Reader’s Questions

Context is everything in coaching. There are countless examples of arguments over good coaching practice on social media, where coaches take different approaches and are successful with those methods. Some of the great taboos in coaching are really just advisory, and best practice is unique to your particular group.

Indeed, while the ‘principles of coaching’ may remain the same, different contexts place
different demands on the coach and athlete and, therefore, impact upon learning. For
example context demands may be institutional, cultural or social in nature, in addition
to being rooted in the age or experience of those taking part. 

– Prof. Cushion

With that in mind, I’m taking questions from readers and tailoring advice to their specific context. Feel free to e-mail me at with details about your situation and any questions you may have. First instalment is from Damien, who asks:

I have recently started coaching/managing a U7 team and have just completed my L1….. However as the weeks roll on I am becoming more and more confused as I have received v little guidance on anything other than coaching during weekly training. 
I am interested to know what sources (books, websites, video’s) you would recommend in respect of manager/coach match day behaviour and etiquette to ensure I get the best from the team and I integrate match day with the coaching philosophy and programme.
Buzzwords, not issuing instructions, positivity etc…..I think I have the building blocks but I just need reassurance.

It can be a bit overwhelming to try and implement all the advice available to you, from social media, peers, and coaching courses. I’ve heard many stories about ‘bad sessions’ from coaches, and more often than not the cause was trying to do too much.
It’s important to determine your primary aim for the team, for example at u7 it may be to create an enjoyable atmosphere, or to build relationships. Then when you’re faced with a decision, for example choosing who plays in goal in a difficult match, you can let your primary aim guide your decision making. As long as that primary aim is being met, the rest is a bonus.
Often when coaches try to implement everything at once, they contradict themselves. For example by telling players that enjoyment is the priority and not results, but then praising players for winning. If the loss isn’t a big deal, the win isn’t either. To be consistent, praise effort, or unselfishness, or fairness, or friendliness, or any other quality you want to encourage.
One way to learn more would be to watch grassroots coaches (with their permission) with their team on match day. Since we all love the sound of our own voices, I’m sure most of us would be glad to have you along to observe. It might be worth contacting some local clubs to find out.

Also, is there any guidance you would offer in terms of player/and positional rotation? I assume I have to ensure equal playing time and equal goalkeeping time but what about player rotation……should I ensure over the season every player has a shot at every position equally….and do I take into account the views of the parents on this? Any help gratefully received!

At u7 roles and positions are fairly flimsy concepts. If you ask a child to be a defender, they might sit on their own penalty spot all game and not get a touch of the ball. If you ask a different child to be a defender they might follow the ball from penalty box to penalty box. The former might love the responsibility that comes with being ‘the defender’, and the latter might hate being limited to any one role. For that reason, I ensure that u7 players don’t spend more than 10 minutes in any role on the pitch, to avoid frustration or resentment. Some children see being put in goal as a punishment!
My personal bugbear is when a player tells me they can’t do some vital aspect of the game because they’re a defender. When I was playing in youth teams centre halves were discouraged from taking more than 2 touches, and it instilled a fear of dribbling in me from an early age that I’ve had to ‘unlearn’.
I am strongly against the idea of limiting players, no matter their position or role. I won’t tell my defenders off for passing across their goal, as so many youth coaches do. If their pass across goal is intercepted and leads to an easily avoided goal conceded, they’ve learned when not to pass across goal. If their pass across goal helps them play out of a high press, they’ve learned when to do it.
To summarise, I wouldn’t get too hung up on positions. I give them very simple responsibilities, the defender tries to block the shot, the striker tries to score the goals, the midfielder tries to get the ball to the striker. If the defender is too far forward to block the shot, they’ve learned a bit about defensive positioning. They don’t always have to be on their own penalty spot, but when the other team has the ball they need to react to get goalside.
As for what the parent wants, their wants are secondary to the child’s. Some parents might try and tell you their 7yr old is a striker, but what have they based that on? What does a striker look like? Thomas Müller? Romelu Lukaku? So many players have switched positions after many thousands of hours at other positions, there’s no way to tell what position a 7yr old will end up at. Limiting them to one position will limit their exploration of the game, and their potential enjoyment of it.

Also, how best do I deal with the parents and what happens when requests from parents ref their child conflicts with ethos of team/club?

If the club ethos is based on sound principles, it shouldn’t need to change. If it’s been designed with input from players, parents, and coaches, then you should be able to defend it to anyone questioning it. It’s worth outlining the purpose of your clubs ethos, so that the benefits are clear. If a parent has signed their child up to an established club without knowing their ethos, they will either have to adapt or find a new club.
A local club had a disagreement about whether to have A and B teams, or whether to have players randomly assigned so skill levels were mixed. The club ethos was one of inclusivity, so it was agreed that mixed skill levels were the way to go. After a few years, team blue was two leagues above team white, and the star player of the white team wanted to join the blue team. It was agreed that he could do so, despite contravening the spirit of the clubs ethos. The loss of his 2+ goals per game caused the white team to lose all their games the following season, and caused the other players to question why they hadn’t been promoted to the blue team. To retain that one player, they ended up alienating an entire team. The ethos matters.
The most common issue with progressive and development-focused coaching planning is the cultural tendency to place winning above all else. You will often be the lone dissenting voice, as adult values are imposed onto children through their parents, through watching television, and through children’s stories. The tortoise wins the race against the hare, thereby validating it’s more cautious tactical approach. If you commit to this approach, be aware that you may have to contradict the other sources of learning in the child’s life, but also that it can be done. It’s the hard way of doing things, but it is worthy of doing.

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