Youth coach stereotypes

I’ve seen hundreds of youth coaches in my career, and I’ve noticed a few stereotypes along the way.

The Cool Older Brother/Sister

Think F2 Freestylers or Antoine Griezmann.

These are usually 18-22yr olds starting out in coaching as a first career. They tend to be very keen and enthusiastic, which is a huge bonus. They also tend to be optimistic about football as a career, which they may come to realise is far more difficult than expected.

Due to their age, the children find it easier to relate to them, and often look at them as a role model. Children often want to impress them and will work harder as a result, which is great in the short-term but is an external motivator, and that motivation may diminish if the coach or player moves on.

The COB/S often plays Fortnite and knows all the memes, so they speak the language fluently. They get away with using slang that the child’s parents couldn’t. Children may well be more open and trusting with them as a result, though equally they may hide their vulnerabilities to try and act like a ‘big boy/girl’.

One downside of the COB/S is that as soon as they have to deliver a tough and un-fun message like ‘clean your room’ or they automatically stop being the Cool Older Brother/Sister and start being just another adult. The equivalent in football might be team shape, or defensive effort, or any aspect that isn’t immediately rewarding or flashy.

The ‘Football Man’

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Think Graeme Souness or Martin Keown.

I’m being gender specific because I’ve honestly never seen a woman behave this way. They’re middle aged, they’ve been watching football for years and they think they know it all. They don’t like Fortnite and tend to blame it for most of society’s ills. They’ve reduced football to a few truisms that apply across all levels, for example not overplaying in your own half, or winning your 50/50s, and these are the main points of their coaching approach. Any issue in their play is attributed to one of these truisms.

The issue with this approach is that it originates from the adult game in which the players are at their peaks and development is not a concern. Any mistake is a cause for shame, not a learning opportunity. The children’s game has very little in common with the adult’s game, but is treated in exactly the same way. There tends to be little consideration for the differences between child and adult psychology, as evidenced by shouts of “what was that?”, a question that a child doesn’t know the answer to. This lack of understanding of the child’s perspective could be a result of the larger age difference.

I think we’ve all seen their teams play. They’re more Graham Tayloristas than Guardiolistas. They play the ball anywhere near their big #9 and hope your defenders make a mistake. They tend to get results, and as a result are in fairly constant demand. Their style of coaching is recognisable to parents, who are often armchair Football Men themselves. If they fail to get results, it’s because the players aren’t adhering to the system and the blame is on them, not the coach.

The Football Man is by far and away the most common stereotype I see in coaching. They go on the same FA courses as everyone else, they just disregard the ‘England DNA’ and any progressive ideals in pursuit of short-term success.

The Progressive

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Think Brendan Rodgers or Gareth Southgate.

I’ve seen progressives come in many different shapes and sizes, but they all adhere to a notion of playing ‘the right way’. By which they mean playing short from the goalkeeper and out through the thirds, keeping the ball on the floor and basically emulating the Guardiola-era Barcelona team. I’ve spoken before about how appropriate it is to emulate a team of generational talents who spent many thousands of hours practising a specific style of play, concluding that the principles were sound but probably needed to be adapted somewhat for the North Yorkshire U9s Third Division.

These coaches can be equally as dogmatic as the ‘Football Man’ stereotype. They pride themselves on playing the more attractive football, regardless of the result. They don’t change their approach no matter what the opposition are doing. This makes them predictable and presents an opportunity for the opposition to exploit it, through pressing their defenders man for man, and aiming to win the ball high. This is why the ‘football man’ continues to get results, and continues to proliferate.

They’re often very keen, which is why they make and consume so many podcasts, forum posts, blogs, and videos on the subject of grassroots youth football. It’s why the coaching community on social media is such an echo chamber, the ‘Football Man’ doesn’t use it and the ‘Youtuber’ just follows meme pages. Honestly, I hope the progressives get more of a say influencing the direction of our national game and utilise some of that idealism.

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