Off topic – I’m in India

Those of you who don’t follow me on Twitter won’t realise I’m currently working in India (day job, not coaching unfortunately) and therefore I don’t expect to be updating this blog until I’m back in 4-5 weeks time. As with other blogs, I don’t want people thinking this one’s gone to the grave because it’s not been updated in a while so hence the post.

In the mean time, enjoy a few pictures I’ve taken whilst out here!

First observations

Our under 7s had a match tonight. It was only our second game but as I’d missed the first fixture due to being away I was very much looking forward to tonight to see how the players I’d been working with for the last 9 months would get on in a match environment.

We played a local side and had a squad of 16 for 3 x 20 minutes matches. Unfortunately, we felt defeat in all three games but there were certainly positives to take and the main reason for our defeats appeared to be that whilst our players aren’t used to playing matches, the opposition certainly were.

Anyway, I’m not here to write about the performance or the result but more to share my observations from watching an under 7s match for the first time!

So here they are:

  • Match experience and positional sense played a huge factor tonight
  • The opposition managers had clearly set their team up well, but they’d also had them doing stretches and passing DRILLS before the game so were taking it very seriously
  • Under 7 players will direct criticism at team mates when things are going against them
  • Under 7 players will cry, mainly through frustration, when they lose games by a few goals
  • Some players surprised me with how well they played tonight, others surprised me by how they didn’t (match awareness v skill/ability)
  • A LOT of goals came from goal-kicks (as someone said in the week, should players retreat to the halfway line to improve this?)
  • Refereeing under 7s was fairly simple, despite the huge crowd(!)

I think the biggest positive is that the ability to watch our players in a match environment gives us an opportunity to guide the training around the areas we’ve observed and that there’s clearly a lot the players will learn from the basic experience of playing matches.

Our players did get upset tonight, more so than I thought and that did take me by surprise. If anything I think it’s a good experience for them to learn to deal with defeat (if we coach it in the right way) and being 7 I’m sure they’ve already forgotten the game by the time I’m writing this!

Unfortunately that’s it for me now ahead of spending 6 weeks in India through work commitments but I’ll look forward to getting back and working with the players ahead of future games 🙂

Youth Award Module – Days 3 & 4

Day 3

The third day of the Youth Award Module 1 course followed a similar trend to the previous day, with ample opportunity to reflect on what we’ve already learnt, digest new content and learn some new games out on the field. It also provides me, and I’m sure I’m not alone, with several instances during the day where I’ve drifted off in thought to consider how what I’ve just learnt applies to the under 7s I coach.

We start with a recap of Day 2 and then head in to a section looking at self-esteem – what it is, what it means and why it’s important that coaches carefully consider it during our sessions & matches. After this we head out doors and cover three new games which focus on passing & shooting, all very enjoyable and played in glorious sunshine. Once the practical’s out of the way we take lunch and as with all four days, the conversation is made up entirely of coaching & football in general (my kind of lunch!) before we head back in to the classroom to look at managing mistakes. The Managing Mistakes section of the course asks the coach to consider what a mistake is, why it happens and how we respond to it. Finally, we look at managing difference in the social corner.

Day 4

By Day 4 we’d covered most of the theoretical content (as planned) and we were split in to groups of 3 and asked to create a 20 minute session which implemented some of the key themes we’d learnt across the previous 3 days. We were given around an hour to plan & create our session before we then headed outside and our 5 groups carried out their sessions. There’s no assessment on the Module 1 course but you do receive feedback from the group and the trainer once you’ve completed your session. I’ll summarise what our group did in a separate post.

Once all the groups had completed their sessions, and there were some fantastic sessions put on, we headed inside to do a final session on managing difference in the psychological corner and then we were complete.

For me, this course was incredibly valuable and I’d happily recommend it to anyone, no matter how long they might have been in the game.

The key learning points I took from this course were as follows:

  • The large number of factors that can affect a child’s social maturity, development and mood
  • An appreciation for the ways in which a child can vary in the context of the four-corners
  • A new found understanding and awareness of the importance of appropriately handling a child’s motivation, self-esteem and confidence
  • Awareness of new games
  • Techniques and ideas for managing the different levels of playing ability within a session

Where next? Our trainer Tessa Payne, advised that there’s not too much difference between taking Level 2 or Module 2 next so I’m going to keep my eyes peeled for either course and I’d like to take them before the end of the calendar year.

Youth Award Module Level 1 – Day 2

Today’s been a good day and the course has featured a mixture of yet more insightful content, new games and interesting discussion with other coaches on the course. It’s also had the added benefit that I went straight from the course to coaching our Under 7s which gave me a chance to put something that I’ve learnt over the past two days in to practice.

So, what does day 2 of the Youth Award Module 1 look like?

