As a coach at a junior, community football club, my coaching philosophy will always underpin any time spent with the players. What I have done below is outline what my coaching philosophy is, before describing the culture I’m trying to create. I’ve done this by discussing all the aspects of the environment the players will be around at the club. I’ve described my plans and priorities for each aspect and explained how we can create a fun, pressure-free learning environment. The reason I’ve done this is because I recognise the need for all parties involved in the players’ development to a) be aware of what I’m trying to do and how I’m trying to do it, and b) to help create this culture at the club.
My philosophy throughout the years ahead of coaching for Waltham Football Club will be centred around developing creative, imaginative, confident, skilful and intelligent players whilst making sure all training sessions and matches are safe, fun and enjoyable for the players.
All players will be encouraged to make their own decisions and make their own mistakes in an attempt to provide solutions to the problems they’ll be faced with on the football pitch. Being free to make these decisions themselves will help to develop their intelligence and understanding of the game, as well as helping them to enjoy playing the game with more freedom and less pressure.
We will also help to develop the players as people, ensuring they can all be disciplined, play the game in a sporting manner, win and lose gracefully, be confident individuals, and finally, show respect to their team-mates, opposition, coaches and officials.
Ultimately though, the first aim is always for the players to have fun. We’re all involved with football because it is fun, so we intend to keep it that way whether the players are aged six or sixteen. Without this aim being achieved, the aims around developing players become pointless, as does taking part in playing the game in the first place.
As coaches, we are here to set up the environment for the players to have fun and to learn. We look after the health and well-being of the players as well as helping them on their journey of development. I say “help them on their journey”, because the aim is for us to give the players the knowledge so they can learn and develop themselves, through the practices and games we put on in training sessions rather than just telling them what to do because it may achieve a short-term result.
We’ll use various methods to ask questions and guide players to learn from what they’ve done or are doing, and to provoke their imagination into thinking of ways to problem-solve. Players will always be encouraged to be positive and to not be afraid of trying new or imaginative things.
As said above, training sessions will be set-up to be enjoyable and safe sessions. In line with the FA‘s coaching structure, all sessions are planned so that each part of the session works to improve/work on 4 areas – physical, psychological, technical and social.
They are also planned with a modern view of creating situations for the player to make decisions and carry out a desired technique/skill. There is still a place for them at times, but you won’t see many training drills with one player taking his turn whilst the rest wait in line. I used to find training exercises like that to be boring for most of my childhood, and they mean players spend too much time during a session stood still in a queue waiting for their turn. There are games and activities we can set up that will work on a technique, for example passing or running with the ball, sometimes without the players realising it, instead of the military-like ‘drills’ that you and I probably experienced in our childhoods that were overly repetitive.
The key thing to note about matches on a Sunday is that they are just an extension of the training session earlier in the week. It is another learning opportunity. Another environment to make decisions, experience playing in different positions and to make mistakes they can learn from.
My priorities on a match-day are as follows (starting with the most important and working down):
- Safety of the players
- Enjoyment of the players
- Sporting behaviour of the players
- Performance/development of the players
- The result
The score is of very little importance to me. Providing the team is not suffering morale-sapping 15-0 defeats where we don’t get much of the ball, or pointless, easy 15-0 wins that don’t allow the players to learn or improve, then the main focus (after the safety and social factors) is how the team plays. If points #1, #2 and #3 are all achieved, then it helps to achieve point #4. And if we’re regularly reaching point #4, and developing over the weeks/months/years, then point #5 will eventually come naturally as a result. And only if we achieve the first 4 priorities, will I see it as a positive thing to win the match.
In terms of football development, the long-term development of the player will always be prioritised over winning. You won’t hear me shouting from the touchlines telling a player what to do during a match. If I do that, what is the player learning? It may get a short-term result, maybe by helping to score a goal or win a match. But I would rather develop the player than win a single uncompetitive match at Mini-Soccer level. I may help with advising of positions on the pitch and may remind players to try and look up so that they can see their options, but there won’t be any shouting and screaming, yelling to pass or to shoot etc. When a child is sat at school in a Maths lesson, a teacher wouldn’t stand near them and shout at them “twelve, twelve, the answer is twelve.” The child would be taught to understand why and how to work out the sum, rather than just memorise an answer. This way, in future, they can apply similar logic to solve similar problems. On the football pitch, a problem might be that they are in a situation where they are 1v1 with a defender, or even outnumbered 1v2. So instead of telling them what to do, we’ll let them make their own decision. Whether they dribble, pass, shoot or keep hold of the ball, it’ll be their decision. Over time, they will learn to make more informed, better decisions as a result.
It’s their game, so we intend to let them play it.
Parents or guardians of the players, along with coaches and players, have the FA’s RESPECT code to adhere to. It is an easy thing to do to get wrapped up in the excitement of seeing children play football and allow the natural adults competitive side to take over. But we have to remember that the children play for enjoyment. They play to have fun playing the game and to play with their mates. After the game they are more likely to be talking about a tackle they made or a run they went on where they beat 3 players, rather than getting upset over a defeat.
