Getting up early on Saturday after a week’s teaching may be a hard task, but when you have the enthusiasm for sport, namely under eights’ football, this can be the least of a coach’s worries. Coaching kids’ football can be a most rewarding experience. Every Saturday at 8.00 am, the kids are ready to learn new football skills, have fun and meet their friends; I have to encapsulate all these factors for them and more. The problem of coaching these kids in their football team and as a group of individuals is fitting in a challenging step by step coaching plan within the ninety minute training period. This includes periods of warm up and skills training while not forgetting preparing them for thirty-minute match before the end of those ninety minutes.
One given Saturday, the first step is the warm up where the muscles are warmed up and stretched a little. So, after rounding the kids up for an approximate start of 8.00 am, I start the first exercise that also includes the thought of waking up their minds. The little ones can be still a little sleepy! Kids do not want training to be too serious and being 8.00am they are not there to be lectured to. I do not want them against me. So, for example, a great game for a warm up for coaching that always works involves the kids each dribbling with the ball over a distance of twenty meters, then when I shout a body part while they are dribbling the kids have to place that body part on the ball. This gets them familiar with the ball but also opens their thinking to listen and perform a task. Usually, the kid who is last to do the action gets a gentle kick on his rear. It adds a little humour to proceedings. A careful check on the clock is needed as not starting dead on 8:00 am and this exercise running for twenty minutes or more can limit time later; not forgetting I want the main focus to be on learning more specifics on football.
Next, is the chance for the kids to actually learn a few football skills, making sure before this that they might need a break for a drink. Naturally with the skills and warm up there has to be a transition from the last exercise where the process of coaching has to include a part that actually teaches them skills for future use. I always ask them a few questions on their new skill beforehand to get their knowledge on it, to acknowledge what they will learn and also its importance. For example, one major factor of football and coaching is passing so an emphasis on this should be paramount. I get the kids into pairs three metres apart, firstly demonstrating the task with a better player by using the inside of their foot to pass the ball (noting also the wrong way). Next, the pairs of kids pass to each other as I observe and coach. This can be done for five minutes. Then, I add a bit more flavour to the exercise. They then, have to pass the ball through their friend’s legs. Again, another five minutes is fine. I also bring in the cones where they are still three metres apart and each player standing opposite each other scores a point if they hit the other player’s cone (score five hits to win). So, the kids are now a bit more familiar with passing. To follow this is to get the kids into groups of threes and play ‘piggy in the middle’. Two kids pass between themselves and the other has to touch the ball. Another short period is used for this. Another check of the time should be done as time is running out before the match so to finish off the skills section I play three attackers on two defenders challenge where they have to pass (only three touches allowed) and score past a nominated goalkeepers into the goal. I make sure to change around the players from attackers to defenders after a few minutes.
Finally, the real game starts after another drink break. The team now has to be picked for the match, positions delegated and tactics discussed. At this lower age of players, it is not fair to baffle them with football science, so it’s my job to encourage them to have fun and enjoy playing while still keeping in mind what they have learnt beforehand. Now, the game starts. I need to keep the kids’ minds active, younger kids can lose concentration and think that football is just about kicking the ball while looking at the ground. Minds do wander! Win or lose though I should make sure the kids tried. Once the first half is over the I direct the kids to their drink, then get them back for a little positive pep talk, then they lead out for the second half. At the final whistle, both teams shake hands. I then get the team together to congratulate them on doing their best and to realise why they come to practice their football. There are always a lot of positive points to take from any game. Hopefully, my team walks away with a win, but the priority is that a great morning was had by all and they walk away with a smile and have bonded more as a team and friends.
To conclude, all the warm up, skills and final match may seem a lot to do within ninety minutes, but if a little preparation is done, there is never a problem. Enthusiasm for the game and the kids plus a passion for teaching helps any coach along the way. Any new coach should learn that time spent working out a coaching plan banishes into the background by the satisfaction of a seeing the kids’ faces as they have fun training and having a contested match that gets them active on their Saturday mornings.