1. Check the training
2. Ask the right questions
1. Check the training
2. Ask the right questions
The 8-year-old centre back
As a company that offers children’s football coaching in Leeds we are fortunate to speak to a variety of parents and grassroots football coaches on a regular basis, so we get a good feel for how things are progressing in the junior game.
One common thing we hear goes along the lines of, ‘my son/daughter is a central midfielder for their team’.
Said player is between the age of 6-11 and central midfield could be defender, striker etc etc. You get the idea.
We often bite our tongues and nod.
In reality we want to scream – WHO ON EARTH IS TELLING YOU THAT YOUR 8-YEAR-OLD IS A CENTRE BACK!!!
Look, we are in a unique position in that we coach junior footballers but don’t need to pick a team on a Sunday and handle all the issues/politics that go with that.
But we have spent years researching, learning and observing all things kids football coaching and one thing that is clear is that pigeon-holing a primary school footballer into a position at such a young age does more harm than good.
This was a topic of discussion at our coach education trip to Benfica Academy.
British footballers are finally starting to catch up from a technical point of view but we are light-years behind when it comes to ‘football intelligence’.
Many foreign players are ahead of British youngsters because they have had exposure to playing in different positions at a young age, so they understand the whole game far better than a player who has spent all their time playing in one role.
So, how do we solve this?
As a parent it comes down to whether you are happy for your child to join a team that focuses on development over winning.
Teams that have individual-focused coaches may not win every week but I would bet that, in the long-run, your player would develop more than those in teams that concentrate on winning at all costs.
You’ll have seen those teams before – set positions, ‘big, strong lads’ everywhere and coaches who mainly care about telling everyone at work on Monday that they are the next Guardiola.
The balance is a tough one for coaches when it comes to individual development and keeping everyone happy by way of winning football matches.
That is when you, as a parent, can help by supporting them and getting behind what they are trying to do. It is in the best interests of your child and that should be put first.
A once in a lifetime trip to visit and observe Benfica Academy certainly didn’t disappoint.
Foot-Tech spent 4 days in Lisbon at Benfica’s Caixa Futebol Campus and we have learnt so much from one of the worlds most respected youth football academies.
As much as it was nice to spend some time watching football in a sunny climate, the main reason we did this was to help us improve as coaches so our players are continuously getting the very best football training and we, as an organisation, are not standing still in the ever-changing junior football environment.
So, what did we learn?
Portuguese parents have the same concerns as UK parents
Children’s fascination with tablets, Xbox and Fortnite isn’t exclusive to UK kids. I saw a lot of children doing the ‘Floss’ dance and many others with phones or tablets in their hands whenever we out and about in the city.
This is something that the Benfica coaches are clearly concerned with when it comes to the development of the children in their teams.
And they look to have addressed it with…
SAQ Training at the coaching sessions
One thing that was a constant at the junior football sessions was SAQ training (speed, agility, quickness).
Ladders, hurdles, agility hoops and even skipping ropes were used throughout the academy training with the main aim being to help the players move better and faster.
Children simply are not moving as much as kids from 10-15 years ago and it is affecting their ability in sport and, generally, in every day life.
We were even told that Man United had 8 academy players out injured last season with broken arms because kids don’t play out as much anymore. This means they don’t know how to ‘fall properly’ because they haven’t been exposed to the ruff and tumble of climbing trees, playing football in the street etc. etc.
When you think about that it makes so much sense.
Benfica address this with the SAQ training and it looks to have had a positive impact.
We are also pleased to be able to offer it to our members. If you’d like your children to have this sort of training please click here to be taken to our speed training page.
Emphasis on just letting them play
A big thing that struck me was how much the players seemed to enjoy their sessions. I think this was down to a number of reasons:
You’d be forgiven for thinking, as an academy, the sessions were going to be more military in nature but that couldn’t have been more wrong.
Many grassroots coaches would benefit from thinking about the above.
It could be a British thing but too many times we see managers of junior teams making things more about themselves rather than the players. At Benfica it was the opposite.
They didn’t feel the need to step in every 5 minutes to stop the whole session and have a discussion about what was or wasn’t working. If football was meant to be coached like that we’d do it in a classroom.
The Benfica coaches took a back-seat and simply observed, helped and praised good effort.
The drills were simple, game-related and it was the drills that did the coaching. The coaches just hammered home the good things the players did or individually spoke to a player who might have needed some help.
No set positions for the players
This is a big annoyance for us at Foot-Tech! How on earth a coach can tell a primary school child what their position is is beyond me.
