Part Two: From parent to coach. Creating a great learning environment.

I would suggest that the most logical place to start when getting involved with coaching youth football is to carefully plan what you want the learning environment to look and feel like. Everything you do from day one will take place inside the framework of the learning environment you create, so it is important to spend some time getting this straight before you hold your first training session if you can. To follow are a list of the attributes that I believe make a good learning environment, with the reasons why I believe them to be important, and some examples of them in action.

Make it fun

This is the most important part of any coaching or playing environment for young kids, because if players stop enjoying it then they are far more likely to drop out sooner or later. Also, one of the key ingredients in improving skills is repetition, and if you can turn your coaching sessions from being drills based, to being filled with fun games, you are more likely to encourage the kids to repeat the desired skills more often. There will be more on coaching using fun games in a future blog post.

Always be positive

I believe that kids learn better in an environment where a coach offers positive encouragement for effort, even if that effort doesn’t yield the desires results right away than they do from having their mistakes highlighted and talked through at length. No player has ever mastered a new skill without making mistakes along the way, and so it is important to accept mistakes as a natural and inevitable part of the learning process. What gets recognized gets repeated as they say, and by offering lots of praise when the player does something right, rather than criticising mistakes, you will help to create an environment in which your players feel empowered to try new things.

This might sound like an obvious thing to say, but I have lost count of the number of coaches I have seen shouting criticisms from the sidelines, and to kids as young as six. The kids who are the target of a frustrated coach rarely improve by being publicly scolded for making a mistake, and are more likely to retreat into their shell and not try anything new in future.

As an example, I had a player that having received the ball would 99 times out of 100 run with the ball. I didn’t want to tell him that he had to pass, as I want my players to be confident to make their own decisions and become creative thinkers, and so I empower them to make their own decisions. That said, if the player is running with the ball all time, he is obviously missing good passing opportunities along the way. So, rather than tell him that he has to pass, or getting frustrated with him during games for being selfish, I waited for my opportunity during training. One day I was delivering a coaching session, and during a 5v5 match the player in question passed the ball, which set up a goal-scoring opportunity. I lavished the player with enthusiastic praise and his face lit up, and he started to look for more opportunities to pass the ball from that point onwards.

Had I shouted ‘pass’ every time he got the ball during a match, in the short-term I may have changed his behavior, but it would not have been much fun for him and most importantly, he would not be making his own decisions. I have since had the opportunity to try this out with another player, and it worked for a second time as well, so I am very confident in this method of modifying behaviour.

I strongly believe that in order to develop creative players, something that England have been pretty dire at over the past few decades, you need to give players the freedom to make their own decisions. Of course during training you teach them how to make better decisions over time, but during the game I don’t shout instructions while the ball is rolling. Occasionally I might call out with some questions to that help to lead them to the desired solution while there is a break in play, but never while the ball is rolling. Rene Muelensteen put it simply while he was in charge of youth development at Manchester United when he said “footballers cannot learn how to make their own decisions if they are used to receiving instruction from the touchline.” In an interview with the daily Telegraph , Muelensteen said that at the Manchester United academy, parents are asked to sign a contract that says they will not shout out during coaching sessions, and that the Manchester United coaches do not shout instructions while the ball is rolling. We will touch on parent rules and relations more a little later. Is it any wonder that when you compare England teams with other countries, our players are often like ‘robots’ in as much as they are functional and rarely creative. The fact that I have to hark back to players like Hoddle and Gascoigne to remember truly creative England players is a concern for English football, and it all starts with rigid coaching at the younger ages in my opinion.

Challenging

It is important when delivering a coaching session that you have the ability to keep every player challenged on an individual level, and not just set the difficulty for the session at a group level. Players improve faster when they are playing at the limit of their ability, but every player in your squad will likely be at a different level, so your sessions must be flexible enough to allow you to increase and reduce the level of challenge for players who are forging ahead or lagging behind.

