One of the delights of youth football coaching is
taking on a team of youngsters and watching them develop during a number
It's great to see how children, who were as timid or didn't know where to kick the ball, grow in confidence and learn new skills.
But staying with the same team for any length of
time has its drawbacks too. You will get to know your players quite
well and while we all try not to have favourite players there will
always be some children who try harder than others and some who have a
better attitude. As a result, it may become difficult to make
objective decisions about these individuals.
Training routines can also become stale over time. It is easy for a coach to stick to the same format and even play the
same games week in, week out. This rather lazy approach to coaching can
be justified by saying: "My players like doing it this way and
they like these games", but beware – you might be boring the pants off
Boredom at coaching sessions manifests itself by
misbehaviour and, eventually, absenteeism. If your players are
getting harder to control and some are not turning up regularly without
good reason, it's time for a spring clean!
Four to six year olds have relatively short
attention spans at the best of times. If they find a task interesting
and are enjoying some success at it, you can expect a young child to
stay focused on it for up to 10 minutes.
On the other hand, a four
year old who finds an activity uninteresting or difficult will stay "on
task" for as little as 30 seconds before looking for something more
satisfying to do. Picking daisies or playing with mud, for example.
So if you have team of four to six year olds you
should plan to change activities every 10 minutes at most. This means
having lots of different, fun and easy to explain coaching games in
your "back pocket".
find the best coaching games for young children
There are plenty of free
games and practice plans on footy4kids and I can thoroughly
Soccer Games for 5 to 8 Year Olds and Fun Soccer Games for 9 to 11 Year Olds by my colleague Keith Boanas.
As I mentioned above, the first sign that your
coaching sessions are getting stale and uninteresting is an ever
increasing amount of "undesirable" behaviour among your players.
Squabbles, continual chatting and players "not
trying" are clear indicators that you need to take a close look at your
coaching sessions. Are they designed to be child friendly? Do you spend
too much time on technical training and not enough time playing the
The quickest way to find out what you need to do to
get your sessions back on track is to ask your customers – the players.
Simply sit them down, explain that you are
concerned about their lack of focus and ask them if they are bored. If
they are, ask them which activities they find boring (and why) and
which activities they enjoy (and why).
I can almost guarantee that they will tell you that
they want to spend more time on scrimmages and less time practising
techniques. If so, you need to consider your priorities and decide if
the interests of your players would be best served by doing what they
want to do. Or do you know best? Only you can answer that one.
Regardless of what your players tell you, there are
a couple of simple ways to blow the cobwebs from your coaching sessions.
Invite other coaches to take some of your sessions.
Asking a colleague to take one or more of your
sessions is a great way to see how your players react to a different
You may be surprised to see how compliant your most
"difficult" players become when they're in front of a coach who doesn't
know them and you'll probably pick up some useful tips and tricks,
especially if the guest coach is more experienced than you.
over the reins.
It's good to let your players plan and run their
own practice session at least once or twice every season.
The week before you want them to do the hard work
for you, ask your players what you think they need to be better at and
seek one or two volunteers to plan a session to address their
shortcomings. This could be a good job for your captain and
If nothing else, the experience will show your
players that coaching football is not simply a case of turning up at the
field with a bag of balls, some cones and an empty mind.
While you're in the mood for spring cleaning, make
sure that your sessions tick all the right boxes:
sure your coaching sessions are progressive and challenging.
Boredom will soon set in if you don't challenge your players to improve so don't spend lots of time
practicing skills that were first introduced weeks or months ago.
You also need to be realistic in your expectations.
For example, most seven year olds lack the physical ability to lock
their ankle so don't expect them to be able to be able to kick a ball
from one end of the pitch to the other.
To get an understanding of what children between
the ages of five and 10 should be able to do on a football field, click here. And to find out where your players are in terms of their mental
development, click here.
games, not drills.
Children come to coaching sessions to play football,
not to stand around waiting. It's a youth football golden rule that you
shouldn't use drills that involve children standing in lines. However, many
coaches still think that static drills are the best way to practise
basic techniques. They're not.
Children can and should practise
passing, receiving, shooting, shielding the ball, tackling etc. within
the context of a small-sided football match and not just in a drill.
Find out more about small sided games and how to
use them here.
Competition is the key.
Your coaching sessions should reflect the fact that
football, whether we like it or not, is about winning and losing.
Coaching games for children over the age of five or
six should have clear winners and (can I say this word without
offending someone?) losers.
That's not to say you shouldn't reward effort too.
Make a fuss of players who strive to succeed but don't quite cross the
Mix up teams regularly so that everyone gets a chance to be
on the winning team. Stress the importance of winning and losing
gracefully. But always try to satisfy the natural competitive instinct
of your players. If you don't, they will compete among themselves in
ways that you might find inappropriate.
Finally, don't be afraid to be unconventional in
your approach. A good spring clean might simply involve a change to the
way you order your coaching activities. Try having the traditional end-of-session scrimmage at the beginning of the session instead. Or try a
"sandwich" session: scrimmage, technical, scrimmage.
Freshening up your coaching once a year is like
spring cleaning your home – the thought of having to do it is a bit
depressing but when it's done... boy, do you feel good!