Podcast: Moving players up and down to aid development


In Episode Two of the Coaching Youth Football podcast, we talk to Michael Nicoll of Brentwood Youth AFC about the practice of moving players up and down within a club, and much more.

Brentwood Youth has a philosophy of ‘football for all’ and in this episode, Michael talks about a lot of the good work that is going on at the club. Moving players between teams, both up and down, is a strategy that the club used to deliver the right level of challenge for every player.

We talked about how communication and a shared vision is so important between players, parents, club and coach, and some of the strategies Brentwood use to foster that environment.

We would love you to join the conversation on the Facebook page or Twitter thread, as this podcast is by youth coaches for youth coaches, and we can all learn more by sharing thoughts, opinions and ideas.

Please follow us!

Facebook: Facebook.com/coachyouthfootball

Twitter: @YouthCoachMike

Web: CoachingYouthFootball.org

Podcast: The Relative Age Effect


In this episode of the Coaching Youth Football podcast, we talk to Richard King from the Late Birthday Project about the Relative Age Effect, and why coaches need to be aware of it when coaching youth football players.

The Relative Age Effect can be explained like this:

In this scenario, imagine today’s date is August 30th, 2019, and two players are looking for a team for next season.

The first player, Jonny, is signed to play for a U7 team.

The second player, Freddie, is selected to play in the same U7 team as Jonny.

The boys are in the same school year.

Today, Jonny is 6 years old, and his birthday is Sept 1st. So because he is 6 at the qualifying date (31 Aug) he is eligible to play for the U7’s.

Today, Freddy is also 6 years old, so he also qualifies to play for the U7’s. However, Freddie has only just turned 6, because his birthday is August 1st, so he won’t turn 7 until August 2020.

While both players are 6 on the qualification date and qualify for the U7 as a result, in real terms Jonny is nearly a whole year older than Freddie because he turns 7 a day after the qualification date.

This is called the Relative Age Affect, an in this podcast we discuss why coaches and scouts should be aware, and what they can do to guard against having a bias towards older, more developed players in each young age group.

At the end of the podcast, Richard asks a question back to you, the coach or parent of grassroots players, that I hope we will be able to discuss via our Facebook and Twitter pages.

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Where you can listen:

Spotify – https://open.spotify.com/show/1SmwxtsOZK1hjZSYkQDxW9

Radio Public – https://radiopublic.com/coaching-youth-football-6vryjj

Pocket Casts – https://pca.st/Hl33

Breaker – https://www.breaker.audio/coaching-youth-football

PLEASE like and share, as well as adding your thoughts, ideas, and experiences in the comments.

Please like, follow, share and join the conversation via:

Facebook: Coaching Youth Football

Twitter: @YouthCoachMike






Netherlands v England: Don’t abandon your philosophy because of a few mistakes.

Mistakes happen in any philosophy, they are a vital part of learning. England was a Lingard toe, spotted by a VAR decision, away from progressing to the Nations League final last night. In the end, they lost 3-1.

While the final score is disappointing, I find the way different people interpret the manner in which England conceded two goals fascinating.

I listened to Carragher, Neville and to a certain extent Redknapp after the match, and I think they absolutely nailed it between them. Gary Neville in particular impressed with his insight that “the problems are not always where they first seem to be” when talking about the Netherlands third goal, but let’s come back to that in a moment.

So I want to pick up on the Netherland’s second goal, in which Stones slips. Carragher got very animated when asked if England should be playing out from the back when things like that happen, and for good reason. Playing out from the back is a part of Southgate’s footballing philosophy. As Carragher rightly said ‘it’s not playing out from the back that cost England, it’s stupid decisions’.

At the grassroots level, and with kids, those decisions and mistakes are to be expected more often as they learn. I have lost count of the number of goals my own young team has conceded after losing the ball to a high press, but that doesn’t change my mind that keeping possession of the ball by playing through the thirds is the way to play versus kicking it long and ‘getting rid’ every time. That said, I am not against a long pass when it is right to do so.

Last season my boys were accused of being ‘a long ball team’ by an opponent which amused us no end. Think of the principles of play. Penetration. In the game in question, the opposition pressed all of their players into our half to press our goal kick. Their centre-backs were on the halfway line, and our very quick striker was licking his lips at the oppositions half of the pitch totally empty. Of course, we went longer with our passing in that scenario and got joy.

