The following session comes from Kurtis Pottinger. Kurtis is the Director of Coaching at coaching company Lets Play The Game Ltd.
One of the biggest challenges for youth football is to create the right learning environment that will help develop their player’s. The football environment should be interesting and challenging, to help encourage active involvement from the players.
These days, young players have many distractions in their life such as television, video games and the internet which leave very little time for physical activities which use their imagination and creativity. With this in mind, coaches now have to carefully plan how to stimulate the players and give them more ownership over their learning.
To create innovative player’s in youth football, we need environments that allow them to be innovative. This is very difficult to achieve if you are using traditional methods of coaching, that include children standing in lines and the coach continually giving instructions on when, where and how to perform their skills.
Here are some suggestions on how we can accelerate the player’s learning in youth football.
Don’t Just Show Me, Involve Me!
Instead of creating plans which focus on how to execute football skills, A coach should develop a more holistic approach that looks at all areas of the game. We want to encourage players to think about what they need do in every situation and too many drills will stop them from doing this.
For any child to learn, they must be actively involved in their own development. In the first eighteen months or so of a child’s life, they learn how to crawl, walk and even talk without being told how by their parents. A child learn’s everything they need to know from the environment created for them, by being allowed to try new things and figure out what helps them develop. The parent is there to occasionally guide them to the solution but they rarely instruct a child how to crawl, walk and talk.
This is the role of the coach in the youth football, to help guide them to the correct decision. A coach is unable to achieve this without the active involvement of the player, therefore must use various methods which encourage the player to reflect, ask questions, create new moves, find a solution and master it. The overall aim for the coach is to develop players that don’t need to rely on their frequent instruction. A coach should aspire to develop independent players who once they enter the football field, are able to show expression, creativity and good decision-making without major input from the coach.
Take a Step Back!
Sometimes it is best to let the players tell you what they need to improve. As mentioned before, we want our youth football players to think for themselves because this is how they learn best.
Not enough coaches stimulate the mental side of the player within their session. Traditional methods hinder a player's ability to create and invent new solutions and many coaches use this method of coaching because they are afraid of losing control to the players. With careful planning, the coach can create football scenarios where the players have to find solutions to solve a problem. The coach still has an element of control because there is a condition in the practice which the players have no choice but to confront it. The players also have ownership in the practice because they have to come up with the answers and if they ever struggle the coach will step in and help the players overcome the problem.
Encourage Good Habits!
At grassroots level, we often have young players in the rawest form. This usually means we get player's who have either not played a lot of competitive football or have received inadequate coaching methods from a previous coach. If a player has picked up a lot of bad habits, then it is our job to ensure they learn a lot more good habits.
A coach must first recognise the incorrect habit and then help the player to react differently in a game scenario. You must not solve the problem for them, encourage the player to learn the correct way by asking open-ended questions that require a thoughtful response from the player.
When the player has addressed the correct response, the coach should then allow the player to confront the problem repeatedly to help maximise their learning. This can only be achieved if the coach has created an environment that includes realistic scenario's where the player has to solve the same problem on regular basis. Only then will player start transferring the information he/she has learnt to long-term memory.
Take Logical Steps!
When you first learn to swim, you are not thrown straight into the deep end of the pool. The swimming instructor would first place you in the shallow end and progressively take you through all the steps until you learn all the important skills that will help you swim in much deeper waters.
This is no different when you are teaching young players how to play football. A session plan should have logical steps that connect to each other, this helps the player understand how, where, when and why they should use what they have just learnt. A session which contains random elements of the game will only hinder their development, which is why we should guide them through the process by having a continuing theme throughout.
Our football curriculum should also include a series of linked sessions that logically follow what was previously taught. You should aim to coach a topic for around 3-4 sessions and gradually progress each session to ensure the players learn a slightly different scenario of that topic. Only move on to something different when you are confident that the players are ready to learn something new.