In addition to this, we would like to ask that all parents/guardians are positive on the side-lines during games. Encouragement for the players would be fantastic, as long as it doesn’t stray into telling them exactly what to do when they’ve got the ball. I’ve used one analogy already but another good one is if the child had a hobby of playing piano. Would a parent paying for piano lessons for their child stand behind their child shouting “C, D, D flat, E sharp, E, D D” at the top of their voice telling them what to do. I would think probably not. So why do some people do it with football. Maybe it’s because some of us have an unreasonably high expectation of what the children can do. Maybe it’s that competitive nature that adults have. But remember their age. They are not adults so will not play like adults. Constantly shouting at them will be unnerving for them and may take away some of the enjoyment they have of playing if it continues over a long period of time.
I’ve spoken about allowing the players to make their own decisions and allowing them to make mistakes so that they can learn (from mistakes and from positive choices). So as parents and coaches we can praise a decision they make if it looks like they’ve made the right choice, regardless of how well the execution of it is carried out. We can praise the bravery in attempting a dribble rather than just kicking the ball up the pitch. And we can praise hard work and effort.
It is also important that parents/guardians mirror the coaches in making the enjoyment and development the main issue, rather than results. To be effective, this must apply when both winning and losing. If we lose, emphasise how much fun the child had, how enjoyable it was and how well they played. If we win, try to do the same, highlighting the way they (team and/or individual) played rather than the stand-alone fact that they won.
The coaching focus for the first couple of years of the Mini-Soccer age groups will be around ball mastery. Controlling the ball and becoming confident and adept at making the ball do what they want it to do. It is not natural for players of this young age to pass the ball around the team, so it will not be forced on them. We will introduce concepts of when they might want to try and pass the ball, or the selection of who to try and pass to, but not until a later age will we go through it in more detail. But for the first few years of Mini-Soccer, controlling the ball and dribbling with the ball to score a goal will be the main areas we will look at.
With the recent success of Spain’s national football team, and FC Barcelona of La Liga, there has been a focus in the UK of getting teams to pass the ball. Sometimes obsessively. This is understandable in a way, because of the way the Spanish teams pass the ball around and keep possession so dominantly. But the reason these Spanish players are able to keep the ball so well, is because, first and foremost, they are all so comfortable on the ball. They are happy to receive the ball in tight spaces and are happy to keep hold of it themselves (using a trick or just twisting and turning away) when an opponent comes to try and tackle them. In the UK there has always been a worrying trend to get young players to get rid of the ball, and to get it as far up the pitch as quickly as possible. This isn’t helping anyone and has partly led to the English national team being so predictable in that most of the players panic under pressure, aren’t comfortable using both feet, aren’t confident enough to retain the ball when under pressure and opponents know the player will look to get rid of the ball as soon as he is closed down.
What I want to do is develop players that are confident and able enough to keep the ball themselves if they choose to. Players that can dribble with the ball to beat players, are brave enough to try things with the ball and that don’t panic when someone comes to tackle them. I’ve read quotes from Barcelona midfielder Xavi, who says he goes out on the pitch and is desperate to touch the ball at least 100 times in every match, and feels lost if he doesn’t. Compare this to the UK where kids, and even adults, are shamefully urged to “get it forward” and “get rid of it” as soon as they get the ball.
Then, when it comes to familiarising the players with the concept that they need to work as a team to be successful (maybe at around U10), we will introduce a range of work on passing and team play, as well as further enhancing the ball control/dribbling. At this point, the players will be more equipped to make decisions when it comes to deciding whether to pass or keep the ball themselves, with a growing level of maturity to make these decisions. Obviously some players will reach the realisation that they need each other to be successful earlier than this, and others may take longer, but we will not coach out of any player, the ability or strength of running with the ball. A Brazilian player said recently before an England-Brazil fixture that England are easy to play against as they don’t have anyone who can dribble the ball. And he was right. Joe Cole could have been England’s best dribbler since Paul Gascoigne, but he had it coached out of him by successive managers and the English culture that doesn’t want to take risks to be creative. Time will tell if the FA are on the right track to improving this area of coaching, but Waltham FC will be encouraging creativity and the use of players’ own imagination.
One last area to cover is a topic that I’ve seen/heard discussed recently: fitness-related training. I can categorically state that I don’t plan on having any type of fitness training as part of any training sessions. Aside from the fact that the players are of Mini-Soccer age groups and do not need fitness drills, they are running around for an hour and a half as it is (obviously minus necessary drinks/rest breaks), so if that isn’t enough of a work out, then I don’t know what is. Secondly, players come to the club to play football. If they wanted to do loads of pointless running, their parents would take them to the local athletics club. You can get enough physical work out of a football training session using the football related games, so I don’t plan on doing any work solely on fitness even at the older age groups. Yes, we do warm-up activities (even these often include ball-work), but these will be short games using colours/numbers or tag-style games that help with the children’s agility, balance and co-ordination. Not the boring, repetitive straight line running drills you see at some clubs.
That is all. Thanks very much for taking the time to read this. And remember….
…..LET THEM PLAY.
Tom Bryan, Coach, Waltham FC