|"The mediocre teacher tells. The
good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher
inspires." - William A. Ward
If you're coaching four and five-year-olds, this article probably isn't for you.
Your players don't need motivating to play the game to the best of their ability. They
will run, tackle and shoot until they drop because they're having fun and totally unaware
of the pressures that lie in wait for them as they get older.
But it won't be long before they become more and more aware of parental/coach expectations
and the differences in ability between individuals. That's when fun can begin to be
replaced by fear of failure. And worried players won't perform well in matches or give
100% effort in training.
At that point - usually when players are seven or eight years old -their coach faces a big
challenge: How to remove the fear and motivate his players to work hard in training and
play to their potential in matches.
The four motivational techniques I describe in this article are simple and pretty obvious
- when you understand why children want to play football in the first place.
Why children play football
An Athletic Footwear Association Survey of more than 20,000 young football players found
that children want to play football:
1. To have fun
2. To improve their skills
3. To stay in shape
4. To do something they are good at
5. The excitement of the competition
6. To get exercise
7. To play as part of a team
8. The challenge of the competition
9. To learn new skills
10. To win matches
Other studies have found that:
41% said they have woke in the night worrying about an upcoming game.
90% said they would prefer to be on a losing team if they were able to actually play
rather than warm the bench on a winning team.
- 71% of the young football players surveyed said they wouldnât care if no
score were kept in their games.
How to motivate your players
Make two throw-ins with both feet on the ground.
Make three shots on goal.
Make one good pass to a team mate.
These findings suggest that we can satisfy our players needs - and thereby motivate them
to work hard and play to their potential - by adopting the following strategies.
Well-planned, varied and competitive training sessions
Disorganised and poorly thought-out coaching sessions can demotivate even the most
positive of young players.
You need to plan your sessions in advance and plan activities that are:
b) Mentally and physically challenging.
c) Within the capabilities of all your players.
You should also bear in mind the preferences of your players. If they like playing
small-sided games (SSGs), (which they almost certainly will) then you should accommodate
Every player, no matter how skilled, will be motivated to give her best in matches if she
is given an easily understood, achievable objective.
Your objectives should not include the word "win". Winning is often out of your
player's control - an injury, poor referring decision or one small mistake can cost a good
team the match. Instead, the subject of your objectives should be entirely within your
player's control. For example:
Only set one or two objectives per game, praise your players for trying to achieve
their objectives and change objectives from one game to the next as your player's skills
Young players are usually not very good at assessing their own ability so they rely on
parents, coaches and team mates to tell them how they are performing.
Out of all these, the comments made by the coach are the most valued and you will make a
significant impact on your players' enjoyment and self image by giving honest, regular
feedback on their performance.
Try to give specific feedback as soon as you notice a player doing something well, e.g.
"Excellent! I like the way you kicked that with your laces". Telling your
players exactly what they are doing well encourages them to repeat the action they were
If you need to correct a mistake, use the "sandwich" approach to giving
feedback. For example: "That was a great shot (start with a positive). You would
probably have scored if you had taken the shot with your first touch (a negative in the
middle) but you made the keeper pull off a great save" (a positive to end with).
Don't forget that feedback is a two-way process. You may well find it instructive to ask
"on a scale of one to 10, how much fun did you have in today's coaching
Every player plays!
Finally, the best motivator of all: Playing time.
Children join a football team because they want to play, not sit on the bench watching
their team mates have all the fun.
So please make sure that every one of your players gets a meaningful amount of playing
time in every match, regardless of the game situation.
If you can't promise to do that, then be up front about it and offer to release players
who aren't going to get their fair share of time on the pitch.
 Troubling Signals from Youth Sports,
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