If for example your session was planned to work on decision-making and you wanted the players to practice looking for passing opportunities rather than running with the ball, then you might decide to play a 5v5 match in which the players were not allowed to take more than three touches, thus forcing the player to look up and find a pass. Once you have set the three-touch condition at the group level, you still have the option in this example to increase or decrease the difficulty for each individual by increasing or reducing the number of touches each individual is allowed. So a player who was finding the session too easy could be challenged to take only two touches, and a player who was struggling might be allowed four touches for example.

While I believe that you always want your young players to experience successful repetitions of the learning focus during training, I think it is also true that if the success is too easily achieved it becomes boring and little or no learning takes place. In this instance it is important that the coach recognises this and steps in to increase the difficulty for the player who is finding the session too easy.

Inquisitive

On the FA Coaching courses you learn about the different coaching styles. The old school coach of England’s yesteryear would often rely almost exclusively on the ‘Command’ style, in which the coach talks and the player must listen. Research has show however that learning can take place on a deeper level if the player feels that they have found the solution themselves, so while the command style certainly has its place I naturally tend to opt for the questioning style, which forces the player to think about the answer for themselves. Research shows that if you can lead a player to find the answer for themselves, then the learning will be on a deeper, more permanent level for the player.

So for example, lets say you were coaching your team to provide support to the player on the ball through width and depth as soon as your team regains possession. You might have set up a small-sided game, lets say 4v4, and let the play develop until you see an opportunity to step in and coach the learning focus of the session.

I had this very situation last year, where a defender received the ball, got their head up to assess their options and realised that they had no passing option because the two players ahead of the ball were too narrow and the passing lines were blocked.

The coach using the command style may have shouted to the two players ahead of the ball “width and depth remember” and let the game continue. In my opinion, instructions to young kids that are given while the ball is in play go in one ear and out of the other more often than not. So using the questioning style I stopped the game and addressed the group as a whole, while asking specific questions to the players who had failed to provide support to the player on the ball. My first question was to the defender who received the ball “What did you see when you received the ball and got your head up?” His reply was that he had no options to pass. I repeated his answer so the whole group could hear, and I then asked the two players ahead of the ball in turn “What could you have done better in that situation to help your team mate on the ball?” They thought for a second, and then pointed to where they could have run. I praised them for finding the solution, and asked what, by making those runs wide, have they done to the pitch? Again, after a moments thought they indicted that they understood the runs they had identified during our brief Q& A would have ‘made it wider’. I reset the game and made sure that they made the runs they had suggested once play was restarted, which they did.

Parents

As a coach you are of course aiming to be a positive influence on the young players in your care, but no matter how well you do, parents will usually be the most important influence on the young player. With that in mind I think it is vital that the lines of communication are constantly open between the coach and parents. I think it is so important that the environment you want to create is communicated clearly to the parents before day one if at all possible, and at regular times throughout the season. It is much easier to build a positive learning environment if the parents and coach work together, but sadly many coaches don’t feel that the coaching they deliver is any of the parents business. I am of the view that the opposite is true, and I regularly write to the parents to keep them updated on what we are practicing, why, and how they can help if applicable.

As an example, as a part of a positive learning environment I believe that it is really important that parents don’t shout out instructions to their kids while the game is in play for the reasons explained above. Football is an emotive game, and often you will see an opportunity that the kids playing do not see, so keeping quiet can be difficult for some people. I appreciate that, but just as I will try my best to never shout instructions to my players while the ball is in play, I expect the parents to help me by following suit in that respect. I have seen games where the coach is screaming instructions at the kids who are trying to focus on the game, and on the other size of the pitch there are dozens of parents shouting their own instructions. It is ridiculously confusing for the kids to receive multiple instructions from the adults, and most importantly, it can stop them from making their own decisions if they become used to receiving instructions form the coach or parents.

