How do you coach and manage a bunch of world record breakers? Do you need a higher level of authority or inspiration? Should your command of your fellow humans be a level above, and do you need to possess a supreme standard of coaching techniques?
Arsenal fan Theo Strong did just that, in the sports hall at Chestnut Grove Academy. From Wednesday 26th-Saturday 29th October, one woman and 15 men matched and broke the Guinness World Record for the longest running game of 5-a-side football in history. I was a part of this magic memory and, along with my colleague Abdal, was the referee in charge when the world record was broken and when the new record was set.
The match in question was played consecutively for 72 hours and raised thousands of pounds for the charity Football Beyond Borders. Through football, this excellent charity teaches children resilience, focus, confidence and teamwork – skills that will stand them in good stead for the rest of their lives. Each team had five people play at one time: four outfield players and one goalkeeper with three substitutes. The entire match was recorded and refereed by FA-qualified refs, to be reviewed by GWR officials afterwards.
The squad varied in age from 23 to 28 and came from different backgrounds and different parts of the country. They were normal people with one thing in common: they all love football. To give you an idea of the scale of the challenge: the entire team ran a total of over 2,000 miles; slept for between six and twelve hours; and scored thousands of goals. As the team captain for the record breakers, I thought it would be great to get inside Theo’s head and gauge his mindset, especially as he was also the organiser and head coach. Here, Theo shares his secrets and speaks about his amazing adventure. His astute and clear analysis will benefit many coaches all over the world. In fact the Herculean inspiration of Theo and his 15 team mates would inspire any human being regardless of whether they are a football coach or not!
ER: How does it feel to be a world record holder?
TS: Absolutely incredible. So much work has gone into this with training, logistics and fundraising, it’s just amazing that it all came together! The values that the charity teaches: focus, confidence, resilience and team-work were so important to us in this challenge and that’s the message that we want to get out there. We are just standard people, but using those values we have managed to break a World Record.
ER: Did the players require much coaching?
TS: We had a game plan and tactics that were paramount to our success. The only coaching needed was reminding each player what those tactics were. Fortunately, all the team were so professional that they were easy and a pleasure to manage.
ER: What was your key on field message?
TS: The key message was RESILIENCE. I said to everyone before the game: “This will be the hardest thing you ever have to do and no one will have a smile on their face for the entire 72 hours. But keep going as a team and when we complete this I guarantee you will all have a smile on your face for at least 72 hours after.”
ER: Did extra training and coaching assist the players?
TS: Extra training was paramount to our success! Each player ran over five marathons in the three days. We worked with personal trainers who really supported us and went above and beyond to get us in shape.
ER: What did you do in terms of building stamina?
TS: The personal trainers we worked with made it clear what was going to be the most difficult thing. They worked with us building up muscle in our legs and especially our core. The support your body needs just from being on your feet for 15 hours of the day is amazing. And the fact we are not feeling too painful after the challenge is thanks to those trainers and the hours of work we put in.
ER: Why did you pick 5-a-side?
TS: I don’t think I have enough friends to get a squad for 11-a-side!! 5-a-side is what everyone plays week in week out and what we love playing. Although I love 11-a-side as it is more ‘proper’ football. 5 a side is what we grow up with, what we would go to the park to play as kids for a kick-about. It’s a friendly sport and as such everyone can relate to it and hopefully realise how hard it is to play for 72 hours!
ER: Looking forward, would you consider a player coach role with a team?
TS: Absolutely. I know how to play football and when I feel I can no longer play at my best I will probably stop playing but I will not leave the game altogether.
ER: How relevant is a coach/manager/organiser in terms of what you achieved?
TS: Fail to prepare, prepare to fail. Organisation was key. We needed not only 16 players, but we needed witnesses, timekeepers, referees and, of course, supporters – and therefore a venue that could facilitate everything! I like to think I did my bit in terms of managing the team, keeping spirits high, team selection and rotation schedules, but really the lads were so easy to manage that they did most of the work.
ER: Do you have a footballing/coaching influence?
TS: Football has always been a massive part of my life. It is the best sport in my mind as it really combines discipline, skill, tactics and physicality into one. I am a Sunderland fan, so for me Kevin Phillips and Niall Quinn are idols. But I also grew up in the era of the unbeatables, so Arsenal legends like Vieira and Henry are also key influences.
ER: Can coaches influence a player’s character? How important is this, especially with youth footballers?
TS: Of course. All my favourite teachers at school were the ones who were my football coaches! I find that good coaches instantly have my respect and therefore this makes them influential. This is even more important in young people growing up. Good coaches will help players grow as people, not just footballers.
•For more information about the world record, go to: