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.

Summary

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.

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Coach Development: Decision Making


When I stepped in to the world of football coaching around a year ago I remember one of the pieces advice I heard was regarding the importance of decision making in a child’s development and it’s something which I keep at the forefront of my conscience when delivering training sessions to the U7s I work with.

What also makes this interest for me, and perhaps why it stays with me, is because I work for an education company. I don’t work directly in educational establishments but my line of work does give me exposure to some of the topics being discussed within the education sector and quite often you hear stuff which takes you back to your football coaching.

Today was a good example of that. I happened to stumble upon a blog which is written by a primary school in the UK. The school were blogging about a new piece of hardware and in what was presumably a message to parents they wrote the following…

we have always believe that the children have the choice. Whatever we are doing in class, we provide the children with the task and give them options to complete it. This philosophy allows children to push themselves by trying to use new tools or equipment. As an example let us look at an art session. The children are given the choice to colour in a piece of blank paper. In a class of 30, 12 of them choose felt tips, 9 choose colour pencils, 5 choose wax crayons and the final 4 decide to use paint.

What has this got to do with technology? At [the school] we believe the same applies to ICT. As a school we provide Windows, Apple and Linux technology for the children to use. Teaching the children about the range of platforms available, and giving them experience of them is key to providing the children with the skills they need in the 21st century. These are not just ICT skills but it also allows them to make choices of the consumers of tomorrow.

I find it incredibly interesting thinking about decision making within the context of football because even in a small sided game, we’re asking kids of all ages to makes tens or hundreds of decisions on a frequent basis and that’s even without the instructions we (or tens of parents) could be providing them with.

I think from what I’ve seen in my short time coaching is that some coaches are acutely away of the need to allow young footballers to make their own decisions and come up with their own solutions but others aren’t and this should perhaps be an area that requires more focus.

What also strikes me is how much we as football coaches could learn from the education industry, they’re essentially the same thing. Do other coaches read up on teaching techniques and theories or is this a relatively untapped area from within football circles?

Coaching Day 14: Progress


Wednesday’s session was, by recent standards, fairly uneventful. We had no tantrums, no fighting, no teeth lost and no kids sitting on the sideline! The warmer weather also brought the parents out in force so we carried out the session with something of an audience, rather than the usual two or three hardy souls who stay to watch.

The recent chats with the kids about them being a team appears to be paying off because there was less of the boisterous behaviour we’ve seen in recent weeks, perhaps the arrival of their new kit & the announcement of our first fixtures has helped. The team’s first three games are coming up very shortly and it’s slightly disappointing that I’ll be in India for the first two, but I can’t wait for the tournament we’ve got in early June as it’ll be great to see them up against other sides.

What was fantastic to see on Wednesday was that the boy I’ve discussed in recent weeks took part in the whole session and looked to have a great time. Yes, he spent most of the match at the end with the bib over his head and yes, he’d spent one of the games running round with the ball under his shirt but the fact he engaged and had fun is, I think, progress!

It was good to hear the comments from the parents on the sideline were positive, I was nervous about “get rid of it” type comments but any comments were purely positive and that’s encouraging.

So less to deal with than recent weeks and the next time I coach the boys I’ll have two days of Youth Award Module 1 coaching under my belt.

Coaching Day 13: Decision making


Our coaching session tonight was much better and I think it’s fair to say that if you as coach have enjoyed the session then it’s fairly likely that the kids have enjoyed it as well. The manager & I worked together on the games (rather than splitting in to groups) but I had to make a decision during the session tonight and I’m happy to say I feel it was the right one.

I’d spoken in a previous blog post about a child who tended to sit on the outside of the group and lose interest in the football which meant he’d walk or sit on the side of the training area for long periods. This happens regularly and as I’ve said before I’m working to try and integrate this child, although it isn’t easy because the other kids notice he’s different and treat him like so.

The child in question didn’t have the best of starts to the session tonight because we hadn’t even started the training properly when he had a ball kicked in his face and this led to lots of tears which meant he didn’t want to take part in the session and so chose to lay on the floor in the corner (we’re in  a fenced astro-pitch).

I’d been working with the other players whilst this child lay in the corner but after 5-10 minutes I decided to make a conscious decision – I went to talk to the boy and tried to get him involved in the game. He wasn’t interested so I asked him if he wanted to just do some passing with me, which he did – excellent. I told the manager I was going to step away from the main session and work with this child 1-on-1 and it proved a success. We started with passing, then turned it in to a little game (thatI let him win) which had him running around, controlling the ball, passing, catching and most importantly – laughing. I’ve rarely seen this boy smile, let alone laugh, so I was delighted to get him involved, active and having fun.

We then managed to get him involved with the bigger group of players during the final game we played and he then took an active part in the match, something I haven’t often seen.

I thoroughly expect that next week we’ll be back to square one, but I feel I’ve got a way of engaging with him now and I can continue to try and help him enjoy coming to training and integrated in our games. It’s a very small thing but it felt great to see him having fun – even if that came at the expense of helping others tonight.

Coaching Day 12: Theory v Practical


I’d prepared for last week’s coaching session by looking to run a series of games which linked through and would culminate in applying to the final match we played, i.e. a gradual increment.

So how did it go?

 

My session plan looked like this:

  • Warm up: Either sharks v minnows or team-tag as shown by Dan Wright in his blog
  • First game: 1v1, or “On Guard” as is demonstrated on the Level 1 course
  • Second game: Waves, as taken from the Level 1 course
  • Third game: 3-game-SSG, as also shown by Dan Wright in his blog
  • Match

The theory being as follows:

  • Following the warm-up, get the players working on their dribbling skills via 1v1 games…
  • …then use Waves to get the players working in small teams, focussing on passing as a team and shooting…
  • …which they would need to combine with dribbling to help with the 3-game-SSG…
  • …which in turn would prepare them for a match situation

All of which, in my mind, looked pretty good.

