In the summer, I watched England U18s train wearing colourful headbands. They were used to denote who was on whose team: a clever idea from coaches John Fletcher and Russell Earnshaw. Fast forward to late October and my U15 team were trying them out for the first time.
We had used a version of this in the summer, with the players wearing baseball caps and beanies, which worked okay. However, a black beanie doesn’t look nearly as distinguishable as a bright orange headband.
Initially the players found them a little uncomfortable, and wore them more like a neck scarf. One player found that his hair flopped over the band, so you couldn’t see which team he was on. Another put it over his headguard, which was pretty colourful already, so made it difficult to know whether he was wearing a band or not.
Headbands encourage players to play with their heads up, so they can see who’s on their team, and more importantly, where the opposition are, and are not.
I used four colours, with certain rules for each colour. I split into two teams, orange and red verses blue and green. The orange and blue players could run with the ball for three seconds after a touch, but if they were double touched, it was a turnover. The other players had to pass when touched.
Initially, it took a bit of time for the players to grab hold of the rules. There were a few questions over legitimate plays. After a couple of minutes, a few players started to understand and began to think tactically. Others just played their normal game. This frustrated the more tactically minded. The more astute players were passing early if they had to, or attacking gaps to offload the ball.
As the ball was turned over for rule-breaking, the leaders in each group began to shout in orders. It was more agitated than positive. I took this to be a good thing, because it mattered to them. I gave them a 10 second break to come up with a plan.
Again, I was fascinated to see some of the players talking to me more than their team mates. They wanted to get the ball off me to start playing or argue a point about the rules.
Changing round the roles of the coloured headbands saw the players adapt a lot quicker. It might have been because they were working out what to do. I also reflected that it might have been that the headbands now suited the players who could make more of their roles.
20 sweaty headbands were packed away at the end of the session. They must have worked hard, if not harmoniously. I had to dry out the headbands on the radiator that night.
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