From a coaching perspective, I look at a match-day as a way of gauging how much the players have learnt in training. If football was school, I would think of training as the day-to-day work the boys engage in and think of the match as a test.
As already mentioned in Part 3: From Parent to coach. Your playing philosophy I am more interested in improving the players for the long term than winning the match today, although winning is also very nice of course. The fact is that if you do the former, the latter tends to happen anyway.
If we were working on support play in training on a Wednesday and Saturday, and I see good examples of improved support play on a Sunday in the match, then I am a happy coach. At the end of the day if the training doesn’t transfer to a match then it was ineffective and I need to look at my session and see what I can improve.
So on a match day it is all about planning, organisation and a familiar process for the players and as mentioned in previous editions of this blog series, the parents are absolutely vital to your match-day plans.
If you are at home, the first part of the match-day organisation usually takes place on the previous Monday and it entails making sure you have contacted your opponent in plenty of time, and given them crystal clear directions, timings, parking situation and any other information that they may need to travel to your ground. If they are late on the day because they couldn’t find the ground, then it throws your own preparations into turmoil, so it is always best to ‘go the extra mile’ and make sure you provide a full address (with post code), a map link and any other information that may make their arrival easier.
This communication with your opposition is also a good opportunity to outline the expectations your club has regarding the behavior of visiting players, coaches and parents. I always include a paragraph that reads ‘We support the Football Association ‘Respect’ campaign and strive to provide a safe and positive environment for all young players to enjoy football, and develop free from criticism or abuse. I would be grateful if you could ask your spectators to watch the match from behind the FA Respect barrier, which will be set up along the length of one touchline. The other touchline is kept free for players and coaches.’
Once you are confident that you have communicated clearly with the opposition, it is of course equally important that you do the same for your own parents and players! I use a fantastic app called TeamSnap, which allows me to update the match or training information only once, and the app then emails all parents. It also has an availability checker, which allows the parents to reply yes, no or maybe and you have one central dashboard to review at any given time.
If you have a referee (my assistant referees our home games) then it essential that they are also given crystal clear directions and kick off information of course.
Before match day I think it is important to plan which players will play in which position, and at what times you will be making substitutes, and who will be replacing who, so you can ensure that every player gets equal game time. If you turn up and try to make substitutions off the cuff, you might not get the timings right and some players might get less time than you had hoped as a result. Every week I rotate the positions that the players play in so they get lots of experience of becoming players who can play what used to be called ‘total football’. They will all experience the game in defense, midfield and attack.
I have 11 players in my 7-a-side squad currently, and I split my timings as follows. Home games are 60 minutes, split either as 2 x 30-minute halves or 4 x 15-minute quarters, depending on the preference of our opponent that week.
The Goalkeeper – the only specialised position, and always plays a full game in goal.
10 outfield players – two players get a full game each week (The two players are different each week to give equal playing time to all players over the season).
That leaves four outfield players that play half a game, and swap every quarter with the four substitutes.
I have a spreadsheet that I use to record details of who plays in what position each week, and who had the full games, so I can rotate fairly to give everyone an equal chance.
Incidentally, on a Monday or Tuesday before the match I send out a note to the boys explaining what we are practicing in training that week using a coach/athlete app called Edufii. This allows me to ask questions, and get them thinking about the key coaching points before the even arrive at training on a Wednesday, thus saving the time I need to spend explaining and increasing the time the ball is rolling.
Back to match-day. I ask players and parents to arrive 45 minutes before kick-off, which gives my assistant and I ample time to talk to the players about that weeks learning focus, and give them a mini-training session focuses on ball control, passing and shooting drills and this time also doubles as a warm up for the match ahead. It’s another way of getting a little more practice-per-week into the players.
So if we were at home and had a 10am kick-off, my assistant and I would arrive at 8.45am to set up the goals, put up the respect line and FA Respect signs, and set up the training session/warm up so that when the boys arrive at 9.15am we are ready to welcome them and dedicate our full attention to preparing them for the game ahead.
A Rondo warm up is our usual starting point, where one defender goes in the middle and the other players try to pass the ball between themselves as many times as possible before the defender touches the ball. The defender is encouraged to work hard to press the ball constantly, and is replaced every minute or so with a new defender. We keep score and I think the record number of passes this season is 33. The score keeps the boys more focused on the task. They are coached to play passes with quality, and then try to make the ball move as quickly as possible but without adversely affecting the quality of pass. (We call that the two Q’s – Quality, and then Quicker).
