I coach junior football. I’ve been doing it since 2011 when my six and five-year old started playing. I didn’t want to be the coach because I was never a good player. If anything I played more reserve grade than first grade. But I love the game. I watched a lot of games and a lot of training sessions (as my middle brother was a first grader).
In 2011, small sided games was just a few years old in Australia. It made perfect sense why it was introduced but it was a totally foreign concept to me to have six kids in a team and play 4 v 4. What was even stranger was the fact that the 50% of the kids who registered that year to play U6’s couldn’t even get themselves into a position to kick a ball let alone run with the ball or take a player on.
But I took on the role to coach and god damn it, I will coach. I only trained them once a week in 2011 so I structured the sessions in the same way I learnt about football from my brothers.
Ball mastery, 1 v 1’s and a game at the end. My main mission was to have all the players comfortable with the ball and taking players on. It was tough. And I was disheartened. I was spending so much time with trying to develop the other kids, I neglected my own.
You see when I was playing football back in the 80’s only the real committed kids would sign up. And all the teams had just one team per age group, so if you didn’t make the team you either;
- Trained harder to make the team the following year
- Tried to find another club in the area (pending your local Club’s approval, even though they didn’t select you
- Or you gave the game away and played another sport.
So the coaches back then never worked on skills. It was assumed you would already have ball mastery skills and excellent 1 v 1’s before you even started. One coach told me my job is to not let the striker score and when I win the ball to pump it forward to our striker. I once took four touches before I played a long ball forward and I was subbed. I never took four touches again.
And I’m thinking about my past while I’m training the other kids in the team who have never watched a game of football to stop booting the ball when they get it and to take a touch and try to take a player on.
I’m seeing all these articles about kids engagement and making it fun for them, so they don’t give the sport away and I’m comparing these stories to the 80’s.
I know for a fact, the Club my kids play for had;
- 84 kids register in U6 to play 4 v 4. Six kids per team x 14 teams.
- Six years later in the U12’s 48 are left, with 4 teams of 12 players each.
- The gap between the “A” team and the “B” team is huge.
So effectively isn’t the end result the same as running that one high performing team like it was in the 80’s. By introducing small sided games, more kids register, which mean more fees for the federations. The high number of teams per age group, means more coaches are required. These coaches need to get qualified, so more money for the federations. The qualifications are valid for 3 years, so if those coaches are still in the game, more money is spend on getting qualified. But it doesn’t mean the best kids will be found or retained.
In 2012, I did the FFA Grassroots, Junior and Youth Licence. I knew I needed more knowledge if my coaching journey was to continue. The cost was $160, however if you passed it, the club or the local FA was meant to refund you half of the monies. I passed it and never got a refund. While the course was good it wouldn’t help dad’s or mum’s who didn’t know football. Because there was no ball mastery. Back in 2005 I was given a burnt copy of Coerver “Make Your Move”. It became my bible for teaching the kids “Ball Mastery”. This made a big difference on the kids I coached compared to the other coaches who just did the course/s.
In U7’s I trained them twice a week. Ball Mastery, 1 v 1’s and 5 v 1 Rondos formed part of the sessions with a game at the end. I had to replace two kids who left the team to join another team with their friends in it. But I was given two kids who have never played, so i was back at the start again.
U8’s in 2013 was 7 v 7. That meant four new kids given to me by the club. I know some clubs did skill assessments to place kids, but the Club I was involved in didn’t do it for this age group. So I had 10 kids and it was hard. I had kids again who just booted the ball forward and did not feel comfortable at all with the ball. Even after two years in a 4 v 4 format, it was like these four new kids just started. And again, I felt like I was back at the start.
U9’s in 2014 was still 7 v 7. I took an extra kid so I had 11 kids. It was a lot of subs, but I as going on a family holiday to Europe for the last 7 games and my absence would leave the team with 9 players.
In 2015, it was U10’s and it was 9 v 9. For the first time, the Club had trials to place the kids in Advanced, Intermediate High, Intermediate Low and Social teams. My son born in 2005 trialled and made the U10 Advanced team for the Club. I kept my other son born in 2006 in the U9’s again. He also trialled for the Advanced team and made it.
I coached the U9 Advanced team and a person who played at NSL level coached the U10’s. It’s safe to say that my son, along with others went backwards in their development because of this coach. While this coach played at a high level and he made sure he mentioned it, he couldn’t coach kids for shit. Eventually the parents of the kids in the U10 team got in touch with me to train their kids. I swore this was would be the last time that I would feel intimidated by people who played a high level.
In 2016, I did my Asian C Licence. It cost $1800. A big price to pay. All I have left to do is submit my final video assessment of my game training session to receive the qualification. I have two years to do this. I remember the odd looks I got from the others doing it. On the first day, all the participants had to introduce themselves and every single person except me, played in the old NSL or the A-League. Every single person was skinny except me. I had an ACL reconstruction a few months before, so I couldn’t even participate. And I made a promise to myself, this would BE the last time I would fee intimidated.
Also in 2016, I coached the U11 Advanced team, which had by son in it. My other son, born in 2006 son trialled and got selected for the U10 Skill Acquisition Program (SAP) team. A cost of $1500 to be an elite player in Australia for one year. Imagine my shock when I saw the sessions for an elite program. The coach had the kids playing ball tag and other rubbish like that. The fact that 3/4 of the kids couldn’t receive the ball with their back foot and face forward was not an issue.
Back at my Club, I trained the kids three times a week and I coached both the Advanced A and Advanced B teams. I had my rep kid train one of the sessions. This meant he trained 4 times a week and I was mindful of over training him as I was really subscribing to the research of Raymond Verheijen. His name came about in a discussion due to a football periodisation session he held in Australia where he turned the aircon off and wouldn’t let the people go to the toilet for 4 hours. I was interested as to why he would do that and what was he trying to achieve.
And here I am in 2017, I coach the U12A team (with my two boys back together again and loving it) and two U7 teams (with my youngest in it).
It’s funny that my team doesn’t have any kids born between Jan and May, as the good athletic ones born in those months are in the rep teams. The players in my team have the birth months from June 2005 to July 2006.
And I’m still not happy with the kids 1 v 1 actions. I have taught them all I know but they need more. So I called in an Obi Wan Kenobi like mentor to assist me with this. Back in his day he was brilliant and only injuries derailed his career. His own kids are in the professional youth teams and lot of the other kids he has coached have also joined NPL1 teams. It looks like it’s one of my best decisions. And while the journey is hard, long, stressful and very time-consuming when you are planning sessions and what not, it’s totally worth it.