When coaching football for kids, one thing we all struggle with as adults is letting our kids fail. Throughout our upbringing, we are told what to do which impacts the way we parent.
This is understandable as we all want the best for our children and sometimes this means we want to limit the risks that they take to prevent them from making mistakes.
Many parents & coaches in youth football tend to take this approach, often using the ‘command’ form of coaching to get their point across, forgetting that this football for kids.
What we have to ask ourselves is, what are the benefits of using this approach? In the Game, is this approach helpful or more of a distraction? Does this help players to transfer their skills to the actual game?
In this article, I will discuss the benefits of allowing your players to take risks and learn that behind every mistake there is a lesson.
Why Kids Should Fail A lot
Things have changed dramatically since I was a child just starting out in football. Back then, kids would often play in the streets or playing fields without adult interference.
Parents weren’t worried about there children playing in the streets until dark (often encouraging it for peace and quiet) allowing them to have lots of opportunities to play.
When playing in the streets, young players would try new things and fail often but with there being no adult interference nobody cared.
If a player made a mistake, they would brush themselves off and get on with it and try again but this time do it better then before.
For me, nothing teaches you better than experience. You could practice a skill in isolation a hundred times and actually become ok at executing it, but as soon as you throw a defender in there it causes a whole new set of problems.
This is why learning in an environment that is realistic to the game is important as it will have an element of chaos.
Young players have to learn how to solve problems within the game. This is how players learn to transfer their skills and techniques to the game because they have experienced what works in a realistic situation.
This is what football for kids should look like and this is what we should strive for.
Do This, Do That (The Drill Sargent)
We still see coaches promote the traditional method of coaching in youth football.
Well, intentioned volunteer coaches, bark their instructions to the players every week, seeking to help ensure that the young players secure a victory over the opposition.
Keen to please, the players do their best to follow instructions but trying to concentrate on the coach and the game, can be overwhelming.
Remember, what is the most important thing for all young players in the formative years? is it to win trophies or for the players to learn and have fun?
Let’s assume it’s the latter and it’s the development that is the most important thing. Using a ‘command’ approach can bring short term success but what happens to the players when you are no longer there to tell them what to do?
Allow your players the opportunity to express themselves in training and on match day. Instead of barking instructions use methods that encourage the players to problem solve and come up with solutions to overcome the situation.
As mentioned earlier, try to remember this is meant to be football for kids, not mini-adults!
Helping Kids Overcome Failure in Football!
When coaching football for kids teach your players that behind every mistake you make, there is a valuable lesson to be learned.
I think many of us (including myself) sometimes forget how much of an influence we have on young players. If they see you as a calming influence that will allow them to try new things, they take more risks.
If they always see you get on there backs whenever they attempt a dribble or play from the back then guess what, they stop doing trying to do those things and revert to ‘panic football’.
Ultimately, I believe it comes to the environment that the coach creates for their players. If the players come to training feeling they can express themselves without being singled out, then they will take more risks and not worry about failing as much.
As always, for this to really take off, parents have to be involved as we all know (despite being well-intentioned) they can steer your players away from your coaching.
How To Set an Environment For Creativity!
Now it’s all good saying that we need to do this and that to help our players be more accepting of failure, but how do set this up at our clubs?
Here are a few things that I have done in the past that have worked for me. I have found doing it in this order to be the most effective;
In the beginning, lay down the foundations of your philosophy with the player’s parents. This will ensure that they understand what you are about and how you will work with the players.
What I have found, is when you are more transparent with parents the more patience you get from them. I also, find that parents respect you more when you make it clear what you trying to do from start, as it shows you have a plan.
This can be achieved in many ways, just go with what you are most comfortable with. Here are a few things I do to get my message to the parents;
- Paper documents – at the start of the season or when a player joins your team, you will have a welcome guide prepared for the parents. It doesn’t have to be too long and I recommend you should try to do no more than a page outlining your expectations, goals & ethos and how you want them to help.
- Regular communication – most teams tend to use some form of communication app to inform parents about upcoming fixtures and training but this can also be used to educate your parents on what you want to achieve. Short messages about training and how they can help work with their kids after training are good things to include, I would also use video examples if you are comfortable with video.
- In-person talks – after training or matches you can also give the parents a debrief about your thoughts and what they can maybe help the players with in the future.
- Football homework – set football homework to players and parents so that parents have the option to support their children with the practice.
Now you don’t have to do all of them, but regularly communicating your message to the parents is something I highly recommend as it builds trust with your parents.
Use practices that encourage the players to solve problems and make decisions. They will make lots of mistakes and at times it will look messy, but it is best that we see it in this form.
The game is chaotic and we have no control over what happens once the players step onto the playing field, so training this way helps the players transfer their skills.
Our job is not to control every aspect of the session and dictate to the players what they can and can’t do, but to guide them to the correct solution.
If you focus on creating practices where the players have to solve a problem then you become the facilitator and every so often you will step in to help them come up with the solution.
Notice how I said help them not tell them, this is important as you want them to become more independent on the field so do your utmost not to always give them the answer straight away.
Try to guide them to the solution first, only if they are really struggling to solve it show them how, but if you can, let them figure it out.
Basically, when teaching football for kids set the task, let them play and step in when necessary.
Re-enforce your Philosophy!
The most important thing for me is to keep regularly reminding players and parents what you want from them and what you are trying to achieve.
You will notice the moment you ease off is when more problems start to occur, which is why I think the most important thing is consistency.
Nobody said coaching was easy and it most definitely isn’t, which is why we should do our utmost to create good relationships with the parents.
Regularly communicating your message can help with this so decide how you want to do it and get on with it.
Remember young players are like sponges and they soak up what we show them. If we create an environment for them that allows them to express themselves and gives them opportunities to reflect on their mistakes then you have won half the battle.
When you get the parents on board, then your job becomes a lot easier and you can really start to implement change in your player’s development.
Are you a football parent who wants to improve their child’s game?
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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