Coaching Day 8: Just fun.

Last night’s session was brilliant. Why? We had loads of fun.

The session started as usual with a warm up which was important on such a cold night. We use sharks v minnows as all the kids enjoy it, they all have a ball each and it’s an ideal opportunity to get them working on their ball skills from the off.

After the warm-up we split the kids in to two groups which is something we usually do (and something I prefer) and as we did this it was quite nice to hear one boy shout “I want to be in Simon’s group!”. “I must be doing something right”, thought I! Anyway, due to work commitments this week I hadn’t had chance to plan for the session so I opted to use a couple of simple games which would keep all the kids active.

Dribbling, Passing & Shooting (Ed – not the most creative name I know)

I knew that the kids love any game which involves shooting or scoring goals so I try to use games which factor in other skills whilst also incorporating shooting. I used cones to set up a game which required a player to dribble in and out of four cones to the side of the goal (i.e. being a winger) before passing the ball across to a player who’d be in a striker position. The player in the striking position would then control the ball and take a shot at goal. The players would then rotate so the winger went in to the striker position, the striker went to the back of the line and the next winger went.

So, What does this cover?

  • Dribbling
  • Passing
  • Control
  • Shooting
  • Communication (player in the middle had to call for the ball)

The game worked well because the rotation was quick, it challenged all players (even the goalkeeper) and the kids enjoyed it because they were scoring and keeping a record of how many they were scoring. The game also allowed progressions, as below…


  • Shoot first time
  • Shoot further out (for kids with a stronger kick)
  • Dribble with both feet when being the winger

I then changed to a different game which required the kids to play a wall pass with me before having a shot at goal. Although in my L1 course it was recommended that adults shouldn’t get involved in games as it’s not realistic, I found taking part in this game allowed me to work on their communication which is where some of the fun came in.

The Wall-pass & shot:

  • Each player lined up behind a cone about 10m out (5m to the side of the goal)
  • Each player would pass the ball to me and call for the ball back
  • Once they received it they could then take a shot


  • Providing a bouncing return ball for the better players to control & strike (or strike first time)
  • Asking them where they wanted the ball, getting them to point as they called my name

There were two key fun aspects to this game which the kids really enjoyed. The first was that after a while I had them shouting my name when they wanted the ball, which made them laugh but also got them all calling for the ball which is a habit I want them to get in to (I also refused to pass it back if they didn’t call my name). And, if they scored they had to come up with a goal celebration which had them coming up with all sorts of amusing moves!

I was able to use this game to challenge the kids to think about what side of the goal they were going to shoot at which quickly got them getting their head up and improved the number of goals they were scoring. Especially pleasing as one girl started scoring a few goals having scored none in her first few attempts.

The games were simple, but I managed to incorporate an element of fun in all of it and they also worked on a number of skills & techniques.

After we’d finished the final shooting game I got the kids together to ask them what we’d worked on and it was brilliant to hear them come up with all the answers. It also allowed me to ask them what I wanted them to do in the game, “call for it”, “pass”, “shoot”, they said. What also made me chuckle was one of the boys repeated what I’d said before Christmas to them, he said, “And Simon, you don’t mind if we lose as long as we pass it”. Quite!

As much as it’s important they know what you’d like them to do it’s also pleasing when you see them do it which is why it was pleasing to hear the kids in my group shouting and calling for the ball when their team mate had it – fantastic. Suddenly you see them taking what you’ve worked on in the session and applying it in a match situation, is there anything more rewarding?

The kids are great fun, I’m getting to know them better and leaving training knowing that you’ve improved them ever so slightly is a great feeling.


Do the FA need to limit the age at which young players are recruited?

We had an interesting debate at our monthly club meeting last night and I wanted to share it on here to see if the general opinion in last night’s meeting was shared by people who read this blog. To provide the context of the meeting – it’s attended by all managers / coaches who are involved in my local youth FA charter standard club and it’s a general meeting discussing everything from equipment, to match reports, to any problems/important info etc.

The debate arose at the end of the meeting and was inspired a comment from the club chairman in response to this article. His point was (summarising), “Are professional clubs limiting player potential and enjoyment within the game by recruiting players at too early an age?”.

