There is no doubt that to coach in youth football is no easy feat. After all, children are not the most accessible audience to reach out to. But it can be one of the most rewarding jobs out there. All the values that guide a player and make him successful on the professional level are taught by diligent coaches on the youth level.
So knowing what matters and what does not on this level is crucial. Everything that may be relevant coaching on the professional stage may not apply to the youth level. Let us explore the fundamental things to know to coach in youth football.
Coaching in Professional v Youth Football
On a professional stage, players have been at it for several years and are battle hardened and know more about their game than anybody else. On the other hand, children and teenagers are still raw and learning about themselves. There is also the issue of discipline as most players would not be playing to become professionals in the future.
Also, professional level players are at a level quite similar to each other, and any training routine can be planned without it separating any of the players.
On the youth level coaching, you have to be wary of the limitations of a particular age group as they can not do each and everything a professional could. So modifying the training sessions based on their capabilities and capacities is a pivotal part of coaching in youth football.
After all, professional footballers are set in their habits and have set patterns and play in a certain way. On the other hand, younger age groups are much more adaptable and a creative training protocol can improve and modify the skill set of any young footballer.
So let’s dive deep into coaching in youth football.
How to Coach in Youth Football?
To begin with, any training session at any level has to start with a good warm-up which includes dynamic stretching to raise the heart rate and prepare the body for the training routine at hand.
Stretching before training helps to prevent injuries and also helps players improve their flexibility on the pitch.
One thing pivotal at the youth level is effective communication. So before starting any training session, establishing rapport is key. That happens through an orientation where you explain the objectives and show what you are trying to achieve in the training session. A demonstration of any skill you want to teach is also welcome and keeps children interested in the session.
It also builds your credibility in their eyes. No one likes people who do not practice what they preach. Making the orientation interactive also helps and asking children their opinions about the training is an effective tool of keeping them engaged. And talking about keeping them engaged, resist giving a long pep talk. Keep it short and sweet.
Emphasize sportsman spirit, give positive reinforcement, and motivate as you educate. More about all that later!
– Keeping it Interesting
As explained before, children and teenagers get bored easily. So with all the other responsibilities a coach in youth football has, keeping things interesting is also vital. So any way you can think of to keep things interesting is recommended. A custom training session based on feedback from the players? Why not!
A corner routine you saw off the Internet that may be a fun little activity? Why not! Keep on changing training protocols from time to time as this prevents players from getting too comfortable. For example, if you have been overseeing 10-a-side sessions, change it to 5-a-side sessions. This becomes a new challenge that stimulates growth as footballers for the young guns.
The best coaches are creative and solve problems. So keep your eyes open for any opportunity to make things interesting.
– Do not be too Harsh
There used to be a time that complimenting a player was considered a sin. Coaches used to be extremely harsh, and earning their praise was impossible. But that practice is best left in the past, especially when dealing with the younger lot. A positive comment means the world to kids and a negative remark can leave a permanent scar.
Kids are especially sensitive that way and hard love is a strategy that may not be helpful to their development. Children are individuals like any adult and have self respect of their own. Even a single careless statement can be detrimental not only to the development of the player but also for their confidence off the pitch.
Of course, you would have to be stern at times. For that it is advisable to use the so called sandwich method. What this means is whenever the need for criticism arises, you give some compliments around the critique. So the suggestion to improve is sandwiched between two compliments.
Another way is to give subtle hints about the area in which you need to improve them. This makes them realize themselves where they can do better. And the fact is that children always want to impress their mentors and if you give them the opportunity they will do all they can to win you over.
– Practice Positive Reinforcement
On the contrary, using positive reinforcement can help tremendously in developing a young player. Whenever you find a behaviour that is in line with what you want as a coach, letting players know about your approval is a good practice.
Try to be specific when giving a compliment to a good move or a good piece of defending as others recognize what they need to do to get that applause. Having a system in place to reward the best performers is also a reasonable way to motivate players.
Different organizations practice this method to motivate their employees and you as a coach in youth football, can do the same.
– Entertain Feedback
You may think you know what is best for your players but entertaining feedback helps a lot. It helps to keep players involved and assures them that their opinion matters too.
Do not keep rehearsed answers to any query and do your best to prevent any biases. It also encourages critical thinking about the game as some players may end up becoming managers and other people behind the scenes involved in the game.
– Teach Sportsman Spirit
Youth football is the appropriate level for children to learn about the principles of sportsman spirit. There are various facets to this important lesson but generally speaking, any mode of malicious play should be discouraged.
Helping an injured player up, kicking the ball out of play when someone is injured, or handshakes before a game and exchanging shirts after it are all good examples of sportsman spirit. So whenever you see a player doing these duties during training, acknowledging them helps others see what is wanted from them.
To assimilate these values into the players, you would have to embody these values in your own demeanour as a coach. You would have to be fair and give everyone respect. Incorporating these unsaid rules of football in your training rituals is a vital step of your coaching and helps everyone play the game fairly.
– Always Supervise
This is an important one. Football is a contact sport and altercations and tackles are inevitable. But on the youth level, you are not dealing with adults rather you are the adult supervising the whole thing. So if any incident happens or any confrontation occurs, you have to be there to take control and help others out. Also, checking for the state of the pitch and any possible stones is a vital part of the responsibility of a coach.
If you are not available you could deploy someone else to take your place. But in no way should children be left alone completely during training. At this juncture, involving parents is also a reasonable thing to do if the football does not only stay on the training ground.
Establish communication with the parents and explain to them what they need to do to keep their children safe while playing football. Once you are done with the whole training routine, static stretching at the end is hugely beneficial in preventing injuries and ensuring optimal performance.
Coaching in youth football is not as simple as one would think. But keeping a few factors in mind can make the whole process easier. Starting with a thorough orientation sets the tone for the session, and practicing positive reinforcement and leaving negative psychology in the past is also vital.
Your job is also to keep training sessions interesting and inventive, teach players the basics of sportsman spirit, and take their feedback to tailor the sessions according to their needs. Finally, supervising every session on this level to ensure the safety of the players is of paramount importance and should never be forgotten about.
When you coach youth prospects in this way, they are bound to make you proud when the time comes and remember your contribution to their career.