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…


  • 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


  • 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.

Do the FA need to limit the age at which young players are recruited?

We had an interesting debate at our monthly club meeting last night and I wanted to share it on here to see if the general opinion in last night’s meeting was shared by people who read this blog. To provide the context of the meeting – it’s attended by all managers / coaches who are involved in my local youth FA charter standard club and it’s a general meeting discussing everything from equipment, to match reports, to any problems/important info etc.

The debate arose at the end of the meeting and was inspired a comment from the club chairman in response to this article. His point was (summarising), “Are professional clubs limiting player potential and enjoyment within the game by recruiting players at too early an age?”.

His view being that young players, both girls and boys, were being recruited at a young age and because the clubs stipulated that they could no longer player for a youth club side, it meant that the boy or girl was unable to play with their friends anymore (park kick-abouts aside). Also, given the intensity and formality of the coaching they’d receive at a professional club it took the enjoyment out of what was, essentially, just a fun game for them.

The discussion covered a number of points, but the main points were as follows:

  • Coaches and Managers agreed that children were being recruited at a younger age than they perhaps should be
  • Professional clubs were too aggressive in their recruitment
  • There were too many instances of teenagers dropping out of football because they’d played too much too soon (i.e. were burnt out)
  • Parents were having too much influence in the decision process, i.e. they were chasing the possibility of fame and fortune

It was agreed though, that recruitment was required at a certain age to ensure appropriate development and fulfil potential, but this should start from around the age of 13.

The discussion also threw out the following points / observations:

  • There are fewer children playing organised football now than there was 20/30 years ago
  • There are some people who have no confidence in Trevor Brooking leading us forward

The club have decided to write a letter to the Oxfordshire FA to get their point across. That is, clubs are recruiting players too early in their development and this isn’t having  a net positive impact on the game or the players development. This is the point I’d welcome discussion and input on.

Personally, I’ve not got much of a view on this due to lack of experience but I can probably see both sides of the argument. If youth clubs are seeing good players drop out of football or become uninterested in the game due to the cutthroat nature of professional clubs then I can fully see their point. However, professional clubs are always under pressure to find good quality young players, players who the fans engage with and who can provide a good return on investment for them.

Given the nature of the business then clubs are obviously looking at younger and younger players but does that really need to happen? Can the FA do something to stop this? If recruitment started at 12 or 13 does that leave enough time to develop those players? Is 12 or 13 still too young? Jury’s still out I guess…

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…

Are the FA missing a trick?

On Thursday, 9th December 2010 the FA held their Future Game conference at Wembley Stadium. The ultimate objective for the day was the launch of the FA’s new manual for grassroots coaching called “The Future Game, Grassroots Guide to Coaching”, but the day also provided the 600 coaches who attended a chance to listen to people such as Capello, Allardyce & Stuart Pearce talk about youth development as well as being able to watch some of the FA’s top coaches performing sessions.

Whilst I and everyone else coaching at a grassroots level applaud the FA (Ed – happy to be contradicted on this one!) for their empathy with grassroots coaches and the need to improve coaching at that level, I can’t help but think they’re missing a trick. Yes, it’s been well documented that England is far behind other European nations when it comes to raw numbers of qualified coaches at various levels and it is fair to say that the FA are ploughing lots of money in to correcting the situation. However, I wonder if they’re spending their money wisely?

I have a perception that the FA appear to have a limitless amount of money at their disposal and I fully expect the new coaching manual (which I’ve just ordered) will have all the bells & whistles and will have been put together at a high quality. I also expect that the Future Game conference wasn’t cheap and neither have any of the other FA youth development initiatives launched in recent years. But, whilst the FA provide excellent launches and they provide manuals and other readable information, aren’t they missing an opportunity to mentor and assist coaches on a more direct level?

Case in point – I passed my Level 1 qualification in August and made a clear intention to progress within coaching at a grassroots level, which presumably makes me someone who the FA are really keen to help given their focus on improving grassroots coaching. However, since passing the course I’ve heard nothing from the FA and instead will have to find my own material online, find my own mentor and plan my own route through the coaching badges. Is this right? I’m not sure.

I understand that it wouldn’t be realistic for the FA to monitor or mentor every coach working in grassroots level. So how about this as a proposal?

