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Creating and Maintaining Environments for Young People in Football
Over the last four weeks (and training for 18 years) I have noticed some very disturbing environments. It is troubling for me as a coach, parent and independent observer to have witnessed the top level academies, middle and grassroots and to be constantly told “it gets better.”
I have seen some good examples of well-intentioned people managing security while giving ownership to young people. Not easy to do. The other thing that is not easy to do is to manage adrenaline and feelings. We all want our own children to do well. That’s a given. Whether it’s homework, modeling, swimming or football. Of the aforementioned, however, in which do people change their methods? In which adult would change his way of thinking?
The game is passionate – Fact. People visit stadiums, watch adults, moan about refereeing decisions and complain all week if our supported teams lose. To the point of becoming almost Piers Morgan like. There is a clear difference though. The people you are yelling, cheering and lamenting are adults after all. They can cope in stressful adult environments. The best can even block them and perform. It takes years of practice. Playing in the champions league for millions of pounds is one thing, playing in front of 30 people in 5v5 astro territory is simply another.
The two environments are not connected. They are not copies. Children with their imagination, will mentally try to visit and dream of such a stadium. This is all the pressure they need.
We lack a huge trick. The street and playground we used to comment on while playing and pretend to be gazza or maradona was our pressure. The next defender is pressure. The last gasp saving is pressure.
Unfortunately, the following is an additional pressure on young people:
· Make children play in fixed positions – most who have played will tell you – you don’t end up playing in the same one for very long.
· Shouting things like “don’t mess with it in your box, delete it, empty it, pass it, down the line” etc. The things said from my last 4 weeks up to 25 times in an hour from one adult to 1-5 children. Confusion and pressure.
· Spectators shouting “handle him, pass-pass, good in.” it’s been done for years i know i played but it doesn’t help.
· A parent yelling “gear” is also an incentive for increased aggression. Will the child cope anyway? Probably.
· The good players can’t play – they face managers of young teams going man for man, even 2 players marking them but not kids led, just so the adult can win.
· I have witnessed excessive fouling of young players who, instead of shaking hands and picking up children, are laughing while the “gear” is being over-emphasized. Just wait until the tackle type plays at a good level (if they manage it without technique or skill – probably not), the gear will become a chase as the players will dance around them and or play through them.
Do you want your child to play and enjoy and be good and win at 15, 16 and beyond? I’m sure the answer is yes. Then you have to stop now and think. The u7-9 age groups are the key for the following to develop them into good 16 year olds:
· Freedom to try things – 1v1 moves without fear of losing the ball, playing from the goalkeeper and dribbling anywhere on the pitch.
· Remember that the 5v5 pitch is only a quarter of a full size pitch. What they do in front of their own goal, they will do in the whole quarter when they are older. If they just clear the ball now they won’t know anything else.
· Points should not be recorded. Any leagues asking for scores for u7-14 games are failing kids in my opinion. It makes adults register them and it makes them cut developmental corners. It doesn’t make any sense.
· Trophies and awards for man of the match – I have rarely seen an award given for a good series of turns, skills and technical aspects. I hear a lot of “brave, worked and even its… ‘s turn this week. what’s the point? Again an adult idea for some strange reason not the idea of the child (beginner not tainted).
· Not commenting on children pointing and forcing them to pass – many skills not only taking players 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 own decisions you stop the all round athletic development of children.
The best game environments I’ve seen are as follows:
· Children arrive, shake hands with coaches.
· Locker room – random selection, age group pairing, no birth bias, let kids choose their teams, prepare together if possible for social reasons
· Little talk from coaches – other than “have fun, be an exciting player, can you think about how to improve while you’re playing.”
· No formal organization – let this happen. Children will drift into positions but know they can move anywhere on the pitch. I often hear “you be the defenders and don’t cross the half line.” You may as well say not to play.
· Never say things like “do work or work hard”, it’s not a chore, it’s a fun game
· Questions are asked only in the interim – what if? How could you? If this happens, what should we do? Scenario planning.
· Don’t say anything to them while you are playing the game. They will communicate if they allow anyway. They will communicate like other 7-year-olds. In a way they understand. Saying things during a game is one of the worst things any coach or parent can do adding pressure, stifling creativity and decision making and ending up panicking about results.
· Referee needed? Or just a facilitator who manages security? The latter is fine. If we encourage honesty and integrity and set nice guidelines, it works.
· Certain rules – allow dribbling, futsal passing – why do we encourage throw-ins with young children? Mix it up.
· Parental comments – are they encouraging? If I’m a goalkeeper and I stop a certain scoring chance, then I just saved it. I am happy in myself as it was me. I already know or even anticipated it. Why then do I need a chorus of “great save” because it probably wasn’t a great save but my own and my teams’ achievement. Crushable?
If you have 4 outfield players, instead of saying “let’s play 2 defenders, 1 midfielder and 1 striker”, ask the kids. They’ll come up with some amazing combinations and then they might go and play like that or go and follow the ball. The ball, you must remember, is the real reason we play the game from a young age. This changes a bit over time as we barely spend time with it at all working on tactics as we get older and play a higher level. There is absolutely nothing wrong with kids wanting the ball. There is nothing wrong with encouraging dribbling. They will lose the ball. That’s when the next player has a turn. Too many ram past and shove the ball down kids’ throats. Let’s get their techniques and then worry about victory.
I’ve watched 4 weeks of games late and still haven’t seen any kid who played in goal get off his line. Why aren’t kids taught the whole game? Again the instruction of the adults is not that of intelligence but more aggression and the Dunkirk spirit.
At such frustration one grandpa told his grandson to just light it down the pitch “might as well be up there so they don’t score.”
I’ve also seen a rise in the wannabe match reporter. They also talk about scores, winning etc. Glad the team my son started playing for doesn’t advertise this. The children do not know the score. They keep playing after the game. They have the social and psychological angles taken care of. They answer questions and behave in a pleasant manner. They are playing. Opposition coach declared that his team won “again” 11-7 (I think). He told his player how they didn’t know of course. Then proceeded to hand out the MOM award to applause from parents. My sons team happily continued to play with each other in one goal still smiling. No one asked “why don’t we get a medal?” This particular game, whatever the score was full of “pass, pass, along the line”, but a goal was scored by dribbling with the player not listening. He really didn’t do a good job. “we won” said the coach; the other team shared equal playing time and took away the two better players not concerned by the score. They changed the goalkeeper 3 times. The kids had fun. This information was not taken into account by the “coach”, because many only live from the end result not from the process. They don’t see the potential of a 16-year-old.
I write this with a huge passion for developing young players. I have seen some great kids flourish in the last 10 years and unfortunately have seen some with great potential be ruined by coaches. Coaches who don’t really put themselves in the kid’s shoes.
Compare the smile with the serious pressure face and I know which one prefers to see.
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