Doug Lemov's field notes

Reflections on teaching, literacy, coaching, and practice.

05.13.21For Coaches: John Barnes Teaches a Group of Players How to Dribble

Some time a while ago, someone sent me a grainy cell phone video of England great John Barnes coaching an ad hoc group of young players in an improvised session. I don’t actually remember who sent it and why. At first it seems almost an accident- like Barnes was on vacation or something and got asked to “come and teach the boys something.” It has a very spur of the moment no-shirts and no-shoes feel to it.

But it’s also brilliant and so revealing. I am trying to think of a way not to call it a “master class” because I hate that phrase, but really it’s a bit of a master class.

Here it is:

What’s remarkable is Barnes’ assumption that learning to dribble starts not with a bunch of moves but with understanding the perceptive cues that tells you how to get past an opponent.

Most people start by gathering players and having them learn a bunch of moves–a step-over, a scissors, an inside cut–then players try to use them in the game. But they’re often unclear on how and when. The purpose, players think, is to use the move. Or to “fool” the opposition… but fooling the opposition is different from getting by them, quickly. The result is often seven touches when two will do. Barnes’ lesson starts with position: “If I want to go there…” this is how I get there.

The curriculum at John Barnes FC is not so much a gallery of moves but a series of signals to look at and read. He starts by training their eyes.

Perhaps that will require a scissors or a step-over, but it’s just as likely to result in players who can beat an opponent more simply and quickly. Like Barnes himself did. Which raises the question: How aware are most coaches of perceptive cues? How central are they to our teaching?


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