I’ve had my under 10 side now for some weeks but until we were sensibly demoted by our club coordinator most games were ending in heavy defeats or narrow ones at best. The worst came in a 16-0 defeat which was the a mismatch between a team from a higher league, and our team a team from a lower league. Still, after the third goal the boys lost interest and it quickly escalated to become a nightmare. However, things have notably improved since the team moved down and this has even brought about a change in the boys appetite and attitude towards games as the playing field is far more leveled.
Meanwhile back home, trying to stay cool after sixteen goals go in
Now I knew the challenge I faced when I agreed to coach the boys. I was told they had had difficulties with coaches coming and going and results had not been going their way. However the scale of the task dawned upon me fairly soon into the first game, that this would be a demanding and altogether different project that I have not before dealt with. Their age category states their learning is in its ‘foundation phase’ but their ability certainly reflects this too with some players seemingly very new to the game and new to the mechanics of basic technique. Within the foundation phase, ball mastery and laying down the muscle memory for appropriate techniques is at the core of any syllabus. My challenge therefore has been to essentially design a programme that will help them find the fun in ball mastery in order to find the fun in their matches. Before I began drawing from what I best felt was appropriate for the programme I looked at the resources of learning I had already experienced that could strengthen my end product.
The importance of quality ball contact time and how it can be performed almost anywhere was underlined to me at the summer Coerver coaching youth diploma course, a must attend event for any coach anywhere at whatever level. One of the big takeaways I took was the notion that repetition is crucial but it needs to be disguised under the guise of competition. To me that was a genius idea as it could allow for players to get in contact time with the ball but without getting bored. It was really flexibly displayed how it can be done individually but also in small groups to build a sense of camaraderie and team spirit. In the past I had perhaps moved too quickly from unopposed work to opposed with the limitations of the session time at the forefront of my thinking when designing my session. This would then see the transfer of technique not best carried over with some players as it would with others. Looking at this problem more closely I could see that if I broke down my session plans into their practice types I could perhaps make them more individualized and tailor made to my different ability players that produce a one size fits all approach.
wholeheartedly agree there Ignacio
The FA Youth Award Module 2 introduces the ideas of looking at practice types and fitting them for a purpose. For example, constant practice is a practice that is unopposed and has a high technical focus. The advantages of this is that it develops repetition of a technique and can be used to focus and strengthen a specific aspect, it can build confidence and and can lead to mastery once a level of enjoyment is reached (just think of free kick taking). What it lacks however is the constraints of the external factors from within a game that affect every action; space, time available, opposition numbers faced, oppositions’ position, teammates available, teammates’ position. Practices that replicate this are random practices and see a number of different situations appear and best replicate the game. The advantages of such practices are that they raise players skill level (the ability to perform a specific technique at the right time successfully, regularly and with a minimum of effort), and are practices that closest resemble match days. Of course you can see that what constant practices lack, random practices have in abundance and vica versa. They are indeed two extremes, but there is a happy medium. Variable practices allow players to experiment with their technique through changing conditions. Practices become more dynamic with players dealing with different types of balls and interactions between teammates leading to an increase in decision making. The advantages of such types of practice are that players are now forced to employ varying techniques at different times and get a chance to experiment yet they do not have the pressure of opposition to disrupt them.
Some of the trade-offs that each practice type brings
Having different practice types is great yet you need the players to apply this too. So an understanding of the types of players and more importantly children you deal with is key. The FAYM 3’s focus is on the player and after completing the course days the overriding takeaway I got was the use of challenges. Within the first day of the course, the instructors put on an example session and began using varying challenges for the two teams, specific units within a team and even some for certain individuals. Challenges are great ways of giving players motivation and focus whilst they play. Children play football for different reasons and as a result will be motivated by different things. Some may look at a challenge as an objective target to strive towards to compete against others while others may be motivated by the mere fact you have given them a specific individual target that gives them a sense of learning. Of course the level of the challenge will also vary and the point of it should be to give the child enjoyment and a feeling of success which creates a cyclical process, creating better players.
The journey of 0-100
So what do these snippets I have highlighted from recent courses all mean for a group of players I have? Well it means that a session’s practices broken down into technique-skill- small sided game, as described in FA Level 2 can actually be more accurately described as constant-variable-random practices. Then using the idea of competition and challenges, technical repetitive practices which are crucial but may be otherwise seen as tiresome can be performed and enjoyed. Furthermore, challenges can allow me to better measure my players understanding and will show me which players need what level of guidance and structure and which players need greater challenges and freedom. Importantly this means that the group doesn’t need to be carried through the session dictated by the constraints of time and by whether or not the session objective was perfectly achieved. For me it means that their understanding, confidence as well as their ability is the catalyst for progression and that different players will get there at different times. I just need to skillfully manipulate the practices, observing each player and understanding them as children to make sure they continue to love the process of learning and can see the bridge between training and matches.