We hear it all the time – ‘yeah, my son/daughter plays defence for XYZ Football Club’. Utter nonsense!
Benfica do not give their players set positions until well into high school.
So each player learns the game better. Again, that makes so much sense.
If a young player has chance to play in a variety of positions they will understand more about space, positioning, the runs to make and they will appreciate the work their teammates in other positions will be doing when it comes time for them to nail down a set position in the future.
In the end, their game intelligence is increased.
This is something that its severely lacking in the English game at the grassroots level.
It isn’t easy for grassroots coaches as they need to balance the needs of the players, parents and club. Mixing positions may mean less games won and then parents aren’t going to be happy.
Education/communication is needed to address this. At the younger level, development over winning needs to be the mantra and everyone at a club should buy into that.
Play to win…but development is the main thing
Benfica coaches were quick to point out that the individual players’ development is the main thing but they also need to learn that winning is important.
They wholeheartedly focus on making each player better from a physical and mental point of view and fully embrace fun.
But they also make sure that each player knows that winning is important and that is, in the end, what they should be striving for.
They teach them how to win, why they should want to win but also that losing is part of the game.
They teach them to want to win but how to use losing in a constructive manner so they can learn what to do better next time.
At the academy they have invested heavily in sports science and data analysis.
Interestingly this isn’t just to do with the physical side of the players.
It seemed they are also massively concerned with the players’ mental health and have a number of psychologists working at the club.
They know everything about each player so the coaches know when to put an arm round someone or when to leave them alone.
It was really interesting stuff and shows you how seriously the game is taken at the highest level.
Most of the older players we observed had release clauses in their contracts of up to £30m so it is understandable that the club will do whatever it takes to make sure they are firing on all cylinders from a physical and mental point of view.
Some proud moments for Foot-Tech
Having the chance to observe the sessions and talk to the coaches left me with a sense of pride regarding what we are doing at Foot-Tech.
We are getting many things ‘right’ when it comes to how we approach junior football coaching and how we engage our players.
Seeing the SAQ training in particular was a big plus for us and we are so pleased we decided to go ahead with offering it to our players.
That being said, we are always learning and will always want to improve the experience for all Foot-Tech members.
The Benfica trip has highlighted a number of things we can add to what we do plus some things we are already doing that can be improved.
We look forward to implementing it all very soon.
Lastly, we will get saving for one of these…
Words cannot describe this piece of kit they have in their training complex so we will let this video do the talking.
Just amazing – please show your children!
As a company that offers children’s football coaching in Leeds we are constantly trying to think of new ways to get children to practise their football skills away from our training sessions.
They train with us at our various venues in Leeds for around 1-2 hours per week and we know that this on its own isn’t enough to truly develop their footballing ability.
So, what can help?
Make it competitive
We find that competition really helps engagement and encourages children to practise playing football away from their standard football team training or coaching sessions.
One way we do this is through our Monthly Challenges where we give the children a football skill to practise at home. The one who can do it the best at the end of the month wins a prize.
It is a bit of fun but it works and we can immediately see those who have actually got out and done the work!
What you can do as a parent
Parents of football-mad kids often ask us what they can do to help their child get better at football.
The only way to do this is to get them to practise more but the football practise needs to be purposeful.
‘Go out and practise’ means absolutely nothing to a young child. You need to give them something specific to do.
An easy-one is kick-ups.
Set them a target of, say, 5 kick-ups in a row on Monday and they need to beat their record by the end of the week.
A great one is to show them their favourite player doing a football skill on YouTube and then challenging your child to be able to do it by the end of the day, weekend, week.
If you’d like some free examples of various skills then head over to our YouTube channel and take a look at our videos.
The language you use makes a difference
How you ask your child to practise has a huge impact on if they will do it not. Check this example –
‘Why don’t you go out and practise’
‘Do you think you could do this skill?’
See the difference? The second ones gives them some purpose and a challenge.
Another good example –
‘I wonder if you could beat your keepy-up record before Sunday’
Be mindful of how you ask them to practise and you’ll find they’ll be outside with a ball at their feet a lot more than they currently might be.
If all else fails then good old bribery can be used as a last resort! ‘Do 10 kick-ups by the end of the week and you get…’.
It isn’t how we like to do things but it can be effective!
Please feel free to comment below with your success on this. We are always eager to learn new ways of getting children to practise their football.
Foot-Tech Academy provides children’s football coaching in Leeds through our weekly football training sessions, after-school clubs and holiday camps. For more info on what we do please visit www.foot-techacademy.co.uk