  • The FA ask each Charter Standard club to appoint a ‘Coach Development Rep’.
  • The Coach Development Rep would be an experienced coach.
  • The FA would have at least one county rep responsible for coach development within their county set-up.
  • The Coach Development Rep provides a point of contact, advice or assistance for the club’s coaches & helps them plan their progression through the badges (if desired).
  • The Coach Development Rep & County Development Rep liaise to discuss available courses, best practice, environments & advice etc

There are some really good examples of clubs doing this anyway but not all will be taking the initiative and I believe implementing something like this would solve two immediate issues:

  • It’d ensure coaches have a local mentor, someone who can provide regular help & support.
  • It’d ensure coaches with potential are actively developed (where desired), for the best interests of the game.

I worry that we could lose good coaches because we’re not providing them with the appropriate levels of support. Coaching isn’t easy, let alone being a coach/manager/kit man/parent and so whilst we worry about ensuring our kids are having fun and are well supported we may be losing good coaches because they’re not being supported either.

If the FA want to improve the level of coaching at a grassroots level then they must also invest in existing coaches and ensure we don’t allow good coaches to become frustrated or disinterested in the game or in coaching through a lack of support – support & help that cannot be provided through new manuals…

Disclaimer: I’m fully behind what the FA are doing and therefore am not intending to actively criticise the FA in this article.

Aims & Aspirations for 2011

As it’s the new year I find it hard to resist the temptation to blog about my aspirations for 2011 as a youth coach and hence here is a blog on my aspirations for 2011! Firstly though, I feel it’s worthwhile reflecting on 2010…

A year ago I hadn’t even started coaching. I’d thought about it and I’d been thinking about it for a couple of years but for various reasons (time, cost etc) I hadn’t taken the plunge, until June last summer when I finally decided it was time to get involved. It was June when I booked my place on the FA’s Level 1 course and July when I started this blog. I attended the Level 1 course over two weekends in mid-August and began coaching the U7s with my local FA Charter Standard club in September. I’ve since used this blog as a place to capture my early journey as a youth coach and what I’m learning along the way and so far I’m really enjoying it.

In addition to the coaching and experiences gained I must add that one of the most surprising & rewarding aspects of 2010, in the coaching context, is the amount of online material and information which is available to the coach of today. There are blogs, forums, articles and a wealth of fantastic people over on Twitter who’re happy to pass on their advice & opinion.

So, with that whistle-stop tour of 2010 out of the way, what’s my plan for 2011?

  • Continue to work with the U7s I’m coaching at the moment. They’ll start to play matches in September and I’m looking forward to continuing to develop them and see them in a game situation.
  • I’m hoping to work with more teams and kids of varying ages. Through the club I’m involved with I’ve put myself forward to help with some coaching they’re going to be doing at local primary & secondary schools over the coming months.
  • Working with other coaches – I’m aiming to take opportunities to work with more coaches, to observe them and see how they coach.
  • FA Youth Award Module 1 – I’m planning to take this in February.
  • FA Level 2 – I’m hoping to take and pass this by the end of 2011.
  • And finally, continue to have fun, to ensure the kids I coach have fun and continue to blog all about it.

I’m so glad I decided to get involved in coaching, it’s fantastically rewarding and I can’t wait to see what 2011 has in store.

My view on a youth summer season

I must admit, when I first read this BBC article by Alistair Magowan I wasn’t immediately bought in to Sam Allardyce view that we should move the youth season to the summer months. It feels a bit like another Englishman coming up with another reason why we’re not developing enough players of world-class calibre in this country.

For a long time I’ve felt that we don’t provide the right facilities for young footballers (or any young sportsperson)in this country and I believe we’re well behind the continent when it comes to the availability of these facilities. You only have to go on holiday to any one of a number of European countries to see the volume of really impressive all-weather sports venues dotted around. In England, or in fact Britain, we don’t appear to have invested in these facilities and even where they do exist the cost of hiring them can be outrageously high.

Therefore, as well as not having a high enough number of enthusiastic, qualified coaches who’re bought in to the larger ethos, we don’t have enough top-quality environments for our young players to play on and develop.

However, one point that Eric Harrison makes in the article is a very good one, he states, “If youth football was in summer, players can actually listen to the coaches in pleasurable conditions when they are talking on the pitch”. This is where we also start to see real value being added. On the one hand, there is no point having lots of qualified coaches if we don’t have the facilities for them to deliver their sessions but on the other, there’s no point in having large numbers of qualified coaches if they’re lacking the time to coach, something which is certainly impacted by the colder weather.  The quickest way to address this is to move the youth season to the summer months.

