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!


Bravo Lancashire FA, Bravo!

If you’ve been on Twitter today then you may have noticed the talk about Lancashire FA’s tweeting regards different aspects of the grassroots game, such as coaches conduct, parents conduct and a number of other initiatives which make the grassroots game all the more friendly and young-player orientated.

I’d thoroughly recommend taking a look back at their timeline from this month but if you’re not Twitter-savvy then take a look at the list below which are just some of the ideas and comments they made.

However lowly you rate your ref this weekend shake their hand and invite them back.That way they come back better rather than not at all.

Offside is often contentious in youth football but only to adults who put winning before enjoyment and development.Accept errors occur.

Can we have a Silent Weekend where no parents or coaches shout? If you agree tell us and we’ll promote it county wide. #letthechildrenplay

Parents. If you can’t attend this weekend will you ask your child if they won or whether they enjoyed the game?  #culturechange

Why not appoint 2 or 3 regular parents to welcome opposition parents this weekend & invite them to stand with you?#breakingdownbarriers

One club today excused disrespect to a referee on his failure to see pushes! Still lots of work to do to change outdated attitudes.

Coaches. Bored pushing the trolley in Tesco? Chuck in some sweets for your players to give to their opponents after the weekend game #respect

Just spoken to a girls coach who allows no coaching during the game, trusting the players instead. Could you do that? #whosegameisit

Coaches. Could young players put on brief sessions on your training night? Do they have an input into how your team is selected? #theirgame

How can you empower young people in your club? Player on your committee? Junior committee with CWO observing?  #theirgametheirsay

Will you welcome opposition parents today with a warm brew and stand with them? Youth footie no place for club rivalries #makingfriends

How nice for your kids to give sweets to their opponents after today’s match #changingattitudes

Coaches. Key point for this morning DON’T PLAY THE GAME FOR THEM #letthemplay

If both teams have subs organise a 2v2 or 3v3 so the kids are active, warm and ready to go in when called.

Challenge to all our coaches. Try putting four cones down this weekend and standing inside them. Bet you see more and act more calmly.

Do you have a couple of spare jackets if children getting excessively cold or wet? Be a forward thinking coach and help to prevent neglect.

If opposition adults behave badly, don’t reciprocate.Two wrongs don’t make a right.Show a proper example to impressionable children

Some clubs still tend to fall in behind parochial rivalries and excuse poor behaviour of adults by blaming opposition #dotherightthing

More reports coming in of youth games ruined by appalling adult behaviour last weekend.Ongoing crusade to challenge and change attitudes

One player today bellowing foul language all game on a pitch in a residential area.Is this acceptable? Who should take responsibility?

I think it’s excellent that they’ve taken to Twitter to back up and relay some of the messages that you see many involved with the game talking about and full credit for that.

Football Coaching Session: Playing out from the back U16s

I’ve been doing a lot of possession work with the U16s since starting with them 4-5 weeks ago and on Wednesday I did a session on playing out from the back. I want us to be comfortable in possession and believe that it starts from your GK and defenders, otherwise you’re trying to play possession from a long goalkick.

The images below detail how the session was setup.





As the session progressed the boys who played CB & full-back (I rotated positions) picked it up well and some of them were switching on very quickly as soon as our GK got possession which was great to see. I could also observe that it gave the attacking team more to think about in a defensive capacity because of the full-backs pushing higher up the pitch.

It’s something I’ll work on with them again in August when we resume for pre-season and will also look at how the midfielders and full-backs then support by providing good angles for passing out from the back.

Very interested to know how others are coaching this – what setup are you using? Are you building up to this type of scenario through other means? How are you working with the midfielders? I’m doing some reading around the topic where I can so will share what I learn/find out.

Panna / Street Soccer

I think this video is THE example of why I’m absolutely loving watching Panna/Street Soccer videos on YouTube at the moment.

If you haven’t been checking out this stuff (and I know I’m a bit late to the party) check out some of this stuff on youtube.

  • Jeand Doest
  • Sean Garnier
  • Panna Knockout
  • Soccer Showdown

Then read this post.

Btw, Panna = Dutch for nutmeg 😉

Learning New Tricks

I watched the video below on Friday night having seen it on someone’s Twitter feed and as I hadn’t seen the second trick I watched the video a couple of times and thought nothing more of it.

Skip forward to Saturday morning and I’m with our U9s for a fixture they had away from home. We only had 7 players so before the game they were doing little 1v1 dribbling games, a couple of the boys were passing it between themselves (their choice) and I was messing about with one or two others (we were trying to nutmeg each other, practising scoop flicks etc – their choice) and as they started playing a little game on their own I decided to practice the second skill from STR’s video.

