Coaching Day 20: Managing physical limitations

Last week’s session was one of those where as a coach you don’t feel it went very well but you know this means there are things you can learn from and improve on in future sessions.

Our session took it’s usual recent format – Warm-up, “training” and the we finish with a match. Within the warm up all of our players will have a football and whilst our main focus is to get the players warm (when the weathers cold!) we also focus on ball-work as we get the players to experiment with turns and also do a lot of dribbling. It was here where I found last week that I was trying to teach the players a turn which they perhaps weren’t physically capable of doing.

In recent weeks we’ve been working on different turns using different surfaces of the foot so last week we demonstrated the Cryuff turn, a turn which seems easy to an adult but I soon noticed that some of our under 8s players struggled with the movement required by the non-standing foot when trying to perform the turn. As the players tried to do the turn some were able to do it but others couldn’t and instead reverted to using the sole of their foot.

Having demonstrated the turn the players would then practice it by running 10yards with the ball, trying the turn and then running back to where they came from. Those who were mastering it would shout to me to watch, some would ask me to demonstrate it again whilst others would do something different which worked for them. It was the latter players who appeared to struggle with the basic movement and therefore it was those who I allowed to continue without wanting to push them to do something which they were clearly struggling with.

There is a judgement call required when working on this type of exercise with young players – do you feel they’re physically capable of doing it and require help or do you acknowledge they’re not ready to do it and avoid applying any pressure which could impact their self-esteem.

Is this something which you as a coach experience regularly and if so, how have you handed it?

Did I let him down?

I had an interesting situation at training last week which I found a bit awkward and it’s had me thinking about it ever since. I’ve been coaching the under 7s at this club since the start of the season and there’s been one child in particular who stands out a bit from the rest, primarily because he doesn’t really take any interest in the football part of the session (or in fact, any part of the session).

He’s quite reserved and will generally take part in the warm-up only to end up sitting away from the kids and either doing his own thing or standing on the sides as the session progresses. Both of us (the manager and I) have encouraged him to be more involved in the games we’ve played in the past but ultimately if he’s not interested then as a coach you revert to focussing on the other 15-20 kids who’re there to play football.

In the past I’ve noticed that he loses interested when he’s had shots saved during a shooting game (for example) so I’ve tried to improve his chances of success but he still ended up sitting on the periphery of the session. Which is kind of what happened last week…

We’d split in to two groups and this child had started with the other group. I’d set up a SSG (Small Sided Game) for the players I had with me and was watching and coaching from the side of the pitch when he came over and stood next to me. He didn’t say anything at first and then grabbed my hand and asked if he could join in with the SSG I was running. I asked him why he wasn’t with the others anymore and he stated that “X kept saving all my shots” (with X being a boy who was playing in goal) so immediately I’m aware that once again the failure-factor has steered him away from the game he was involved with.

I told him that I couldn’t add him in to the SSG I was running at that point because the teams were even – note to self: I should have just let him join one of the teams, not sure why I didn’t. So he just held my hand and started to ask me what were (I assume) the maths questions he’d been taught that day/week. From talking to the manager of our team about this boy in the past I understand that he’s very bright for his age but where his intellect is clearly good (I could tell this from the maths questions he was asking) he’s obviously struggling with his social development.

So, apart from the fact that I should have just allowed him to join our game it begs the question – is there anything I should be doing with this boy to help him enjoy his football training more? And, ideally, incorporate him with the others? It strikes me as being a classic example of what the Level 1 course teaches you – you’re not just a soccer coach when you’re working with children of this age.

(P.S Aware that blog posts such as this might verge on the border of being a bit too personal but I wanted to share it as it’s relevant to challenges coaches have to overcome).

Coaching Day 2: U7s

Tonight was better, much better. We had a lower turn-out, presumably due to the colder weather, which meant we had a football for each of the kids and this helped no end.

To start with, we could play a proper game of sharks v minnows as a warm-up with all the players dribbling a ball from one end to the other and this worked so well that we played two games.

We then split the groups in to two again (as last week) and so I started by playing traffic lights. This worked ok but I think I played it a bit too long, or didn’t vary it enough as the kids seemed to get a bit bored. I also had two boys who did the opposite to what I said – quite frustrating, but I eventually found a way to coax them in to playing the game properly. As for the game – I had a cone for stopping, one for changing direction, one for sitting on the ball and one for doing a trick – the final one worked really well as they suddenly all engaged and all wanted to show me what they could do. It was also much easier to dish out praise as it was very easy to spot the kids doing good tricks, or those attempting them at least!

I then did some shooting, where the players would dribble from a point before having a shot. They enjoyed this (who doesn’t enjoying shooting?) and we progressed it by making them have to take the ball round me before shooting so it included dribbling and shooting.