His view being that young players, both girls and boys, were being recruited at a young age and because the clubs stipulated that they could no longer player for a youth club side, it meant that the boy or girl was unable to play with their friends anymore (park kick-abouts aside). Also, given the intensity and formality of the coaching they’d receive at a professional club it took the enjoyment out of what was, essentially, just a fun game for them.

The discussion covered a number of points, but the main points were as follows:

  • Coaches and Managers agreed that children were being recruited at a younger age than they perhaps should be
  • Professional clubs were too aggressive in their recruitment
  • There were too many instances of teenagers dropping out of football because they’d played too much too soon (i.e. were burnt out)
  • Parents were having too much influence in the decision process, i.e. they were chasing the possibility of fame and fortune

It was agreed though, that recruitment was required at a certain age to ensure appropriate development and fulfil potential, but this should start from around the age of 13.

The discussion also threw out the following points / observations:

  • There are fewer children playing organised football now than there was 20/30 years ago
  • There are some people who have no confidence in Trevor Brooking leading us forward

The club have decided to write a letter to the Oxfordshire FA to get their point across. That is, clubs are recruiting players too early in their development and this isn’t having  a net positive impact on the game or the players development. This is the point I’d welcome discussion and input on.

Personally, I’ve not got much of a view on this due to lack of experience but I can probably see both sides of the argument. If youth clubs are seeing good players drop out of football or become uninterested in the game due to the cutthroat nature of professional clubs then I can fully see their point. However, professional clubs are always under pressure to find good quality young players, players who the fans engage with and who can provide a good return on investment for them.

Given the nature of the business then clubs are obviously looking at younger and younger players but does that really need to happen? Can the FA do something to stop this? If recruitment started at 12 or 13 does that leave enough time to develop those players? Is 12 or 13 still too young? Jury’s still out I guess…

Coaching talented young players

Within the group of Under 7 boys & girls I help to coach we have one boy who’s looking like an excellent talent. He’s clearly a lot better than the rest of the kids who attend our sessions and because he’s good I’m not entirely sure how we should be developing him.

He’s an excellent little dribbler, he’s quick and he’s got a very accurate/powerful shot on him. During games he’ll run past most of the players and my main focus so far has been to encourage him to pass because generally it’s the last thing on his mind.

The only negative about this player is that it causes tension amongst the other players because he doesn’t pass during games or matches, although we’re constantly encouraging him to do so and he will on occasion.

Anyway, it’s not so much a question of how to develop him I guess, but rather, should it be a focus? At 6 or 7 years old should I/we just be ensuring that he continues to enjoy his football? Should we be identifying a talent and helping him to improve by pushing him harder and challenging him more than the other players?

Maybe I’m worrying over nothing. Maybe I can combine the development of a player with bags of potential with the primary objective of ensuring he has fun, as with any other kid. Either way, it’s something I’d welcome advice on, especially if you’ve been in a similar situation.

Coaching Day 7: Small improvements visible

We had a fairly good turn-out at training tonight with the milder weather bringing out a few of the kids (or parents) who had been reluctant to come during the recent cold snap and it was great to see a couple of the kids back who I particularly like to work with.

The session was run as one tonight which meant we didn’t split them up in to two groups like we often do. Therefore, whilst still participating and helping out I also spent a proportion of the evening watching Phil run the session, observing how he interacted with the kids, got their attention and ensured they all understood his instructions.

As with previous weeks the focus was very much on dribbling, control & passing. The warm-up mainly focused on dribbling (sharks v minnows as usual) and allowed me to once again work with one or two players on an individual basis. I’ve started to realise that the more I challenge the boys (& girl) the more they surprise me. For instance, tonight a couple of the boys were showing me the different tricks they could do and whilst the execution of them needed work (as you’d expect) I was aware it was all about encouraging them to practice the skill(s), both in the game and the match at the end, and then praise them when they tried it.

We then played an adaptation of the Level 1 game, Waves, but with defenders. This gave the kids & opportunity to work on passing, shooting and other “softer” aspects, such as communication. It’s also a good game for getting them to get their heads up whilst in control of the ball, something we also covered during the first game.

We then ended with a match and what was especially pleasing is that it’s becoming clear that week-by-week the kids are getting better. It’s not always clearly obvious on a weekly basis but for some reason tonight it struck me that these players were doing small things that they definitely weren’t doing when I first saw them in a match scenario. They’re calling for the ball now, they’re controlling it better, they’re passing it more and one or two of the boys were starting to introduce their tricks in to the game which was met with plenty of positive reinforcement by me (I’m a striker by trade so I’m naturally more excited by flair players!).

