Coaching Day 15: Whiteboard unleashed

Tonight’s session went pretty well and I’m pleased with that because it was the first session I’ve been at since completing Youth Award Module 1 and it also saw me using a whiteboard at training for the first time!

Due to being away I hadn’t had a chance to implement some of the things I’d learnt from the Youth Award and I was keen to trial a couple of the games which the course introduces.

Session Plan

I’d planned my session out in advance and had it printed and folded inside my sock for reference. After watching the tournament on Saturday I’d decided I wanted to work on the players technique and ultimately, allow them to become comfortable with the ball at their feet which is what tonight’s session focussed on.

The plan:

  • Warm up (Phil our manager took this whilst I set up the parts I wanted to run)
  • The Great Escape (Youth Award Module 1)
  • The Skills Corridor (Youth Award Module 1)
  • Work on turning with instep, outside of foot etc
  • SSG – 4 v4

How it went?

The Great Escape

I used the board to demonstrate the game and started with the players simply trying to run past the guards. I then progressed this by asking them to run backwards through the gates before introducing a ball. Once the ball was introduced we allowed them to focus on getting through the gate normally before progressing it to award “2 point” for going through with a skill or trick. This game went pretty well, although it wasn’t as clean as the demo in the YAM DVD by any stretch of the imagination – I was worried at one point that it looked like organised chaos but I remembered what Tom Bates said at the Grassroots Demo so I allowed it to continue rather than stop it). I think most of the players enjoyed the game and we had fun hearing how many points the players had scored  – one boy doing particularly well by scoring a thousand million points (credit where it’s due!).

Skills Corridor

I really saw the value in the whiteboard when I drew what we’d be doing for the skills corridor game because the players all sat around me as I drew it out with the whiteboard on the floor. They started to ask questions and probe about what they could do with the football which was fantastic. I started by simply asking them to take as many touches as possible before progressing the game to them needing to visit the sides three times (and trying different turns) before finally doing start-stop-start-stop with a change of direction.

As with ‘The Great Escape’ it wasn’t always neat & tidy but the players were trying step-overs and a variety of turns which Phil & I were quick to encourage & praise. As with the previous game it was also important that it provided more time where they’re dribbling with the ball, keeping it away from other players and trying new skills. At one point I had 3 players asking me to demonstrate a step-over which was great fun.


I didn’t do this as I felt the above two had provided more than enough time on their technique, we were running out of time and they were itching for a game.


Rather than finishing with one big game I setup two pitches and we played 2 x 4 v 4 SSGs with the teams swapping over at 5-7 minute intervals. I wanted to do this so that each player had more time on the ball and encouraged them to try the skills they’d practised earlier in the session. It was great that one parent who helped us said he really preferred 4v4 as it allowed “them all to be someone”, I think that’s a great statement.

What will I change next time?

  • The whiteboard was really powerful and it was most effective when the players were all sat down. When I progressed a couple of the games they were standing up which meant some of them weren’t paying attention. I think in future (during the summer at least) I’ll ask them to sit down whilst I explain any progression so I can ensure they all understand what we’re doing.
  • Make the skills corridor a bit bigger – slight adjustment but it was probably a bit too short tonight which meant it got a bit crowded as they all piled in at one point. Not a big problem but a larger area will increase their space and allow them more opportunity to try new skills.

So, overall I was pleased with the session and felt it had the right balance of ball-work and game-time. A couple of the players didn’t enjoy the Youth Award parts but I’m less inclined to worry about that (although it does play on you at the time) because the majority enjoyed them.

As we packed away at the end a passer-by commented that our session had looked quite professional and that her son would like to join in next time, it’s amazing what a few cones do!


Observations from an U7s tournament

Just before I went to India at the end of April our under 7s played their first match and at the time it was obvious that the team we played had a lot more “match experience” than our boys & girls. Whilst I’ve been away the team have played 3 different games (which I missed) but we had a tournament on Saturday afternoon and I went along, excited to see if they’d improved whilst I was away.

The “tournament” was split in to two groups of 6 teams and was stated to be non-competitive, but this hadn’t stopped the organisers included a semi-final and final. We fielded two teams who were evenly matched (names picked out of a hat) and played games against teams from the surrounding towns and villages.

Whilst there I made some observations and I’ve listed these below. I’m sure others who coach the same age group will empathise with these whilst some are no doubt seen at all levels of youth football.

Goal kicks are an issue in Under 7 football

I expect there’s some debate to be had about what is right or wrong here. But across all teams I saw a high proportion of goals being scored following goal kicks which were going straight to the opposition. I guess you can coach this to your players but at 7 years old do you really want to teach them how to play out from a goal kick? I’m not convinced, and would prefer some way of restricting the opposition so that teams can play out from the back.

Minimal amount of standout talent

As well as our games I also watched a number of other matches whilst at the tournament and found that there were only 3 or 4 players from across 12 teams who really stood out for me. I think this demonstrates that 7-8 years old is the starting point for real advances in player development.

Minimal physical difference

 As with the technical ability, there wasn’t too much physical variation amongst the players. There were a couple of players who were larger and a couple who were smaller but 90% of the players in those teams were similar in both height & build.

Lots of teams were rotating goalkeepers

There are very few children who want to stay in goal throughout a tournament. Of course it’s been said that there’s good value to be had in allowing players to experience playing in different positions during their development (and I agree with this) but the amount of changing of goalkeepers (including during games) was very noticeable.

Teams found it hard to get out of their own half

It was very evident from the games I watched that a lot of teams struggled to get out of their own half if the opposition had managed to get down their end for a shot/corner.  There were exceptions but I saw a large number of teams camped in their own half because they struggled to pass or dribble their way in to the oppositions half.

Too many instructions from the sidelines

This was the first time I’d seen, first hand, the impact of numerous instructions being given out from the sidelines to young players and I now fully appreciate the need to manage this, where possible. Young players are keen to impress everyone and therefore they were listening to everyone (parents, coaches, Joe Bloggs) which only meant they were getting confused. I very much adhere to the principles of improving decision making and so will only shout questions such as “Who can you pass it too?” or “Can you pass it?”. Unfortunately those questions were sometimes lost in amongst the “shoot!”, “get rid!”, “pass it to Tom!!” instructions from others around me.


First and foremost, I was delighted that our players had improved since 6-7 weeks ago. They’d clearly benefited from some more game time and their increased concentration, awareness and “match intelligence” was great to see.

Being at the tournament gives me food for thought ahead of forthcoming training sessions. From Wednesday I’m looking at developing skill & technique because the players who had the most success on Saturday were those who had a the better technique and were more comfortable with the ball at their feet.

I’m also going to work with Phil (the manager) and look to play more 4 or 5-a-side games in training and use Q&A or Guided Discovery coaching styles to help the players improve their decision making in games.

Grassroots Football Show – any good?

I went to the Grassroots Football Show on Friday and had intended to summarise the sessions I went to via individual write-ups on this blog but then I realised something, I’m terrible at writing up coaching sessions! So instead I’ve chosen to summarise the day, what I found enjoyable and what the key coaching points were for me.

One of the most challenging aspects of a visit to such a show is deciding just what you’re going to visit. There are four arenas where you can watch outfield coaching sessions, goalkeeper coaching sessions, Q&A sessions, skills sessions and in addition to this you have numerous stalls selling everything from socks and water bottles to floodlights and goals!

Anyway, the sessions…

Iain Dowie – Effective Defending (Zonal & Man-2-man marking)

Iain Dowie demonstrated how you could coach zonal or man-2-man marking to your team and went through each one in turn whilst also providing insight in to his preference and how he’d used them at his previous clubs. He started with man-2-man marking and covered positioning, who to place on the posts, key considerations for the defenders (e.g. height & distance on headers ),  alterations for inswinging or outswinging delivery and applied this to both corners and crosses from deeper.