Before the players in my team were even selected for the squad, I wrote to all parents with a message that said if their child was selected, they would be expected to abide by the team rules which state that we do not allow parents to shout instructions from the sidelines. Once I had selected the players I wanted to from my squad, I wrote to the parents of the kids in question once again to say that their child had a place, but subject to the strict rule above. I have only had to speak to one parent about shouting instructions from the side thus far, so I’d like to think that I have created the right environment for the boys in my team to flourish. I of course whole-heartedly encourage the parents to shout encouragement, and praise, as that makes for an energised atmosphere, but as long as the calls don’t offer the boys instruction on what they should do. In that environment, I am happy that the boys have the freedom to make their own decisions based on what they have been learning in training.

Thanks for reading, and while I enjoy writing this, 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.

Please like my Coaching Youth Football page on Facebook –

https://www.facebook.com/coachyouthfootball/

And please also follow me on Twitter – @YouthCoachMike

All five in the series can be found here:

Part One: From parent to coach. Introduction.

Part Two: From parent to coach. Creating a great learning environment.

Part 3: From parent to coach. Your playing philosophy

Part 4: From parent to coach. Setting up effective training sessions

Part 5: From parent to coach. Match-day management

Part One: From parent to coach. Introduction.

Part One: From parent to coach. Introduction.

Enthusiastic parents coach the majority of young kids in this country, and while their dedication is absolutely vital for the future of youth football, these well-meaning parents often have little access to coaching courses when they first start out. There is also a danger that a parent will think that they can coach a group of six year olds without too much of an issue because they used to play a bit and have watched a lot of football over the years. I know this, because I was such a Dad a few years ago. Having started out on a journey of education however I realised that there was so much more to good coaching than I could have ever imagined, and over the Christmas and New Year period I have been reflecting on just how much I have learnt over the past two and a half years.

Coaching was always a part of the plan for me. I always said I would start coaching kids football when I was too old to play, but I think in hindsight that was a mistake. I should have started far earlier than that because the love I have for coaching now is such that I feel that I wasted the last 20 years merely playing the game. If you are a parent thinking of volunteering then I could not recommend it to you more. It is a passion of mine now, and will likely be so for as long as I am able.

I managed an adult football team for 10 years, but that is not the same. The only coaching I was delivering during those 10 years was during pre-season or during a match and it was more fitness and fine-tuning fully developed players rather than teaching youngsters the game for the first time. The joy I get from seeing my young lads improve is difficult to describe. As a volunteer, like every other grass-roots coach, watching my players improve, coupled with the gratitude of the players and their parents makes me feel like I am doing something worthwhile with my life and giving something back to the game that has given me so much joy and pain over the years.

I have read countless books, watched thousands of videos, attending numerous coaching courses and workshops and I still find that there is not enough material out there for me as a coach to consume. I have probably spent an average of 10 hours a week trying to educate myself for the past two and a half years, and that doesn’t include the weeks I have spent on FA coaching courses. I have loved every minute.

When I started out, I would to have loved to have read a book by an experienced coach about how the coaching journey ahead might look, from day one, with actionable advice that can be implemented in chronological order. As already mentioned many new coaches are well-meaning parents at the start, and many of the coaching books on the market are too advanced for the novice parent, and not written as a guide to the first year as a coach. I have learnt a great deal from many of those books written by coaches far more experienced than I, but I am yet to find the book I described above, so I decided to write it into this blog. In a sense I am trying to condense all of the reading, viewing, learning and thinking I have crammed into my lifetime with football, and most recently the two and a half years I have spent as an U7, U8 and now U9 coach into one series of blogs for those parents that might not have the time or the inclination to invest so much time into coaching education.

It is also important to stress that I have so much more to learn, so please don’t think I am writing these blog pieces because I think I am the finished article, because nothing could be further from the truth. I just want to share what I have learned to date in the hope it might help somebody in the future.

This series of blog pieces are aimed primarily at coaches who are just starting out with a grass-roots team or coaches who maybe have a year or two’s experience in coaching a team. It is also for fellow grassroots coaches who are perhaps more experienced, and might find my ideas to be food for thought. As a coach, I believe you should always be learning and trying to improve yourself if you want to be able to improve the players in your care. Listening to other coaches and their ideas is one way of improving yourself, and this blog is a vehicle for me to share my ideas with you.