One thing is clear, we need to do whatever we can to maximise the amount of time our young players get to spend with enthusiastic qualified coaches and if that means move the youth season to the summer months then I’m right behind it.

Coaching Day 5: How the plan went

As I’d already mentioned in Monday’s blog, I’d chosen to go along to tonight’s session with a plan in place for what we’d do during the session and I’d also hoped to ask the boys some questions to get them engaged verbally in the training session. So, how did that go?

Having the plan in place was useful and I used two of the three games I had in my plan. The session started as usual with some cross-pitch dribbling mixed in to a game of sharks & minnows – a game which I find is an excellent way to start the session as it allows me to work with one or two individual players. Both weeks now I’ve been able to help one or two boys improve their dribbling skills and I’ve found this really enjoyable, primarily because I find it’s very tangible.

We then moved on to playing ‘Soccer Simon Says’ which was met with one boy shouting “that’s boring!” but I set up a square area and had the boys doing a number of tasks with the ball such as dribbling with either foot, controlling the ball, swapping the ball with another player, sitting on the ball and I also had them throwing it in the air before immediately shouting “Simon says control the ball!”. This is one of those games which I feel only has a small window before the boys get bored but hopefully it continues to work on their ball skills & also on other aspects such as dribbling, awareness, communication & balance.

After this we moved on to a game of 4v4 using two goals. Interesting game. A couple of the boys didn’t like the sound of it initially (they just wanted a game) and a couple of the boys needed one or two reminders of which goals they were attacking (I gave each team two goals to score in and two goals to defend) but once the game got going you could see it challenging them to look at where the spare goal was, both when attacking and defending. After about ten minutes of play one team started getting ahead in the game so I adopted the rules (progressed) and had them making sure each player touched it before they could score. This resulted in them needing to think about where their team mates were and had them passing the ball more frequently – something I believe is important at this age because it’s quite clear that as players they’re incredibly selfish when it comes to possession of the football!

I missed my opportunity for Q&A but I did speak to a couple of the players after the 4v4 game and asked them what they thought had been important to do in the game, to which the responses came “passing”, “pass it” and “look for the goal” (positive). I then asked them (they’re two of the better players) to take that passing in to the match we then played and they seemed to take this on.

In talking to the players I’ve found again tonight, as with previous weeks, that it’s easier to communicate to them on a 1-2-1 level than it is with them as a group. I find I get their full attention on a 1-2-1 level whereas they’re easily disrupted when together as a group, especially if one or two of them decide to play up. Something to work on perhaps.

I’ve enjoyed tonight’s session again, I balance the enjoyment and successes of the small improvements I see the players making along with the things which I’m still grasping, such as the need to set sessions up more quickly! We’ve got a two-week break now so it gives me a chance to do some more reading and come back in the new year ready to start working with the boys again. I’m also hoping to do some other coaching via a local school in the new year so that should be something else to look forward to as well!

Planning the next session

I’m hoping to add a bit of structure to our session tomorrow night, rather than the ad-hoc approach I’ve taken so far. I’ve downloaded a coaching session plan and have written in the names of the games I’d like to play and I’ve also added next to them some of the key areas or objectives for each game, i.e. awareness, dribbling, control, decision making etc.

The success of the plan will depend on numbers but if we have a reasonably good turn-out then I should have a minimum of 6 in my group which should be sufficient for the games I’m hoping to use – these being, ‘Soccer Simon Says’, ‘Nutmeg soccer’ & a game of 3v3 or 4v4, possibly with 4 goals (thanks to for the ideas).

What I also want to do in Wednesday’s session is start engaging the kids in what we’re doing by asking them questions. I asked for some advice on twitter last night and had some excellent feedback; the best of which means I shall be keeping the questions simple and will use the exercise to understand what kind of information I get back from U7 boys & girls. I’ve used the session plan to help me prepare a couple of questions in advance.

My preparation for the session on Wednesday is two-fold; 1. As ever, I hope it gives me the best possible opportunity to ensure the session is fun yet challenging for the kids and 2. I’m trying to ensure I get in to the right habits as a very new coach and I think planning the session & engaging the kids with questions are absolutely the right things to be doing.

We also have selection boxes to give the kids as instructed by the club committee (chocolates – morals!?) but the kids need to earn them so we’re currently trying to think of what we could challenge them with in order to “win” the chocs. I’m thinking of setting a challenge for a number of successful passes in the match we’ll have at the end. Any other ideas (if you’ve done this before) would be welcome 🙂

I’ll be back as always to report on how this went.