We then have a running with the ball session, that focuses on controlling the ball with the outside of each foot, then the inside of each foot, then the bottom of each foot, then a mixture of all three and then finally free-style, which involves asking the boys to be creative and practice their own preferred skills and tricks. While this is going on either my assistant or I will warm up our goalkeeper, who incidentally is the only player in the squad with a fixed position.
We then use the Coerver coaching ball mastery skills to get the feet moving quickly. Another great app from Coerver can be found on the app store, which gives you the first 20 or 30 video demonstrations of their ball master skills free of charge.
The boys then dribble with a ball each until we call their name, at which point the drive out of the square towards goal and take a shot at the goalkeeper.
All this takes us up to about 10 minutes before kick-off, at which point we call the boys in to ask them questions about what we have learnt in the preceding weeks training, and to let them know that my assistant and I will be looking out for good examples of that learning focus in the match. I make sure that every player knows where they are playing, and that they understand the basic role required in that position. (Sometimes I do this separately during the warm up by calling defenders together, midfielders together, forwards together into small groups) as it is easy to keep the attention of smaller groups than one whole group at the younger age groups.
At some point during this period the opposition team would have arrived and I always make a point to go to their coach, shake hands and give them a warm welcome them to the club, while checking if they want to play 4 x 15’s or 2×30’s.
We then have a final 5-minute warm up in pairs, passing the ball to one another using alternate feet, so left foot, then right foot. They are asked once again to use the two Q’s to start with quality and then play quicker.
One final word with the group asks them questions such as ‘what do we do if we lose the ball? (Answer: Defend quickly). What do we do when we win the ball? (Answer: Attack quickly). What does the nearest defender do the moment we lose the ball? (Answer: Press the ball quickly). What does the 2nd defender do at that point? (Answer: Cover the first defender). Etc.
These answers are now ingrained and the boys know the answers off by heart. I then get them to huddle and ask them if they are going to try their best today? (They always shout YES in unison). I SAY I CAN’T HEAR YOU? (THEY SCREAM YES!!!). Nothing left for me to do at this point other than to wish them well and tell them to enjoy themselves, and off they go to play.
I then look at general play, but specifically at the learning focus from that week to see if there is any improvement. I make notes of anything, good or bad, that attracts my attention. Instead of shouting out and breaking concentration mid-game, I will either decide to bring it up at half-time, or maybe keep it in mind when designing future training sessions.
My assistant manager referees our home games, so I ask him to let me know when 15 minutes have passed, so I can make the planned changes. If we had a different referee I would of course time it, but I prefer to have as little to do as possible on the touchline so I can focus on the game.
At the end of the game we line up on the half way line to shake hands with the opposition, win, lose or draw, and sing ‘three cheers for x team, hip, hip, hooray!’ as well. We shake hands with the opposition coach, thank them for the game, and then have a mini-debrief with the players. That debrief asks them questions about what they think went well, and what could be improved, plus it gives my assistant and I a chance to point out any positive things we saw with regards to their development.
Some key things that we definitely DO NOT do are:
Argue with the referee, opposing coaches or players. It sets a bad example to the kids, and as this is about future development and not winning the world cup final if a few decisions go against us it is not the end of the world.
Shout instructions while the ball is in play. As I covered in a previous edition of this series of blog posts, I believe that in order for players to grow up making good decisions they have to be left to make their own decisions during a match. England has struggled to develop truly creative players for decades, with a few notable exceptions in part because the old school coaching was command style and rigid, so as nation we developed functional players. We have a culture in England to shout and scream at kids playing football, which is strictly prohibited in our team for the reasons stated. I may shout out a few pointers when the ball is out of play, but I prefer to let them play to see what they understand and what decisions they are capable of today. When I do shout anything, I am careful to control my tone of voice so it sounds positive and non-confrontational.
Encroach onto the pitch. I have seen several coaches’ edge further and further onto the pitch shouting to their players, and while the game is in play. A few of them were so far on that I was sure they wanted to play left-back! I think you should stand back. It annoys the hell out of me when coaches stand on the pitch, and it is clearly against the rules, so please don’t be ‘that guy’.
Thanks for reading, and while I enjoy writing, blogging can feel a little like talking to yourself at times, so if you found anything useful or have an opinion on anything within these pages please do reply and join the conversation.
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All five in the series can be found here: