the key to success. Build Strong Relationships; Effective Communications; Understand your players and their personalities; Understand yourself and your coaching style; Develop a Coaching Philosophy.

Develop a style

You will then develop a style that you are comfortable with, every coach has a coaching style which is largely defined by their Behavioral Style (Personality). This coaching style will have strengths and weaknesses. Essentially understanding you coaching style will help you to comprehend you motivations, the environment you perform best in, and how you communicate best with your players. – Athlete Assessments 

Find out what your Philosophy is?

This is putting it altogether. Understanding the behaviour you wish to exhibit consistently, how you wish to conduct yourself, how this behaviour will impact on your players and the results of this impact, you can then create a the foundations to control your conduct in your coaching role.

This foundation will control how you conduct yourself in your coaching role. This is a big part of your coaching philosophy and should link to where you discovered your core values in relation to being a coach.

Another aspect is how you define success. This is linked to your values, people will always keep score and define success by what you have won but defining what truly is success is often not a simple matter of who has more goals at the end of a game. It has been said on so many occasions that Winning,  is only part of the measure of success…….however, this solely depends on what your philosophy is going be, correct? – Athlete Assessments 


The creating and implementing of a coaching philosophy allows a coach to gain a clearer idea of what they want from players, parents and any other individuals associated with the and/or club.. This in turn will allow more coaches and the club to create a clearer development path for their players, therefore allowing coaches to set more effective, measurable and attainable long and short term goals.

Understanding and developing your Coaching Philosophy is the key to success. Start with your Core Values.


Thanks to the Research from British Cycling Study  and  Bo Hanson – 4x Olympian, Coaching Consultant & Director of Athlete Assessments for helping with this post. 

Download the The Ultimate Coach handbook for FREE. 

Read InsideSoccer: Philosophies – Guardiola, Shades of Michels


I always like to hear your opinions and views. If you feel you have something to say, please comment below or email me If, you don’t have anything to add then please forward this on to a friend. As always, thanks for reading.

I’m also on twitter @Coachdiary


Laureano Ruiz – the man behind Barca’s playing philosophy

Hugo Benitez/El Flaco wrote an excellent piece on the Swedish football site SvenskaFans describing the story of how our Club came to play in its characteristic way. From the very start, the style was thanks to a man named Laureano Ruiz. With the author’s permission, totalBarça has translated his great piece, which can be found below. The original article, in Swedish, can be found here.

Laureano Ruiz – the man behind Barça’s playing philosophy 

With all due respect to Johan Cruyff and Oriol Tort, the man who laid the foundation for the philosophy and the ideas about football that symbolize the Club today was Laureano Ruiz, a man from Cantabria who believed the players’ technique was more important than their physical attributes.

A Juvenil game revolutionized the club 

The 15th of April 1972. Barcelona’s Juvenil A were playing the final of the Copa Catalunya against CF Damm, a team that had gotten their name from a beer brand. In the stands 15,000 spectators sat down and in the honor stand you could find the Catalan football federation president, the Spanish Juvenil national team coach, and several directors from FC Barcelona, among them president Agusti Montal and first team coach Rinus Michels.

The Juvenil team was coached by Josep Maria Minguella, who would later become a powerful agent and who, through his contacts, came to hear about a certain Lionel Messi. The expectations were high as Barça’s Juvenil A team hadn’t won a title for years. But they were defeated by Damm 3-2 and the loss was seen as a huge disaster. Right after the final whistle Montal left his seat and went down the stairs, running into a journalist to whom he said, “Something has to be done. This is unacceptable. I can accept a loss against a football team, but not to a beer company!”

Soon thereafter, during the summer of 1972, the club contacted Laureano Ruiz, who at the time was working as youth team coach at Racing Santander. He was given the job as coach for the Juvenil A team and coordinator for the other three Juvenil teams. During the next five years, the team would be crowned both Catalan and Spanish champions every year. Before that spell, they had only won the Spanish trophy twice in their history, in 1951 and 1959. Ruiz had a clear vision when he took over and from day one he would imprint his training methods and his playing style on the youth teams. Under his leadership, his footballers started to play with a 3-4-3 formation and one year after he had gotten the job, he convinced the Club that every youth team should play in the same way.

Pic: Oriol Tort

In 1974 he was named the main coordinator for the whole academy. Thereafter, he quickly became aware of the huge responsibility he now had for all of the youngsters he was in charge of. When he asked his players what they did when they didn’t have practice, they all answered the same way: “Míster, I play football”. Ruiz became horrified knowing that most of them wouldn’t become professionals and he choose to talk to the board about it. Together they made the decision to force all the players to choose between two alternatives: to work or study. Ruiz understood that at their young age it was just as important, or even more so, to develop and raise them as people.

