OPTIMAL YOUTH FOOTBALL DEVELOPMENT CHECKLIST PART 3

PART 3: PLAYER-CENTRED

1.    Players rights as developing children must be respected:

  • The right to enjoyment both in training and in competitions, with a wide variety of activities that promote fun and easy learning.
  • The right to play as a child and not be treated like an adult, either on or off the playing field.
  • The right to participate in competitions with simplified rules, adapted to their level of ability and capacity in each stage of their evolution.
  • The right to play in conditions of greatest possible safety.
  • The right to participate in all aspects of the game.
  • The right to be trained by experienced and specially prepared coaches and developers.
  • The right to gain experience by resolving most of the problems that arise during the practice.
  • The right to be treated with dignity by the coach, their team-mates, and by their opponents.
  • The right to play with children of their own age with similar chances of winning.
  • The right not to become a champion.

2.     Players needs as developing children must be considered:

  • The need for new experiences
  • The need for recognition and encouragement
  • The need to be given responsibility
  • The need for play
  • The need to socialize with others
  • The need to be active
  • The need to live in the present
  • The need for variety
  • The need to be understood by adults

  3.     Players should be the decision-makers on the pitch.
Too often, we as coaches want to control every move and we develop robotic, nervous players on the pitch, often distracting them from playing the game through a constant barrage of instruction and criticism.

If the enjoyment of the game is taken away by adults
who rant and rave on the touchline and the grassroots game
becomes, in effect, a computer game controlled by dad’s,
the opportunity for young players to plant the seeds
of a lifelong love affair with the game will be diminished.
Les Howie

4.     Players allowed to learn by mistakes.
Making mistakes is part of the lifelong learning experience for every human being, but in football, especially with young players who are still learning the game, this is not a “luxury” afforded them by adults. Sadly, criticism does not correct mistakes but creates even greater pressure and consequently more mistakes.

“From the brain’s point of view, mistakes are stepping stones
on the journey to deeper knowledge and success.”
Horst Wein

 5.     Players encouraged to try new things.
Young players are very inquisitive and are naturally inclined to explore and discover new things, the game of football should be a safe and enjoyable environment for them to experiment in.

6.     Players encouraged to find their own solutions.
Nobody likes taking instructions, especially young people, and often the coaches constant instructions are counterproductive. Far better to let young people find their own solutions. Guided Discovery as a coaching style brings greater attention and retention than the traditional monologue of the coach. Quite often we, as coaches, hinder the player’s development rather than aid it. The term “over-coaching” has often been used about this effect.

7.     Players are allowed to dribble.
Everyone complains about the lack of dribbling despite all the drills and moves that are being taught, but the biggest factor is that players are not given the freedom to express themselves through dribbling. In our anxiety to rush the adult passing game, we restrict the players’  individual freedom and in later years we end up with players who cannot beat a man or use their skills to devastating effect in attack.

8.     Resist the urge to “grade” players under 10 years of age.
This is one of the most contentious topics in youth football, at the grassroots level. Despite the seeming logic of having players play at “their own level,” it is far more natural for children to develop together in mixed ability environments with their friends. The stronger players have more of a challenge if their teammates are not as strong and the weaker players benefit from the leadership and support of having a stronger player in their team. This way, also, late developers are given a chance to blossom. Often the grading of players has more to do with their size, athleticism and strength  and many times this has to do with the relative age effect, where young players born early in the year are more advanced than the late-borns.

Most of the grading takes place because of a culture of “winning at all costs” in games that are too advanced for the young players (e.g. 7-a-side for 7 year olds) and in competitive leagues that begin too early. We are always in a hurry to force children into the adult game!

Make sure your training and competitions are player-centred and watch them blossom!