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!


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.

Nutmegs – U9 Warm Up

I’ve suddenly become really fascinated with the whole world of Panna / Street Soccer and have spent the last few days watching a lot of videos on YouTube about it*. One of the street soccer videos showed kids playing 1v1 and to score they had to nutmeg their opposing player which is great, because you’re focussing them on keeping the ball close and looking constantly for that opportunity to stick the ball through his/her opponents leg.

This reminded also reminded me of a session I saw in a Futsal Introduction course run by the Oxon FA. However, in that session the tutor divided a court in to squares and we played 1v1 but you scored a point if you could bounce the ball off your opponents shins which also meant you had to keep the ball very close to you at all times.

I wanted to see how our U9s reacted to this type of challenge. We’ve done a lot of work with them on the ball but I think games such as this represent a different type of challenge because you’re really focussed on keeping the ball close as opposed to a session where you might be dribbling at pace in a direction (as might be typical in a session).

Therefore, before Saturday’s game I set up a 15×15 square area and got the boys in to pairs (approx 6 pairs of players) and  let them play 1v1 with the following rules:

  • Game 1 (before changing partners): 1 point for a nutmeg, first to 3 the winner
  • Game 2 (change of partner): 1 point for a stepover (beating the player) 2 points for a nutmeg
  • Game 3 (change of partner): 1 point for a stepover, 2 points for a nutmeg, 3 points for a 360 (round the world)
  • Game 4 (change of partner): Use any skill to beat a player

The players responded well – we just kept them going, praised, encouraged and observed. They worked hard to keep the ball under control and we trying various ways to attempt nutmegs. I introduced the other moves to open up other ways in which to beat a player and not restrict to looking for a nutmeg.

As the players enjoyed it I’m going to look to do more of this type of work in our training sessions whilst introducing specific skill/technique practice and further variations of 1v1, especially introducing music to sessions as I think that’s a great way of relaxing the players and making sessions even more fun for them. And let’s be honest, who doesn’t immediately feel 10% more skillful if you play football with this in the background!?


*Thanks to the guys on Twitter at ProSkills who provided useful information on Street Soccer. If interested, check out these guys on YouTube – Darren Laver, Mark Tiernan & Soufani.

Simple session on 1v1, 2v2 and defending

I used a really simple session with our U9s tonight as I wanted to start working on a few basics of defending but I was also aware of the weather and wanted to keep them moving at all times. With this in mind I went with a setup (see low quality image below) which meant we worked on the basis of continuous 1v1s which allows for lots of dribbling & experimenting with skills on an attacking point and with the setup it also had the boys thinking about defending space as they had two goals in which they could score.

The setup:

  • 8 players
  • 2 “zones”
  • 4 goals in each zone
  • 1v1 – players had to run through the goal and stop the ball to score a point



How I managed / progressed the session:

  • Began with 1v1s, the only conditions were that you had to stop the ball between the goal posts to score a point and I wanted to see LOTS of skills used. I always encourage players to learn new tricks and practice them.
  • Players rotated partners / opponent every 3-4 minutes, new partner = new challenges (both as an attacker and defender)
  • I stepped in to encourage dribbling at speed as young players can end up walking quite slowly with the ball and I wanted the attacking players to be positive and ensure they introduce a turn of pace
  • I then worked on defensive positioning and I worked on their body shape. That is, “skateboard” position, defending side on. I provided an example and then had the players try it unopposed to make sure they could actually do sidesteps moving backward
  • We then continued the 1v1s but with the focus almost completely on the defenders body position, which they picked up pretty well and almost immediately found it effective
  • We continued to rotate players, I praised where I saw excellent defending side on and I also helped players work on changing their positioning – e.g. not facing the same way at all times and being able to rotate as the attacking player moved
  • The session then progressed to 2v2s, but with a slightly longer pitch area. Again, focus was on defending position but it also gave opportunities to coach where two defenders were leaving a player free or not doing any defending at all.
  • Further rotation of 2v2 and then the session ended in a game

Very simple, very easy to progress, continuous dribbling and 1v1, 2v2 defending practice with focus on defending in a side-on body shape. Good session, enjoyed by players and very little time spent standing around listening to me!


