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.


One season ends and another starts

It’s been a while since I blogged but it’s not for the lack of football-related action in my world. Our under 7s have now finished their season and on Wednesday we had our final training session ahead of a 5 week summer break which will allow both the players, the parents and the coaching staff a well earned break!

However, as that season ends a new one starts for our adult side. We’ve moved across from being a Sunday pub-side to a Saturday side, and therefore will be taking our football more seriously and organising our club in a different way. My involvement in our new adult side will be on three fronts as I’ll be playing, helping our manager with training and I’m also our club secretary so it’s going to be a busy season next season as I balance my commitments to both the adult side and our (soon to be) u8s.

The season I’ve spent with our under 7s has been great fun, my first as a coach at youth (or any) level. I still look back to my first session where I can vividly remember wondering what I’d let myself in for as I failed to control a group of hyper 6 and 7 year olds! Fast forward 11 months and I’m part of the furniture, the kids know me, I know them and I’d like to think both have progressed! For the players, I think starting to play matches regularly toward the end of the season was the biggest factor in their improvement, it also helped us as coaches get a better idea of their development or coaching needs.

Next season with the under 8s we take part in a non-competitive fixture list and will play 2-3 times per month so this will provide us with a regular barometer of their progress. I’m certainly looking forward to applying what I learnt on the Module 1 course and will be hoping to pass my Mod 2 and Level 2 by this time next year.

For the adults it’s more a case of helping to put on a session which is structured, planned and enjoyable for the players. I’m not there to coach but I’m working with our manager to make sure we’re not thinking up sessions when we get there and I think players appreciate a session which is planned and well organised. I’ll be blogging about our sessions so others can see what we’re doing and what we’re trying to achieve.

So, with the end of the under 7 season and the huge amount of work we’ve been putting in to our adult side it’s been a crazy few weeks but this blog now moves from solely focussing on under 7s to now covering both under 7s and adult football.

Enjoyment v Winning

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Coaching Day 15: Whiteboard unleashed

Tonight’s session went pretty well and I’m pleased with that because it was the first session I’ve been at since completing Youth Award Module 1 and it also saw me using a whiteboard at training for the first time!

Due to being away I hadn’t had a chance to implement some of the things I’d learnt from the Youth Award and I was keen to trial a couple of the games which the course introduces.

Session Plan

I’d planned my session out in advance and had it printed and folded inside my sock for reference. After watching the tournament on Saturday I’d decided I wanted to work on the players technique and ultimately, allow them to become comfortable with the ball at their feet which is what tonight’s session focussed on.

The plan:

  • Warm up (Phil our manager took this whilst I set up the parts I wanted to run)
  • The Great Escape (Youth Award Module 1)
  • The Skills Corridor (Youth Award Module 1)
  • Work on turning with instep, outside of foot etc
  • SSG – 4 v4

How it went?

The Great Escape

I used the board to demonstrate the game and started with the players simply trying to run past the guards. I then progressed this by asking them to run backwards through the gates before introducing a ball. Once the ball was introduced we allowed them to focus on getting through the gate normally before progressing it to award “2 point” for going through with a skill or trick. This game went pretty well, although it wasn’t as clean as the demo in the YAM DVD by any stretch of the imagination – I was worried at one point that it looked like organised chaos but I remembered what Tom Bates said at the Grassroots Demo so I allowed it to continue rather than stop it). I think most of the players enjoyed the game and we had fun hearing how many points the players had scored  – one boy doing particularly well by scoring a thousand million points (credit where it’s due!).

Skills Corridor

I really saw the value in the whiteboard when I drew what we’d be doing for the skills corridor game because the players all sat around me as I drew it out with the whiteboard on the floor. They started to ask questions and probe about what they could do with the football which was fantastic. I started by simply asking them to take as many touches as possible before progressing the game to them needing to visit the sides three times (and trying different turns) before finally doing start-stop-start-stop with a change of direction.

As with ‘The Great Escape’ it wasn’t always neat & tidy but the players were trying step-overs and a variety of turns which Phil & I were quick to encourage & praise. As with the previous game it was also important that it provided more time where they’re dribbling with the ball, keeping it away from other players and trying new skills. At one point I had 3 players asking me to demonstrate a step-over which was great fun.


I didn’t do this as I felt the above two had provided more than enough time on their technique, we were running out of time and they were itching for a game.


Rather than finishing with one big game I setup two pitches and we played 2 x 4 v 4 SSGs with the teams swapping over at 5-7 minute intervals. I wanted to do this so that each player had more time on the ball and encouraged them to try the skills they’d practised earlier in the session. It was great that one parent who helped us said he really preferred 4v4 as it allowed “them all to be someone”, I think that’s a great statement.