As Bob Paisley once said, “it is not about the long ball or the short ball, it’s about the right ball”. In my own environment, if we can penetrate then great. If not, then can we build it up from the back? When we lose it I don’t throw the philosophy out altogether. It makes me look at the reasons why we lose the ball, and how I can, as a coach, help the players to lose the ball less in the future.

So back to last night. In the lead up to the Netherlands second goal, Maguire played the ball out from the back and into Ross Barkley. Barkley played the ball, first touch, straight back to Maguire and then scanned to see if he could have turned. A scan before receiving would have clearly helped here. After realising he had a little more space than he had at first realised, Barkley dropped deep to receive it back off Maguire, this time turning to face forwards, and he was faced by a wall of orange and a group of England midfield statues. Gary Neville bemoaned the lack of midfield rotation, but any sort of movement would have been helpful at that point.

So Barkley, realising he could not play forwards because of the lack of movement, turned and gave the ball once more back to Maguire. Maguire was pressed, so he sensibly passed the ball sideways to Stones, and the angle of the pass, combined with Stones first touch, took him back towards Pickford’s goal with a Dutch forward breathing down his neck.

So far, not a problem. However, it was a poor decision by Stones to then try to turn back to face forwards without fully appreciating the space he had to work with, when it would have been preferable to pass back to Pickford, to move, and create space and a new angle down which he could both receive, and take a forward touch. As Stones turned back into trouble, he realised, and tried to continue his turn but slipped somewhere in the middle of that 360-degree ‘pirouette’ and the Netherlands scored, despite Pickford making a good first save.

The third goal highlighted once again the lack of movement ahead of the England defender in possession, which is, of course, vital if you want to play through the thirds. Maguire had the ball virtually on the goal-line and in the right-hand corner. His options were limited, as the Dutch forward got closer. Henderson was a statue and Barkley did not look like he wanted to receive it in that central area while marked. Kyle Walker, hugging the sideline, looked a better option, but a forward pass into a marked Ross Barkley put the Chelsea man under pressure and his first touch wasn’t accurate enough. The Netherlands scored again. With hindsight, Henderson had the space in which he could have dropped into to receive from Maguire, but he didn’t. Kyle Walker was the safer option in more space but wasn’t used. Mistakes out of possession in the lack of support for the man in possession, and poor decisions on the ball.

Back to the grassroots game, and linking the challenges England faced last night and the grassroots game.

Often when a defender in my boy’s team loses the ball while playing out from the back, it is the defender that gets the blame. It is the most obvious point of focus, but so often the lack of movement ahead of the defender is at least partly to blame. As Gary Neville said in his commentary last night, “the problem’s are not always where they first seem to be”. I ask my defenders to decide. Can you penetrate? If not, can you be composed on the ball, brave, and play out into midfield or to a full back? That’s great, but if your midfield freezes into statues while being marked like England’s last night, while an opponent starts to press our ball carrying defender, the risk of a mistake increases.

In coaching young players, I try to isolate the idea from the effort and isolate both the idea and effort from the outcome. It allows me to praise good thinking, and good effort, even if the final outcome is not what the player would have liked on this occasion. I believe that repeated good ideas and effort produce better outcomes as players develop. So as an example, if my left-back get’s his head up and sees an opportunity to switch the play, but scuffs the ball out for a throw-in, I can praise the idea. He has done well to recognise the opportunity. If he sees the opportunity and then floats a 20-yard ball towards his intended target, but it was just cut out at the last minute, I can praise the idea and the effort. If it lands to his intended target then the idea, effort and outcome are all great.

Using that model to think about last night, the idea of playing out from the back was right, in my view, but the effort both on and off the ball was not good enough. The movement off the ball in midfield was not good enough, and the decisions and execution on the ball were also, not good enough.

The idea of playing out from the back is not to blame and should not be scrapped. You can’t change the way you think about football every time you face adversity, or you will soon be rudderless, reacting like a candle in the wind.

The decision-making efforts on and off the ball need to be better, that’s all, so coach that.

Do you pay your child if they score a goal?

I wrote this after seeing a conversation on the GrassRoots Football Facebook page. I think it is a bad idea, although no doubt well-meaning, to pay a child to score a goal.