Having tried it around 10-15 times with mixed success (easier with a size 5 ball than size 4 I found!) one or two came over and asked how to do it, so I demonstrated what I’d seen on the video and they spent 5 minutes practising it before the game.

At half-time I noticed the same two practising it again and then a third joined in and they had a little try. They didn’t have much success and I hadn’t purposely shown them the skill as it’s a show-boat trick, not something that you’d use during a game, but I love their willingness to try a new trick and keep trying it & I can guarantee they’ll want to try it again at training on Wednesday.

It makes you realise that even if you’re not a very skilful player (which I’m not), you could take a trick from such a site, practise it yourself and introduce it to your players for them to try. If you know how to break it down you can show them what they need to do, you don’t have to master it.

Is it critical to their development to learn a trick that’s essentially a show-boat  Probably not. Does it help them develop their mastery of the football? Absolutely, so it’s got to be a good thing and another way to vary training sessions.

Coaching Under 13s

I was given the opportunity to coach our club’s Under 13s on Tuesday night so I took up the chance as I knew it’d be a useful exercise for me as a coach, primarily as it was my first session outside of the Under 9s since passing my L2 in May. The guy who I’d covered for had performed a session on support play the week before so I carried on the theme and did a slightly different session on support play.

I have to say, it was a really positive experience. Under 13s are an easier group to coach than the U9s and are a lot more “coachable” in certain respects. It’s a great age to apply the L2 syllabus and because of this it won’t be the last time I coach this team.

There are obvious differences between the age groups and I’m looking forward to doing more sessions with U13s and REALLY understanding what it’s like to coach this age group. It’ll also allow me to embed what I learnt on the L2 course, something which isn’t possible with U9s.

Since I started with the U9s (then U7s) it’s been almost continued focus on 1v1, 2v1, dribbling, ball manipulation whereas this group of U13s were largely pretty comfortable on the ball and therefore you could really work on some of the principles of play which is great for me as I learn & develop.

I’ll use this blog as always to keep you updated with how things go and any learning points I think are worth sharing.

He’s too small

Our Under 9s played yesterday morning and the opposition team had a player who I would say was the best player I’ve seen our team play against in the last 2-3 years. He was small but he was so comfortable on the ball it was unreal, he could twist, turn, read the game, pass the ball with the inside or outside of his foot and he played both wide and as a defender – fantastic player.

I was intrigued so I spoke to their manager, “Your 22’s a fantastic player isn’t he?”, “Yep, but he’s just been released from Reading because he’s too small, silly isn’t it?”. And there we have it, this nonsense that seems to see players dropped because of their physical stature despite clearly having immense technical capabilities, I can’t get my head around it.

FA Level 2 Coaching Certificate

The FA Level 2 in Football CoachingOn Sunday I passed the Level 2 Coaching Certificate and I have to say I’m mightily pleased about it too! It’s a course I’ve wanted to do from the outset because I’d already heard that it’s a step up in terms of technical knowledge and it’s also a course which I think is recognised as a minimum requirement by a lot of football establishments.

The course began in February in sub-zero conditions on a frozen pitch and ended this weekend in near 30C heat so the contrast in weather conditions pretty much matched the transformation in the coaching capabilities of the 16 delegates across the 4 month period!

I have thoroughly enjoyed the course; I’ve enjoyed it’s content, the way it was delivered, the people who attended the course with me and the new knowledge it’s given me – both on a footballing and coaching level.

It is (as many will tell you) a significant step up from Level 1, so you can see why some people drop out during the course. Overall though, it’s a course which is giving you the tools to deliver a better coaching session than you will no doubt have previously been capable of delivering. One of the key essences of the course is important – each evaluation check-list asks, “(The candidate should) demonstrate an ability to improve the performance of individuals and the group”, which is getting down to the nuts and bolts of what a football coach is there to do and that’s a consideration I’ll take with me in to every future session.

I’ve learnt about parts of football I’d never previously been taught (despite fancying myself as a player I’ve never actually had any level of decent training!); support, balance, cover, 1-2-1 defending techniques, receiving, switching play etc. And also how to develop a session so it enables players to practice their individual technique before progressing it (without major changes to area and setup) to a skill-based practice and then a SSG – all fantastic stuff.