I then moved in to a game of 5 v 5 and made sure the focus was on passing. I found the kids quite responsive to simply asking “who can you pass to?” whenever they got on the ball. They didn’t seem as greedy as in the bigger game we played last week, perhaps because there was more time on the ball so they could get their head up. Next week I think I’ll attempt to stop the game every now and then to ask them to look at where the space is.

The only downside tonight was one particularly unruly kid who seemed to want to do the opposite to what I instructed, torment other kids and generally disrupt the session but I guess that’s what happens when you have U7 players. I managed to quieten him by putting him in goal (his favoured position) for the shooting and 5v5 games.

I think the session had a good flow to it, I think the players as a whole probably spent far longer with a ball at their feet as they did last week and I found a previously supplied tip of getting them to sit down when talking to them worked really well.

I’ve also acquired two nicknames in a short space of time, apparently I look like Joe Cole to some and Clint Dempsey to others!

What do I know about coaching under 7s? Nothing, actually…

As I mentioned in my previous post, I’m going to start my coaching efforts by helping to coach a team of Under 7 boys from (hopefully) tomorrow evening. So, having understood that I’ll be starting with U7s I asked the obvious question, “What do I know about 6/7 year old children and how to coach them?” The answer? Very little, if anything…

To help give myself a fighting chance I decided to do some brief reading over the weekend to see what I could find out about coaching U7 footballers and then be in a position to re-visit this list after a couple of months.

So, what did I find out?

  • As young children, they are still developing physically which includes areas such as balance and aerobic capacity:
    • As such, their football coaching should include games which help them develop in this area (i.e. controlling the ball with various parts of the body)
    • They don’t need 5 mile runs for fitness
    • Their body isn’t fully developed in regulating their temperature which means they have a tendency to get very hot very quickly, so ensure they get plenty of drink breaks
  • They are likely to dwell on negative feedback and therefore do not criticise, or give negative feedback. Only reinforce positives, “catch them in”
  • Focus on technique, games such as ‘Sharks v Minnows’ and ‘numbers’ feature heavily on sites such as when looking for games for young children
  • Their attention span is short, so keep game descriptions brief and demo all the time
  • Tactics are meaningless to children of 6 or 7 years old
  • Finally, and most importantly, they must find football enjoyable – so make sure you have fun and make sure they have fun too.

 That’s a top level summary of what my weekend’s reading told me about coaching U7s! I’m sure there’s a million other points available for me to note but half the fun should be learning about these as I go! I’ll ensure I revisit this post after a couple of months and share my views having spent an hour a week with our local U7s team.

 In the mean time, if you’re reading this thinking “YOU’VE MISSED SOMETHING IMPORTANT!” then please share it as it might help me and it might also help anyone else who comes across this post 🙂

Coaching U7s

I attended the monthly committee meeting for my local youth setup last night and had a really useful discussion with a number of the people in attendance. Firstly, it was great to be welcomed in to the club and made to feel like they valued the fact I wanted to help out.

Secondly, I was able to talk to some of the team’s coaches and managers who were all keen to understand what age group I was looking to get involved with or what age group they thought I should / should not get involved with.

I’ve been given the CRB form so I’ll be filling that out quickly as it’s the final hurdle I need to get over before I could get involved. Also, the club have kindly offered to pay for this.

The output of the meeting was that I’d start by helping to coach the U7s but they were also happy for me to spend time with some of the other age groups which would be really useful and is recommended as part of gaining experience and understanding how other age groups train, what ability they are and what children at varying ages are like (behavioural), so I shall certainly take full advantage of their offer!

All in all a really positive night and one which will hopefully lead to an exciting season, my first as a football coach!

P.S Any tips on coaching U7s welcome. Please leave a comment if you have any!

Half way through the Level 1 course

I’m currently half way through the FA Level 1 Coaching course so I thought I’d update this blog with my thoughts on the course so far and how I’m feeling ahead of part two.

I understand that this course can be run in various different formats, so it’s worth pointing out that this course is running over two weekends , 9-4pm on both the Saturday & Sunday.

The first weekend was fascinating for a number of reasons. Firstly, it was interesting to see the various people attending the course – a real variety of ages, sexes and levels of experience. On the experience front I was one of four on the course who hadn’t coached before and weren’t actively coaching at the time, the remaining 14/15 were all actively coaching at local clubs in the area and had been doing so for anything between 1 year and 5 years.

The other reason it was interesting was down to some of the discussion which the teacher (for want of a better term) provoked, especially around the “do you tell, or do you ask?” question. As someone new to coaching I found that sometimes I had input but other times I didn’t, purely because I don’t have that experience. However, I listened carefully throughout.

The first morning was largely based around discussions and activities and I wrote down plenty of notes to take away with me, the kind of information where you know that little nugget of information would surely be lost given the large amount of information you’re taking on board.

