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Creating and Maintaining Environments for Young People in Football
Over the last four weeks (and 18 years of training) I have seen some very worrying situations. It worries me as a coach, parent and independent observer who has seen top level academies, middle ground and grass roots and been told “it’s getting better” all the time.
I have seen some good examples of good people managing safety while giving ownership to young people. Not easy to do. Another thing that is not easy to do is manage adrenaline and emotions. We all want our children to do well. That’s a given. Be it homework, modeling, swimming or football. But what do people change their ways from the above mentioned? In what respects would an adult change their mindset?
Sports are passionate – fact. People visit the stadium, watch the adults, moan at the referee’s decisions and complain all week if our supported team loses. Almost to the point of becoming like Piers Morgan. However, there is a distinct difference. The people you scream, cheer and moan about are really adults. They can cope in a stressful adult environment. Even the best can block them and act. It takes years of practice. Playing in the Champions League for millions of pounds is one thing, playing in front of 30 people on a 5v5 astro turf court is another.
The two environments are not connected to each other. They are not replicas. Children will try and dream of visiting such a stadium with their imagination, mentally. All this pressure they want.
We’re missing a big trick. We used to commentate while playing and pretend to be Gazza or Maradona. The next defender is pressure. The last gasp save is pressure.
Unfortunately the following are additional pressures on young people:
· Getting kids to play in set positions – As most who have played will tell you – you don’t play in one place for long.
· Shouts such as “Don’t mess with your box, get rid of it, clear it, pass it, get down in line” etc. Things that have been said by an adult to 1-5 kids 25 times in an hour over my last 4 weeks. Confusion and pressure.
· Spectators yelling “Handle it, pass-pass-pass, well-in.” It’s been done for years I know I’ve played but it’s no good.
· Parents yelling “tackle” also encourage aggression. Was the child going to handle it anyway? Maybe.
· Good players can’t play – they face youth team managers, even 2 players marking them but not leading the boys, so adults can win.
· I’ve seen too much fouling from young players who are laughing at the emphasis on “tackles” instead of shaking hands and picking up kids. Wait until the tackle sort of plays at a good level (if they manage it with any technique or skill – probably not), the tackle becomes a chase as the players dance around them or play through them.
Do you want your child to play, enjoy and be good and win at 15, 16 and beyond? I am sure the answer is yes. Then you have to stop and think. The following are key to developing u7-9s into good 16-year-olds:
· Freedom to try things – 1v1 without fear of losing the ball, playing from the goalkeeper and dribbling anywhere on the pitch.
· Remember a 5v5 pitch is only one quarter of a full size pitch. What they do in front of their own goal is what they will do throughout the quarter as they grow up. If they just clear the ball now, they won’t know any different.
· Marks should not be recorded. Any league asking for scores for u7-14 games is a failure in my opinion. This prompts adults to register them and it allows them to cut developmental corners. It makes no sense.
· Trophies and Man of the Match Awards – I have rarely seen awards given for a better series of turns, skills and technical aspects. I hear a lot of ” brave, hard work and also… it’s his turn this week. What’s the point? Again the adult idea is not a child’s idea for some strange reason (no pun intended).
· Not commenting on children pointing and forcing them to pass – not only does it take players on, but many skills are lost – agility, acceleration and deceleration, movement, awareness, touch and use of both feet, use of different parts of the foot, etc. By not allowing dribbling and not making your own decisions, you are stunting kids’ all-round athletic development.
The best game environments I have seen are as follows:
· Children arrive, shake hands with coaches.
· Changing rooms – random selection, age pairing, no birth bias, let kids choose their teams, team up if possible for social reasons
· Little talk from coaches – “Have fun, be an exciting player, think about how you can improve while you’re playing.”
· No Establishment Organization – Let It Be. The boys will rotate into position but know they can go anywhere on the pitch. I often say “Be a defender and don’t go halfway.” You can also say don’t play.
· Never say things like “do a job or work hard”, it’s not work but a fun game
· Questions are only asked at intervals – so what? How can you do that? What should we do if this happens? Scenario planning.
· Don’t talk to them while playing the game. They will still communicate if given permission. They will communicate like any other 7 year old. In a way they understand. Talking things up during a game is one of the worst things any coach or parent can do to increase pressure, stifle creativity and decision-making, and cause panic about results.
· Need a punch? Or just a facilitator who manages security? The latter is fine. If we encourage honesty and fair play and set nice guidelines, it works.
· Few rules – allow dribble ins, futsal pass ins – why do we encourage throw ins with kids? Mix.
· Parents’ comments – are they encouraging? If I’m a goalkeeper and I stop a goal-scoring opportunity, I’ve only saved it. I am happy with myself as I was. I already know it or I already know it. So why do I need a chorus of “Great Saves” because it may not have been a great save but an achievement by me and my team. Controversial?
If you have 4 outfield players, rather than saying “let’s play 2 defenders, 1 midfielder and 1 striker”, ask the kids. They will create some amazing formations and then they will go and play that way or go after the ball. Ball, we must remember the real reason we play sports from childhood. This changes somewhat over time as we spend more time with him working on tactics as we get older and play at a higher level. There’s nothing wrong with kids wanting a ball. There is nothing wrong with encouraging dribbling. They will lose the ball. Then the next player gets a turn. A lot of people are ramming passing and shoving balls down children’s throats. Let’s get to know their techniques and then worry about winning.
I’ve watched the game 4 weeks late and still haven’t seen any of the kids score. Why aren’t kids taught the whole game? Again the suggestion from adults is not intelligence but more aggression and Dunkirk spirit.
In such desperation one grandfather told his grandson that he only had to boot onto the pitch “might as well be there so they can’t score.”
I have also seen the rise of the wannabe match reporter. They also talk about scores, victories etc. Fortunately the team my son has started playing for does not encourage this. Children don’t know the score. They keep playing game after game. They have social and psychological corners. They are answering questions and being nice. They are playing. An opposing coach said his team won ‘again’ 11-7 (I think). Of course he told his player because they didn’t know. MOM then proceeded to present the awards to applause from the parents. My boys team thankfully scored a goal playing against each other and are still smiling. No one “why don’t we get a medal?” This particular play, filled with “pass, pass, down the line” regardless of the score, was scored off the dribble because the player didn’t hear it. He didn’t really do a good job. “We won” said the coach; The other team had shared equal playing time and fielded two good players with no scoring concerns. They changed goalkeeper 3 times. The kids had fun. This information is not taken into account by ‘coaches’, as many are only concerned with the end result, not the process. They don’t see a potential 16 year old.
I write this with great passion for developing young players. I have seen some great kids flourish over the last 10 years and unfortunately have seen some get ruined by coaches. Coaches who don’t really wear kids’ shoes.
Compare a smile with a serious pressed face and I know which id see.
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