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Futsal and Youth Development

Futsal and Youth Football I've hesitated in writing this for a few months now but after spending sometime mulling the subject...

Monday, 16 December 2019

- Five Reasons to embrace Free Play

After taking the Free Play Pledge earlier this year, my sessions have moved from a mix of Free Play and well thought out coaching to the majority of the time being given over to Free Play.

The problem I've had, is explaining to coaches why I've moved in this direction. 

Don't I want the children to learn?

Don't I want to the children to get better?

God yeah. Of course I do. I also believe they will do. But when the discussion about Free Play is always fixated on Learning, it becomes difficult to emphasise its benefits. 

Even when the discussion is about Learning, different camps will try to make out that their form of Learning is the right one. Try adding Free Play into that mix!

I can quite easily write about how Play helps Learning but that would be missing the point entirely. 

The best way to experience this is to throw yourself into Free Play for a period of time. Let the kids take over. Be brave, sit back and watch. Then, when you feel ready to move back to a formal coaching environment think about what is being taken away by altering the focus. We know we may be adding methodology in an attempt to instil Learning but what, and to what extent are we removing?

When I look at Informal Play compared to the sessions I was running I found lot's of things that I valued more than Learning. Please remember, I haven't said I don't value learning or that it doesn't happen in Free Play so it's still part of the mix. 

So what are the reasons why I value Free Play?

1. Why not? 

Everyone agrees that Informal Play has declined over the last couple of generations and everyone seems to lament this. So this is where I start. If I'm concerned about this reduction, I can do something about it. I can literally give this back. In fact, why wouldn't I?

Deep down I can understand why parents are less likely to allow kids to play Informally, I can understand that some parents feel their kids "might make it" and so value Formal coaching but I don't understand why, if they value Free, Informal Play they don't go in search of it. Why don't they ask for it? Why not demand it?

The rise of Childhood behavioural disorders and obesity has been linked in some ways to the reduction in Free Play but if parents (rightly or wrongly) don't feel safe allowing this to happen, we can actually provide it in albeit a watered down fashion. 

So yes, just generally, I worry that the thing my generation benefited from we don't value enough to replicate. We threw the baby out with the bath water. We could have provided something like it via football but no, we replaced it with Formal, Coach Centered and Coach directed Play that places Learning at its pinnacle. 

2. Enemies

Having replaced Informal Play we have to admit we must also have replaced or disregarded some of the key benefits.

Formal Sport is great, I loved it and still love it but to me it's the "grown up" world. Teams in leagues doing battle to win. Us vs Them. Each week you go out against your adversary to beat them. This is fine for adults or even older youths but why is it needed for children?

When we rushed to replace Informal Play did we leave behind the idea that we are all just trying to enjoy the game we love?

When playing footy Informally, this week Jack may be on team A but next week he could be on team B. How do you feel this impacts Respect and Understanding for others?

Jack can't see Team B as the enemy when he plays them cos next week, he could be the enemy!

Fixed teams and adversaries are fine for adults but are they really what kids need?

I'd suggest that rushing to get kids in kits, in teams and leagues is a mistake and we can use our sessions to show there is a different way to approach the game. A way that respects everyone and provides the creative space for kids to fall in love with the game, not the result.

3. I Give Up

Formal coaching sessions can be fun. No one disputes that but are they as much fun as the game?

Deep down, we all know the answer to this. Mainly because we hear it requested every ten minutes or so.

In Informal Play the participant must be free to stop and they will stop mainly when it isn't fun. So, inherently, Informal Play will be shaped and amended and altered to ensure it remains fun. Otherwise kids will stop. 

In our rush to Formal Coaching have we broken this link? 

Most coaches would not entertain a child saying "this is boring can we do something else?". Especially a coach who has spent a few hours planning for the session. Even worse, the children quickly learn that saying this would not be a good idea. They become compliant and go through the motions, whether it's fun or not. 

I believe that disregarding this inherent part of what makes play unique leads to drop out as time goes on. If a player can't alter things to keep it fun, why will they stick around?

