THE disappearance of playground tag games, kickabouts in the street and impromptu jumpers-for-goalposts football matches has brought about a gradual decline in soccer skills within this country, according to Charlie Jackson, Technical Skills Development Coach at Blackburn Rovers and co-founder of the Matrix Soccer Academy.

The skills-based academy has been endorsed and filmed by UEFA and highly rated by Dutch football masters Ajax, yet their initial approaches to English footballing authorities were turned away, on the grounds that conventional academy coaching was producing the right results.

Now, with the national team eliminated from the European Championships and commentators everywhere demanding improved skills training for young players, even calling for top Dutch coaches to teach our youngsters, it is time to reassess the Matrix soccer programme and consider how it might improve the English game.

"Three years ago, I realised that other countries were producing great technical players and we were not," said Jackson, who founded Matrix with north west businessman Tahir Khan.

"They were playing football abroad quite differently from how the game is played here and, sadly, recent results at national level and a dearth of young English players in Premiership sides have only confirmed this view."

"So we devised our own methodology for teaching youngsters a range of skills like controlling the ball, passing and dribbling.

"Our programme has six stages, like building blocks, and there is nothing else quite like it in the game."

"Recently, we undertook a comparative study between conventional coaching in academies and Matrix skills training, and found that our method allows sixteen times more contact with the ball.

"Incredibly, over an eight year period, which is typical for a youth player being considered by a professional club, a young footballer would touch and pass the football almost 200,000 times more with Matrix, achieving the sort of contact that breeds skilled, technical players."

Nor is Jackson alone in believing that a lack of playground games is affecting our game.

Manchester United Sports Scientist and Fitness Coach, Dr Tony Strudwick said: "In the past, soccer skills were learned through expressive free play and reinforced within the PE curriculum.

"Today, expressive play has diminished and the only times our children do play are during organised games or practice sessions, where there is limited time for self-expression. It is not surprising to see the Africans and Brazilians dominate fast-paced sports, since movement is still part of their lifestyle.

"Young players with a rich repertoire of movement skills will find it easier to acquire football skills and be prepared for all eventualities in an ever-changing environment. "The game is about fluidity and football training must facilitate that. The Matrix programme does offer this fluidity."

The Matrix technical coaching model is based on the development of skills to improve technique, ball control, vision, awareness, even sportsmanship and enjoyment. Literally thousands of different skills sets, many based on Brazilian and Dutch techniques, have been devised to help Matrix players to pass, move, create space and execute trick plays, working both individually and as a team.

Not only does the programme enrich the technical ability of young footballers and add a flair dimension to their game, the training methods closely mimic actual game scenarios, helping prepare players for real match situations.

Already, many Matrix youngsters are being signed up by clubs, including Blackburn Rovers, Bolton, Burnley, Manchester City, Manchester United, Everton and Liverpool, and one 14 year old Matrix trainee recently joined United's youth academy, with a host of other major clubs seeking his signature.

Such was the impact on European football, that UEFA spent a whole week filming Jackson's academy school and looking at his innovative methods.

Top managers including Marcello Lippi and Roy Hodgson commended the Matrix training programme during the UEFA presentation, while Sky soccer pundit Andy Gray said it was the best by far'.

Later, Ajax, the Dutch soccer team most famous for its technical skills, invited Jackson to a working session with its six to 18 year old youth teams, under the watchful eye of former Manchester United star Arnold Mühren.

Jackson, who is also director of football at Moorland School, Clitheroe, and his business partner Khan are now seeking a permanent northwest home for the Matrix Soccer Academy and are planning a summer training school at the JJB Soccer Dome in Blackburn.

Both are also encouraging talks at club and national level about incorporating the unique Matrix skills training methodology into the professional game, to help rescue English football from a growing skills crisis.

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