13 Jul 2013 08:00

The Scot's Wimbledon triumph began with the sort of skills-based games Dutch and Spanish coaches have used for years

Mother knows best: Judy Murray devised childhood games to develop son Andy's skills Mother knows best: Judy Murray devised childhood games to develop son Andy's skills

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It’s not the done thing these days to question Gary Neville’s judgement.

He walked the walk as a player and even his loudest enemies begrudgingly admit he now talks the talk as a pundit.

So when he said this week that the criticism of English footballers is over-the-top because we overlook the great qualities inherent in their DNA: “We work hard, we’re organised, structured, resilient, hard to beat,” you’d struggle to disagree.

But when he adds that all we need to do is add some “flair and technical ability” to that DNA and the world’s best would have some competition, you’d have to have a heart of stone not to cry with laughter.

I know you’re on the FA’s coaching staff Gary, and you’re only 38, but some of us have heard this song being sung for 40 years. And it still doesn’t sound right.

After almost every tournament that England have crashed out of (or failed to reach) since 1974 we’ve had inquests into why we’re so technically poor.

And although we’ve stuck the kids on smaller pitches and in schools of excellence, designed academies and coaching plans, we’ve still struggled to inject pizzazz into our DNA.

Mainly because graft and resilience are seen as the essential building blocks instead of flair and technique.

And it starts at home.

Flair used to be learned on the streets when working-class kids played from dawn til dusk, and the only time they saw their dad was to drag them in when it got too dark.

What happened when kids were ordered to play on grass pitches, in league teams, often six times a week, is the dads started to watch.

Or rather yell.

Many became their son’s harshest critic and personal trainer, despite having no qualifications and only the following coaching advice:

“Dig deep... hurt yourself.... get a foot in.... track back.... you’re hiding... hit him.... clear your lines.”

I never heard any of that playing in the 1960s and 1970s but it is the jarring soundtrack to most of the junior football I’ve watched since the 1990s.

And the result has been too many scared kids failing to enjoy or express themselves.

This ‘hard-to-beat’ DNA Neville boasts about keeps getting passed down generations but we only attempt to add the flair when the boys become men.

AKA, when it’s too late.

In our other major ball-games, we seem to have either technically kept up with, or gone past, the world’s best.

Last Sunday, even tennis stopped being a national joke as our sporting millstone moved forward from 1936 to 1966.

And, contrary to the popular myth, Andy Murray was not yelled to the top by his harridan of a mother ordering him not to come home unless he had a trophy in his holdall.

Indeed, Murray attributes mum Judy's lack of pushiness, her encouragement and knowledge as a progressive tennis coach as key factors in his development.

Judy puts his success down to a voracious competitive spirit but also to a programme she invented when he was a kid which gave him the athletic building blocks.

She devised endless games involving throwing, catching, running, and balance in small enclosed spaces, which gave Andy spontaneity, co-ordination and confidence (it’s now been turned it into a commercial programme called Set4Sport).

Judy used the kind of methods Dutch and Spanish football coaches have used for years.

Letting kids fall in love with sport while learning the basic skills, then encouraging them to express themselves.

A bit like British footballers when DNA was learned in the tight confines of streets and playgrounds.

We’re never going back to that but we can try to eliminate the worst of what replaced it.

A good start would be teaching youngsters that football’s not about the fear of losing but the joy of expressing, banning snarling parents from touchlines and letting professionals like Judy Murray coax a new philosophy into our DNA.

That it’s not about making yourself hard to beat but ready to become a natural winner.

Click here for Brian Reade on Luis Suarez's future, the wisdom of Manuel Pellegrini and much more.

Filed under: Euro 2012

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