I will hopefully follow a logical sequence from day one on the job, but I am not claiming that I followed this sequence myself. There was a lot of knowledge learned on my journey that I wish I had started out with, and that I hope by sharing through this blog will help fellow parents who are thrust into youth coaching a head-start.

So I will set out what I believe you should focus on as a new coach, and in the order I believe you should do so, with the benefit of hindsight.

A brief note about me. I have spent 43 years on this planet in love with football. Playing, watching, supporting, managing, coaching, reading about it … it has totally dominated my life and I wouldn’t have it an other way. I managed an adult 11-a-side team for 10 years, and I am currently coaching a good standard of Under 9’s. I hold The FA Level 1 & 2 certificate in coaching football as well as modules 1 & 2 of the FA Youth Award, and am currently working on module 3.

Whilst 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.

Please like my Coaching Youth Football page on Facebook –

https://www.facebook.com/coachyouthfootball/

And please also follow me on Twitter – @YouthCoachMike

All five in the series can be found here:

Part One: From parent to coach. Introduction.

Part Two: From parent to coach. Creating a great learning environment.

Part 3: From parent to coach. Your playing philosophy

Part 4: From parent to coach. Setting up effective training sessions

Part 5: From parent to coach. Match-day management

 

Development first, winning second. How some youth coaches stunt player growth

There are many ways a coach can give themselves a better chance of winning youth football matches, and in my opinion many of those are short-term wins at the expense of long-term player development. In this blog post, I have recognised some of the traits of youth coaches and tried to explain what I believe are the pros and cons of each.

Essentially, I believe we should be encouraging kids to get as many touches of the ball as possible, and supporting them when they make mistakes. Mistakes are a necessary part of learning, and how we respond to those mistakes as a coach will be a huge factor in deciding what type of players we produce. If you want cautious, predictable players than tell them their every move and criticise errors. We need to be giving the kids of today the best chance of developing the skills that they will need when they are older, when winning will become more important.

I don’t believe that winning at the younger age groups is the most important indicator of success. Playing well, developing skills, and staying in love with the game are far more important. Competitive football in this country doesn’t start until the U12 age group, but you wouldn’t know that by watching the coaches and parents of some kids much younger than that at the weekend. It’s a cultural issue, and I believe it is holding us back as a nation.

One of the key reasons for the introduction of playing the 5v5, 7v7 and 9v9 football format in the lead up to the full 11v11 game is to give each player more touches of the ball. The main reason for implementing a retreat line (Requires the opposing players to retreat into their own half when your goalkeeper has a goal-kick) is to encourage playing out from the back. Yet direct play and long goal-kicks still endure because they are ways to win in the short-term. However, if players lump it long to be safe, we are not creating players with the skills they will require in their future. We are, however unwittingly, damaging the long-term development of the players in our care.

I think we should care less about winning at the early age groups, and more about development. When we get to U12 and league tables are introduced, maybe then be in a position to compete. Get into that position based on the years of development-first work you have done with your players up until that point though. Just an opinion of course, and I respect anyone who has a differing opinion.

Here are a few of the coaching traits/ beliefs I have experienced on my travels:

1. Play it direct “don’t mess about with it at the back!

The short-term benefit of not getting tackled when you are a defender, in the defending third, is probably fairly self explanatory.

This teaching of ‘get rid of it’ harks back to the bad old days of English football, when a ‘ball-playing defender’ was an oxymoron. The game has changed, moved on, and defenders have to be comfortable in possession to succeed in todays game. How will players ever develop that comfort on the ball if they are instructed not to practice that skill by coaches screaming ‘get rid’?

2. Don’t dribble or run with the ball if you can safely pass instead. “Pass, pass, PASS!”

The obsession with asking kids to always pass is widespread. Maybe it’s because young kids are naturally greedy, and coaches feel that in order for the group to play as a team the players needs to having passing drummed into them? I can understand that.

Maybe its because if your young players pass as soon as they receive possession they have less chance of being caught in possession? Think of that and then think of the most creative, exciting players in the world today. It’s likely that at least one of Messi, Ronaldo, Suarez, Neymar or Aguero came to mind and what they all have in abundance is the ability to beat a player.

