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I don’t know if you`ve noticed but there are heaps of study papers and articles about the best way to coach and develop youth football players. Many are thought provoking but what stands out is that very few of the writers have had real long-term experience working on the junior side of the game.

The latest favourite is “let the game be the teacher” – let the players play and learn from their own mistakes, a big move away from the tidy drills and organised outcomes mantra that has dominated coach education and resulted in a generation of ordinary players.

Once again be warned it’s not as simple as that!

For example, did your parents when teaching you to walk down the street, say “off you go run down the street if you get run over by a car that’s a valuable learning experience for you?”

No! but if we reference it to ‘let the game be the teacher’ that’s what is being advocated.

What your parents did was to hold your hand during these foundation experiences and guide your learning.  I remember my mum holding my hand tight, commanding that I “Walk on the left”,  “Move right (or left) to avoid that gentleman”, “Stop! let this lady move through the gap” or

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“No don’t just walk out Roger when crossing the road make sure to check right, left and right again or you could be run over”.

You were being taught to constantly look ahead, take mental pictures and make decisions ahead of time. This teaching included multi decisions and habits in a totally realistic environment and was repeated numerous times until your parents had assessed that you were ready for next stage. They then made you walk by the side of them with decreased input to give you the ability, confidence and understanding to be set free to walk the walk.

Your parents guided your understanding in real life situations.

Football coaching is like life!

Roger educating youth football coaches.

By the way, I’m definitely not saying that youth football coaches should order the decisions like my mum and definitely don’t clip kids round the ear if they get it wrong!

Clever coaches guide the discovery of youth football players with progressive logical tips and coaching points in programmed realistic sessions. They introduce the important coaching points and game challenges gradually and logically to advance the young player’s ability and independent understanding. Importantly, they know the type of player they are striving to produce.

When working with an 8 yr old player coaches MUST realise they are NOT working with an 8 yr old they are working with a 24 yr in the early part of their playing career.” John Cartwright.

Clever youth football coaches know what makes a great player and the ingredients of the great game style they are coaching towards. Sounds common sense, but very few grassroots coaches work this way.

Clever coaches introduce multiple coaching details alongside the main themes of their session (as well as teaching us to walk down the street mum also re-enforced good manners!).

They also use imagery, demonstrations and encouragement to make the session challenging and enjoyable. They value every minute of practice time to nurture the development of the young player through progressive, realistic practices.

Nurture by making every player a special project with support, empathy, individual positive targets and feedback.

Progressive because each session is part of a programme of work that cements the critical skills the young player needs and constantly pushes their skill and understanding to advance their ability.

Realistic because the practices introduce the learning in a logical, easy to understand sequence that is totally game related.

This coaching experience is a super reference point for the kids when they play their own “pick up” games. They have an individuality and a game style to aspire to, they know what they are trying to do and if they make a mistake they know how to put it right.  Great coaches by clever use of guidance also teach the kids how to coach themselves.

The era of street football was a great breeding ground for outstanding players but as one tremendous ex-player said to me “playing in tight areas forced me to make decisions BUT if I‘d also had a great coach on the sideline helping my experience what a difference that would have made “. So even then the coach would have been a crucial factor.

The big challenge in the modern era is that at the grass roots level, from 5 to 14 yrs of age, we need the very best coaches. Unfortunately, the foundation stage is dominated by poor practice, with National bodies often promoting supposed “fun” practices that have no real effect on the development of the real skills of the game.

We need to develop coach educators who have real experience and working knowledge of the needs of this age group and who are totally focused on educating the coaches that have the expertise to develop great players.

“I’d rather be coached by a great coach on the club car park than a poor coach at Lilleshall” Malcolm Allison.

To view the original blog post on the Keep the ball website which is an excellent resource for coaches of all levels click here.

Create Fun Engaging Sessions and Become a Better Coach With My Free Guide!

Want To learn how to develop your very own coaching style and fun, engaging soccer sessions? click the button below to find out how!

The Author

Roger has over 35 years football coaching experience around the world. In 2002, Roger co-founded Premier Skills with former Crystal Palace First Team Coach, John Cartwright, with a view to develop coaches and players at all levels of the game. Over the past 10 years Roger has been based in the United Kingdom and has worked for Crystal Palace as an Academy Coach and more recently as the Under 21 Development Coach for West Bromwich Albion. Roger returned to New Zealand permanently in January 2013 and is currently the Youth Academy Director at Fencibles United.

PREMIER SKILLS is a football company dedicated to developing outstanding coaches and highly skilled players. They aim to do this by delivering innovative coach education and player development courses at all levels. If you would like to check their services you can go to the website here.