What will I change next time?

  • The whiteboard was really powerful and it was most effective when the players were all sat down. When I progressed a couple of the games they were standing up which meant some of them weren’t paying attention. I think in future (during the summer at least) I’ll ask them to sit down whilst I explain any progression so I can ensure they all understand what we’re doing.
  • Make the skills corridor a bit bigger – slight adjustment but it was probably a bit too short tonight which meant it got a bit crowded as they all piled in at one point. Not a big problem but a larger area will increase their space and allow them more opportunity to try new skills.

So, overall I was pleased with the session and felt it had the right balance of ball-work and game-time. A couple of the players didn’t enjoy the Youth Award parts but I’m less inclined to worry about that (although it does play on you at the time) because the majority enjoyed them.

As we packed away at the end a passer-by commented that our session had looked quite professional and that her son would like to join in next time, it’s amazing what a few cones do!

Observations from an U7s tournament

Just before I went to India at the end of April our under 7s played their first match and at the time it was obvious that the team we played had a lot more “match experience” than our boys & girls. Whilst I’ve been away the team have played 3 different games (which I missed) but we had a tournament on Saturday afternoon and I went along, excited to see if they’d improved whilst I was away.

The “tournament” was split in to two groups of 6 teams and was stated to be non-competitive, but this hadn’t stopped the organisers included a semi-final and final. We fielded two teams who were evenly matched (names picked out of a hat) and played games against teams from the surrounding towns and villages.

Whilst there I made some observations and I’ve listed these below. I’m sure others who coach the same age group will empathise with these whilst some are no doubt seen at all levels of youth football.

Goal kicks are an issue in Under 7 football

I expect there’s some debate to be had about what is right or wrong here. But across all teams I saw a high proportion of goals being scored following goal kicks which were going straight to the opposition. I guess you can coach this to your players but at 7 years old do you really want to teach them how to play out from a goal kick? I’m not convinced, and would prefer some way of restricting the opposition so that teams can play out from the back.

Minimal amount of standout talent

As well as our games I also watched a number of other matches whilst at the tournament and found that there were only 3 or 4 players from across 12 teams who really stood out for me. I think this demonstrates that 7-8 years old is the starting point for real advances in player development.

Minimal physical difference

 As with the technical ability, there wasn’t too much physical variation amongst the players. There were a couple of players who were larger and a couple who were smaller but 90% of the players in those teams were similar in both height & build.

Lots of teams were rotating goalkeepers

There are very few children who want to stay in goal throughout a tournament. Of course it’s been said that there’s good value to be had in allowing players to experience playing in different positions during their development (and I agree with this) but the amount of changing of goalkeepers (including during games) was very noticeable.

Teams found it hard to get out of their own half

It was very evident from the games I watched that a lot of teams struggled to get out of their own half if the opposition had managed to get down their end for a shot/corner.  There were exceptions but I saw a large number of teams camped in their own half because they struggled to pass or dribble their way in to the oppositions half.

Too many instructions from the sidelines

This was the first time I’d seen, first hand, the impact of numerous instructions being given out from the sidelines to young players and I now fully appreciate the need to manage this, where possible. Young players are keen to impress everyone and therefore they were listening to everyone (parents, coaches, Joe Bloggs) which only meant they were getting confused. I very much adhere to the principles of improving decision making and so will only shout questions such as “Who can you pass it too?” or “Can you pass it?”. Unfortunately those questions were sometimes lost in amongst the “shoot!”, “get rid!”, “pass it to Tom!!” instructions from others around me.


First and foremost, I was delighted that our players had improved since 6-7 weeks ago. They’d clearly benefited from some more game time and their increased concentration, awareness and “match intelligence” was great to see.

Being at the tournament gives me food for thought ahead of forthcoming training sessions. From Wednesday I’m looking at developing skill & technique because the players who had the most success on Saturday were those who had a the better technique and were more comfortable with the ball at their feet.

I’m also going to work with Phil (the manager) and look to play more 4 or 5-a-side games in training and use Q&A or Guided Discovery coaching styles to help the players improve their decision making in games.

First observations

Our under 7s had a match tonight. It was only our second game but as I’d missed the first fixture due to being away I was very much looking forward to tonight to see how the players I’d been working with for the last 9 months would get on in a match environment.

We played a local side and had a squad of 16 for 3 x 20 minutes matches. Unfortunately, we felt defeat in all three games but there were certainly positives to take and the main reason for our defeats appeared to be that whilst our players aren’t used to playing matches, the opposition certainly were.

Anyway, I’m not here to write about the performance or the result but more to share my observations from watching an under 7s match for the first time!

So here they are:

  • Match experience and positional sense played a huge factor tonight
  • The opposition managers had clearly set their team up well, but they’d also had them doing stretches and passing DRILLS before the game so were taking it very seriously
  • Under 7 players will direct criticism at team mates when things are going against them
  • Under 7 players will cry, mainly through frustration, when they lose games by a few goals
  • Some players surprised me with how well they played tonight, others surprised me by how they didn’t (match awareness v skill/ability)
  • A LOT of goals came from goal-kicks (as someone said in the week, should players retreat to the halfway line to improve this?)
  • Refereeing under 7s was fairly simple, despite the huge crowd(!)

I think the biggest positive is that the ability to watch our players in a match environment gives us an opportunity to guide the training around the areas we’ve observed and that there’s clearly a lot the players will learn from the basic experience of playing matches.

Our players did get upset tonight, more so than I thought and that did take me by surprise. If anything I think it’s a good experience for them to learn to deal with defeat (if we coach it in the right way) and being 7 I’m sure they’ve already forgotten the game by the time I’m writing this!

Unfortunately that’s it for me now ahead of spending 6 weeks in India through work commitments but I’ll look forward to getting back and working with the players ahead of future games 🙂

Youth Award Module Level 1 – Day 2

Today’s been a good day and the course has featured a mixture of yet more insightful content, new games and interesting discussion with other coaches on the course. It’s also had the added benefit that I went straight from the course to coaching our Under 7s which gave me a chance to put something that I’ve learnt over the past two days in to practice.

So, what does day 2 of the Youth Award Module 1 look like?

We started, as most courses do, with a recap of the previous day to see what we’d remembered and what had stood out. For me, it was the following:

  • The number of background factors which contribute to a child’s social maturity / development
  • The different learning styles (specifically, examples of how to use them)
  • Developing an understanding of managing difference

Once we’d completed this recap work we then moved on to a section about motivation, which included some group work, theory & videos. Essentially, this is ensuring that we as coaches understand that children play almost entirely for enjoyment and to play with their friends so it’s key that coaches are making sure we’re providing training sessions which are fun.

Then, both before & after lunch we looked at some new games which focussed on passing and dribbling, yet much more importantly for me it helped look at ways in which a coach can “manage difference”. And by that I mean thinking of ways to make the game easier for some and more difficult to others whilst keeping the session moving.

We finished the day with a session on managing technical difference and here we largely focussed on the STEP principle which is a tool that coaches can use to help alter the difficulty of a game.

  • S – Space (Make an area larger/smaller, change its shape)
  • T – Tasks (Provide challenges to players, or give them tasks which make the game simpler for them)
  • E – Equipment (Add balls, remove balls, use of bibs etc)
  • P – People (Increasing/Decreasing team sizes to make games easier/harder)

So in summary, another useful day although I am slightly weary having been in the sun all day (careful what you wish for!). The games were good but I’m not sure how they’ll work given the size of the group we have – something for me to consider.


When I got to training tonight I didn’t try any of the games but one thing I did apply was something I’d seen a coach do during a video clip, and that’s to throw questions in to a group of players. I had a group of 8 players and set-up a 4v4 SSG where the only rule was that each player needed to touch the ball once before their team could score. After letting them play for 5-10 minutes there had only been one goal so I got them together and asked them to go away in their teams and discuss what they could do to answer my following question, “What can you do to score more goals?”. When I went back in to talk with each team it was fascinating to find that both had come up with the same solution – to keep players wide and try to keep to a formation. In order to increase their chances of success I made the pitch wider and got them back playing again (and they went on to score a couple of goals between them).

I was surprised how receptive they were to the question and my only real challenge was getting them to stop discussing the possible answers 🙂 We got together for a quick chat at the end and I asked the players if they’d subsequently found it easier to score and they confirmed what I suspected would happen – it had been easier because they had more space which made it easier for them to get their passes in and create a shooting opportunity.

It always feels good when you’re able to apply something you’ve learnt on a course to a training session and it makes you keen to get back to training with the children as soon as possible. Unfortunately, we’ve got a game next week instead of training (which is great), but I’m then in India for 6 weeks with work so it’ll be June before I can apply more of this new found understanding!

Coaching Day 14: Progress

Wednesday’s session was, by recent standards, fairly uneventful. We had no tantrums, no fighting, no teeth lost and no kids sitting on the sideline! The warmer weather also brought the parents out in force so we carried out the session with something of an audience, rather than the usual two or three hardy souls who stay to watch.

