Youth Award Module 2 Overview – Days 3 & 4

We completed the Youth Award Module 2 this weekend and it’s been great investment in terms of the time/money for the output and reward you get. We returned on Saturday after a week which had seemed to fly by (I literally felt we’d just finished Day 2 and we were already on to Day 3!) and initially we needed to re-visit what we felt we’d gained from the first couple of day.

I wrote this in my notes:

  • Practice Spectrum (Constant practice, Variable practice, Random practice)
  • Trade offs (What I am going to get a lot of in this session and what won’t I get a lot of)
  • Clear learning focus (all the time, what am I trying to teach these players?)
  • Repetition, Realism, Relevance – does each session hit these tags?

We then got in to discussions around the top 3 of these in order of people’s priorities to get a bit of debate and the grey matter working. It was great being able to take time out to discuss views and ideas both on our own table and with others at regular occasions on this course.

After a refresher we then started to look at what players require to progress through stages of development. What does a beginner need to get to intermediate? Intermediate to advanced? Advanced to top pro etc? There was some great discussion around this and we covered topics around ability, self-motivation, opportunity, support etc.

We then moved on to talk round other topics, Early Specialisation, Birth Bias, Early/Late developers which again through out some great points for us as coaches to consider, work with and take in to our own sessions.

There were some key messages around thinking about individuals within this course. There is no “I” in team but how are you working with certain in individuals in a practice? Could you design a practice just for the benefit of one player? Are there certain areas of the 4-corners where specific players need to be challenged or helped? So – as a coach you plan a session to help the group, but how do you ensure you cater for individuals within that too?

Today (Day 4) we’ve had to deliver a session as a pair but you also have to observe and evaluate someone else s session, the observation & evaluation is also a big part of the course. So we evaluated someone else s session first which was a good learning experience (i.e. what you spot versus what the tutor sports) and then we put our session on (U9/Grassroots, Playing out from the back). It’s a bit like level 2 in that you take part in all the other sessions and then at the end of the day there’s a bit of wrap-up, your books are signed and off you go to think about how you take all of these coaching tools you’ve been given and use them to the benefit of your players!


U16s – story so far

There’s no better way for a bit of self analysis than writing  a blog post so I thought I’d post an update on how things have been going with the U16s since I first took them for a training session in early June.

Initial training sessions were purely based to see if we had enough for a team and also, what the general level of quality was like and the good news here was that I’ve inherited a capable and good bunch of lads. No issues from them, polite, happy to put the goals up and that gives you a great basis to work on.

So, early on the challenge was really to make sure it was enjoyable and each session was different – both topics that I’ve kept to this date. I used mixtures of various possession games as “warm ups” and in the early sessions we worked on playing out from the back for the first month.

We had a break for a few weeks in the summer and returning mid-August to prepare for the season. Again, we looked at a mixture of sessions where we looked at playing out from the back whilst also looking at keeping sessions flowing so that the time we had was high tempo and worked on their fitness.

The season has gone ok so far but now we’re on the all-weather astro turf it makes sessions a bit different because now I’m factoring in the lack of space, something you don’t have to worry about when on grass. Since training on the astro I’ve looked at pressing as a topic over the past 2-3 sessions which has been done through small games and we’ve looked primarily at when to press and pressing as a team (i.e. if your top player presses than can the rest of the team also go and press with him).

The lads listen well in training and it’s now about taking what we learn from the training ground and to the pitch. I’d like us to have played more football, especially out from the back, but in all honesty this has been difficult on some of the pitches we’re playing on.

The squad has moved from 12/13 to 16 now so that’s great news as we always have plenty of subs. My mantra during games is to ensure every player gets at least 40 minutes (games are 80 minutes), even if that means we change things around a bit and that loses us shape or potentially affects the result. It’s important that all boys get an equal amount of playing time as football’s not about a player sitting on a bench for 60 minutes, getting cold, then coming on for 10 minutes!

In terms of formations we started with 4-4-2 as that’s what they’re used to playing but in the last two games we tried 4-3-3. I asked them at training two weeks ago if they were open to trying new formations and they were so I thought we’d start with 4-3-3. It’s resulted in us being more solid through the middle but we’ve not created as many chances going forward since making this change. Again, it’s quite hard to work on something resembling a new formation when you’re training on an area the size of two tennis courts! We did a session on the shape of the midfield 3 but that’s all we’ve been able to work on so far.

Now I understand more about the players I’d like to define a style of play for us to work with. I think that helps as a footballer – that is; where are we focusing our play? Are we wanting to get it wide? Do we want to play direct? Do we want to play through a front man?