Our under 7s will play their first match in April and they’re all excited about the prospect of that. It’s going to be interested to see how they get on against other boys/girls of their age. For one, we can see how well they’re developing and for me, these are the only U7s I’ve seen play football so it’ll give me a chance to see what other kids at this age group are like.

Until next week…

The Babel/Twitter debate

Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock for the last few days you’ll probably be aware that Liverpool’s Ryan Babel has been charged with improper conduct by the FA after he posted a picture of referee Howard Webb wearing a Man Utd shirt on Twitter after Sunday’s FA Cup defeat at Old Trafford.

United had of course won the FA Cup tie 1-0 thanks largely to a soft-looking penalty awarded by Webb in the first minute and the game was further influenced by a refereeing decision when Liverpool were forced to play over half of the game with ten men following the red card awarded to Steven Gerrard for a two-footed lunge on Darren Fletcher (this decision wasn’t contentious at all).

Since being charged many, including the PFA, have suggested the charge is unfair and that the FA have perhaps over-reacted to the incident which has generally been regarded as “a bit of a joke”. However, are people not missing the bigger point here?

We have been talking about respect for referees for a long time in this country and whilst things are improving, the chuck away comments made by people such as Ryan Babel only continue to undermine the role they play and set a bad example to our young players. Indeed, things are much better as we no longer (or rarely) see instances such as that of 2000 when Manchester United players, lead by captain Roy Keane, reacted appallingly to a decision made by referee Andy D’Urso.

The FA’s RESPECT program is aiming to “address unacceptable behaviour on and off the pitch”, which includes behaviour towards referees and it’s clearly making huge strides forward. This is why I believe the FA needed to make a stance with Ryan Babel and why they need to take this stance with any other players who decides it’s funny to belittle a referee.

People such as the FA have worked hard to improve life for referees both at the top level and at a grassroots level and we need to keep working at this because without referees we have no game. There’s a clear shortage of referees at both the grassroots or lower-senior level in this country so we must continue to encourage people to become referees and those people must be confident that they can do so without fear of being bullied, and this starts at the top.

Are the FA missing a trick?

On Thursday, 9th December 2010 the FA held their Future Game conference at Wembley Stadium. The ultimate objective for the day was the launch of the FA’s new manual for grassroots coaching called “The Future Game, Grassroots Guide to Coaching”, but the day also provided the 600 coaches who attended a chance to listen to people such as Capello, Allardyce & Stuart Pearce talk about youth development as well as being able to watch some of the FA’s top coaches performing sessions.

Whilst I and everyone else coaching at a grassroots level applaud the FA (Ed – happy to be contradicted on this one!) for their empathy with grassroots coaches and the need to improve coaching at that level, I can’t help but think they’re missing a trick. Yes, it’s been well documented that England is far behind other European nations when it comes to raw numbers of qualified coaches at various levels and it is fair to say that the FA are ploughing lots of money in to correcting the situation. However, I wonder if they’re spending their money wisely?

I have a perception that the FA appear to have a limitless amount of money at their disposal and I fully expect the new coaching manual (which I’ve just ordered) will have all the bells & whistles and will have been put together at a high quality. I also expect that the Future Game conference wasn’t cheap and neither have any of the other FA youth development initiatives launched in recent years. But, whilst the FA provide excellent launches and they provide manuals and other readable information, aren’t they missing an opportunity to mentor and assist coaches on a more direct level?

Case in point – I passed my Level 1 qualification in August and made a clear intention to progress within coaching at a grassroots level, which presumably makes me someone who the FA are really keen to help given their focus on improving grassroots coaching. However, since passing the course I’ve heard nothing from the FA and instead will have to find my own material online, find my own mentor and plan my own route through the coaching badges. Is this right? I’m not sure.

I understand that it wouldn’t be realistic for the FA to monitor or mentor every coach working in grassroots level. So how about this as a proposal?