Upon passing you’re left with a decision to make – where do you go from here? I already knew, I think. For me it’s now a time to embed what I’ve learnt over the last 4 months and develop my confidence in my ability to deliver successful sessions across all of the topics covered – I want to work really hard at that. I also want to progress further along the Youth Award Modules and in a few years I might then think about the UEFA B, but I have a lot more learning and experience to gain now which is the main aim really, build more experiences, learn, develop.

An Introduction to Futsal

On Wednesday night I attended a course run by the Oxfordshire FA on An Introduction to Futsal. I’m the first to admit that, despite my obsession with football, I only found out about Futsal a relatively short time ago and I’ve been quite interested in finding out more about the game.

The OFA run a number of evening sessions during the year for members of their coaching association which I presume is the same as other county FA’s, and this seemed a great way to spend a couple of hours on a Wednesday night (although it did result in me missing the Barca game!).

As far as 2 hour introductions go this was pretty good. We spent the initial part of the session looking at some Futsal-specific warm ups we could do, we then looked at practices which focused on ball manipulation and then moved on to attacking in 2v1 and 3v2s before finish with a game of Futsal.

The game was interesting because we started with a normal size 5 football before moving to a size 4 Futsal ball. The difference was we saw far less of the ball bouncing around and players appeared to find it a bit easier to control the ball and keep it close whilst dribbling. It’s the first time I’ve played with a futsal ball and it’s heavier / denser design certainly makes it easier to try tricks with and keep close to your body.

I’m very keen to use our local sports hall to do Futsal in the winter across all age groups in our club but most of all I’d like to use it with the younger age groups to improve their ball skills. Futsal excites me and I want to send more time learning about its benefits as I think it can be a real compliment to players and to me as a coach.


FA Level 2 and Under 8s

Last week was an interesting week from a coaching perspective as the two Under 8 sessions I had were the first I’d run following my participation on the first week of the FA’s Level 2 course. Of course, when I say “interesting” what I really mean is I felt there were some highs & lows.

The session I ran on Tuesday went pretty well I felt. I had 8 players which is a great number to work with and we did a game of tag to warm up (with footballs) before I worked with them on their dribbling (using L2 coaching points) before progressing in to an SSG with 4 goals and finishing with a game.

The smaller number of players makes it easier to gain everyone’s concentration for the 30 seconds I needed to get a point across or progress the session. I progressed the dribbling work we did in to a SSG with 4 goals (two at each end) as I felt that gave the dribblers more opportunity to succeed as there are multiple targets. This seemed to work well and also saw a couple of the players demonstrate a good awareness of space by taking up a un-marked wide position.

The session as a whole went pretty well but once you’re in to an SSG at U8 level I think it becomes quite difficult to stop the session (to praise/correct) because the kids just want to play and it’s one of the areas of the L2 syllabus which I think is quite difficult to apply to this age group. With that in mind, I only stopped the session once to positively praise something which I was really happy with.

The other part of the L2 syllabus which I think is hard to apply at U8 is that of recreation, e.g. getting a player to try or practice something before resuming the session. Having been on the Youth Award Module 1 I was very aware of the impact this may have on self-esteem so I avoided opportunities to help a player correct what they were doing wrong if I could see they were reluctant to do so in front of the group.

The second session I took last week was supposed to be the first Level 2 practice session I needed to run in between our course and our next catch up day. I planned a session around dribbling and had parts where I included the whole group (18 players) and parts where we split the group up (albeit doing the same exercise) and I don’t think this session worked particularly well.


  • Firstly, 18 (Under 8s) is far too big a group to do any kind of Q&A or guided introduction of coaching points.
  • Secondly, the area we had to work with (we’re on an astro pitch which is essentially 2 x tennis courts) wasn’t big enough to allow success in one of the exercises.

However, I did still feel there were benefits to the session. The warm up we did meant each player had LOTS of touches and they were constantly having to dribble in different directions and were frequently turning. The game I progressed to also had lots of decision making and dribbling but I think there are better ways of doing it in the future.

The week’s demonstrated to me that I need to work with a smaller group if I’m to effectively practice my Level 2 understanding and I also need to alter sessions & games so that a) the information is relevant to the age group and b) the practice is still fun and ultimately, a game.

Any coach will empathise with how you feel when you know a session hasn’t gone well but as per some of the great advice I had on Twitter last week, it’s given me an opportunity to learn & re-plan for this week with that experience behind me.

The Level 2 syllabus IS difficult to apply to an under 8s team but I’m confident that with some tweaking it can be applied to benefit the players (main priority) as well as my progression toward passing my Level 2.