Whenever we as coaches are designing and delivering our sessions, it is important to remember that there is so much variability to consider. For children and young teenagers the content and delivery will be very much different to the nature of a session designed for later teenagers and adults. Age is just one factor, ability and gender too are important considerations to take also.
This post will explore the key starting points all clubs and coaches in the youth game should consider before deciding to roll out any program.
Alignment from the top down
It is vital that there is maximum awareness as to what constitutes effective age appropriate coaching for all staff at the club. This starts from the top and should ideally be known by all staff. In the face of any potential coaching inconsistencies and incongruity decision makers at the club should be seen to taking an active approach in making sure that they are observing and nurturing their staff. Any organisation is only as strong as the collective quality of its employees and youth sports clubs are in now way different. It is no good having a club that has perhaps a core of quality coaches but then is let down by other, damaging coaches despite good intentions. Through the use of professional development using individualized coach evaluation, the symbols of the club philosophy over time will begin to rub off on the staff and in time the approach will lead to a group of creative individual coaches who work to a high level in accordance to the club’s vision. The importance of this cannot be underestimated, uniformity is key. Not only for parents’ reassurance that they are getting a fair deal, but more so for the quality of the service that is provided to the children.
A club that has a continual dedication to deliver value to its stakeholders will place a great deal of emphasis on the parents it serves. The club is responsible for empowering their parents and making sure that they are fully equipped with the reasoning behind why the club coaches as it does. Parents and coaches must sing off the same hymn sheet and any confusion must be persistently confronted through open communication channels. Only through this aggressive approach to building connection will the players truly start to excel as it is the parents and not the coaches who hold the greatest influence in any child’s life. Having everyone in agreement and working towards a common goal is the objective that we should aim to reach. We can do this by helping our parents through providing continual engaging educational information and content that they can actually experience.
Context is king
Firstly, we must understand the context of the situation. If we begin looking at the foundation age phase, it consists of very young children aged between 4–7. This is their first experience in football and sport in general. It is perhaps their first social activity. It remains hugely important that this is considered at all times when dealing with these children. The football is merely a tool and we if thought of in that way some excellent empowering, character and confidence building can take place for individuals as they learn how to cope with instructions and take on information in more dynamic environments. This argument could be stretched to cover children up until the ages of 16 where school life dominates and socially it can be a very difficult place to grow up. Sport, football and being part of a team provides a positive and healthy release and reprieve for children is context is correctly understood.
Leading on from the previous point, the focus for young children up until their later teenage years should revolve around their development first and foremost. Development is a broad term and when used in a sporting context, it is fair to assume that the sport specific technical and tactical performance indicators are being referred to. This is accurate but development does not stop just at the sport. When children are involved, development crosses into a child’s emotional well being and intellectual capabilities as well as more physical factors such as their growth and maturation. Numerous governing bodies and federations will vary slightly on their recommended year groupings however the fact remains that the children will suffer long term if a short term approach is taken and a play to win approach (which has its’place), is adopted too early in the developmental cycle. It is important to always ‘pay up front’ to receive the rewards later. This means to heavily invest in all areas of the child’s development in order for them to be able to have a more meaningful impact in later years both on the field as a player and off the field in society.