We started, as most courses do, with a recap of the previous day to see what we’d remembered and what had stood out. For me, it was the following:

  • The number of background factors which contribute to a child’s social maturity / development
  • The different learning styles (specifically, examples of how to use them)
  • Developing an understanding of managing difference

Once we’d completed this recap work we then moved on to a section about motivation, which included some group work, theory & videos. Essentially, this is ensuring that we as coaches understand that children play almost entirely for enjoyment and to play with their friends so it’s key that coaches are making sure we’re providing training sessions which are fun.

Then, both before & after lunch we looked at some new games which focussed on passing and dribbling, yet much more importantly for me it helped look at ways in which a coach can “manage difference”. And by that I mean thinking of ways to make the game easier for some and more difficult to others whilst keeping the session moving.

We finished the day with a session on managing technical difference and here we largely focussed on the STEP principle which is a tool that coaches can use to help alter the difficulty of a game.

  • S – Space (Make an area larger/smaller, change its shape)
  • T – Tasks (Provide challenges to players, or give them tasks which make the game simpler for them)
  • E – Equipment (Add balls, remove balls, use of bibs etc)
  • P – People (Increasing/Decreasing team sizes to make games easier/harder)

So in summary, another useful day although I am slightly weary having been in the sun all day (careful what you wish for!). The games were good but I’m not sure how they’ll work given the size of the group we have – something for me to consider.


When I got to training tonight I didn’t try any of the games but one thing I did apply was something I’d seen a coach do during a video clip, and that’s to throw questions in to a group of players. I had a group of 8 players and set-up a 4v4 SSG where the only rule was that each player needed to touch the ball once before their team could score. After letting them play for 5-10 minutes there had only been one goal so I got them together and asked them to go away in their teams and discuss what they could do to answer my following question, “What can you do to score more goals?”. When I went back in to talk with each team it was fascinating to find that both had come up with the same solution – to keep players wide and try to keep to a formation. In order to increase their chances of success I made the pitch wider and got them back playing again (and they went on to score a couple of goals between them).

I was surprised how receptive they were to the question and my only real challenge was getting them to stop discussing the possible answers 🙂 We got together for a quick chat at the end and I asked the players if they’d subsequently found it easier to score and they confirmed what I suspected would happen – it had been easier because they had more space which made it easier for them to get their passes in and create a shooting opportunity.

It always feels good when you’re able to apply something you’ve learnt on a course to a training session and it makes you keen to get back to training with the children as soon as possible. Unfortunately, we’ve got a game next week instead of training (which is great), but I’m then in India for 6 weeks with work so it’ll be June before I can apply more of this new found understanding!

Youth Award Module Level 1 – Day 1

I’m just back from attending the first day of the FA’s Youth Award Module Level 1 course, a 4-day course which is without assessment and aims to provide coaches working at the grassroots level with a qualification which recognises what they do. That is, some of the other qualifications are, in the words of our mentor, aimed at senior football.

Firstly, it was great to meet fellow coaching-blogger Chris Gooch today. The remainder of coaches on the course were a mixture of coaches working at the grassroots and coaches who’re working for academies (reps from MK Dons, Wycombe & Oxford there today). Therefore, there were a few of us who’d only done our level 1 and other coaches who were qualified to a Uefa B standard and so we had a good mixture of experience and age-groups.

The layout of the day was as follows:

  • Course introduction and the importance of the Social corner
  • How players learn
  • Physical corner – FUNdamentals
  • Physical corner – Pre-course work
  • Managing difference in the physical corner

We spent the first half of the day in the classroom where we split the time between listening to our mentor, watching videos (I love these) and taking part in group-work with others on the course. We then spent around 2 hours out in the howling wind looking at some games which can assist with the FUNdamentals (Agility, Balance & Co-Ordination) before returning to the classroom for a final half-hour looking at managing physical differences.

One thing that stood out today was that this course was a different experience to that of my Level 1. Why? Because today I found I had numerous occasions where my mind had wandered off because I’m relating the content of the course to the players I work with. When I attended the Level 1 in August 2010 I’d had no previous experience and therefore the course was largely theoretical.

The plan for this course is that each day covers one of the four corners of Long Term Player Development. We started with the Social corner today and therefore we’ve looked at both factors which contribute to a players Social maturity & development and also how football can help improve a players Social skills (amongst other areas, such as the influence of role models & parents).

I mentioned above that we cover the detail via a number of mechanisms and what I find especially interesting, and I referenced it previously, is the short videos you get shown as part of the course. A 2-minute snippet of a top coach working with young players is incredibly powerful and you can really start to compare how they coach with how you coach.

Anyway, I’m not going to go in to the content in too much detail as I’ll probably summarise the course when completed. Day 1’s been interesting, if not a little theory-heavy, but the outlook for tomorrow is sunshine and more practical which is always good to hear!