  • The FA ask each Charter Standard club to appoint a ‘Coach Development Rep’.
  • The Coach Development Rep would be an experienced coach.
  • The FA would have at least one county rep responsible for coach development within their county set-up.
  • The Coach Development Rep provides a point of contact, advice or assistance for the club’s coaches & helps them plan their progression through the badges (if desired).
  • The Coach Development Rep & County Development Rep liaise to discuss available courses, best practice, environments & advice etc

There are some really good examples of clubs doing this anyway but not all will be taking the initiative and I believe implementing something like this would solve two immediate issues:

  • It’d ensure coaches have a local mentor, someone who can provide regular help & support.
  • It’d ensure coaches with potential are actively developed (where desired), for the best interests of the game.

I worry that we could lose good coaches because we’re not providing them with the appropriate levels of support. Coaching isn’t easy, let alone being a coach/manager/kit man/parent and so whilst we worry about ensuring our kids are having fun and are well supported we may be losing good coaches because they’re not being supported either.

If the FA want to improve the level of coaching at a grassroots level then they must also invest in existing coaches and ensure we don’t allow good coaches to become frustrated or disinterested in the game or in coaching through a lack of support – support & help that cannot be provided through new manuals…

Disclaimer: I’m fully behind what the FA are doing and therefore am not intending to actively criticise the FA in this article.

Aims & Aspirations for 2011

As it’s the new year I find it hard to resist the temptation to blog about my aspirations for 2011 as a youth coach and hence here is a blog on my aspirations for 2011! Firstly though, I feel it’s worthwhile reflecting on 2010…

A year ago I hadn’t even started coaching. I’d thought about it and I’d been thinking about it for a couple of years but for various reasons (time, cost etc) I hadn’t taken the plunge, until June last summer when I finally decided it was time to get involved. It was June when I booked my place on the FA’s Level 1 course and July when I started this blog. I attended the Level 1 course over two weekends in mid-August and began coaching the U7s with my local FA Charter Standard club in September. I’ve since used this blog as a place to capture my early journey as a youth coach and what I’m learning along the way and so far I’m really enjoying it.

In addition to the coaching and experiences gained I must add that one of the most surprising & rewarding aspects of 2010, in the coaching context, is the amount of online material and information which is available to the coach of today. There are blogs, forums, articles and a wealth of fantastic people over on Twitter who’re happy to pass on their advice & opinion.

So, with that whistle-stop tour of 2010 out of the way, what’s my plan for 2011?

  • Continue to work with the U7s I’m coaching at the moment. They’ll start to play matches in September and I’m looking forward to continuing to develop them and see them in a game situation.
  • I’m hoping to work with more teams and kids of varying ages. Through the club I’m involved with I’ve put myself forward to help with some coaching they’re going to be doing at local primary & secondary schools over the coming months.
  • Working with other coaches – I’m aiming to take opportunities to work with more coaches, to observe them and see how they coach.
  • FA Youth Award Module 1 – I’m planning to take this in February.
  • FA Level 2 – I’m hoping to take and pass this by the end of 2011.
  • And finally, continue to have fun, to ensure the kids I coach have fun and continue to blog all about it.

I’m so glad I decided to get involved in coaching, it’s fantastically rewarding and I can’t wait to see what 2011 has in store.

Coaching Day 6: SSG Success

One of the challenges I’m finding with coaching so far is the need to be able to think on your feet and adapt to the numbers of players who either turn up, or the number I’m going to directly work with. For a new coach it can certainly be difficult to come up with a game which is appropriate to the level of players at your disposal, the equipment, the number of players and the weather (e.g. you don’t want them standing still for any amount of time in the very cold weather). So it’s something which is proving one of the biggest challenges so far.

We had 11 boys at tonight’s session which started in the usual way with a game of sharks v minnows to warm them all up. At this point I must point out that I still find the challenge of running a game or session with 12+ kids a bit daunting, especially given the presence of onlooking parents and Phil, who I joined to help coach these U7s. I find I’m far more comfortable with a group of 5 or 6 and although these smaller numbers make the games easier to manage it does mean there are certain games I can’t use. Undoubtedly, this is down to experience and I think with more experience and understanding kids will come the confidence to deliver larger sessions.

