Home Football Player Development Why Do My Players look Great in Training But Not in Football Matches?

Why Do My Players look Great in Training But Not in Football Matches?

by Coach Kurtis

In today’s article, we will look at a question I hear crop up on numerous occasions which is “why do my players look great in training but not in football matches?” good question. 

It must be frustrating for many coaches around the globe involved in youth football, you train once or twice a week and the players are doing everything that you ask of them so you are thinking “great we are ready for the game on the weekend”. 

When the game arrives you see a completely different set of players and you are left scratching your head thinking where have you gone wrong? 

Truth is, there could be many factors into the reasons why your players are just not transferring what they learn into the game. 

We will discuss all below in today’s article. 

What makes my players FREEZE on matchday? 

A common excuse for coaches is that their players just ‘Freeze’ on matchday, not turning up for the occasion. Other than this I tend to hear are “my players don’t want it enough” or “too many of them are just lazy, they don’t want to put in the effort when the matches arrive”. 

Do you really believe that kids don’t want to do their best when they play? 

I am yet to meet a child who wants to play football and loves the sport, not try their best when it comes to the matches. 

Every child who has a strong interest in the sport will want to impress you (the coach), their parents, peers, and anyone else who may be watching at the time! 

This is one thing I have learned after working in schools and communities with thousands of different children, they love to impress others. 

So if it’s not effort then it must be that they just don’t want to win enough.

Really? If you believe this then you obviously don’t know children very well! 

Children who enjoy the sport always want to win! They HATE losing. 

I am yet to meet a child who is happy with the fact that they have just lost a football match. 

So if it’s not any of the above, what could it be? 

Let’s first think about how different your training sessions could be from the actual matches!  

Do they mirror what the players might face in the matches? (Are they realistic). 

Do they help the players solve ‘real’ football problems? Allowing them to learn from their mistakes and you the opportunity to help give them guidance towards the correct solution?  

For me, this is one of the most common issues I see in grassroots football, unrealistic training sessions. 

If a player learns how to perfect a technique without also developing an understanding of where, when & why they must use that technique, there becomes a disconnect.  

Football is unpredictable and there are many variables that the players must consider whilst trying to execute certain techniques & skills. 

Now I have heard many coaches who are all for more traditional methods say “but shouldn’t a player first master a technique before being introduced to other elements of I.e., making decisions on time, space & pressure from the opposition (passive, limited & full pressure)?  

Let’s use learning to drive a car as an example. 

When you learn to drive a car, the instructor will first tell you how to use all the functions then let you start driving around the block (albeit the quieter roads). 

Here you are gradually being introduced to realistic scenarios whilst still learning the foundations of driving a car.  

You still must be aware of your surroundings. 

You still must make decisions on your timing when turning the wheel and the space you have.  

Lesson by lesson, the instructor will gradually increase the difficulty and assess you based on your driving skill on the road whether you are ready to progress further 

All this while still learning the basics. 

Why is this the case?  

Wouldn’t a student learn to drive by just driving around in the car park with no oncoming traffic repeatedly 100 times? 

Not entirely. 

Yes, they may know how to use all the functions of a car but will they be able to effectively operate the car when they need to be aware of other elements such as oncoming traffic, pedestrians, or cars parked on the side of roads? 

Sometimes as coaches, we try to protect young players from experiencing failure not realizing it is an important part of the learning process.  

Yes, young players need to first learn the basics of the game but this shouldn’t come at the expense of removing all the ‘realism’ from the practice.  

A player still needs to make decisions on time, space, and being aware of their surroundings for them to transfer the skills & techniques to the game.  

Have you considered the environment that surrounds the players? 

Many underestimate the effects that the wrong environment can have on their players.  

What I have found via my own observations and from my own personal experiences when I was a child, is that the training environments tend to differ from match days. 

There are two major differences that tend to be reoccurring across many grassroots teams and that comes from the coaches and parents! 

The current culture in youth football encourages a ‘fight ball’ mentality instead of adopting a more patient playing style!

Let’s first look at the coaches. 

Do you place more emphasis on the result instead of development? 

I find this to be very common amongst most grassroots coaches, placing unnecessary pressure on young players to ‘win’ at the expense of the player’s development. 

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t see this as the coaches not caring about the player’s development, it’s mostly a lack of coach education and years of traditional English culture where ‘fight ball’ is seen as the way we must play the game. 

Adopting a more ‘patient’ playing style that tends to involve more ‘risk’ is frowned upon despite the larger benefits to the players in the long term. 

Coaches tend to opt for the ‘joystick’ approach, where they dictate every instruction to the players, stifling any creativity that they currently have. 

Imagine being 10 years old and a 30 + adult shouting instructions at you constantly throughout the game.  

Would this help you play better? 

Or would you find this a big distraction or even very annoying? 

Have you ever been in a job or a situation where the boss has dictated or shouted constantly at you even at times pointing out every mistake you make?  

If so, how does that make you feel? Do you feel inspired to do better? Or demotivated and dreading returning to that environment? 

The situation isn’t much different when you look at football parents. 

Are you one of those parents who feels that they must give instructions to their child throughout the match? 

Don’t get me wrong, words of encouragement every so often is ok but giving direct instructions of how to play can not only be distracting but also contradicting. 

Imagine being a youth football coach and working with your players on a particular style of play, only to have parents telling their kids to do the complete opposite. 

Very frustrating! 

How can we expect our kids to learn how to play the game effectively if we take over and remove any independent thinking from their game? 

“It is not what you do for your children, but what you have taught them to do for themselves, that will make them successful human beings.”

Ann Lauders

Things to think about as a coach! 

As youth football coaches, we sometimes don’t realize that in fact many of the issues that we face with coaching young players can be avoided if we work hard to do the foundations first. 

Here are a few suggestions we can look to implement. 

1) Have a talk with your players! – Think about having a talk with your players to find out what makes them play so differently in matches. This will help you get to the root of the problem so you can begin to put things in place to help your players perform in matches. 

2) Is it fun for them? – Have a conversation with your football parents about the best way to conduct themselves during matches to help player development I.e., no instructions during games only occasional words of encouragement. 

3) Matchday is an extension of training! – My mentor used to always say to me “the game is an assessment of what was previously taught!”. Always remember this whenever you prepare for matches during training and game day! 

Do your training sessions help the players solve ‘real game problems’ that they may face in the actual game? 

4) Reflect on your behavior during training & matches! – Do you behave differently in training compared to matches. Do you need to say less during matches?  

5) What do your players view as success? – How do you frame what is seen as a success to your players? Do you get them to measure success based on their development I.e. decision making, skill execution during matches etc?  


There can be many factors as to why your players are not performing during matches and many of them can be rectified with a little thought and planning. 

Remember most players come to your team because they want to improve, make friends and have fun, don’t be the one to take away everything that they love about the game, build on it! 

As coaches, we are here to facilitate and add guidance whenever necessary, but we are not here to do everything for them. 

That is not how we create players with individualism, it is not how develop independent thinkers! 

Remember the importance of including your football parents in the development process! 

If you neglect this and just, try to ignore your parents then you risk having parents who will contradict all your efforts with the players and even question your coaching practice. 

If you are transparent from the beginning, then there are fewer grey areas meaning there will be fewer issues. 

Don’t be like every other joystick coach you see out there, be different, do things differently! 

Show patience with your players and trust me you will reap the benefits later, yes you risk losing a few games, yes you will have setbacks but if done correctly, you see better improvement in your players. 

Embrace the chaos! 

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