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13 Jul

Never underestimate the benefits of backyard football

Wembley/Cuppy, Kerby, German, Wally or Headers & Volleys – you name it, we played it; the nostalgic names of football games which absolutely made our childhoods. Perhaps, they’re the places we fell in love with football. And if that’s true, then what a tremendous disservice we are doing to the kids today if we don’t teach them how to play those games – believe me, they’re crying out for it.

For about 6 years I have worked as a professional football coach - it’s a profession that’s allowed me to travel and work across 3 continents (USA, UK & AUS); learn from hundreds of peers far brighter than I; and help thousands of young people fall in love with the game of football.

Still, one thing that always surprises me in my line of work has been the difficulty that young people have with creating their own FUN, when left to their own devices. I think it has something to do with players having grown up with and, come to expect that training is for the coach to tell you what to do and for you to simply do it; for the coach to set up a game, ramble on about the rules, and for you to think “mate, I wish you’d hurry up and give me a ball, so I can shoot”.

I don’t know what it is, but it feels very indoctrinated, like everything is so meticulously planned and programmed for in football nowadays, that we’ve inadvertently stifled the creativity of our players. To test this, I always have a good laugh posing a challenge to my groups at the beginning of practice - “here’s a football, there’s a goal and here are some bibs – see if you can come up with team game where players lose lives / volleys earn double points” – something like this.

Do you know what usually happens the first time I ask a group to do this? Nothing, absolutely nothing - probably, because it forces a player within the group to establish themselves as the leader - a role that no one has had to assume before because normally all they have to do is turn up and listen.

However, after they figure out who’s taking charge, things start happening very quickly, very fluidly and completely naturally – it’s a joy to watch. They decide on a game, iron out the rules together as they go along; adding new ones, changing existing ones and scrapping ones that don’t suit their game. All the while, they’re learning through trial and error, they’re failing and they’re succeeding on their own terms. They’re playing the way they want to play and they’re having fun doing it. 

Sure, the game won’t be perfect – it might even be complete nonsense, but that’s not the point. The point is, give them the freedom to explore, and I guarantee you’ll be entertained and surprised by what they come up with. Usually, whatever they come up with, ends up being a close iteration of a backyard game you played when you were a kid. The logical next step then is to say, “that’s really similar to a game we used to play when I was your age, we used to play it every day in the summer, check it out the rules are like this...”.

The best advice I ever received about good coaching, was from an old colleague of mine who used to say “I just pretend I’m the kid who’s got all the secrets - the ring leader who knows the best games to play before anyone knows they’re the best games”. I love that, because the truth is, kids (universally) find it easier to get on board when you say “that’s unreal, what about this for rule though? How about if you miss a shot, you’re the new Goalkeeper?” as opposed to “this is what we’re going to do, so listen carefully”.

Parents and coaches – if you’re listening – I urge you to teach your kids the games we used to play in the backyard or out in the street. They’ll thank you for it and you’ll have a blast joining in too. Here’s a few of our favourites that we use during holiday camps and player-led coaching sessions throughout the year:


wembley singles / cuppy

Quite possibly the most popular game of my childhood. One goal and one goalkeeper (usually the last person to take a knee). Other than that, it’s every man for themselves (1v1v1v1). The game is simple, score one goal to progress to the next round of Wembley. Goals only count if you shout out a player’s name before you shoot / Van Nistelrooy rule = no scoring inside the 6-yard box. The last player to score gets eliminated (no mercy when we were kids) and the others progress to the next round – this continues until it’s 1v1 in the final. Winner is a solidified as a legend and chooses who is the new goalkeeper for the next round. Also, whoever has the final touch can claim the goal, so, deflections can seriously ruin your day!


wembley doubles

Same as above, except teams of two (2v2v2v2). We used to have a rule that you had to pass before you score though to avoid easy goals from rebounds and that.


wally / off the wall rebound

Michael Jackson’s favourite game is this one. The rules are pretty simple, find a big (sturdy) wall – preferably not attached to someone’s house – everybody starts with 3 lives each and the kicking order is worked out / first players absolutely toe-bashes the ball at the wall, the next player has one touch to exactly the same thing with the rebound. This continues through the rest of players and back to the first player who keeps it going. Miss the wall or take too many touches and you lose a life. If it’s your wall, get a piece of chalk and draw a goal on there, #yolo.


headers & volleys (nba rules)

Two teams and two goals | game is played like basketball / netball – when you have the ball in your hands, you can’t take a step. The aim of the game is to move the ball up the pitch toward the opposition’s goal and score a Tony Yeboah (google it). Headers, half-volleys and volleys only (obviously) and you can’t set yourself up for a shot. We used to play a hot potato rule = 3 seconds to release the ball. Taking a touch to set up e.g. chest or knee is a half-volley.

Scoring on the full = 2 goals / half-volleys = 1 goal. As always, for a goal to count, you have to call a player’s name when you shoot.



First of all, there’s absolutely zero logic behind this game being called German – that’s just what we called it. Ultimately, every player starts with 5 lives / one player starts in goal and the aim of the game is to score against the person in goal and get his lives down to zero (only headers, half-volleys and volleys allowed, and you can’t set yourself up for a shot). If you shoot wide or over, you’re in goals / if you shoot and the keeper catches it on the full, you’re in goals. If you shoot inside the 6-yard box or when it’s not a header/volley, then – you guessed it – you’re in goals. Unbelievable game.


anyone fancy a game?


Youth Football Conditioning