For me, one of the most important times for a new coach is the beginning of a new season. whether you are new or have previous experience in coaching a youth football team, a decision must be made on how you want to approach the new season and what needs to be put in place from the beginning.
I see many coaches who decide to take on a new youth football team, throw themselves into it with great intentions and enthusiasm for the game only to wish they never started 6 months down the line.
This is because children are very unpredictable and need to have some form of boundaries and direction put in place from the start or you could risk losing the respect of the players and parents.
There is an old saying “prepare to plan or prepare to fail” and it couldn’t be truer in youth football.
What you will find in this article is a blueprint to how you can lay the foundations from the beginning of the season, giving you the best possible start.
Decide Your Youth Football Team Philosophy!
If you are going to coach a youth football team then you will need to have a coaching philosophy, a certain way of doing things.
The players need to be aware of your vision, values and understand that this team is not like other sides.
Every Member of the team including any other coaching staff have to be onboard with the club philosophy. If anybody happens to not follow through with the philosophy then it could risk derailing all the work that was initially put in.
The player’s development is the most important thing, and everyone associated with the club needs to understand that yes we want our players to win, but this should never come at the cost of their development.
‘Winning with a certain style’ is the motto and every player should understand this clearly.
The main aim is to produce skilful, creative and innovative players in order for this to happen you will need coaches who are innovative enough to produce those players.
How Do You want to Play!
Every coach has a different view on how the game should be played but at youth level, I believe we all should work towards a style of play that embraces skill and encourages players to have individualism on the ball.
They should also be encouraged to make good decisions in the game. Too often I see coaches try to restrict their players with conditions that limit their options too much. So much that the practice becomes unrealistic and the player learns unwanted habits from it.
Instead of creating natural players we end up with ‘robots’ who can only play one way and are not ‘multi-functional’ like many players we see in other countries. We want our players to have the ability to switch their style when needed and for this to happen our players need to have high levels skill to give them more options later in their playing career.
Creating will allow our players to play in any style whether it’s direct, counter-attacking or possession based they will have the attributes to adapt.
Whichever style of play you decide to adopt never forget that game understanding and skill should be at the core of the methodology. To play football at the highest level you need to have these important attributes.
Having physically strong and quick players who are inept with the ball will only take you so far. Always first develop the foundations (can play with both feet, skill, game understanding etc) and your style of play will be a lot easier to achieve.
Create Your Football Curriculum!
In order to have success with coaching young players, you have to think long-term and plan ahead. What are you planning to achieve? What will you focus on in each phase of the season?
I keep it quite simple when it comes to planning my season for my youth football players by breaking it into four parts; Pre-season, competitive phase 1, competitive phase 2 and Transition phase.
With this in mind, I can plan my sessions for each phase working on a certain topic for 3 – 4 weeks i.e dribbling, running with the ball etc.
You cannot put together a meaningful and progressive coaching session without having in mind how you want to play the game.
Need to learn more about how you can build your session plans? checkout this post.
Explain Your Philosophy to The Parents!
Another important area that is often neglected by coaches is the relationship we have with parents. Regular communication is important, and the parents should be informed of your plan’s for the season.
How can you expect them to support you if they don’t understand what you are trying to achieve? The best coaches and youth development sides tend to have a good relationship with parents. Parents are regularly informed about what their child is learning and what the goal is for the season.
The parents should feel involved in their child’s learning and also given the opportunity to make an impact on it.
Too often the parents have pushed aside and not utilized enough. I encourage you to take a different approach and take time to educate the parents as well as the players. Tell them about your philosophy and share with them your development plan for the year.
Address Your Expectations!
Once you have an idea of your philosophy and how you want to play the game it is time address the players and let them know what your expectations are.
Young players need to know from the start what is expected from such as how you expect them to behave, showing respect to themselves and others etc. Your values and beliefs should be clear so there are grey areas when it comes to enforcing them.
Before the start of the season, I like my players and parents to sign a document which includes a written statement about the team’s values, expectations, and philosophy. This will show everyone involved what you stand for and how you expect them to represent the team.
Implement Your Style of Play!
By now, you should have a clear idea of how you want to play the game and prepared a season plan to achieve your desired style of play. It is now time to share it with the players and begin preparing your them to deliver your playing style.
If you have carefully thought out your season plan, then the session planning should become a lot easier to create.
Each phase of the session plan should not be neglected, and should all contain an element of realism throughout. It Should be gradually progressive throughout and always linking from the previous session to further embed the topic.
No matter how many players and parents may ask you to change things stick to your beliefs. Even when you are suffering defeats as long as your players are still trying to deliver your style of play and following the club philosophy there is no need for drastic change.
Remember it is their development that is the most important thing, not the result. If the players are showing appropriate development then the results will eventually come and if you are regularly communicating with the parents on what you are trying to achieve then they will be patient with you especially if they can see improvements themselves.
Don’t let the results influence what you coach every training session. The match is an assessment of all the work you have been doing in training and it’s an opportunity to see who can implement it in a real match situation.
Simple tweaks can be made from your match assessment in training but always persevere with your plan.
Always Re-enforce What Was Previously Taught!
At every training session, I always try to make reference the previous one to further embed the topic. The more your players are put into situations that bring out your topic the more it becomes a habit for them to execute it.
I want to create natural players who can think for themselves in real match situations. E.g in my previous session I did dribbling with both feet so, in the warm-up, I made sure that the players each had a ball and were recapping some the points from the previous session. Gradually progressing to the new topic but still occasionally referencing to the previous one throughout the session.
We want our players to develop good habits. Too often I see players who have developed bad habits such as not scanning before they receive or never playing on the half turn to see both ways when they are aged 13 or above.
The fundamentals need to be re-enforced from the beginning so that the foundations are laid when they older. This will allow your youth football team to learn more complex skills and tactics a lot quicker because of the good base they have to start from.
Finally, after each session set your player’s football homework to complement the training session you have just delivered.
Having your players do homework will help further re-enforce your topic for the week. It also gives you an opportunity to work with your parents and get them to ensure that their child is doing the football homework if they are willing to participate.
Football homework can be an excellent tool to utilize with your players. They won’t do it all the time but the ones that do will improve quicker which will only benefit the team. You can even make it competitive and set them challenges to encourage them to complete the task. E.g how many ball juggles can you do with your weaker foot or how many times can you perform a certain trick in a minute.
The start of a new youth football team is an important phase that should be given careful planning with clear goals and objectives for the team.
The best development sides always have a good base to start from which sets the tone for the rest of the season. It allows the process to run more smoothly and it also gives you a plan of action if things don’t.
Kurtis is the Head coach at ‘Let’s Play The Game ’ and has over 15 years of coaching experience. He is also a head coach at a junior school and club level. Kurtis has experience in training and mentoring grassroots coaches in the West Midlands area. He holds a Diploma of Higher Education in Sports Coaching, FA Level 2 Badge Holder and is currently doing the FA youth module level 3. He has the Premier Skills Coach Education Award.