That ability, like all others, is developed through practice and an over-emphasis by coaches on passing robs today’s young players of the chance to express themselves and practice beating a player. I have heard that at Chelsea, they teach and encourage young players to always ‘take him on’ believing that passing and team-play can be added later, when winning actually matters, but at this young age they are developing skills.

If coach is constantly shouting for his players to pass as soon as they get it, they are robbing the young players in their care of the chance to practice decision making, that is, when should they pass and when should they travel with the ball?

3. Pick bigger, older, more developed boys in your team over younger, smaller boys.

The older boys in the younger age group are often at a massive advantage because, for example, a player being exactly 7 years old (84 months) could be playing against a boy who is nearly 8 (95 months), and so the older boy has been alive for 12% more time! He is 12% more developed, had 12% more time to practice and grow. The relative age affect as it’s called, causes many coaches to pick the older boys early, and those older boys as a result get more training, and so they get better still. The younger player doesn’t get picked, gets less training opportunities, and so the chasm between the 7 year old and the boy who is 7 years and 11 months grows. How many potential players are lost to this bias every year?

You also see teams that elect to give the biggest kid, with the hardest shot, a place up front every week and encourage him/her to shoot and take all the free-kicks within range. While this child is developing their shooting skills nicely, what happens to the other kids who don’t get that opportunity to practice and develop as a result? How are they supposed to develop those skills? Again, it’s the winning versus development mindset at work.

Also, in an age that has seen Lionel Messi dazzle a generation of football lovers, it seems abundantly obvious that spending more time developing smaller players could pay dividends. That said, maybe we’ll never learn because Pele and Maradona were short yet this ‘bigger. faster, stronger’ mentality still blights youth football because it gives teams a winning advantage.

I could go on, but the point is this. We should be developing players to have the skills, attributes and decision-making skills to compete when they are older, much older, when it matters, not now.

Mourinho said In England you teach your kids how to win. In Spain and Portugal they teach their kids how to play. What a fantastic observation on how other nations develop creative, dangerous players and how England keep churning out robots. Much has changed in this country, and the FA have broadly recognised many of the issues raised in this post. Thousands of coaches are progressive, development-minded and doing the best they can for the future of the players in their care, but there is still so much to be done.

We have to see a massive change in our culture if we want to start producing English players who can dazzle on the world stage. The last truly creative, unpredictable midfielder we produced was Gazza, and most kids today can’t use him as a role model because they won’t even know his name!

Session planning checklist

checklist

Whenever I am designing a training session for my U8 team, I try to rate it as I go along by asking myself a series of questions about what I have produced. A coaching checklist if you  like, to make sure that I am on-topic and delivering the best sessions I am capable of.

An hour a week is nowhere near enough time to deliver the learning I’d like, but it is all I have, so I feel that I need to maximise the contact time I have with the players.

I read a lot and attend courses in order to learn and develop myself, and to see if my checklist needs updating or amending. My current ‘session success checklist’ looks a bit like this:

Is there a clear learning focus?

Is it relevant to the game of football players will experience?

Is the session easy to understand and easy to play?

Is there sufficient opportunity for repetition of the learning focus?

Is there an element of competition to motivate the players?

Is it fun for the players to play?

Is there enough scope to increase/decrease difficulty as appropriate?

Does it progress from technique, to skill, to SSG smoothly?

Have I got questions I ask the players to make them think about the learning focus?

Have I identified a star who excels at this skill so I can reference them as a role model?

Can I explain the key technical factors clearly and simply?

Can I paint a picture of when and where this skill might be used in a game?

I may have missed a few, and you may agree/disagree with these and/or have your own checklist points. I’d love to hear about that!?

How do we turn more parents into positive coaches?

A tweet by @ContactCounts today highlighted another example of negative youth coaching, and it inspired me to write something on this blog because 140 characters is never enough! 😉

I think we have a huge problem in England with regards to coaching young children the beautiful game. Parents become coaches of their kids team, often with little or no training, and there is no doubt in my mind that they do so with the best of intentions. However, too often they end up creating negative environments for the very kids they set out to help.

