Half-term: A chance to take stock

We had a week off from training last week as it was half-term and it gave me a chance to have a quick recap and think about how the first part of the season had gone from a coaching perspective.

When we returned to training at the end of August I’d decided that I’d put my focus in to helping to develop the players technique and comfort on the ball whilst ensuring any session I put on was both fun, engaging and relevant. There’s also a desire on my part to experiment and try different sessions to see what works & what doesn’t – the risk is always that you feel the session wasn’t a particularly good one but I feel a trial & error approach is important to a developing coach.

So, to summarise some of the areas I’ve covered so far this season:

  • 1v1 – providing players with lots of opportunities to try to beat a player, understanding what does/doesn’t work
  • Unopposed skills practice – allowing players to try new tricks & skills in a no-pressure situation (could range from a heel-flick to a step-over or simple turn)
  • SSGs – 1v1, 2v2, 3v3, 4v4 and a range of variants in between (1v2 etc). Allowing players just to play in these situations but sometimes stepping in to reward a player’s ability to beat another with a trick, or a team who score a goal having ensured each player passed it.
  • Dribbling & Turning – using different feet & using different parts of the foot to turn (inside step, outside of foot, sole of foot)
Week-on-week it can feel like not much is changing but when you take a minute to reflect you start to realise how much you’re covering with the players and the only real shame is that we only get 1 hour a week with the kids. In addition to covering the above areas we’ve always ensured that a player always has a ball and that we avoid drills and lines of players queueing up to partake in a game, so I think we’re doing a lot of things right.
As we return to training this week we move on to an all-weather surface and so it’s even more of an opportunity to work on the player’s ball work as it’s a great surface – the real challenge is ensuring that the sessions remain engaging and that the boys just feel that they’re playing football, rather than training.
Finally, for me as a coach I’m continuing to do the following:
  • Ensure I plan sessions which cover key points whilst being engaging, fun and relevant
  • Using resources (Blogs, Twitter, Academy visits & other coaches etc) to develop my understanding of what good coaching looks like and to provide ideas for sessions
  • Review sessions to learn from both the positives & negatives
Coaching 8 year olds is a lot about providing them the freedom to play and learn but there are other factors such as dealing with bad behaviour, ensuring fairness and comforting upset players  and the latter certainly remains as much of a learning experience as the former!

Coaching Day 20: Managing physical limitations

Last week’s session was one of those where as a coach you don’t feel it went very well but you know this means there are things you can learn from and improve on in future sessions.

Our session took it’s usual recent format – Warm-up, “training” and the we finish with a match. Within the warm up all of our players will have a football and whilst our main focus is to get the players warm (when the weathers cold!) we also focus on ball-work as we get the players to experiment with turns and also do a lot of dribbling. It was here where I found last week that I was trying to teach the players a turn which they perhaps weren’t physically capable of doing.

In recent weeks we’ve been working on different turns using different surfaces of the foot so last week we demonstrated the Cryuff turn, a turn which seems easy to an adult but I soon noticed that some of our under 8s players struggled with the movement required by the non-standing foot when trying to perform the turn. As the players tried to do the turn some were able to do it but others couldn’t and instead reverted to using the sole of their foot.

Having demonstrated the turn the players would then practice it by running 10yards with the ball, trying the turn and then running back to where they came from. Those who were mastering it would shout to me to watch, some would ask me to demonstrate it again whilst others would do something different which worked for them. It was the latter players who appeared to struggle with the basic movement and therefore it was those who I allowed to continue without wanting to push them to do something which they were clearly struggling with.

There is a judgement call required when working on this type of exercise with young players – do you feel they’re physically capable of doing it and require help or do you acknowledge they’re not ready to do it and avoid applying any pressure which could impact their self-esteem.

Is this something which you as a coach experience regularly and if so, how have you handed it?

Coaching Day 19: The numbers game v2

In our session last week I asked the kids what they wanted to do. I haven’t done this often before but I’m aware other coaches use this approach so thought I’d give it a go and wasn’t particularly surprised when they answered “the numbers game”, a game we’d played in the previous week and which they’d played at school.

It’s evident the kids enjoy it because it changes frequently, there’s an element of suspense to the game and it’s competitive so I was happy to agree to their request because I also think this game has real benefits for young players. Fortunately, I’d been giving this game some thought in between the two sessions and I’d already decided that I was going to modify the game if we used it again.

Having watched the session previously, I felt the game had benefits when at 1v1 and 2v2 but when it went to 3v3 or 4v4 the players became rather bunched and it had only been the inclusion of the rule “5 points if every player touches it” which had forced an element of football.

So, instead of using the normal game I made two alterations.

Alteration number 1

I set-up the pitch with two goals at each end and, using poles, ensured that the goals at opposing ends of the pitch were the same colour. That is, each end had one “blue” goal and one “red” goal.

Alteration number 2

I then picked up two cones, one red & one blue, and held them in my hands. I informed the players that there were some new rules. If I called a number out and wasn’t holding a cone in the air they could score in any goal, if I held up a blue cone then they could only score in the blue goal and if I held up a red cone they could only score in the red goal. To add an element of thought I made sure the same colour goals were diagonally opposite, rather than directly opposite each other.

I wanted this to get the players looking up whilst also focusing on the game and I think it worked. The players were having to check what cone I was holding up, if any, when going to the ball or when running with the ball. I made a change which meant I could change the colour cone I was holding during play – this avoided the players having a quick glimpse before collecting the ball and then going straight for goal. This was especially effective when they were playing 3v3 or 4v4 as it meant the players had to communicate the changes in cone colour as and when I chose to do so.

It was, I guess, a very small change to a very basic game but I think it was a change which provided the challenges I wanted the players to face and it’s a game I’ll use again.