How To Coach Young Football Players

They say that young players are the future of football. They stand to be the foundation of the entire football community thus making them the most valuable assets who contribute to the development of the sport. Children would often begin getting the interest by playing street football in their neighborhood with their own rules. For hours, they would play just for fun. Several factors caused the diminished existence of street football. Coaches now have to be creative when it comes to recreating the same environment for the young players while incorporating the learning foundation provided by street football. Understanding the several aspects of coaching children will lead to a win-win football training experience. Research shows that children’s participation in sport or physical activities is gaining in number as time goes by. In line with the increasing number of young players joining football activities, it is the coach’s responsibility to adjust to a young player’s nature and be an effective trainer.

Understanding Children’s Characteristics

Consider the Youth Sport Values

The research conducted by Martin J. Lee, Jean Whitehead, and Nick Balchin (The measurement of values in youth sport: Development of the Youth Sport Values Questionnaire) revealed the order of mean value rankings that formed the value system. Enjoyment has the highest priority while winning was given the least importance.    

It’s all about FUN!

Small-sided games are best used when making a football session fun and exciting. Statistics shows that in small-sided games, each player:
  • receives the ball more often
  • is always trying to score a goal
  • has the freedom to play
  • is always encouraged by the coach-educator
  • is supported by his/her parents and coach-educators

Besides enjoyment, players will also learn the following:

  1. Individual technical development
  2. Tactical development
  3. Easier decision-making
  4. More opportunity to solve problems that only the game presents
  5. More exposure to attacking and defending situations
  Children are also more involved in the attacking and defensive movements, and in this way they are more often exposed to a wide range of football situations. They enjoy themselves and learn more.

What Fundamental Tools to Keep

Here are the two main tools every coach should possess when handling youth football players:   Besides the qualities above, coaches are still expected to maintain the top 10 qualities of a football coach:    

Tips for Managing Behaviour

Coaching elite athletes is not the same as coaching recreational youth athletes. It is important to approach them appropriately.

Be patient and keep smiling.

Keeping a positive behavior will be reflected through the training environment. Practices should be structured and prepped ahead of time so there are no surprises. Coaches who lack structure will see an increase in behavioral problems as children will continuously test to see what they can get away with. It is also important to pay attention to the tone in which children are addressed. For those who spend a lot of energy yelling, you may be doing your athletes a disfavor and potentially could have harmful effects including low self-esteem and increased anxiety.

Be enthusiastic

Take the time to identify the strengths of each child and play on those. Most feel the pressure from other environments as well as the pressure they put on themselves, therefore spending all your time focusing on weaknesses can be counterproductive. Use rewards, praise and acknowledgment to reinforce desired behaviours. Not only will children be focused on the task, but it's a great opportunity to build self-confidence.

Pay attention

You can learn a lot about a child by observation alone. If a child seems withdrawn or unmotivated it could be depression, difficulty in school or at home. Another child could present with narcissism such as glorifying abilities, bullying other kids and talking highly of them self. In this case the child is often insecure, feeling the pressure to succeed or facing constant criticism from parents and coaches. In any case where the child seems to be having difficulty, don’t hesitate to address the young athlete as well as the parents if necessary with your concern. Children also want and need to be heard. If you aren’t taking the time to listen and understand, don’t expect the child to reciprocate.

Praise as much as possible.

Children want attention whether it’s negative or positive. If a child has learned to get attention through negative behaviors expect them to continue on the athletic field. Observe what the child does well and reinforce with praise. It’s not always possible to ignore behaviors when they impact the rest of the team. Address the child and use it as a coaching moment such as “I notice you are easily distracted today, what do you think might help you right now?” However, there will be times when the child needs to go have a seat and watch practice if the behavior is harmful to the players. Coaches must protect their young athletes both emotionally and physically. By setting the tone it sends a message to the rest of the team that you will protect them.

More activity, less misbehaviour

Keep the players moving so they will be too busy participating to misbehave. Make sure to debrief with athlete and have them work through the problem. Remember you are not only coaching a sport, but teaching everyday life skills. It is important to have an understanding of what the child is experiencing and the problem often originated from school or home and was carried out in a practice or game.  


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