4. Keeping it going

One reason Informal Play is so compelling is the fact that rules are not the "be all and end all".  They are there to guide but can be altered if need be. 

Formal Play has strict rules normally set out by the "Rule Giver". An adult. 

I wonder if in our rush towards the "Rule Giver" we run the risk of taking away autonomy? We reduce the child's need to think creatively, satisfy various points of view and compromise?

Aren't these great skills to have?

5. It's not about the score - no, it really isn't.

When I was a kid I pretty much did nothing except eat, sleep and play footy. No computer games, no box sets, just Subbuteo and Tiswas. 

I played football as much as I could. Every break, every lunch, straight after school and every weekend. I didn't play a Formal Game until I was 10. These games increased in Middle School to once a week and then I added another game for a club on Sundays. 

Informally, I played at least ten times more football. 

Formally, the score mattered. Not life or death but it mattered. 

Informally, the score never mattered. I just wanted to do well and enjoy the game I loved. There was no need for a coach, a pre match warm up, a plan, tactics. We just played. 

If one team went a few goals up, teams would be rearranged. Can you imagine doing that if there's a league at stake? 

We learned to appreciate the game, to understand its nuances, to ensure others enjoyed themselves and not to steam roll your mates. You also tried things you would never dare to in the Formal game. Overhead kick? no problem. Across the box? of course, why not?

By trying these things, we got better. Strange that, I know. 

By not being conditioned by one persons way of thinking about a game we grew, we took chances and we helped each other. 

Also, we all learned different things. All taking our own bits from each experience. 

Is it possible that in the rush to Formal Games we have reduced risk? Constrained creativity? 

When I gave Free Play to the kids I noticed all these things. I realised the Informal Game brings so much more. It's not preparation for winning It's preparation for life. The endlessly changing life that kids will need to learn to navigate.

So when coaches ask what Free Play isn't I believe they are asking the wrong the question. I believe Free Play is richer, more varied and more fun and that's why I value it.

Thursday, 10 January 2019

Now THAT's a Rondo!

I've seen a quote that says "The whole of the game is present in Rondos"

I'm not sure about this but since discovering them I have come to see them as an important tool for youth development. However, when I talk to other coaches I sometimes get the idea that they are misunderstood. 

Opinions tend to vary from " Ah, the secret weapon of Barcelona " to " Piggy in the middle? "

I certainly found that lot's of coaches I know use what they call a Rondo as some kind of warm up before sessions or games start and my own 9 year olds saw it as just a bit of fun when I introduced them to it.

The problem is, the Rondo is so much more and can be used in many different ways. After asking my players what they thought about Rondos I decided I needed to reintroduce them and highlight their effectiveness in a new way. Below is a description of how I did this in a recent session.

We've probably all seen this set up and this 4v2 exercise is how I chose to break down the Rondo and show the elements it can work on and what the players should be thinking about. 

The whole session was no longer than 30 minutes with lot's of good varied repetition and minimal intervention. 

As I introduced the Session I received the inevitable groans from some of the players who have grown to misunderstand the Rondo. I used this as an opportunity for them to voice their opinions and understand how they felt. 


"Not that again"

"Same old same old"

Some of these comments I'd heard before but some comments were new and surprised me:

"Too difficult"

"Not sure what I'm supposed to be doing"

These were the opinions I needed to try to overcome and here's what we did.

Firstly, I decided to work on the 4 players with the ball. I wanted to highlight that this shape appears in the game a lot and that how they interact and MOVE is crucial. If you watch a lot of Rondos though, even at the highest levels, the ones you tend to see show the players pretty much stationery just pinging the ball around. 

I felt the lines play a part in this so we moved all the players inside the box. Keeping the box as a reference, the pitch if you like. 

I then told the players that the game was about them moving up and down or side to side to help create passing lanes for the player with the ball. We placed one "defender" inside rather than two and got them started. 

Immediately, movement began. Player came towards to offer themselves for a pass and others moved to create options that removed the defender. 

Point Number 1

Rondo is not about standing still 

The players agreed that this was already feeling more like what happens in the game. We played for five minutes and then introduced the next element.