When a parent becomes a grass roots coach for the first time, they are often drawing only on their experience of football s a player and a fan to help them. So lets take an example:

A 38-year-old dad and his 8-year-old son find themselves involved within a local grass roots club as coach and player respectively. Dad was in a kid’s football team in 1986, but most recently his footballing experience has been playing for the local pub team on a Sunday morning, and watching the Premiership on TV.

Coaching in this country has evolved considerably since 1986, and getting young kids young to run laps of the pitch should be a thing of the past when viewed through the progress the coaching world has made, but Dad hasn’t seen these changes as he has not been involved in kids football for nearly 30 years. Twenty years of Sunday league football and a lifetime of watching football on TV has been his education for the role he now steps into. He subconsciously paints pictures in his mind of what a coach should look like. I have just seen Jose screaming from the sidelines in Chelsea’s match at QPR for example. How often have you heard about Ferguson and his ‘hair-drier treatment’? Perhaps the manager of his pub side also told him week-in, week-out to ‘be stronger’ and ‘to want it more’ and to ‘put it in the mixer’ along with many other Sunday league cliché’s. Is it any wonder then that many new coaches start to act like the shouty, pointy and negative examples we have all seen?

Coaching kids is not like coaching adults, and I believe that understanding that difference should be the number once quality sought by any club looking for a youth team coach. The FA Youth Module courses are great at teaching us that creating the right environment in which children can learn is so vital, but a very small percentage of volunteers ever get the chance to attend them for many reasons including cost, time, and availability of courses.

I have read extensively on this subject, in both football and neuroscience books, and it appears that the top sports coaches all agree that a positive learning environment is key. I have myself seen many examples in my own coaching where a child has improved because of praise, and I firmly believe that praising good effort leads to more good effort from children far more than critising poor effort. Shouting and screaming to try and rectify mistakes is counter-productive with children it seems, yet too often we see that mode of communication employed on the touchlines of youth football the country over.

We wouldn’t as parent stand for it if our kids teacher screamed at them for getting a maths question wrong, so why do we think it is OK for a football coach to do that if they select the wrong pass in a game that is supposed to be fun?

Finding answers to this problem is not easy. As a grass roots club, you don’t exactly have a long list of candidates banging down your door to volunteer, so ‘beggars can’t be choosers’ is a saying that springs to mind. Those that do volunteer often have a family and a full-time job, and so spending any more time than a Saturday morning on improving their coaching is difficult.

I also think that just as the kids need coaches and parents to be positive role models, the coaches need to see positive role models from the professional game. Could the FA ask the leading managers and youth team coaches of the game to endorse the Youth Modules via video interviews, and talk about how what the Youth Modules teach is implemented at their professional clubs? If the academy managers at the top 10 clubs gave a short interview for arguments sake, about how positivity and environment are vital components of any pro-academy then maybe that would have a positive influence on new coaches who watched that? It must surely at least be food for thought?

Finally, there seems to be a disconnect between the thoughts shared by coaches on social media, and the actions seen in parks across the country. The majority of coaches on social media will agree and expand on the view I have shared here, and that is great if new coaches look to social media to educate themselves. Yet when we go out on match day, sadly we see a large number of coaches shouting a multitude of instructions to a group of kids, who are trying to concentrate on the game, while often being given conflicting advice from the other side of the pitch by parents. So where are all the coaches on social media who agree that shouting instructions constantly is good for the players? The debate seems very one-sided online, and maybe if the shouters were willing to come forward and try to prove their way is best, we could all learn something together and improve grass roots football for the next generation?

Please do comment so we can get this conversation going, and if you reply, please RT so everyone knows there is a new comment to respond to. Thanks.

Two clear examples of how a ‘well done’ beats a ‘why didn’t you?’ every time.