The child who is getting paid £5 a goal, or whatever the monetary value, is harder to coach. Firstly with a binary payment system such as goal = cash, and no goal = no cash, you are telling the young player that goals are the only measure worthy of reward.

Football is a team game, and some of the best individual team-first performances won’t end up with a goal, and some of the worst can yield a goal. I would take the former every week.

Whenever the kid who is getting paid-per-goal gets the ball their focus will be on scoring. The focus on team play and making good decisions for the team will likely be overshadowed by the desire to score and be paid.

I actually found out recently that a boy I have been coaching on decision-making for years was being paid and the penny dropped for me – no wonder it has been so hard to get this particular player to make good decisions. A good decision to that boy is to score and to get paid, not to play well for the team.

There are broadly three main decisions a player has to make when they receive the ball in the final third. Pass, shoot or travel with the ball. Coaching when to make which decision to young players is hard enough without loading cash on the option to shoot.

In my opinion and in my experience, I would say don’t pay for goals.



Our green and pleasant land

St Georges Park, The FA’s state-of-the-art 3G facilities

The Football Association are doing a lot of good work in grassroots football to try and improve the quality of coaches, players and facilities, and while some people will never think that their efforts are good enough I for one applaud them for trying.

A part of that FA vision was revealed two years ago by Greg Dyke. He told the world that they were to invest £230 million on 150 3G pitches, in 30 UK cities by 2020. Why? Dyke said of 3G pitches ‘Whereas grass pitches tend to be used for four to five hours a week, with matches often cancelled due to inclement weather, 3G pitches can be used for 70 to 80 hours. They also promote better technical skills at a younger age.’

Sutton United Football Club, currently towards the top of the National League, are publicly pointing to the fact that their state of the art 3G pitch has become the hub of a community, and has teams including AFC Wimbledon ladies, Sutton Common Rovers, Sutton United and many of their youth teams playing on the one excellent 3G pitch. It also hosts many hours of coaching for children associated with both Sutton United youth teams and JDFS, a soccer school who has a partnership with the club. Hundreds of kids get use out of the pitch every week. I have played on Sutton’s pitch and it is an excellent surface to play football on. The bounce is true, the surface flat, and if you can play football then you would love to play there. If it was a grass pitch you would be lucky to get two games a week out of it in the winter months.

Sutton United’s impressive 3G pitch at Gander Green Lane

Below is a recent photo of Rodney Parade, home of Football League 2 club, Newport County, who are just one division above Sutton United in League 2. This season Newport County requested and received special dispensation from the EFL not to play home games for the first three weeks of this season because their grass pitch is a mess.

Rodney Parade,  Newport, South Wales

If this is the state of a Football League club playing surface in August, you can imagine what grass roots pitches are like mid winter, so the FA are right in my view to try and increase the number of 3G pitches that are available for our children to train and play on. I have coached U7-U11 boys over the past four years, and if I had a pound for every disappointed child I have seen or heard having looked forward to playing football on a Sunday morning, only to be told that the game is off because it rained overnight, then I could put a pretty impressive deposit down on my own 3G pitch.

The Football Association, I thought, were responsible for football from grass roots right up to the England national team. If that is the case, surely the facilities from the bottom to the top should be as consistent as is feasible? Surely you shouldn’t start your football career as a six year old enjoying fantastic 3G surfaces, and then be forced to play on muddy, uneven, weather damaged ‘grass’ pitches for no good reason?

It is possible that a 6 year old child could start playing for Sutton United this year, train and play on a 3G pitch until they are 18, sign for the first team, play in the National League on a 3G pitch for years and then get promoted to the Football League who currently do not allow 3G pitches. They could spend 15 years at the bottom of the pyramid honing their skills on superior surfaces before having that taken away. So we have a situation where grassroots clubs allow 3G pitches and the FA are heavily investing in those pitches. The National League, thefifth tier of English football, allow 3G pitches and have shown the way forward with real-life successful case studies. FIFA allow international matches to be played on 3G pitches, with Scotland recently playing Lithuania on a 3G pitch, but the bit in the middle – the Football League – won’t allow it? It’s nuts, disjointed, and has to change.

We live in England. It is our green and pleasant land because it rains so much and our young players are spending less time playing football than kids in Europe because the weather makes our pitches unplayable. We bemoan that our players are falling behind other European countries, yet a huge part of the English footballing infrastructure are living under water.