The afternoon saw us out on the pitch and I didn’t realise we were going to be playing as much football as we did, which was nice. However, it was key to keep remembering that we were on a coaching course and therefore I found myself consciously trying to keep focussed on what the coach was doing and what he was saying.

The games (note to self: not drills!) that we covered were good fun and the way we warmed up was also more enjoyable than the standard jog around the pitch. The way in which the coach prepared the session, organised the session and talked us through the detail was excellent and you had to listen actively because you had nothing to write notes on!

The second day was spent covering safeguarding children and first aid. Safeguarding children can be a little daunting, especially for someone who isn’t a parent. However, it’s ultimately all down to common sense and ensuring that you’re keeping the children safe whilst also making sure you’re looking out for their welfare.

The weekend ahead is exciting but I’m also a little nervous – I think the 96% pass rate puts an added pressure on to you to pass but it also gives you confidence that providing you’ve listened, digested and you’re enthusiastic, you’ll be ok. I’m doing the Robin Hood game tomorrow with another guy on the course and then I’ll find out tomorrow what I’ll be doing on Sunday, so I’m now going away to familiarise myself with all the other games!

FA Coaching Level 2 or Youth Award Module 1?

I stated in my first post that I intend to do the Level 1 FA Coaching course in August and then follow this up by starting the Level 2 course in September. I’d aimed to do the two in quick succession for two primary reasons; 1 – the Oxfordshire FA are running an L2 in Oxford (they seem to be like gold-dust) and 2 – the content intrigues me.

However, it’s recently been pointed out to me that the FA Youth Award Module 1 might be a better second step instead of taking the Level 2 course so I’m currently trying to understand a bit more about the Youth Award in order to make a more informed decision.

From what I understand the courses have these objectives:

  • Level 2 coaching – look at coaching in more detail, specifically mapping techniques & drills to core skills as well as looking at patterns of play.
  • Youth Award Module 1 – looking at the “softer” side of coaching. Motivating young players, supporting them & understanding how to maximise the effectiveness of your coaching.

As they’re different courses there is clearly going to be value in each so I guess my question is this – would I be better to gain experience and do the Youth Award before doing the Level 2 course or should I just do whatever’s available first? [There is currently no youth award scheduled in on the OFA website].

What do you, the readers, think? If you’ve been down either of the routes I’m thinking of taking, how did it go? And would you have done anything differently?

Values, from the top down?

Shared values?

The company I work for have a published set of values and these values are shared throughout the business, from the top down.

There are six values which were set by the Exec Board a number of years ago and they’re shared openly and widely, both internally and externally (with customers). The directors are expected to “live the values” and they in turn pass these down to department managers, group leaders and team leaders who then pass these on to the staff. Everyone at the company is measured against their ability to live the values and this forms part of an overall view of an employee which then ultimately impacts on their salary, bonus etc.

Now, I’m not qualified to talk about this if I’m honest because I’m not a coach, nor have I coached at a football club before (I’ve played for plenty and organised a few training sessions but it hardly counts). However, from the reading I’ve done it seems that there can quite frequently be a disparity between various people at a football club and most notably it’s between the coaching staff.

You would expect a club to be a collection of teams and more often than not it is the name of the club which carries an outward facing perception rather than an individual team within the club [i.e. I would expect all of Arsenals teams to play good football and all Leeds teams to be dirty*]. So with this in mind you would expect there to be unity at a football club, both with regard the way the club is run & managed and the ethos behind the development of players within the club.

I would imagine that disparity in the ethos of a club would hinder the ability for a child to develop as a footballer within that club, especially if coaches are assigned to age groups rather than teams. You can picture the scene – the U11 coach works really hard to develop his players technically and focuses on passing & movement before the U12 coach chucks all that out of the window and harbours intentions only of winning matches & playing directly [complete contrast helps the argument!].

Therefore, shouldn’t there be more happening at clubs to create a shared ethos that each and every individual connected to the club buys in to? The child, the coach, the manager, the secretary and the parent all bought in to one view of how the club approaches it’s football? “Player development over winning”, that sort of stuff…

Alas, I am new and naive so I may be talking in the land of the fairies but it is worrying to think that such a simple thing could have such an impact on young players.

Am I in cloud cuckoo land here? Am I making the problem sound worse than it really is? Or am I on to something with this perception I’ve built? Interested to hear your thoughts…

*P.S Only joking Leeds fans.

The most famous English coach you’ve never heard of

I came across a fascinating article about the development of young footballers in England and made a note to make sure I blogged about it. For those you who are part of the Soccer Coaching Forums [link to right] you’ll have seen this but for anyone else I think this is worth the 5 minutes it’ll take you to read the article because it offers an interesting & independent insight in to the way we’re developing players and what some of the fundamental problems are. Read more of this post