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“Like most invasion games football is a simple game to play but complex when taught. Though the aim of the game is to simply place the ball in a goal which is deep in the opposition territory, the top players must be agile and fit and possess high levels of technical ability” Alan Launder.

For many years now most notably in England, the traditional ways of coaching youth football have been to first teach the skill and then play. What this has meant for football in this country is that not enough players are being produced with tactical awareness and decision making skills compared to rest of Europe. However,  a tactical games approach offers football coaches a different way of coaching youth football.  This approach focuses on developing the learners understanding of the game first then how to apply the skills within a game. This approach has been in place since the early 1980s which show partial evidence that teaching tactics in modified situations before teaching skills will transfer the most to actual game situations (Silverman, 1997).

Since the games for understanding model was introduced by Thorpe & Bunker (1982) it has generated extensive research interest because of how it can facilitate various aspects of teaching and coaching. The tactical games approach has the potential to, (a) aid the development of technical skills, (b) encourage the development of tactical knowledge; (c) assess the tactical transfer across games and, (d) to produce ways of assessing game performance (Turner, 1996).

In this post, we will explore other aspects that are important for developing creative youth football players.

” In order to teach good decision making it is important to teach key concepts within game situations” Stephen Mitchell.

Choosing Your Style of Play!

For many years, coaches have been jumping on the next new style of play and focusing all their efforts trying to ‘copy’ the exact style. Now there is nothing wrong with stealing ideas from other coaches, in fact, I promote it but you cannot expect to see your players playing the same style of football.

When coaching youth football players you will need to develop your own style of play. When developing your style of play a coach should first focus all their efforts in producing players who are skilful enough to play it. This doesn’t mean focusing on attacking players but all players having high levels of skill.

“It is vitally important that high levels of individual skill should be availible from all positions – the more the skills availibe; the more the playing options become avalible throughout the team!” John Cartwright

A coach shouldn’t just focus on either playing a short or long passing style of play. As coaches, we should look to develop a good mixture of both because this allows our youth football players the chance to play either short or long depending on the circumstances of the game. This is where the player’s decision making comes into practice. Player’s with good decision making and high levels of skill should be able to adopt either playing style and implement it in the game.

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A Youth Football Player’s Role!

A coach should never restrict a young football player to one position on the field throughout their playing career. Youth football players must be developed to play in different positions to increase their understanding of the game.

Have you ever wondered why players from other Europian countries seem to find it easier to play in different role’s or positions than English players? When it comes to the English national side, we cause an uproar if one of our players are in a different position or role to what they are used to but it is a normal occurrence with other national sides.

Let me make it clear that we cannot expect players to be comfortable in every position but they should be multi-functional and able to play in at least 2-3 different roles if required. This allows the team to adopt different styles if required not limiting your side to one playing style.

“Young talent must be developed to play different game-styles with differing positional roles to increase their understanding and all around playing quality” John Cartwright.

Coaching youth football player’s in different roles.

Development First, Winning Second!

It is understandable why many youth coaches lean towards coaching to win a game rather than coaching to play the right way. Coaches find it easier and less risky, often deploying tactics which hinder the player’s development such as forcing them to play it long at every opportunity or always giving the ball to the best player.

Encouraging your player’s to play well will create more mistakes in the game but it will also show the coach new solutions to old problems. Playing to only win the game means you restrict your players to already known skills that are important for winning (kick and rush, pressing etc) (Wein,2007). This will only limit your player’s long-term development, nullifying their skill and creativity.

“Winning is only a consequence of playing well. That is why every player has only to try to give his or her very best. The result will fall like a ripe fruit falls from a tree” Horst Wein.

Summary

It is important to have an idea of how you want to play the game. When you have a vision you can create the steps to achieving your vision. This will help create your football curriculum that should help accelerate your football player’s progress.

In order to create great football players, we have to be prepared to take risks. Our young players also need to learn in an environment which will allow them to play with expression to unlock their full potential.

It is very hard to know where a young player’s best position will be when they become an adult. It is important that a coach gives his or her player’s the opportunity to experience different positions to broaden their understanding of the game.

Let’s Play the Game Ltd is a provider of excellent one to one and team football training in Birmingham, Walsall, Dudley and Sandwell. For those who would like to try our services don’t hesitate to contact us. Don’t forget to subscribe below to never miss any of our posts. You can also like our Facebook page or subscribe to our You Tube channel for more football coaching tips.

 

 

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In my 12 years as a youth football coach, I have experimented with many methods to help improve my coaching ability. In that time I have seen how a player can rapidly improve by just going away and working on their game at home either on their own, with parents or a hired personal coach. This is why after each session I set my players football homework for them to practice at home because 1 or 2 sessions with me just aren’t enough to see the results I want from their development.

