Aaron McNeill picks up a notepad and starts to sketch out a football pitch to help illustrate his point.
The rough diagram is used to explain the coaching tool of dividing a pitch into three sections to encourage possession play and pressing.
An ability to deliver far-reaching ideas in a simple way encapsulates McNeill’s role at Portadown Youth.
The 32-year-old Banbridge-born proprietor of AM PRO Coaching has been tasked by the Ted Clarke Memorial Trust with a dual management role covering community projects and Portadown Youth’s Academy programme. He also works with Portadown Integrated Ladies.
An expanded version of McNeill’s discussion formed the cornerstone of his presentation last week to Portadown Youth coaching staff in the presence of Northern Ireland international manager Michael O’Neill.
The blueprint has been designed to revolutionise and rebuild grassroots football in this area.
McNeill can draw on six years of coaching within professional football’s Academy system across the water, a level of experience without equal inside the domestic game.
From notepad to training pitch to football field, McNeill’s idea is to streamline the day-to-day lessons picked up within professional elite environments such as Port Vale, Nottingham Forest and Coerver Coaching within a Portadown Youth programme uniform across the 26 club teams and 300-plus roster of players.
“The ethos is to provide football to all children, irrespective of age and ability but then to develop age-appropriate coaching support to aid long-term player development,” said McNeill. “We must aspire to excellence at Portadown Youth by creating a positive learning environment to develop and nurture local talent.
“It is about helping the individual to maximise his potential as developing those core skills honed at the right age can give someone the best platform to make it in senior football.
“Youth football in this country remains stuck too often in the mindset of results over development but our philosophy will be based around attractive and attacking football within a challenging but supportive environment.
“We want to educate and develop players who can play in multiple positions rather than being pigeon-holed as a child based on body size.
“We cannot predict physical growth so it is about getting away from the idea of the big lads going in at the back and sticking someone small out on the wing.
“If you develop the individual then he will have the best chance to eventually fit into a team.
“There is a window of opportunity to develop players within the golden age of learning from 5-11 years old and often in England the top guys will work with the youngest age groups.
“It should never be seen as baby-sitting, it is about putting those core skills in place at an early age, when good habits can be picked up which will last a lifetime, to prepare players to move forward and achieve that potential.
“A system that can challenge but also support allows room for mistakes and a patient coaching approach as children develop at different levels.
“We must continually review and analyse as, at times, it may be best for the individual to move up an age level to be further challenged even if that means a side losing the best player.
“We must incorporate the four-corner model of player development that covers technical, physical, psychological and social as they all feed into each other.
“They must be analysed to understand how to help each player develop at different stages.
“For example, someone may have the technical ability to move up but not the physical strength or social skills to adapt to a different environment.”
The scale of the revamp remains substantial but McNeill has faith in the existing foundations.
“We have so many dedicated and passionate people involved with Portadown Youth,” said McNeill. “The 40 or so coaching staff clock up around 10,000 hours per year of voluntary work with players.
“Our dream is for players in this area to consistently rise through the Portadown Youth system and one day pull on the first-team shirt at Irish League level.
“We believe this is achievable thanks to the commitment of local coaching staff who care about the club and community.
“We also have opportunities for forward-thinking coaches to join Portadown Youth.
“Qualified with coaching experience is an advantage but not essential as training and courses will be provided.
“Anyone interested can get in touch as the next phase of our blueprint is to continue coach education and also to discuss and present the stages with parents.
“We will ultimately develop an age-appropriate syllabus and a library of session ideas that the coaching team can use as a basis for training, with age groups working across the board on similar ideas.
“A lot of the ideas have been in place but we want to streamline the process and put it into one overall ethos across the club.
“The ideal scenario is to roll out ideas over the next few months then hit the ground running at the start of next season.”
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