Prepare in advance.

Don’t just arrive at a session and figure out what you are going to do. Plan a session; assume same amount of planning should go into a session as goes into a match. Don’t take the easy way out of a five a side kick around. You can only help one child at a time when you do and you stop the whole session and perhaps focus all childrens attention on one child which can hurt confidence. Also the better children only benefit as they get the most out of the ball in the session. 10 kids one ball is one tenth of ten kids ten balls! Write out a short list of what you plan to do and for how long. With underage football; change the activity every 5-10 mins as the children will get bored if not. Plan a season of sessions. If you have 15 sessions until Christmas, focus each session on key skills:

  • Running and dribbling in varied directions
  • Passing
  • Shooting
  • Tackling
  • And only cover 1-2 areas in each session.

Arrive Early

You need to set up goals, check equipment and you don’t want to be doing this while the kids are kicking the balls around. Also children respond well to fun in a structured environment- if they get giddy before a training session it’s impossible to keep their attention! Some parents will drop their children off early and they need to be supervised from when they arrive. You can do this by having one coach arrive early and set up and taking it in turns. Agree a drop off and collection point with all parents, make sure every child has shin pads and a water bottle.

Set Up A Clear Visible Training Area

Use cones or poles but make the area clearly visible. Have an area where all the gear and water bottles are left. A child needs well defined space so that practice can work well. Start with two small grids and gradually widen until one larger playing area at the end of the session when you play a game. In this way you improve a child’s perception of space and confidence on a bigger playing area. When the children are all arrived divide them into two groups with bibs. For children who are shy- its easier to fit into a group of five than ten- and it adds to creating a sense of order.

Remember they are Kids!

Anyone who has played football before will remember their various drills- but you were adults then! Children in 7 a side football can be like goldfish after the ball- that’s not a mistake that’s natural! They feel that if they have not got the ball they are not playing. Be patient- spatial awareness on a football field will only come when they are 9-10 and not before.

Start Simple

Its all about building co-ordination and balance but most of all confidence. Start with easy drills- just get the children to dribble in a square marked out by cones- get them to focus on running in different directions, pretend that they are beating the other players, soccer players don’t run in straight lines so why would children. Gradually introduce small skills- toe tapping on the ball, step over the ball, run around the ball. A great tip is rather than calling out the drill, have three cones, one red, one yellow one green. Depending on which cone you are holding up they do something different. On green they dribble, on yellow they do a pre-designated drill and on red they sit on the ball ( or lie on the ground or fall down- whatever is fun!) Walk around with cone- the children learn not to run in straight lines, not to be afraid of close proximity but most of all to look up while they dribble- how many times do you hear a coach in later years shouting at a player to look up while playing?- all taught with a simple drill that avoids you loosing your voice! Do something the kids like that is simple and build on it!

Keep it simple-Don’t teach too much in one session

Its easy to try everything in one session- running, dribbling shooting, throw ins, passing etc. It is better to focus on one to two areas and just vary the drill and bring in games. In the example from above once the kids have dribbled for five minutes, take two kids and get them to tackle the other children and last player with a ball is the winner. Vary the same lesson/skill several ways rather than several different skills one way. What makes it easier is to have typically one basic drill per skill you teach- ball skills, passing, dribbling, shooting, throwing, heading etc.

Reward- compliment- don’t criticise

Children like to be complimented. If you think your team are not doing something they should then praise the one child that does close to what you want and encourage the rest. We’re human so you will criticise but the error will be if you do not follow up with something positive. Have a reward structure- have a jersey that the child that trains hardest gets to wear the following week (last season ours was a celtic jersey with “The boss” on the back!) At the end of a session always sit the kids down for a minute and tell them the skill you focused on, that they did great and get them to give themselves a big clap- it builds confidence. Always speak to a child at his/her height and don’t raise your voice.

Have regular breaks

Water intake is important- take breaks- walk among the kids and make sure they are fine- check any kids regularly who have asthma. This is often the time when kids bond- and their comments and conversations can be priceless! It gives you time to set up the next drill. If you are looking after a large number of kids- get them to sit down- that way they don’t run off!

Discipline is important but can never be threatening

Its important that discipline is maintained. Your work is voluntary and your efforts are not those of a child minding service. Minor incidents can be dealt with- but do it with humour ( my personal favourite is to tell the child to run around the training area shouting “Leeds are great” with his/her hands in the air!) Always have all the parent’s mobile numbers. Tell them at the start of the season to have them on in case of accident or emergency. If you have a difficult child, talk to him or her, in sight of the session but quietly. If the problem persists inform the parent at the end of the session. Make sure the other coach is involved- always be “two deep” in a training session. If the problem is more serious call the parent and ask them to collect the child and report the incident to the child welfare officer. Even if there has been an issue that is resolved but a child was quiet upset- let the parent know. Always encourage good behaviour- get the kids to collect the balls and cones after a session- remind them to clean their own boots!