What actually happened:

  • The group of 9 players I had to work with varied hugely in ability, so I decided to pull the 1v1 from my plan as I felt some of the players either wouldn’t grasp the concept or would lose interest.
  • Instead I set them up to play Waves, using competition between two teams (i.e. who could score more goals) as a way of making it fun. One team grasped the idea and did well, another had two players who were more interested in who was starting the game, or would hog the ball and this led to. Unfortunately, because the one team struggled with the game it lost its impetus and the other boys started to lose interest.
  • So I changed to one-team-SSG which started well but the teams were unbalanced which meant one set of players dominated  and this caused frustrations and one or two of the boys also began to lose interest.

So, despite my theory seeming ok in practice it was a very difficult 40 minutes of coaching and dealing with some of the kids was quite frustrating. I’d tried to run a session which flowed and which would be fun but perhaps in hindsight it was too much to ask for a (very) mixed ability group of U7s. Next week I think I’ll use some of the games which have worked well in the past and I guess if nothing else, this was an experiment which perhaps hasn’t worked but that I’ve learnt from.

Coaching Day 10: Boisterous Boys


Despite a lower than normal turnout tonight we still had the full range of coaching emotions and skillset required – we’ve coached, we’ve been physios, we’ve been comforters and we’ve been parents/teachers. So another eventful 60 minutes in the world of youth coaching 🙂

My first aim tonight was to spend some time working with the boy who I’d mentioned in my previous post and so I used our warm up routine to help him develop his dribbling. He responded quite well to the fact that he had all my attention and I managed to improve his dribbling from kick & rush to something more controlled. However, he later lost interest in the games / matches but I think the extra attention had at least helped keep him engaged for longer than I’ve seen before.

It’s worth mentioning that I love to use the dribbling warm-up routine to encourage the players to experiment with tricks and it’s something I’m always repeating, “try a trick”. I find if you ask any of the boys to show you a new trick they’ve learnt then you’ll generally find they’ve got something to show you and I believe it’s important to encourage them to show you the trick, praise it and get them to try it during the session. This can then give them the confidence to try it in a match situation.

Before we moved in to groups tonight we had to have a word with the boys because for some reason they were even more boisterous than usual and this had led to over zealous tackling, hacking, kicking and punching – so we stamped on that pretty quickly. However, it was something we needed to pull one or two of the boys up on a couple of times across the evening. Hard to know if it was just them being overly excited or not and I guess you expect it from them at that age but we had to let them know that their behaviour wasn’t acceptable.

Once I had my small group together we worked on dribbling, passing and shooting within a couple of short games and this also allowed me to continue to work on their communication (calling for the ball). During the games I had a couple of boys in my group who are already looking like promising players so it was key that I ensured they were challenged during the shooting game because otherwise they’d find it too easy and get bored. Then, on the contrary, I had a couple of boys who were struggling to score so I had to make sure I offered them praise for hitting the target, dribbling well etc. Ultimately, ensuring that each player felt he was succeeding in what he was doing and that each boy was being challenged – something which I believe the FA are keen on ensuring coaches do.

Tonight was one of those sessions where it feels fairly low key but when you think about it and digest it you realise that a) there’s never a dull moment in youth coaching and b) if you’ve helped at least one child improve a little bit then you’ve done your job.

Coaching Day 9: No Shooting, No Fun.


I’ve got mixed emotions about tonight’s session. On the one hand I tried a couple of new games and experimented further with what sort of stuff the kids do and don’t enjoy, but on the other hand I don’t feel the kids got as much out of the session as they have done in previous weeks.

I’ll explain.

In recent weeks I’ve concentrated quite a bit on dribbling, control & shooting and this has ultimately led to games focussing on shooting but with the other attributes built in around them. However, tonight I wanted to work on the kid’s passing because it’s something we’ve not worked on much in recent weeks and hence I felt it’s something which it’d be good to focus on – this meant the games didn’t evolve around shooting at one goal.

I’d canvassed both Twitter and the World Wide Web for ideas and selected a couple of games which I felt would work well – that is, they incorporated passing & shooting.

Game 1 – having completed a quick session on heading the ball, I split the boys up in to two teams and had them playing a SSG which had only one rule, “All players had to touch the ball before a goal could be scored”. I’d hoped that this would require the boys to pass it more but the game went a long time without a goal being scored, the kids were finding it difficult and therefore I decided to change the game.

Game 2 – no goalkeepers and goals could be scored in one of two ways. Number 1, “Stop the ball on the line” or number 2, “Pass the ball through the goal and to a player on the other side of the goal”. To be fair, I probably hindered the success of the game as I hadn’t provided a demonstration of the two types of goal but the idea of the game didn’t go down well with the boys and they started to lose concentration during the match (presumably because they found it too difficult and success was limited).

Game 3 – a simple SSG with no rules, but players encouraged to call for the ball and pass it where they could.

We ended with a match but unlike previous weeks I hadn’t had much of a chance to work with the players on parts of their game which they could apply to the match.

So, mixed success because I’ve learnt a bit more as part of improving as a coach and whilst the success wasn’t as tangible as recent weeks the kids were being challenged throughout and I learnt that they enjoyed working on headers 🙂

Complexity of games aside, we (the other coach & I) also felt that an increase in the number of kids at tonight’s session had reduced the quality of our coaching. Instead of the usual 6 or 7 kids in a group I had 10 tonight and two of them were fairly disruptive which in turn meant the other kids lost concentration. The milder weather will no doubt see an increase in numbers so I guess it’s up to us to learn quickly and adapt!

Roll on next week.

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…

Progressions:

  • 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

Progressions:

  • 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.

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…