We had discussed and coached 1st, 2nd and 3rd line passes for over a year so the players knew the concepts. I started to talk to them about each pass and what it could be used for:

1st Line - Draw the player, invite a press, make them do something.
2nd Line - Eliminate one player, go around.
3rd Line - Go through, Penetrate, Move forward, create. 

Although they understood the concepts previously, this simple switch to "what are they for?" seemed to improve their understanding. We played again and I asked them to shout the type of pass they were making before or as they were playing it. After that I asked them to shout why they were doing it " move him, around him, through"

Point Number 2

Rondo is not about 1 kind of pass

So for the 4 "outside" players we were already working on numerous coaching points all of which can be worked on singularly, in combinations or as different ones for each individual:

  • Movement of unit
  • Support / depth / width
  • Type of pass
  • Weight of pass
  • Body shape to receive
  • Creating movement
  • Thinking ahead
  • Taking risks
After playing for a while I asked if they felt the exercise was getting easier and they agreed. This is when I added the second defender and made a change to the pitch. 

I added thirds to the pitch and initially locked the defenders into the middle third. I asked the attackers to continue as they had been and shifted focus to the defenders. 

Point Number 3

Rondo is not just about the attackers

Immediately the attackers found things more difficult and more turnovers occurred but as the defenders were locked in the middle third they soon found ways of moving them, splitting them apart and playing through with a 3rd line pass. 

I asked the defenders what the issue was. 

" We can't move forward to put pressure on" 

Great spot. I asked if sometimes they would need to not put pressure on? 

" what about when you're tired?"

This led to us quickly discussing defending as a pair, the distances between each other and shifting across when needed. 

With this insight, we played for another few minutes. Cohesive defending started to appear. The attackers tended to keep possession though, they just struggled to play through as much.

"What's the problem?" I asked

" We are too flat and close together, they can always play around"

Point 4

Defending a Rondo is not about aimlessly chasing about. 

After this, I allowed one of the defenders to enter any third but one was still locked in the middle. "why am I doing this?"

"To allow one of us to press"

"What about the other?"

" They should cover by being deeper but still block of the through pass"


We played and swapped on transition as normal. 

The 2 Inside players had been working on:

  • Pressing, triggers, 
  • Shifting point of pressure
  • How to cause a mistake
  • Defensive body shape
  • Covering the press
  • Blocking passing lanes
  • Patience with 1st line pass
  • Defending the around and through pass

Finally, I removed the Thirds and observed the final few minutes of the Rondo. The technique, movement, defending and physical nature all seemed to have been improved. 

At the end, I said " Now that's a Rondo "

Some of my players still don't like Rondos but why should everyone like everything we try to do? The difference now is they have a greater understanding of what is expected of them which allows them to throw themselves into it. As with any session the intensity should be correct.

I've even had players decide which of the many elements they want to focus on during the Rondo. As a coach you could drive this based on players needs or give them ownership.

The Rondo can be used as a simple warm up or a way to have a laugh, it can also be used in the simple format above for numerous different reasons and focuses. Beyond this simple version, a myriad of options open up. Tactical Rondo, Positional Rondo. 

In the end, this is it's power, the flexibility and number of elements it covers.

Thursday, 15 November 2018

Transitions: Old Job - New Job

If you've read previous posts, It would be easy to come to the conclusion that I disagree with coaching of any kind. This is simply not true. After all, I'm a football coach. I simply don't see learning as the only, or possibly even the main reason why kids get involved with football.

But guess what, I do coach. I try to think about my sessions, my children and what could be needed at any point. I also ask them how they are feeling and whether they just want to play. It really is no big deal. 

In this post, I'm going to discuss my interest in Rondo's, how I feel they can be unrealistic and how I've tried to morph some of them into Games. 

To help with this I'll simply lay out a session that focuses on Transitions and walk you through how and why I designed the session as I did.


Over the last 3 years my coaching has focused on the Principles of the Game and what this means for a Footballer. Most people know these Principles and I find they're a great way to get kids involved in thinking about the game. They also act as a kind of Syllabus. 

To make this even more Child Friendly, the kids tried to formulate their own ideas a few years ago. We called this the Flow of the Game.

