To play football at a high level demands that players are comfortable on the ball and that they take responsibility to keep possession, but also express creativity at the right time and in the right place. In the adult game, more discipline is required, but as young players are developing, they need the freedom to experiment and learn from their mistakes. Unfortunaltely this freedom is seldom allowed them.
Playing games that are not age-appropriate
Young players need a game of their own to play, not the adult 11-a-side game or even 7v7 at the wrong age. Being forced into the wrong competition games for their age-group creates many problems for young players:
- Players experience more failure than success as the game is too complex for them.
- Making more mistakes brings more criticism from coach, fellow players and parents.
- Because the game is so complex and mistake-ridden, coaches and parents are inclined to give even more instruction as well as criticism.
- Bigger pitches demand more running, sometimes anaerobic which is detrimental at this age.
- Usually only the bigger stronger players have time on the ball, and smaller players tend to be spectators which is very frustrating for them.
- Not getting enough time on the ball is frustrating for players.
- The rules tend to frustrate young players, especially things like foul throw-ins etc.
Consequences of winning at all costs
When the result is all that matters:
- Coaches often try to enforce a very limited style of play
- Players feel under intense pressure to win, fearing the consequences (usually criticism and reproach from the coach for not trying hard enough).
- Players are less likely to try anything considered “risky”, since it might affect the result and the coaches temperament.
- Players sometimes will not take responsibility on the ball as they fear the consequences. This is detrimental to constructive, possession play (especially when it comes to playing the ball out from the back). Often players learn to play against the ball rather than with it, kicking long away from danger and “getting rid of it” as they are encouraged by the adults.
No freedom to make their own decisions, only obey coaches
Many adults still hang on to a different age when children were to “be seen and not heard.”
- Players often freeze as they cannot make a decision for themselves.
- Confusion often reigns when different coaches give conflicting advice.
- Multiple instructions from coaches and parents also confuse players.
- Some coaches (and parents) feel they are not really coaching unless they instruct.
- Need for a culture change where players participate more fully.
Adult expectations hinder expression
- Most parents think their kid is the next big thing. (No pressure there!)
- Adults, whether coaches or “spectating” parents often exhibit “Jeckyll and Hyde syndrome” when the whistle is blown.
- Coaches fear embarrassment if they lose games and impart this stress to the players.
- Club expectations may be for more silverware.
- Adults take the game too seriously, as if it was professional, living out their own dreams.
Worrying about their place in the team
- If coaches don’t play equal playing time, players may worry about their game time.
- Parent’s also put extra pressure on everyone if they feel their child is not getting a fair amount of time on the pitch (though they are often correct in this assumption).
Stresses during training
- Young players are expected to be “seen and not heard” as in previous eras.
- Over-coaching the young players is detrimental to their development
- Too many boring drills, not enough time playing games is very frustrating for young players especially.
- Little emphasis on fun, but rather on discipline and effort
- Children with short attention spans are often asked to listen for long periods.
- Very little interaction
- Coaches often want to clone their players into one predetermined mould.
The diagram above represents two models of youth football development, the first (red) is the prevalent methodology in most countries today. The second (green) is an optimal development model, proposed by Horst Wein over the last three decades, which has been adopted in countries like Spain and at major clubs around Europe and beyond.
They compare (from the bottom up as such:
- Competition Games. The first model (red) is based on competitons of 7-a-side and 11-a-side football for players as young as 7 and 11 respectively. This is in contrast to an age appropriate game structure including 3v3, 5v5, 7v7 and 8v8 football before the players play 11-a-side at 14 years of age.
- Winning at all costs vs development. In the first model, players play competitive league football from the age of 7, in the second, players are offered trophy-free competition games, where the results are not as important as participating and learning the game.
- Training. In the first model training consists of drills, strength and running work primarily, in the second, the game of football itself is considered the teacher. This is delivered through age-appropriate Simplified Games which match the appropriate small-sided competition game that they play.
- Coaching style. In the first model the coaching style is the old traditional method of “yell and tell” where the coaches instructions dominate. In contrast the second model uses active learning methods, including Guided Discovery (effective questioning) which involves the young players more and helps to develop their Game Intelligence (perception, understanding, decision-making and execution).