I’ve not defined what that style should be and I’ll certainly consult the players on it. We all want to play the game the right way but perhaps they’ll decide on a style which they feel suits them and doesn’t perhaps fit my own ideologies.

I’m thoroughly enjoying working with this age group. It offers different challenges from the U7-U10s I’ve worked with for the past 3 years (and continue to work with) and it’s good coaching experience for me. With U7-U10 you’re working on the real basics and they’re very mouldable (I know that’s not a word but you get the drift!) whilst with the U16s you’re working on slightly different topics with players who have maybe picked up bad habbits or are more set in the way they play. However, they’re still young enough to develop, they want to learn and you can talk more about tactics and systems.

If I find some time I’ll share some of the sessions we’ve used recently but generally my spare time is spent planning sessions for either the U10s or U16s!

Thanks for reading!

FA Level 2: Day 1 Summary

 I’m doing the first six days of the FA’s Level 2 football coaching course this week and so I thought i’d write a brief summary of each day via this blog as I know the content we cover will be too vast to summarise in a single blog at the end of these 6 days.

So, what does day 1 entail?

  • As with other courses you start with the introduction from the coach and then do some activities which get you talking to the remainder of the group
  • We then did a few tasks in the classroom, such as defining the qualities and skills of a coach. You also write down your own goals for the course – mine was too learn more about the technical aspects of coaching and simply deliver a better quality of football education to the boys & girls I coach.
  • We were also asked to define the principles of play which was then expanded to the principles of football which got people in to thinking about themes which are topics within the coaching content of this course.
  • Following a break we went outside to look at somme,practical sessions. We looked at a warm-up where we were coached on having minimal interaction with the players and did what was a “Level 2 warm-up”.
  • Next we covered short passing and this was where we were introduced to the coaching cycle – Observe, See Fault, Coach & Correct, Recreate & Play. The principle is straight forward and the key for me seems to be picking the correct opportunity to step in and knowing what outcome you expected or what you could have the player improve.
  • After lunch we covered a long passing session and then a turning session. As well as the coaching cycle we also looked at progression from a “technical” to “skill” practice plus use of demonstration and self-correction when coaching the point or “fault”.

As with all FA courses you’re flooded with information and you have to ensure you keep your focus on the coaching, not the football, during the practical sessions.


Today’s been good fun and I’m already learning – if you’re thirsty for football and coaching knowledge the you’re going to enjoy level 2. Tomorrow is more learning and then on Tuesday we have our first go and running a 15 minute session on our own.


I’ll be back with another summary tomorrow night. 

Hopes & Aspirations for 2012

It’s only when you reflect back that you realise how quickly time passes. I first started coaching in Sept ’10 and we’re already in January ’12 and that’s felt like the blink of an eye!

As we head in to 2012 I’m primarily focussed on two developments – one being my Level 2 which I start in February and one being the Youth Award Module 2 which I’m going on in April. I’m trying not to rush through qualifications as I know experience is key but this is being balanced with a thirst to learn & improve!

Outside of the qualifications & courses I’m continuing to enjoy coaching our U8s and I think it’s even more rewarding now they’re playing matches as the things you teach them in training can be seen during a game. I’ll carry on coaching the U8s whilst also looking at outside opportunities to increase the amount of time each week I’m coaching and I’d also like to expand in to coaching at an older age group as we move toward the summer.

I hope that I can pass the Level 2 course and that’ll build my confidence and potentially open up other avenues but ultimately, if I’m allowing kids to enjoy their football, develop and do this in a safe environment then I’m achieving the main objective.

Good luck to your all and your teams in 2012.