Recently, our discussions have moved on to Transitions and how regular and important they are. This is how we ran the session.

As with most specific sessions, earlier in the week, I had sent out some video clips to some of the team as a primer for what would be discussed at training. I could have focused their attention with some well thought out questions but as usual, they just received the clips and I left it to them.

As the kids began to arrive, they immediately started to play 1V1, 2v1, 2v2 and so on as the numbers grew. This would culminate in 2 games of 3v3 until they were called together to start the session. 

We chatted about the video footage and I asked what it was they were noticing. Some correctly identified turnovers while, as is typical, some highlighted other parts of the footage. A nice one two or a switch of play. This is a great reminder that no one will ever see the game as you do. Well, not unless you focus their attention.

Once I explained that we would be discussing Transitions, all the kids could see what was happening in the videos .We followed this up with a question:

What is a Transition?

"losing the ball, winning the ball, being in possession, not having the ball, having to defend"

Lot's of answers and all of them relevant and correct.

I dug deeper about the "in possession and out of possession" comments and we drew up the following list of what could be going on at either moment:

Notice they use different words than we probably would. Follow rather than Track?  

The kids also noticed that the list for Out of Possession is pretty much just the opposite of what we are trying to do if we've got the ball. This is what we should be tapping into and using back with them. Their ideas and language not ours.

This chat also led to a moment of inspiration from one of the kids that shaped my comments for the rest of the evening. 

"Transitions are when my job changes"

So simple, so insightful and so useful. I now had something that I could hang the rest of the evening on. "New Job".

Through this 4 minute discussion, the kids had correctly worked out how to identify and notice a transition and more importantly that a transition required some kind of reaction.

I explained that these reactions are the essence of football. Possession alters so many times during the game and that how you react, and how often you can react will make a huge difference. 

The rest of the session was based on noticing the transitions and reacting.

I wanted to start with less "noisy" opportunities to do this so set up some simple 5v2 rondo's to dial down the interference and dial up the chances to spot and react.  However, this is were the rondo, in it's simple format, fails to be representative of a game. I was asking the kids to notice a transition but to also react by changing their job. 

The simple, basic rondo that we all know doesn't do this. Transition is obvious, the ball is won by the clever, hardworking defenders but what happens then?

Rather than an instant change of job and a reaction, there's a stop and a swapping of places, then the job changes. You don't get this luxury during a game. The thing is, without the clarity of "Transitions are when my job changes" we may never have spotted this.

We quickly varied the rondo and added a new rule. When a defender won the ball they had to dribble out of the square on any side. The attackers who had been keeping the ball had to close down the ball and prevent the movement out of the square. 

I'm quite sure this game is nothing new but I'm highlighting it to show how the session evolved.

Once we had this rondo going we thought about what else happens upon transition and worked out we could add two pug goals outside the square so that as soon as an interception is made the defenders were to look to pass into the pugs. 

We could also have combined these two methods to give the players a choice. Dribble out or complete the pass.

Essentially the basic rondo and "ok I've won it, time to hand over the bib" was replaced by the realism of "ok I've won it, my job has just changed."

After 15 minutes of swapping between these games we decided to add to the challenge. I divided the square down the middle and gave 1 point if you passed or dribbled on the same side that you won the ball but 3 points if you played or dribbled into the opposite side. This was an attempt to encourage players to circulate the ball out away from the pressure. 

This progression was much more difficult for my group but at least they still had the choice. I wasn't insisting they must switch the play but rewarding it if they could.

Finally, I tried to dial up the amount of noise in the session and depart from the rondo to more of a game with all the inherent difficulty this brings.

We chose 3 teams, 2 playing and 1 acting as goals or receivers. The teams would play directionally and attempt to score by getting the ball to one of their receivers. The other teams would try to stop this and immediately react, changing their job and trying to do the same with the opposite receivers. 

First to 3 goals would win and the receivers would replace the losing team. This element of "winner stays on" competition led to a frenzied, intelligent exploration of Transitions and reactions. Many of the kids mentioned it was the best game they had played and some even wanted to continue rather than set up a full sized game.