I find consistency is important when developing youth football players. Whatever you teach, you should have a specific aim that you focus on until there is evidence of improvement. there is no point moving forward if they are not ready, many coaches change topics too frequently, not allowing the player time to grasp what you want from the session. Each session should be a gradual progression from the previous one, meaning there has to be a link between your sessions. This doesn’t mean you teach the exact same session for 3-4 weeks, it means they should have a familiar theme and pick up from where the previous one left off.

Here is an example of 4 sessions that are gradually progressive.

Topic: Staying with the ball

Session 1 Session 2 Session 3 Session 4
Dribbling the ball with both feet. Recap last session. Dribbling whilst using tricks. Recap previous session. Dribbling whilst using turns. Recap previous session. Dribbling whilst screening the ball.

For more information on how to prepare a football coaching session click here to read a previous post.

Now you might be thinking how can we increase the consistency with our players when we train only once or twice a week? well, this is where we utilise the parents of the players. I mentioned earlier how I set my players football homework every week, to help continue their development whilst they are at home. Parents can help by working with the player, on whichever task the coach has set. Now you might be thinking that there are some parents who have little knowledge of coaching young players, but the type of 1 to 1 coaching sessions I’m talking about are relatively easy to set up so anybody can give them a go.

I wrote this article with parents and coaches in mind, to help give them some insight on how they can be an excellent asset to their child’s development. Here you will find some tips that will not only benefit parents but also coaches who want to empower their parents with ideas to help rapidly increase the ability of their players.

Let’s Get Coaching!

A key skill I felt every parent and coach should be aware of is how to effectively communicate with your children. This is is an important aspect not only for parents but also coaches to learn too.

First, you must think of the best way you can portray your message to the player. This is where having variation in the tone of voice can help engage the player and portray your message. speaking in a monotone voice throughout will still get your message across but it won’t do much to help paint that picture for the player.

You need to challenge your youth football players to make decisions for themselves, which is normally done with effective questioning. This will help the player understand where, when, why & how to apply their actions in the game.

Here’s an example;

How to Use Effective Questioning in Youth Football!

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Progressions!

Try to ensure you add progressions when teaching your child. To really push their development, the difficulty of the session needs to be gradually increased. An example would be either adding pressure from the coach/parent, reducing the space or encouraging them to play quicker.

There will also be times where the player finds the session too difficult and you need to think of ways to decrease the difficulty of the session. An example of this would be making the area bigger, simplifying the skill or taking away the added pressure (coach/parent).

For more tips on coaching, demonstrations read my previous post on 5 tips for effective coaching demonstrations!

Using effective communication in youth football

Communicate With The Coach!

Parents and coaches should always be communicating with each other. The parent should be asking about the development of their child and what they can do to help with this. Not all youth football coaches have regular communication with their parents about the player’s development, so sometimes it will be down to the parents to ask for feedback and advice.

If you happen to be in a situation where your coach is a parent too, who also has little experience in coaching then you will have to do your own research on different ways to up-skill your child.

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Your Football Calendar!

When you start to put something down on paper it’s more likely to get done. I recommend that you aim to work with your child for at least 3o minutes a day 4 times a week, doing some 1 to 1 football coaching sessions. Like I said before don’t worry if you’re not the next Pep Guardiola, you doing something with your child is better than doing nothing at all.

Produce your very own football calendar to help you and your child commit to working on your game. When you have prepared your calendar put it somewhere you and your child can always see it, so it reminds you of what must be done and when you are going to do it.

Summary!

For any player to show real progression in their development there must be a clear plan put in place. This shouldn’t be just any plan, but one with gradual progressions that take the player through a consistent training program that will link previous sessions with the current one.

Parents can play an important role in the development of players. As a coach, we can help empower them to take on (or encourage the player to work on their own) the development of their child and help further the development of the player.

Every player should have an idea of where their training program is trying to take them. involving the player in their own development gives them ownership and awareness of what they must do to succeed.

As much as we don’t like to admit it but the era of the street footballer is in decline, and we must find ways of encouraging our young players to train in their own time. This shouldn’t be random sessions but purposeful training with a clear goal at the end.

If you require some expert personal football coaching Let’s Play the Game Ltd is a provider of excellent 1 to 1 and team football coaching in Birmingham, Walsall, Dudley, and Sandwell. For those who would like to try our services don’t hesitate to contact us. Don’t forget to subscribe below to never miss any of our posts. You can also like our Facebook page or subscribe to our You Tube channel for more football coaching tips.     

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