Coaching Day 17: Skills corridor with goals

Tonight’s session

  • Energy levels: Medium
  • Concentration levels: Moderate
  • Behaviour: Poor
Joke’s aside – tonight was one of those sessions where an influential minority have the ability to bring down the group – and by bring down I mean influence the group to misbehave. Generally our squad of players are pretty good but tonight, for some reason, we had one of those nights where a higher than average number of players seemed either tired & grotty, fed-up or intent on mis-behaving and as a coach this provides you with challenges.
It’s a challenge to keep the group’s attention when you’re trying to explain the next game, it’s a challenge when you have to spend time encouraging or paying attention to players who’re mis-behaving (rather than helping to improve those who are paying attention) and it’s a challenge to try and prevent the player(s) from adversely influencing the rest of the group.
I’ve found that ignoring a player who’s mis-behaving works quite well in terms of stopping the other kids from being influenced by it. If that doesn’t work then I’ll try to find the trigger which snaps them out of it but if they aren’t listening then it’s off to sit on the side of the pitch (if behaving badly).
Anyway, to tonight’s session. Having worked on 1v1 last week I wanted to focus on ball work and skill development tonight so I’d been thinking about different sessions which I could try – using YouTube and blogs to also provide inspiration. In the end I decided to amend the skills corridor game from the Youth Award Module 1 and use that.
Following our usual warm-up routine we split the players in to two groups and I had a group of 8 to work with.
Setup (apologies for quality of image!)
  • The white cones set out the perimeter of the skills corridor
  • The players started behind the goal and would dribble in to the corridor (1)
  • I asked the player to try a trick or skill in the corridor (2) and then demonstrated a turn for them to try when they reached the third cone (3)
  • Once they’d performed a turn I asked them to try another skill or trick on the way back (4)  before shooting in to the goal
  • I then progressed the session by adding two cones (light blue) and asked them to try and skill and take it round those cones before shooting
  • Finally,  I added a defender (5) to operate in the area and asked the players to beat the defender with a skill before shooting
It worked quite well and the players were trying a number of different tricks and skills whilst in the corridor. Some points I made/observed during the session:
  • I encouraged and praised the skill or trick attempted, no matter how adventurous
  • Without thinking about it, the session progressed from unopposed to semi-opposed and opposed which felt quite natural
  • As some of the players started becoming a bit bored I added challenges and awarded double-points for completing the challenge. For example, I demonstrated moving the ball past a cone by rolling their foot over the ball and said they’d get double points if they could score a goal doing it. This meant they all wanted to score double points and reinvigorated the session.
The players surprised me with their inventiveness during the session and despite the usual requests of “when are we having a game” I felt it was a worthwhile exercise as you could the players improving as they progressed during the session. That is, for some player simple turns were becoming more effective whilst others were doing turns with more speed.
I’ll continue to focus on 1v1 and ball mastery in the coming weeks but would welcome any ideas or suggestions for sessions which cover these competencies at this age-group (under 8).

Enjoyment v Winning

Children play football for enjoyment, not to win. Children don’t enjoy football unless the win. Two statements which contradict themselves but which have been a factor in our under 7s season over the last couple of weeks.

I completely agree with the view that football for children at an early age should be about enjoyment and development, with a coach facilitating both of these objectives. However, a couple of weeks ago our manager told me that we’d lost a few games whilst I’d been in India and the kids had been quite upset by these defeats.

When playing in tournaments and games up to a recent point we’d always ensured our teams were mixed ability and that everyone received equal time on the pitch. However, our manager decided that we’d play a “strong” side in a recently friendly and also had our players play in “their positions” in the training session we had before our last friendly – the result being that our team won their first game, much to their delight.

Now, this approach goes against what I and others believe in but you can’t argue that it’s short term impact was a real lift in the players spirits and their self-belief. Nobody, even at under 7, wants to consistently lose games and therefore our manager recognised that a win would benefit all of our players.

Whilst it’s had a short-term impact, I want to make sure that putting players in set positions and focussing on winning isn’t something which becomes a weekly focus and we revert back to our original model of fairness and allowing players to experiment in different positions.

It’s been an interesting few weeks in retrospect, some of it I haven’t agreed with but then I think the win our players had has really given them a lift, even if they probably don’t reflect on it for too long.

We only have two more sessions before a summer break and we have no more games so it’ll simply be a case of making the last two sessions fun before the players (and coaches) take a break and prepare for next season where we’ll be playing on a weekly (ish) basis!

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.

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 Development: Mnemonics

A conversation on Twitter (where else?) with Jamie Devlin today has inspired me to attempt to see if we can gather a collection of coaching mnemonics which could be used by football coaches anywhere to help them remember some of the key lists which form coaching techniques, drills or skills. Aaron Danks made reference to an absolutely brilliant mnemonic last week when he mentioned TITS as a way to remember the key aspects of dribbling, that is – Technique Intelligence Tricks and Speed (who will ever forget that?!).

From a previous job I know mnemonics are commonly used in numerous practices as a way of helping people to remember stuff – so I thought I’d see if we could gather a collection via this site and I’ll compile a list which can then be managed and maintained.

I believe the Level 1 course already touches on one in particular which is ABCs (Agility – Balance – Coordination) so we’re already seeing that the FA are using these formally.

So, answers on a postcard (via the comments box) and we’ll see what we can do. Remember: these are a great aid to learning & remembering!

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.