Coaching Youth Football

On Sunday, I heard a coach shout out to one of his seven year old players “why didn’t you just pass it to Johnny, he was wide open!?” The coaches’ voice was steeped in disappointment and frustration. I dare say that kids motivation sank much like my heart at hearing this.

I have for a while understood academically that kids respond far better to praise than criticism, and the FA Youth Award courses I’ve attended really highlighted this. However I think that to really learn a concept like this you need to experience it, and I have experienced it twice recently.

I am assistant manager of the team that my 7-year-old lad plays in, and a few weeks ago he was playing in a match when the ball flew towards him. He brought the ball down, and dispatched a lovely strike into the bottom far corner. Parents and coaches cheered…

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Two clear examples of how a ‘well done’ beats a ‘why didn’t you?’ every time.

On Sunday, I heard a coach shout out to one of his seven year old players “why didn’t you just pass it to Johnny, he was wide open!?” The coaches’ voice was steeped in disappointment and frustration. I dare say that kids motivation sank much like my heart at hearing this.

I have for a while understood academically that kids respond far better to praise than criticism, and the FA Youth Award courses I’ve attended really highlighted this. However I think that to really learn a concept like this you need to experience it, and I have experienced it twice recently.

I am assistant manager of the team that my 7-year-old lad plays in, and a few weeks ago he was playing in a match when the ball flew towards him. He brought the ball down, and dispatched a lovely strike into the bottom far corner. Parents and coaches cheered and clapped, only for my son to walk up to the ref and admit he had handled the ball before scoring. I was literally bursting with pride! Visions of Robbie Fowler going over the top of David Seaman in the area at Highbury, and then getting up to tell the referee it was no penalty flashed across my mind.

I praised my son far more enthusiastically for his honesty than I would have done had he scored a goal, probably because it is a behaviour that I respect deep within me and a quality I wish I saw more of in the professional game. His teammates looked a bit bemused at my passionate praise at the time, but sure enough they had picked up on the message that honesty was a good thing. A few minutes later, the ball went out of play and it looked to everyone a throw-in to our team. One of our little lads said otherwise though, and looked towards me as he said it. He said the ball had clipped him on the way out of play. I am not even sure it had, but he had seen a chance to be seen to be doing something good, and he jolly well took it. Later a similar situation happened again with a different player.

My second example of how the words ‘well done’ can influence how a player behaves was a deliberate coaching ploy with a different team of U8’s that I manage. I wanted to encourage players to pass, without actually telling them to pass. I tell my lads that they have three choices whenever they get the ball, which are to either shoot, run with it or pass. I don’t want to tell them what they should decide to do, because I believe that to have a chance of producing creative players you need to give them the freedom and the environment to make decisions for themselves, without fear of failure or criticism.

That said, coaxing some players that would otherwise run with it 100% of the time to at least consider the possibility of passing was important to me. One player in particular has exceptional dribbling skills, and has trained with a Premiership pre-academy program where they are always encouraging the youngsters to beat the player, rather than to pass.

So I put on a training session in the week in which a 10×10 yard area (scoring zone) was marked in front of each 5-a-side goal, and the only rule different to a normal match was you have to be in the scoring zone to shoot. I praised players who passed to a teammate more than the goal scorers though.

The following match day, I waited for my opportunity to enthusiastically praise a good pass in the final third. The boy I was particularly interested in dribbled, and dribbled and dribbled some more … until finally it happened. He broke down the right, got his head up, saw his teammate running through the middle and slid a lovely ball through to his mate. My enthusiastic, heart felt praise for his decision to pass put a smile on his little face, and two or three more times more in that game he opted to pass, rather than to run with it. I hadn’t shouted for him to pass, or even suggested that he should. As I said before, I make it very clear to all my players that the choice is theirs and that the rest of the team should always support whatever decision the player on the ball makes. What I did is I made a fuss of him, more than I would for a goal, when he displayed the desired behaviour so that he knew that he had done well. Genuine praise makes kids want repeat what they are praised for.

What I have learnt and now experienced tells me you should say nothing when they don’t get success, and praise them to the hilt if they try to execute something that you are trying to coach them on.

As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic?