One of the most common saying's I hear within the Academy system at the moment is "Kids are not like the used to be!" Well that's because THEY AREN'T!
The amount of Cliche's that are thrown around regarding 'In my Day' astounds me. Every generation ends up saying the same thing "When I was a kid". The fact is life evolves, new species are found every day, climate is changing, life expectancy is greater than ever before and technology never stands still. There is Technology today that not even the outlandish science fiction writers could have envisaged; therefore the human race must evolve as well. So to go back to my original comment, No, children are not like they used to be and thankfully not as they would not survive in the modern day otherwise.
Young children now have access to the whole world at their finger tips, they can talk to people from almost every country, access information subjects we couldn't imagine and their reliance on social media is unprecedented. The majority also have everything, phones, games consoles and the best trainers. Even children who come from what would be perceived as low income families still seem to have all of the above. Now when adults make comments like "kids have everything these days", "they don't know what it's like to go with out" and "Everything is done for them" it is vitally important to remember the main cause of this problem? US! Children are generally products of their environment, if they have everything, that's because we give it to them, if they don't know what it's like to go without, that's because we don't allow them to, and if they have everything done for them, that's because we do it. So when we make our negative comments and criticise it is important to understand we are to blame.
When young players come into the Academy system it is naive to think that you can engage these players in the same way you did with the cohort from the previous year. The world is evolving so quickly even children within the same generation are showing differences in the way they perceive life and their surroundings. If we are really going to continue developing young players it is the Club's and Coaches that need to change, not the players. With that in mind I'm not taking about discipline or culture as these are fundamental within any industry but the way in which you instil these in your players will need to change. The old 'One size fits all' no longer has a place in education; therefore Club's and their staff need to embrace the fact that every player will have different needs and require different coaching techniques.
The new generation of players are great problem solvers, they complete computer games hours after first playing them, they can navigate their way around any technology put in front of them and they utilise YouTube and other social media outlets to watch endless hours of football footage; which they then practice over and over again. This is nothing I'm sure you don't already know; however the problems start when Coaches do not embrace this form of development and allow their players to express themselves and try new skills and techniques. There are 1000's of coaching sessions put on every day where coaches set up their practices, their session objectives are planned and they have their progressions in place. This is common practice and there needs to be a purpose to the session; now the key is, within the session there has to be the provision for decision making and the opportunity for the players to try things, get them wrong and in a lot of cases self correct. The players ability to make mistakes and use them as a learning tool is imperative when developing a Growth Mindset. This what we as coaches/teachers should be encouraging but this again comes back to the environment we create.
Modern Day Issues
More and more children are being diagnosed with various types of disorders, ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) and ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) to name a few. These children can be high functioning and to the un trained eye their condition can be easily unrecognised and undiagnosed; which can lead to lack of understanding from their Parents, Coaches, Teachers and Peers. In my time within the Academy System there have numerous Players that would sit on the Spectrum in some form, they would be unpredictable with their behaviour, their comprehension of what may seem basic tasks will be low if not zero, and they will find it very hard to engage in team and group activities without being disruptive or even withdrawn. During sessions they will seem to be completely ignoring your instructions and will often find it difficult to take on multiple tasks or rules at once. This is purely a lack of understanding or comprehension of your explanation. The importance of this subject is that children on the spectrum are highly creative and highly intelligent, if you can find a way to engage and encourage these children they are capable of achieving amazing things. You need to be really clear and concise with your instructions, ensuring you cover all basis with your teaching; explain, demonstrate and utilise various teaching methods to fully engage the child. You cannot assume that every child understands everything you say or do, there needs to be empathy to the fact that these children are all different and they need to be treated as individuals; which means you as the coach need to make the effort to really understand each player and their needs.
Too Much Too Early
With the huge salaries, boot deals and agents involved with our Academy players it's no wander they find it hard to get motivated. There are current young players who are millionaires without actually kicking a ball in a professional league, they often do not even train in a first team environment. This brings me back to my original comments about players having everything, non of the above is showing signs of stopping and again I repeat it is NOT the players fault. It is the Club's who give these players the salaries, it is the sports brands who give the endorsements and it is the agents who will force contract negotiations and potential moves (I understand that not all agents have this attitude and there are some very good agents who generally have both the players and the clubs best interested at heart).
The Challenge is for us to evolve as Coaches, can we adopt new techniques to engage players, ensure they have a good work ethic, are fully focussed on their task, and most importantly become good people who understand the importance of Honesty, Discipline, Integrity and Respect. Players like to be challenged, they like competition and they have an inherent curiosity that if nurtured will bring unbelievable results with regards to improvement. We need to embrace this new generation and understand the level of work that needs to be put in to help them develop. Our job is to make sure we provide a fully holistic learning environment for these children so no matter what their needs, there are provisions in place. This isn't easy, you as the coach will need to come out of your comfort zone to educate yourself on all the different aspects of learning and wellbeing. And Just like the players you need to recognise that you will get it wrong and it's how you learn from your mistakes that we determine how much you can influence their environment. As previously mentioned, no child is the same; therefore you need to really work to know your players, find out what makes them tick, understand what takes them out of their comfort zone, appreciate the social and cultural differences between them.
Everything comes down to the environment that you create. For players to develop and progress they need to know that they are going to be challenged without fear of failure, they need to have ownership of their development and they need to have clear boundaries in which to work. Now I understand that not all Clubs will support this methodology and that there will be coaches and other staff you work with that will not see these areas as priorities; however you need to be strong, have an identity that defines you as a coach where your beliefs and values are clear and consistent.
Remember that ALL children are capable of achieving Amazing things!
*Views are strictly my own