We carried the theme over into the 7 aside game and for 20 minutes we could hear kids reminding others that their " job had changed" as Transitions were highlighted. 

I know this is a very long winded way of describing a session that others can take, use and adapt but I feel there's much more to the art of coaching that just the set up of the activities. 

I'd be really interested in other sessions being expanded upon like this.

Please share your stories.

Saturday, 27 October 2018

Coaching For The Brave

Over the years football has become more and more commercial. At its highest levels the game is now so professional and scientific it bears little resemblance to that played just a generation ago.

This has brought great benefits for players, supporters and TV audiences around the world.

A whole industry has erupted to support the game, spawning Directors of Football, Sports Psychologists, Performance Analysts and even Sleep Advisers. Clubs have poured millions into Elite Academies for those identified as having a chance of reaching the top and reaping the rewards. Young Starlets that graduate from these Centres of Excellence are paid thousands of pounds per week despite never having done anything of merit in the game.

Coaches are trained and can't wait to get into the talent factories as a "first step on the rung" to a dream full time job with a club.

Kids as young as nine and ten have a Golden ticket dangled in front of them and doting, eager parents hapilly take them away from their youth clubs to leave playing with friends behind.

YouTube and Twitter become engorged with professional training sessions. Barca this and Real that. Rondo this and Drill that.

Still, the improvements are all worthwhile and we can all easily accept it's for the better.

But then, as time goes on, it inevitably starts to trickle down. Not just to lower league clubs or non league clubs but Grassroots Youth Clubs. You know, the club down your road or in your village.

The clubs that take in 5,6 and 7 year olds with a promise of a game of football every week.

The volunteer coaches inside these clubs can't help but think "should I be doing more?", "How can I improve my players?".

They go from volunteering to "what do I do now?" in the blink of a preseason. Looking around they see fellow volunteers obsessed with making their new 7 year olds better than his 7 year olds.

This drives a never ending cycle of Develop at all Costs. The less aggressive sibling of Win at all Costs.

Kids up and down the country are eagerly introduced to football by volunteers with limited qualifications who have fallen into the trap of believing football is just a learning experience. "I must teach them this, I must teach them that".

Winning is simply replaced by Developing.

A noble replacement but one that is still based largely on what an adult wants and not what a child wants.

Compare today's Youth football with that of a, possibly rose tinted, generation ago. Children still loved football, infact they possibly loved it more. There was far less competition in the way of computer games. They still started to play the game early but their introduction would have been completely different.

Initially it would be a sibling who'd start kicking a ball around with them or a friend from a couple of doors down. Then they'd continue in the school yard with kids of similar but not always the same age.

If they were lucky they may get some school games but probably not until 11 or 12.

Then, if excited enough and seen to be good enough they may get asked to join a Club.

However, even in these clubs, not everyone was lucky to be able to "train" as well as play a game every week. Crucially, if they did "train" it looked nothing like what you'd see today.

Regardless of this, most kids experienced the game on the streets. Adapting the 11 aside that parents insist on today to smaller games that could be played with varying numbers of mates.

What does this have to do with the coach of today?

I believe coaches can and should be less concerned with learning during their sessions for young children.

I believe coaches should be confident enough to let the kids get on with it.

Class of 92

As an example let's take a look at one of the most decorated group of players in the modern game. The famed Class of '92.

We will have heard about Scholes, Butt and the Nevilles and seen how they went from Youth Cup winners to multiple Premier league and Champions League winners.

Surely they must have been coached from an early age with Rondos and Positional Play?

Surely they must have had well meaning coaches with learning objectives and session plans?

Actually, that's not true at all.

My friend and next door neighbour was a lad called Glynn Buckley. Glynn played in the same Youth team that Scholes, Butt and the Nevilles did. Boundary Park Juniors.

I've talked to him numerous times about his football education and he never mentions anything that resembles coaching as we'd see it today.

Glynn lived next door but one to me and every day he'd be in the cul de sac playing 3 and in, Wembley, 60 seconds and maybe a 2v2 with me and our brothers.

