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Due to an unexpected break in the footballing action in the month of November, the football for this half-term has been slightly interrupted and has unfortunately meant that teams haven’t played as many competitive fixtures throughout the term. Regardless of this, all students have been able to maintain motivation to prepare for their fixtures and when the matches did return in December, the standard of football on display was very high and the competition was well and truly back.

One of the biggest challenges that teams have faced this term is being able to maintain motivation in training despite not having competitive games to prepare for the first half of the term. In training there is always the end goal of getting better on a personal level but without the short-term goal of a match to work towards this can be challenging. Sean Rowlinson, Runcorn Linnets academy coach implemented objectives to work towards in training to ensure his team were staying motivated despite the lack of competitive games early on in the term. He said: “The challenge from the outset would always be maintaining motivation when the group know that they haven’t got a fixture to get prepared for. However, the programme that we’ve put in place has ensured that we’ve had an objective to aim for; looking to dominate the ball collectively within games through being individually dominant within 1v1 moments of the game. This has enabled sessions to have a purpose, through our macro and micro cycles the sessions have been guided and covered in-possession, transition, out-of-possession and consolidation topics. We’ve found that this purpose has meant that we’ve stayed enthused despite the lack of games.”

This was something that Runcorn Linnets student Jamie Whittaker echoed. He thought that his teams hard work ethic during training was vital to their post-lockdown success in the games. He said: “One of the biggest challenges I think we faced was making sure we trained just as hard as when we didn’t have games compared to when we did have games. Obviously, it’s easy for people to take their foot off the gas during a lockdown with no games but I think it was important for us that we didn’t, and we trained just as hard through the whole of the second lockdown and I think it shows in the games.”

Sam Shaw, Regional Manager for the North believes the current coaches and students have worked extremely hard to overcome the many obstacles this year has thrown at them. He said: “All of our students and staff have responded amazingly to the challenges that presented themselves this year. Not just this half term but throughout the entire calendar year, coaches and students have worked non-stop and have been a real credit to the ESPFA."

The period without any matches was a significant challenge, but he was pleased with how hard students continued to work in training, to prepare for the return of fixtures at the start of December. He said: "The students have relished the opportunity to get back out onto the pitch and play competitive games again. At the start of the term when the second lockdown hit, we thought there might be a lack of motivation during training due to there being no games until December. We soon realised that it was quite the opposite and students were using this time away from competitive games to train even harder and get ready for the league starting up again. Since the games have resumed, we've seen even greater desire from all involved, as everyone is buzzing to be back competing and playing the game we all love. The feedback we get from our students about the games programme, including the highlights show and getting involved with post-match interviews has been fantastic."

To all the students and coaches involved with the programme, well done on a brilliant second half-term and we can’t wait to see you all back in action after in the new year.

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