I only ran a couple of games with the 6 kids I took (Phil & I took half each), one being a small shooting game and the other being a 3v3 SSG. I’m seeing real value in SSGs and I continue to understand why so many people advocate their use. With a SSG, such as 3v3 tonight, I found the benefits tonight were as follows:

  • It was quick to set-up and with just 6 players I found it very easy to set my expectations for the game (rules etc)
  • All of the players got plenty of touches and lots of opportunities to dribble, pass, shoot, take throw-ins, corners and so on
  • As we played on a relatively small pitch I, as coach, had ample opportunity to keep talking to them and either offer them help or challenge the better players
  • Because it’s continuous action it gave me lots of opportunities to catch them in and offer praise
  • They enjoyed it

The rewarding part, as ever, comes with helping them improve in small ways. For example, I had one boy who’s excellent at talking (asking for the ball) but is a bit greedy and so I work with him to get him thinking about passing it when faced by a couple of players infront of him, and then I have another boy who won’t talk so I work with him and encourage him to ask for the ball when he hasn’t got it. In amongst that is more generic advice, such as helping them to be more aware of who they could pass to, when to pass and also how to take a throw in etc.

If we split the group up we also keep the same sides for a small match at the end and I’ve realised this gives me a great opportunity to take the things we’ve worked on during the session in to the game. Tonight I pulled together a quick huddle with the boys and we talked about what we’d worked on and what we were going to do in the match (focus on passing & calling for the ball were the main two). I’m going to use these pre-match huddles to build more dialogue in to the sessions (as I’d mentioned in a previous blog).

So another enjoyable hour with the U7s tonight, more experience gained as a young coach and more opportunities to help develop young players with some small tangible success stories in there! Roll on next week!

Macclesfield Town’s dynamic defensive warm-up

I thought I’d kick off 2011 by blogging about a defensive drill I watched a Macclesfield Town coach performing with his back-four during their pre-match routine at the recent League 2 game between Oxford United and Macclesfield Town. I’m an Oxford fan but my seat usually dictates that I’m closer to the away side’s warm-up routine than I am that of my own side and, on occasions, I’ll try to get in to the ground early so that I can watch how each club does their warm-up.

Generally I’ll see most sides doing the same sort of stuff during their warm-up but I noticed Macclesfield do something a little different with their back four which is why I wanted to blog about it. It’s not ground-breaking and indeed, it might be well-known to many experienced coaches but I found it interesting because the drill looked short, controlled & effective.

Dynamic back-four warm-up

Objective: Get the back-four working together as a unit and performing some match-specific actions which prepare them for the game ahead.


  • Coach with 1 football
  • 3/4/5 defenders  (you could do this with any number of defenders)
  • Coach approx 5m from players
  • Players position themselves in narrow back-four positions (i.e. able to touch the next player with out-stretched arms)

The coach varied the task but would typically perform three different kinds of exercises during the routine.


  • All players would be on their toes as a starting position
  • The coach would pass the ball in to one of the players
  • The coach would weight the pass so the player had to come out and meet the ball before returning the pass to the coach
  • The player would then drop back in to his defensive position
  • The coach would then repeat with another player



  • As with passing but this time the coach would throw the ball in the air and the player would come and meet it, returning the ball to the coach with a header
  • The onus is once again on the defender to step out of the back-four (as it was on this occasion), win the header, and get back in to position


Heading whilst retreating

  • During the Passing and Heading routine the coach would be facing the defenders
  • If the coach turned his back on the players they would jog towards the coach until he turned around
  • At the point the coach turned around the players would retreat but still face the coach
  • The coach would then drop a ball over the defenders so one of them would have to head it whilst running backwards
  • Again, the requirement was for a defender to win the header and the defenders would then ensure they were in position, on their toes and the appropriate distance from their coach


Other points:

  • This drill lasted for around 5-10 minutes which gave the coach ample opportunity to mix the tasks up, keep the defenders engaged and keep them moving.
  • One of the defenders was responsible for talking to the other three at all times. For example, ensuring they got back in to position (i.e. “get up”).
  • The coach would occasionally move toward or away from the defenders and they would need to follow suit. For example, if he moves 1m towards them they would need to drop back 1m which again, kept them moving at all times.

I thought this made for a very useful (yet brief) exercise for any defenders to run-through prior to a match. You could see it getting them in to the right habits before the game, functioning as a unit and communicating with each other so it’s something I’d certainly look to use in the future.

Hope you found this useful and apologies for the quality of my diagrams!