Coaching influences

I was having a conversation on Twitter yesterday with football writer Mohamed Moallim and we were talking about the promise shown by Frank de Boer at Ajax and how he’d served a great apprenticeship at the club, one which had given him every opportunity of succeeding when he got the #1 job at the Amsterdam club. Whilst have this conversation it reminded how important it is for coaches to gain exposure to as many different coaches as they can during their early development.

When I was starting out this time last year the first piece of advice I was given was to work with as many different coaches as possible. I haven’t been able to do it this season but next year I’m certainly hoping to work with or observe a number of different and more experienced coaches.

Mohamed was explaining how Frank de Boer had learnt a great deal about coaching and management from Louis van Gaal, a manager who Jose Mourinho also credits for some of his development. Apparently the way in which De Boer prepares for games is exactly how LvG did, whilst Mourinho claims it was Van Gaal who taught him a great deal about coaching & training.

When you read or listen to interviews with today’s (or even yesterday’s) top managers you will often find reference to those who they either played under or worked with. Guardiola is influenced by Cruyff, Mourinho credits Bobby Robson for developing his man management skills and Louis Van Gaal for understanding how to coach. The way Carlo Ancelloti writes up his tactics pre-match is identical to that of Arrigo Sachi and on a more national level Martin O’Neill will talk to anyone about the man-management skills he learnt from Brian Clough.

No two coaches mention the same attribute, everything from man-management, to motivation, to tactics and match preparation is mentioned so it explains exactly why young/new coaches will benefit from working with those who have more experience.

Opportunities to work with other coaches don’t land on your door step and so as a coach, at any level, you have to go out and make it happen. I’ve already mentioned to the club I work with that I’d like to do some additional coaching with another age group next year so I’m hoping that will help me continue to improve & develop. I’m also going to try to see if I can sneak in at somewhere like Oxford Utd and watch their academy coaches working. Anything which will give me new ideas and understand more about coaching at a youth level.

I hope that in future blogs I’ll be able to detail what I’ve learnt from different coaches but in the mean time I’d be fascinated to hear any examples from you – who inspired you? Who did you learn the most from? How did you gain that exposure or experience?

Coach Development: Two new courses booked

Due to it being half-term we’ve got no training this week so I have no coaching diary entry to write. Instead I thought I’d create a new tag line for blog posts, ‘Coach Development’, and tell you that I’ve enrolled on two coaching courses today.

The only formal coaching course I’ve been on so far is the FA’s Level 1 course which I went on back in August 2010 so I’m very much looking forward to these two courses.

FA Youth Award Module 1

The FA Youth Award Module 1 is receiving lots of plaudits from people who’ve attended the course and I know the FA are pushing it hard as they referenced it numerous times during the Level 1 course and some of the content is also mentioned in their Future Game book. The course is the first of three modules under the ‘Youth Award’ series and from what I’ve read I believe Module 1 will focus on how children learn, how to motivate them, how to avoid knocking their confidence and it also introduces new games following those which are demonstrated during the Level 1 course.

I had to choose between taking this and taking the Level 2 course due to an overlap in dates but I hope this course is going to provide more immediate benefit as I’m currently coaching a group of Under 7s.

Click here for details on the FA Youth Award Module 1

The FA Introductory Certificate in Coaching Adults

I stumbled across this course but it looks exactly what I’m looking for. Whilst passionate about coaching & developing young players I also have ambitions of coaching at a senior level so to come across a course which covers a range of topics from training drills (aimed at adults), to team management, fitness and motivation was to good an opportunity to turn down.

The course is only 1 day and at £45 I’m hoping it’s going to provide value for money. I’ve not come across anyone who’s been on this course so please let me know your thoughts if you’ve already been on it.

Click here for details of FA Introductory Certificate in Coaching Adults

Other learning

In addition to these two I’ve signed up to two sessions being run by the Oxfordshire FA’s Coaching Association in the next couple of months; one is an introduction to coaching goalkeepers and another is a session which looks at how Wolves FC develop their academy players so both of these should also be useful learning experiences.

And finally, I’ve seen various Futsal coaching courses dotted around recently and wanted to ask what might be a fairly stupid question – is there value to be had from a Futsal courses for non-Futsal coaches? Just interested…

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.

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…

Coaching Day 6: SSG Success

One of the challenges I’m finding with coaching so far is the need to be able to think on your feet and adapt to the numbers of players who either turn up, or the number I’m going to directly work with. For a new coach it can certainly be difficult to come up with a game which is appropriate to the level of players at your disposal, the equipment, the number of players and the weather (e.g. you don’t want them standing still for any amount of time in the very cold weather). So it’s something which is proving one of the biggest challenges so far.

We had 11 boys at tonight’s session which started in the usual way with a game of sharks v minnows to warm them all up. At this point I must point out that I still find the challenge of running a game or session with 12+ kids a bit daunting, especially given the presence of onlooking parents and Phil, who I joined to help coach these U7s. I find I’m far more comfortable with a group of 5 or 6 and although these smaller numbers make the games easier to manage it does mean there are certain games I can’t use. Undoubtedly, this is down to experience and I think with more experience and understanding kids will come the confidence to deliver larger sessions.

I only ran a couple of games with the 6 kids I took (Phil & I took half each), one being a small shooting game and the other being a 3v3 SSG. I’m seeing real value in SSGs and I continue to understand why so many people advocate their use. With a SSG, such as 3v3 tonight, I found the benefits tonight were as follows:

  • It was quick to set-up and with just 6 players I found it very easy to set my expectations for the game (rules etc)
  • All of the players got plenty of touches and lots of opportunities to dribble, pass, shoot, take throw-ins, corners and so on
  • As we played on a relatively small pitch I, as coach, had ample opportunity to keep talking to them and either offer them help or challenge the better players
  • Because it’s continuous action it gave me lots of opportunities to catch them in and offer praise
  • They enjoyed it

The rewarding part, as ever, comes with helping them improve in small ways. For example, I had one boy who’s excellent at talking (asking for the ball) but is a bit greedy and so I work with him to get him thinking about passing it when faced by a couple of players infront of him, and then I have another boy who won’t talk so I work with him and encourage him to ask for the ball when he hasn’t got it. In amongst that is more generic advice, such as helping them to be more aware of who they could pass to, when to pass and also how to take a throw in etc.

If we split the group up we also keep the same sides for a small match at the end and I’ve realised this gives me a great opportunity to take the things we’ve worked on during the session in to the game. Tonight I pulled together a quick huddle with the boys and we talked about what we’d worked on and what we were going to do in the match (focus on passing & calling for the ball were the main two). I’m going to use these pre-match huddles to build more dialogue in to the sessions (as I’d mentioned in a previous blog).

So another enjoyable hour with the U7s tonight, more experience gained as a young coach and more opportunities to help develop young players with some small tangible success stories in there! Roll on next week!

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.