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.

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. 

Opinion: Did his celebration show a lack of respect?

CelebrationIt’s Saturday morning and our striker’s just scored a goal which completed his hat-trick and put us 5-0 up. To celebrate he cupped his hand behind his ear and ran along the side of the pitch which had both home (our) and away fans along it.

Two minutes later and the final whistle blows, the kids shake hands and their manager walks over to our manager and asks, “Is your striker your son?”. “Yes”, replies our manager. “Well you ought to teach him some respect because that celebration showed a lack of respect”. “He does it every time he scores”, said our manager. At which point their manager grumbled snarled again about the celebration and walked over to his team.

There are a couple of ways I look at this:

  • As a good judge of character and based on the way in which he came across, I think this was just sour grapes because of the score
  • It’s a 7 year old boy enjoying scoring a goal / hat-trick by celebrating as he see’s players do on TV and on computer games
  • However, as a celebration it IS usually one senior players use to wind up opposition fans

Personally I felt the celebration could be taken with a pinch of salt. If I saw an opposition player do it with a great big smile I wouldn’t have a problem with it, he’s 7 years old. The unfortunate matter was that our striker caught what was said and it took the shine off his hat-trick (although I don’t expect this would have lasted long).

What’s your opinion fellow coaches? An opposition manager who needs to see the celebration for what it was or a goal celebration which is a bit over the top at U8 level?

Coaching Day 21: Prior Planning Prevents Poor Performance

Last Wednesday’s training session was something of a learning experience for me because of the phone call I received 15 minutes before the start of the session. Those of you who read the blog regularly will be aware that two of us run the session and that we usually start & end the session with the kids together but split out in the middle for 15 minutes of sessions with half of the players each.

So, as I’m arriving home last Wednesday afternoon and thoughts are focussing on making the best use of the 15-20 minutes where it’s just me and 7-8 players I receive a phone call. “Hi Simon it’s Phil’s wife Kerry, he’s broken down and isn’t going to make training. I’ll bring the balls down, is there anything else you need?”. “The cones, bibs and a whistle if his is around” came my reply. As I put the phone down I must admit to feeling a bit panicked – from planning for 20 minutes I now had to plan for a whole session with 18-20 7 year olds and no support.

I arrived 5 minutes before the session (work doesn’t allow me to get there any earlier) and the first thing I did was to make sure that one of the parents was going to be around for the duration of the session. I needed to have someone there to be a second pair of eyes and asked one of the parents just to help if (when) any of the kids were injured or started to cry so that I could try to keep the session going one of the parents duly obliged and assisted a couple of times during the session.

I had a few ideas on what I could do with the session because, whilst I hadn’t planned for a whole session I have enough experience now to know what games you can use with a larger group of players but I decided I’d go through the warm-up and go from there – using the kids mood as a factor in deciding what I’d then move on to do later in the session.

Before we started the warm-up it was evident that the kids were hyper which, in all honesty, appears to be the norm this season. I expect this is due to a) their age and b) the fact that most go to school together. I gathered them together at the start and explained that Phil (the manager and usually “bad cop”) wouldn’t be there so I’d be running the session – I also explained that I’d be telling Phil who was well behaved during the session with Saturday’s game(s) in mind.

For a warm-up each player had a ball and I started with the kids dribbling from one-side of the all-weather pitch to the other, using different surfaces of the foot to dribble and trying out turns etc before progressing to a sharks v minnow type of game. This further expanded to other types of dribbling and passing combinations (inc work in pairs) and kept the players reasonably engaged whilst keeping them warm and giving them maximum time on the ball. There were a few kids who were playing up and were no doubt mindful that the manager wasn’t there but I made an effort to ignore them and keep the session going which ultimately saw them join back in rather than continue to be disruptive.

In an hour session we spent the first 20-25 minutes doing ball work with the players being encouraged to express themselves by trying different turns & tricks. A lot of our players are often very keen to show me their tricks, turns or skills they’ve learnt or tried and I take this as a positive. I hope it reflects that I encourage & praise their efforts and show a real interest in what they’re trying – I also try to help them correct their technique every now and then which they’re receptive to as it usually improves their success rate.