The founder and visionary 

To understand the importance and the impact Laureano Ruiz had, you first have to understand the situation the Club was in at that time. Barça supporters weren’t used to success at that time, unlike today. When they won the League title in 1974, it was the first time they had been Spanish champions since 1960. The mentality that prevailed at the Club was very different from today. They were much more interested in big, strong players and devalued short players, no matter how good they were with the ball. At the Club’s main office there were a sign on the wall that said “turn around if you are here to offer a Juvenil player that is shorter than 1.80m”. One of the first things Ruiz did when he got hired was to take that sign down. The ‘Rondo’, the now legendary exercise that you can see the first team players do at training sessions every day, was first practiced thanks to Ruiz, a man who was convinced that touch, technique, and playing intelligence were a player’s most important skills.

 Ruiz may have won titles with Juvenil A, but the real battle was to come internally inside the Club. There was an idea from many years back that you had to go for the tall and strong players. So when Ruiz started to sign short but talented players, he had to fight to have his will and vision accepted. In an interview with journalist Martí Perarnau in the beginning of his time at the club, Ruiz said: “The first thing I did was to organise games so that I could see them play, and I got a file with their strengths and which players the Club was counting on and which ones they weren’t. Some of them I directly saw weren’t good enough to make it, but when I looked in the file it said they were good and were going to continue at the Club. And it was the reverse with the ones I liked. Among them were Fortes and Corominas, but they were short. During the coming three weeks I fought a personal war with myself because I liked the two players, but they had been in the Club since they were 8 years old and I said to myself: ‘Laureano, they have known them since they were kids and maybe they are right’. But the more I saw them play, the more I liked them and in two years they were both in the first team. None of the other players that were a lot more physically strong, but whom I didn’t believe in, made it to a professional level. Those were the ideas at the Club then.”

There were many who had been at the Club for years who were skeptical of Ruiz’s ideas. One day a group of youth coaches came to him and said: “Your players never run, what are they doing? They have to run to get resilient and strong!” Ruiz answered: “When are we then going to teach them to play football if we use all the time teaching them to run?”. During the 70s coaches were convinced that you first should build up the player’s physiques and then, when they were about 17 years old, you would teach them to play football. Ruiz turned everything upside-down with his idea that  it was more important to teach the youngsters how to treat the ball.

In a conversation with Albert Puiga, an ex-youth coach at Barcelona and today Guillermo Amor’s right hand as manager of La Masia, Ruiz explained his football philosophy: “Let us say that you and I coach two teams with kids that are 10, 11, and 12 years old and all are about equally good. You try to teach them to play good football, a passing game and with tactical basics while I tell mine to only play long balls and try to shoot. I can assure you that [at first] I will always win against you, by using your mistakes. Break a bad pass and goal. If we however continue with the same training methods during a three year period, you will most likely win every game against us. Your players will have learned how to play while mine haven’t. That’s how easy it is.”

In 1976 Barcelona fired its first team coach Hennes Weisweller and Ruiz took over. During his short time as manager of the first team, he promoted defender ‘Tente’ Sánchez, which wasn’t a popular decision in Can Barça considering that he had been sitting on the bench in the B team and to add to that he was short. Sánchez would years later take his place in the first team and even become captain. Other players Ruiz helped to develop were Lobo Carrasco, Calderé, Rojo, Padraza, Mortalla, and Estella. Every single one earning a place in the first team.

But it wasn’t only talent that was important for a player’s development according to Ruiz, it was also a lot of will and hard work. Some years later, as the coach for Catalan school Escolapios de Sarrí, he held trials together with some colleaguesAfter they were done Ruiz drew attention to a boy who stood by himself kicking a ball against the wall. He walked up to him and asked him what he was doing and the boy answered that he was waiting for his dad to come and pick him up. Ruiz turned to the other coaches and wanted to know more about the young kid and they told him that he wasn’t bad, but that he didn’t have any future as a professional. Ruiz told them that he thought they were wrong. He had seen a boy with so much hope and will that he knew he would eventually make it. The boy’s name was Albert Ferrer and he saw his dream come true when he earned a place in Cruyff’s dream team.