The recent chats with the kids about them being a team appears to be paying off because there was less of the boisterous behaviour we’ve seen in recent weeks, perhaps the arrival of their new kit & the announcement of our first fixtures has helped. The team’s first three games are coming up very shortly and it’s slightly disappointing that I’ll be in India for the first two, but I can’t wait for the tournament we’ve got in early June as it’ll be great to see them up against other sides.

What was fantastic to see on Wednesday was that the boy I’ve discussed in recent weeks took part in the whole session and looked to have a great time. Yes, he spent most of the match at the end with the bib over his head and yes, he’d spent one of the games running round with the ball under his shirt but the fact he engaged and had fun is, I think, progress!

It was good to hear the comments from the parents on the sideline were positive, I was nervous about “get rid of it” type comments but any comments were purely positive and that’s encouraging.

So less to deal with than recent weeks and the next time I coach the boys I’ll have two days of Youth Award Module 1 coaching under my belt.

Coaching Day 13: Decision making

Our coaching session tonight was much better and I think it’s fair to say that if you as coach have enjoyed the session then it’s fairly likely that the kids have enjoyed it as well. The manager & I worked together on the games (rather than splitting in to groups) but I had to make a decision during the session tonight and I’m happy to say I feel it was the right one.

I’d spoken in a previous blog post about a child who tended to sit on the outside of the group and lose interest in the football which meant he’d walk or sit on the side of the training area for long periods. This happens regularly and as I’ve said before I’m working to try and integrate this child, although it isn’t easy because the other kids notice he’s different and treat him like so.

The child in question didn’t have the best of starts to the session tonight because we hadn’t even started the training properly when he had a ball kicked in his face and this led to lots of tears which meant he didn’t want to take part in the session and so chose to lay on the floor in the corner (we’re in  a fenced astro-pitch).

I’d been working with the other players whilst this child lay in the corner but after 5-10 minutes I decided to make a conscious decision – I went to talk to the boy and tried to get him involved in the game. He wasn’t interested so I asked him if he wanted to just do some passing with me, which he did – excellent. I told the manager I was going to step away from the main session and work with this child 1-on-1 and it proved a success. We started with passing, then turned it in to a little game (thatI let him win) which had him running around, controlling the ball, passing, catching and most importantly – laughing. I’ve rarely seen this boy smile, let alone laugh, so I was delighted to get him involved, active and having fun.

We then managed to get him involved with the bigger group of players during the final game we played and he then took an active part in the match, something I haven’t often seen.

I thoroughly expect that next week we’ll be back to square one, but I feel I’ve got a way of engaging with him now and I can continue to try and help him enjoy coming to training and integrated in our games. It’s a very small thing but it felt great to see him having fun – even if that came at the expense of helping others tonight.

Coaching Day 12: Theory v Practical

I’d prepared for last week’s coaching session by looking to run a series of games which linked through and would culminate in applying to the final match we played, i.e. a gradual increment.

So how did it go?


My session plan looked like this:

  • Warm up: Either sharks v minnows or team-tag as shown by Dan Wright in his blog
  • First game: 1v1, or “On Guard” as is demonstrated on the Level 1 course
  • Second game: Waves, as taken from the Level 1 course
  • Third game: 3-game-SSG, as also shown by Dan Wright in his blog
  • Match

The theory being as follows:

  • Following the warm-up, get the players working on their dribbling skills via 1v1 games…
  • …then use Waves to get the players working in small teams, focussing on passing as a team and shooting…
  • …which they would need to combine with dribbling to help with the 3-game-SSG…
  • …which in turn would prepare them for a match situation

All of which, in my mind, looked pretty good.

What actually happened:

  • The group of 9 players I had to work with varied hugely in ability, so I decided to pull the 1v1 from my plan as I felt some of the players either wouldn’t grasp the concept or would lose interest.
  • Instead I set them up to play Waves, using competition between two teams (i.e. who could score more goals) as a way of making it fun. One team grasped the idea and did well, another had two players who were more interested in who was starting the game, or would hog the ball and this led to. Unfortunately, because the one team struggled with the game it lost its impetus and the other boys started to lose interest.
  • So I changed to one-team-SSG which started well but the teams were unbalanced which meant one set of players dominated  and this caused frustrations and one or two of the boys also began to lose interest.

So, despite my theory seeming ok in practice it was a very difficult 40 minutes of coaching and dealing with some of the kids was quite frustrating. I’d tried to run a session which flowed and which would be fun but perhaps in hindsight it was too much to ask for a (very) mixed ability group of U7s. Next week I think I’ll use some of the games which have worked well in the past and I guess if nothing else, this was an experiment which perhaps hasn’t worked but that I’ve learnt from.