Rain, wind, snow, it didn't matter. He'd be out with his ball. If he couldn't find others he didn't care. The ball was enough.

He did this day in, day out for years.

He was in the last year of Primary School before he ever had anyone even organise after-school games for him. I know, because that was me. His school asked for PE assistance when I was at college. We had an afternoon a week to do extra curricular activities and I chose to help in local schools.

Glynn and his school mates had never had anyone who could help them with football and I just turned up, organised 5 aside and encouraged them were I could.

Glynn's first real taste of organised football came at his next school where he started playing 11 aside against other schools.

His football teacher was Mr Wilson an RE teacher who also played in the same amateur team that I did.

Mr Wilson's coaching consisted of this:

10 minutes of static stretches
12 minute run around athletics track
5 aside round robins for whatever time was left. ( we need to return to these games )

Again, does this look like anything you'd see at a training session today? I doubt it very much.

So, at the age of 12,  Glynn had been subjected to zero coaching as we would know it. None.

He was left on his own to explore and fall in love with the game.

Here's the weird bit:

Boundary Park Juniors were a very ambitious football club. Each year they would scour the local schools for the best footballers they could find and bring them together.

How else would the Nevilles, from Bury and Glynn from Rochdale end up playing with Scholes from Oldham in a team based in Oldham?

In effect they acted like academies do now. Attracting the best talent and bringing them together as a great team.

Surely this is where Glynn and the rest of them were coached and developed into the players they'd end up as?

Well according to Glynn, NO.

Training was a bit of running and loads of small games. Bit of a theme cropping up here.

Yes they had coaches demanding certain things of them and challenging them but no formalised "today we are learning this."

In fact he's clear that his team mates would have hated this approach and tended to get the best out of each other by setting their own standards.

As promised, let me circle back to these small games.

These weren't tame affairs. Honestly, they were brutal. I doubt that they would be tolerated in today's climate.

Nowhere to hide, fast, intimidating and super competitive.

These games are the one thing that no present day session can offer. No drill, rondo or whole part whole can replicate the primal experience that these games do. So much so that academies around the world are turning to forms of Street Football and Cage Football to try to imitate these hotbeds of peer pressure.

The better the players the better the games were but even at less rarified heights of talent they were awesome. Just watching and anticipating your turn would be enough to enhance your development like no coach ever could.

You'd be watching, waiting, plotting and getting pumped ready to knock "Winner Stays On" off their perch.

Watch kids 5 aside now. The comparison is night and day.

Boundary Park were so good they were eventually asked to leave their league. This is when the local professional clubs became interested.

Glynn and my other mate John didn't make it at United and ended up playing in my amateur team which Glynn later left to play Rugby league. ( A sport he'd never really played until 22).

None of this is mentioned to denigrate how things are today but to simply demonstrate that if you want, if you're confident enough, you can run youth football training sessions differently and still know it's not harming their development.

If one of the greatest groups of players ever assembled managed to get there with minimal, if any, formal coaching then I believe it's ok to let little Johnny and Jenny explore and take their own time.

In fact, I could easily argue that it's the insistence on formalised coaching that inhibits the growth of some players and leads to boredom and dropout...but I'm not going to.

So, what can that well meaning, volunteer coach do about all this?

Well, first of all, you need to feel confident enough to do whatever you feel most comfortable with and don't be afraid to watch that evolve.

Don't be wedded to any one method. They are kids and it's actually not that big a deal.

Football is a wide spectrum and can accommodate many differing styles and ways of coaching.

Find something that suits you, something that you can be true to and enjoy.

You'll need to be confident though because you'll probably get questioned by parents, other coaches or if you're like me, YOURSELF.

I've spent months trying to work out how to describe my coaching style, which Pedagogy it lines up with and how I try help kids learn the game.

What I learnt was that I was asking the wrong question.

 The real question is "what do I want to offer the kids?"

Once I asked this question the rest seemed to dissolve away.

What I wanted to offer the kids was a kind of free range exploration of the game. Something that I myself felt I'd benefited from and was largely missing from the coaching landscape.

I'd have loved my Level One course to have been  "Hey, calm down, don't sweat it they're 7!"

It was all about DNA, session plans and learning objectives. All fine but not exactly what attracts a kid to a ball.

Recently those very same coach developers have all told me that just playing loads of footy is pretty much all that's needed at that age.

What a missed opportunity.

Pretty much every coach I know laments the fact that kids don't play enough football these days. Lots of esteemed professionals insist that whatever the age they joined a club, they learned the game on the streets. No coaches, just hothouses of bliss and competition.

If we truly believe this, why is it that when we have the opportunity to let them play we break it up into a session with a learning objective and possibly a big game if they behave well?

Why not give them what they crave?

Give them what we feel they don't do enough?

Give them what Cryuff, Bergkamp and so many others insist is what formed their game?

Be brave, think about what you want to offer. Have confidence because at some point, you or someone else will ask "are the kids really learning?"

This is were you can really undermine yourself but here's what you need to remember:

There's no rush. Just because you may have a game on Saturday doesn't mean your kids need to play like Barca... by Saturday.

If you feel confident enough to place the enjoyment of just playing above learning the intricacies of the game you'll start to see Saturday differently. It becomes less about applying your well taught lessons and more about kids finding ways to solve problems while having a brilliant time.

Everyone seems to agree that kids can, and do learn in lots of ways. Direct instruction, Guided Discovery and immersive exploration are all different ways that kids can find out about the game and what they can bring to it.

Aren't you tired of trying to build the next Messi? Why not find out what it is that your kids will bring to the game. 

I want them to be the next Johnny or Jenny not the next Messi. He's been done!

At some point, a parent is going to ask "what's going on? I can't see any coaching!"

Be brave, tell them what you're doing and why. They can choose to go elsewhere. That's up to them. Tell them about the Class of 92. Tell them about Glynn.

Just don't feel you have to bow to their opinions.

Each approach has its benefits and costs and none is better or worse. I've yet to find an academic who will insist they've found the answer so be open minded, put the kids first and think about what YOU want to offer.

If that has to be a rondo then fine. If it has to be Englands DNA then fine but guess what, it can also be none of those. It can just be turn up, play for an hour and go home with a great big smile.

If you decide that the above resonates with you, here are a bunch of ideas that will keep the kids and yourself happy without their football having to be about lessons.

Firstly, I'd urge you to take a look at @salisburyrovers.

This club decided that it wanted to offer a different football experience for it's kids

They believed that the race to get kids into kits, in teams, in leagues drives a lot of behaviours that kids shouldn't need to experience when playing football.

So they left the league so they could truly control their football environment.

Less explicit teaching and coaching and more fun and child appropriate games.

It's a shinning beacon of what can be achieved if you just think outside the normal. Think what could be possible if you step outside the given format?

This however may be a step too far. You may not be able to do this so just think about your sessions.

This is where I start:

"Why will a series of games not be enough for them tonight?"

If I can't find a bloody good reason then that's where I stick. This doesn't mean a simple 8v8 or however many turn up. But a series of differing formats the will give the kids exactly what they want from the first minute they arrive and drives the competition that challenges them to find answers in the game.

Here's a few tips:

Is there a goal?
Do the teams always have to be equal in numbers or quality of player?
Is there a keeper?
Is there a scoring system?
Can the game be adapted on the fly if need be?
Can I devise a tournament or round robin?

The games that kids used to create on the streets would all look similar to the above. For example the best form of 1v1 development is still a game of 3 and In. No coach required.

There are loads of resources that explain these street games but my favourites are:

3 and In
60 seconds
Headers and volleys
Wembley or Cuppy doubles.

Let the kids pick. They'll thank you!

For those wanting more structure so that you can fool the parents and look like there's loads going on, I'd suggest getting hold of the following books:

Weeks and weeks of small sided games with differing themes. It really doesn't need to be more complicated than this.

Finally, for those of you who want an Ultimate Guide I'd suggest getting Horst Weins book.


This will give you everything you need to ensure the kids are playing, having fun, competing and getting better.

Taking this route is not easy. You'll need to be brave.

Go on, I dare you...

Be brave.