The legacy

Laureano Ruiz left FC Barcelona in 1978. During his six years in the Catalan capital he had revolutionized the youth academy, making the Club go for small and technically skilled players, and planting the seed for what would come to be the Barça style on the pitch. But despite his influence, it would take many more years before the Club could reap the rewards from his hard and invaluable work. After he had left, the club fell into a long identity crisis in which the first team changed playing styles as often as they changed coaches. Tito Vilanova remembers this time clearly. According to the current assistant coach, there was a clear playing model when he and Pep arrived at La Masia as kids with coaches like Charly Rexach, Quique, Costas, Olmo, De la Cruz, and Artola. Under Rexach’s leadership, Vilanova and the others learned to play exactly in the same way as the first team does today. The problem was, according to Tito Vilanova, that this playing style was only used in the academy and not in the first team, where under the leadership of Englishman Terry Venables at that time, they used a more direct game, and it made it harder for the B team players to adapt when they were promoted.

The teams lacked continuity and to top it off, the players themselves started to believe that without strong physiques, it would be impossible to have a future as a football player. There is an anecdote about Josep Guardiola when he was 15 years old. The doctors were going to do tests on him to estimate how tall he would be when he got older. Pep was told that he would be taller than 1.80m and he had an outburst of joy, convinced that that was all it took to become a professional football player. Today Guardiola has shown that he no longer attaches any significance at all to such a test.

Talking about Pep, during his time at La Masia he got to go up against Ruiz. It was in 1984 and Ruiz was coaching Escolapios. To celebrate a special occasion at the school, FC Barcelona was invited to play a game. The Infantil team went there and defeated the home side. Afterwards, Laureano Ruiz went to talk to the Barça Infantil coach Roca. They had earlier worked together at Barcelona and during the conversation Ruiz mentioned that Roca’s team had scored two goals on corner kicks with a corner variant that Ruiz had taught. Roca answered that his kids had only trained together for four days and that it was impossible that they had learned that variation in such a short time. Ruiz didn’t believe him and turned to the Barça players. He asked who had taken the corners and two boys raised their hands. Ruiz asked where they had learned it, and they answered that they had seen the older kids do the same exercises. One of the young boys was Josep Guardiola.

It would take until 1988 and the arrival of Johan Cruyff as first team coach before all the teams in the academy started to play in the same way, with the same model and philosophy. The circle was closed and even if Cruyff’s role was fundamental, one should not forget the importance of Laureano Ruiz, who was the person who first started to believe in a 3-4-3 formation with talented small players and the importance of playing beautiful football.

The problem was that Ruiz didn’t have the Dutch charisma and personality to be able to convince people inside the Club from the start, something that Ruiz himself acknowledges. In 1991 when Ruiz was coaching Racing de Santander’s youth teams, he received a visit from Oriol Tort, one of the most symbolic people in Barça’s history (the new La Masia even carries his name). Tort had come to take a look on De la Peña and when Ruiz asked him what he thought about the youngster, Tort answered that he looked very promising. Ruiz also asked what he thought about Munitis and Ivan Helguera and Tort answered that they all were very good, but that they weren’t the Club’s priorities at the moment. “So sad that they are short, right?” said Ruiz with a smile. Tort jumped and replied: “Laureano, talent is the only thing that matters!”. Ruiz then started to laugh. “Don’t you remember that that was what I said during all my years at Barcelona and you all just discouraged me?”. “Yes, yes I remember, but el Flaco (Cruyff) has changed the way we see football.”

The eternal wisdom 

Laureano Ruiz was the grandfather who planted the seed, Cruyff was the father who nurtured the idea and helped it grow, and Guardiola is the heir who is reaping the rewards. That was what Martí Perarnau wrote in his book about the origins of Barcelona’s playing style and how the Club is working to continue delivering future cracks from La Masia. And everything started with that loss against CF Damm in the Copa Catalunya that made the Club hire Ruiz as coach for Juvenil A. He laid the foundation for what we are seeing and experiencing today. A football romantic who believed that it isn’t about choosing between winning or playing beautifully, but that by playing well the chances of winning increase.

Laureano Ruiz is today

working as the director for a communal football school in Santander. Every year he becomes responsible for 700 kids. To make them understand what is expected of them, Ruiz will repeat this phrase: “The better you play, the more you will enjoy it. If you succeed in playing well or score a great goal you will achieve happiness. That should be your main goal, not to win the game!

Some years ago the school played a game against Racing, the region’s biggest team and a superior opponent. They kept their positions, showed a great attitude, but lost in the final minutes. Ruiz had as a habit never entered the dressing room, but he did it this time to congratulate his players. He found them in tears and with sunken heads and he said: “You haven’t lost. When you play with such a will and give your all, then you never lose.”

La fuerza de un sueño – los caminos del exito (2010) – Albert Puig
Senda de campeones – de La Masia al Camp Nou (2011) – Martí Perarnau

Written by Hugo Benitez/El Flaco (SvenskaFans); Translated by Alexandra

Read more: