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.


Session planning template ideas

I have always strived to try and find the perfect template to help me plan a coaching session. When undertaking the FA Level 2 or FA Youth Award courses, the session plans are very detailed which is great, but as a volunteer coach with a demanding full-time job I feel that I need to balance the thirst for detail with a simpler, quicker template to design and plan.

My latest ideas on this are below. They incorporate a lot of the three/four-point checklists that I have learned over the years and aim to help me ensure my sessions are well planned, deliver what the players need yet are simple enough to allow me to fit them into a busy working week. Let me know if you have any comments, good or bad, and how you would improve on this?

Firstly, to introduce the checklists I will use:

What, why, when and how?
Before, during and after.
Constant, Variable and random.
Repetition, Relevant and realistic?

I try to deal with the what, why, when and how to make sure the players understand the context. What we are practicing, why that is important, when you would use the skill in a game and how you correctly execute that skill (the coaching points.)

I use an app called Edufii (edufii.com) and will send a short video message to the players on the Monday before training on a Wednesday to outline the what, why, when and how and sometimes the key coaching points to help them all get on the same page before training starts. When coaching younger age groups, and assuming you can get the support of the parents, this is a very helpful way of dripping some information into each player one-on-one, when they are not distracted by the balls and their team-mates at training.


So if I was planning a session on turning that might look like this:

What? Turning to play forwards.

Why? To enable you to play forwards more quickly.

When? You are receiving the ball.

How? This is when the coaching detail comes in and when I switch to a before, during, after model. Before is what you need to think about or do before you receive the ball. During deals with the actual turn and after what you do once you have successfully executed the turn. So that might look like this:

Before (you receive the ball):

> Scan behind you – where is the space?
> Consider – Move towards the ball to make space to receive?
> Body shape – open or closed?
> How many touches do you need: One, two, more?


Weight of touch?
Direction of touch?
First touch should make your second touch easy.


Decide – pass, shoot or travel with the ball?

So I now know what we are doing, why we are doing it, when it would be done in a game and how that skill should be executed. It is now time to allocate the way I will run the time I have for this session. I have 1 hour and 15 minutes on a Wednesday and I plan that time as follows:

1.Warm-up / arrival game (with a turning focus) – 10 mins
2.Turning game one – (variable) (20)
4.Turning game two – (variable, progressing to random) – 20 mins
6.SSG (15)

(Drinks/ social breaks interspersed adding up to 10 minutes)

Once I have planned the session, I then look at my session check list to see if anything needs to be amended or improved. That session check list looks like this:

Is there enough Repetition of the learning focus?

Is it Relevant to the players?

Is it Realistic to what they will experience in a game?

Is there an element of competition to motivate the players?

Is there an element of decision-making?

Is it simple to understand and fun to play?

Please do comment, wither on the blog of the Facebook page here – https://www.facebook.com/coachyouthfootball/

Professionalism in football (or cheating as it used to be called)


One of the proudest moments of coaching my sons football team was after he scored a screamer, and then told the referee that he handled it in order to get it under control. Pride was bursting out of me, and my enthusiastic approval of that moment sparked a behaviour that sees my U’9s regularly offer the referee help in coming to a decision against our team. Honesty, integrity. Some might say old fashioned values, but they are values I want my own kids to grow up with and values I try to display in my own life. One opposing manager said to me ‘have you got the nicest bunch of lads in the world playing for you, or what?”. I am sure he was semi-mocking our ‘niceness’ but I was proud.

I am a Liverpool fan, and I was disgusted yesterday as my team won all three points at Crystal Palace thanks to Benteke cheating. Lets not dress it up as ‘doing the professional thing’ its cheating. I have watched and re-watched and I still can’t even see the minimal contact that apparently ‘definitely’ happened. This is not rose-tinted glasses, I am a Liverpool fan!