Whilst the first 20-25 minutes had kept going it had certainly been a challenge trying to get their attention, explain any progressions or changes in what we were doing and there were times where it was organised chaos. However, how can one person and 19-20 seven year old bos & girls not be??

Once the first part of the session was complete I decided that the best way to keep the session successful was to move to a game but I got them together after a quick drinks break and explained that some of the behaviour wasn’t very good and that I expected better behaviour during the game – once again using Saturday’s game as a reminder.

The game I believe was the best step to take during the session and in the circumstances. The game ran well, the players did a number of things which allowed me to praise them and I was also able to take time to talk to certain players for short periods to ask them a question about what they’d just done or congratulate them on something they’d done really well (and explain or ask if they knew what it was they’d done well).

At the end of the session a number of parents (who’d watched) were complimentary of how I’d kept the session together and managed the kids at certain times (i.e. explaining the behaviour I expected) and thanked me for running it despite Phil’s absence – which was nice.

There are a number of learning points I took from Wednesday night, such as:

  • I need a plan for running this size of session in future
  • The plan needs to include elements which perhaps allow a parent to become involved without too much explanation required
  • The kids did respond well to me talking to them about behaviour and I should probably have intervened a couple more times than I did
  • It was enjoyable having full-ownership of the session, although it was incredibly hard work
  • In all it was a very useful experience
There are elements I need to improve as a coach; the warm-up needs to be better and avoid dribbling in straight lines and with better planning I could have avoided the need to move straight in to a game so I’m glad I had this experience to acknowledge these and write this post.
Finally, based on what I’ve written above I’d love to hear from other coaches, especially those who’ve worked with similar age groups and to be challenged on some of the above, e.g. what sounds good, what looks strange, is there anything you strongly disagree with?

Coaching Day 19: The numbers game v2

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

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

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

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

Alteration number 1

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

Alteration number 2

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

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

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

Coaching Day 18: The numbers game

I wanted to continue with the theme of developing the players to give them confidence in 1v1 and 2v2 situations so tonight I used the numbers game in order to achieve this.

The session as usual started with a warm-up which usually starts with the players dribbling across the pitch, doing right-foot only, left-foot only and then combining to dribble whilst moving the ball from one foot to another. In addition to this we also work on their turning by getting them to turn with the ball on the blow of a whistle and then progress in to a fun game (we used bulldog tonight).

When the session moves on we split the players in to groups of two or three and work with anything from 6-10 players each. I had a group of 6 and then 7 players with which to play the numbers game tonight and I found it worked really well.

I’d marked out a pitch and then explained the game to the players, then session then progressed as follows:

  • Began with just 1v1, ensuring each player had an equal number of goes
  • Encouraged players to take on their opponent rather than just blast the ball at the first opportunity
  • Awarded double points (to much excitement) if a piece of skill or trick was used to beat a player
  • Increased players by calling out 2v2 or 3v3 situations
  • Threatened to deduct points if they kept moving the poles which were being used as goalposts!
  • Then offered 5 points (to much excitement) if all players touched the ball and a goal was scored when it was 3v3

Whilst the game isn’t complex it certainly works well for players at an under 8 age-group. It keeps them engaged and entertained, they get excited by the small changes to the rules (progressions) and it helps develop their dribbling & ball skills. The two increases in points (for skill & each player touching it) saw a very positive change in their approach to the game. The offer of 2 points if they used a skill or trick saw them trying to do this regularly whereas prior to this they’d been largely trying to outpace the other player.

The 3v3 games had seen players being quite selfish before the introduction of 5 points if each player touched the ball. Once I changed the rules the teams were working very hard to get each player to touch the ball before scoring, and they were doing it to good effect. I also cast my mind back to this time last year when I ran a small sided game and dictated “each player must touch the ball to score” which didn’t get a positive response – change this to “if each player touches the ball you get 5 points” and you get a much more positive reaction!

So, a simple game tonight but it worked well, the players enjoyed it and it helped develop their ability in 1v1, 2v2 & 3v3 situations.