After covering man-2-man he then moved on to zonal marking and went through all the same points as with man-2-man marking. Dowie also used the live observations from how the boys were doing in the drill to pick out certain points which helped keep the session flowing throughout.

Summary: A great start to the day and a very informative session, even though I only coach under 7s at the moment! From my experience as a player I learnt things on Friday that hadn’t ever been taught to me and took some fairly detailed notes that I’ll certainly use at some point. Dowie was great at explaining the session, demonstrating how you could use a bit of both systems if you wished and it was great to hear his insight in to what he felt about each way of defending along with how he’d used them at previous clubs (i.e. there were references to using Andy Carroll in the zonal system at Newcastle).

Tosh Farrell – Developing Coaching Style + Technique

Wow. If you ever get a chance to watch Tosh Farrell coach please don’t pass it up. This guy oozes enthusiasm and energy and it’s hugely inspiring. He put on a session using just a few people from the crowd and in 40 minutes he was able to use a simple 4-cone diamond setup to cover passing over short distance, communication (verbal & visual), turning, movement off the ball, timing of passes, overlapping and numerous others that I didn’t write down! And, most importantly, he did this with bags and bags of energy which had you itching to get on the training ground.

From watching him I found I gained two benefits.

  1. Session layout – Tosh used a very basic setup to deliver a session which enabled him to easily progress from very basic passing to a game which included a number technical & mental challenges, without ever needing to move a cone.
  2. Coaching style – The enthusiasm, positivity, friendliness and energy the man has is awesome and it makes you look at yourself and think, “am I all of those at all times?”. I’m sure I’ll refer back to his session whenever I’m in danger of losing a bit of positivity or energy.

Coaching confidence on the ball – Tom Bates & Ryan Byrne

Tom Bates (currently working at Birmingham City) delivered a session which would improve player confidence on the ball. Tom had his players demonstrate two different games and whilst the games were interesting (and I’ll certainly use them in the future) I found some of Tom’s points really interesting.

  1.  Don’t stop a session unless it’s truly broken. If it’s still gaining the benefits of what you want to achieve then let them continue to play.
  2. Furthermore, rather than going in and fixing it – can you nudge the players to work out what’s wrong themselves and fix it?
  3. Build the session so they understand the basics and then let them play. Once they’ve had some playing time, then step in and progress so you’re always gradually building to an end point where the game is at it’s most challenging/complex.

Tom’s hugely positive and as with Tosh you could see he had a real rapport with his players which no doubt builds trust & respect back toward him. Very different to some of the coaches & managers you see in youth football where you feel it’s more intimidation than rapport, trust or respect.

Tosh Farrell – Dealing with player & parent expectations

I found the talk from Tosh a bit strange if I’m honest. I think I expected him to work through a point by point list of how to set player and parent expectations but his content and delivery were different to what I’d expected. Tosh provided some background on where he’d come from and then spoke about his experience of working with young players and their parents. The key points I took from his talk were as follows:

  • The importance of ensuring that as a coach, your link with the parents are as strong as those with the player
  • Tosh works in 3-year periods with players where his objective is to “get the player as good as he can”
  • To develop good players they need to be part of  a program, i.e. know what your strengths are as a coach and what you can/cannot teach the player
  • As a coach, it’s absolutely key to keep the player’s best interests at heart
  • We need to manage pressure on young players because the expectation to perform can impact on a player’s enjoyment of the game

My Summary

For £4 I feel I’ve mugged the people who run Grassroots Live, that’s an absolute bargain for the amount of information I digested in one day. I guess the amount of value you gain depends on your experience in coaching, so perhaps the shows are more valuable for those who’re newer than those who’ve been in the game for years – I don’t know.

What I would say is that it’s well worth the visit if you can free the time, I’d have loved to have done more than 1 day. To get an opportunity to see top coaches, meet other grassroots coaches, check out some of the street soccer stands and look around all the stalls is a great way to spend a day and at £4, £8 or even £10 it’s an absolute steal.