On the same weekend, I saw Michael Owen, a great player from Liverpool’s past interview the Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino on BT Sport. That is Michael Owen, who lets remember went over like an old lady on an icy morning when playing for England versus Argentina in the 2012 world cup. Pochettino was the player who stuck out a leg, and Michael didn’t need a second invitation. There was no contact that day either, none. Michael Owen cheated. England were awarded the penalty which David Beckham converted. Some blame Pochettino for being naive in sticking out a leg, Some say Michael Owen was being professional. Too few, in my opinion, call it cheating.

In this interview on BT Sport this weekend Pochettino called Michael Owen ‘clever’ for cheating and Owen seemed to admit that there was no contact in his laughing and mannerisms. CLEVER!? If this is what we are teaching our kids then we can’t complain when ‘the youth of today’ appear to lack a moral compass.

I saw a tweet from @whitehouseaddress today that said ‘Deceit is fundamental to football. The high “morality” of the English is holding the nation back from succeeding’ and to be honest, it made me angry and sad in equal measure. It seems to say that if they are all at it, we should do it as well. If you can’t beat them, join them. With morality and ethics the things we are willing to leave as we cross the white line in order to win at all costs.

What sort of message does that send our young about life? If you can’t win by fair means win by foul? The problem is that football has allowed the cheats to prosper for far too long, and now cheating has the new, more socially acceptable title of professionalism. It needs FIFA to stamp it out. Don’t bemoan the English and their morality – that is the easy way out.

Would you teach your kids to cheat in school? “Don’t bother working hard to earn an education son, just copy everything off the bright kid, yeah?” What about when they leave school? “Don’t work hard for a living son, just become a benefit cheat, or a thief, everyone else is at it so why not?” Cheating is cheating. When is it OK to cheat?

Stamp out the cheats, one red card and one big fine at a time, and then little by little we can get back a game that we can be proud of … and please, stop calling players who simulate a foul professional. Call them a cheat, because that is what they are.

I will no doubt be accused of being naive, and told that I don’t understand how football works. I do understand how I think life should work however, and as football has such a huge influence on our kids, we need to be careful what lessons football teaches them.



‘Somebody could be killed’ at a youth football match

Graham Elkins, the chairman of the Surrey Youth League, caused a media storm recently when he claimed that some of the parents at youth football matches in the UK are behaving in such a violent and threatening manner that ‘Somebody could be killed’.

What a ridiculous statement. At a kids football match? Killed? Tragically, the ridiculousness is not in the statement itself, but in the fact that this has a very real chance of happening.

It has already happened in the Netherlands, when U17 footballers kicked a linesman to death. Insane.

Last year, The Standard in London reported that a man who should have been old enough to know better beat up an U9’s football coach because the coach dared to ask the man not to tell his son to hurt other players – The coach, a volunteer, who was trying to help young players improve was left with two black eyes and a broken nose. 

You hear justifying statements such as ‘its a mans game’ or ‘you have to toughen them up’ or ‘its a passionate game’ but these are flimsy excuses for parents who, in the words of Ray Winston in the FA’s respect video, “need to take a long, hard look at themselves” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ezZ2ZRfSsLY

Its a sad state of affairs, but something drastic has to be done because as in so many areas of life, the minority are ruining it for the majority. Its the kids who are losing out, and that is a crying shame.

Just this weekend I heard a little 8 year old boy say, through sobbing tears, “My dad keeps shouting at me and I don’t like it”. Something has to stop, now.

Some parents seem to be living in the old days where a football manager would shout and swear and scare players into a performance, but at the top level now that manager is rare. Ferguson and his ‘hairdryer’ are a thing of the past in the main. Players have the power now and my understanding is that managers have to be more ‘carrot’ and less ‘stick’ in todays elite world.

So why do we subject our babies to this treatment, if England internationals are not expected to put up with it?

I have my own ideas on what should happen to stamp out this horrendous behavior, but I am very keen to hear from others what they would do to stop it if they were at the FA now?

Please take time to comment.


Here is an article in the Telegraph, that quotes Me Elkins of the Surrey FA: