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Give the game back to the kids! Have you heard this recently? Coaches like to repeat this phrase in nearly every conversation about youth football, but what is the reality? Well, I think is fair to say that, overcoaching is the norm rather than exception from the rule in foundation phase and that it is the sad reality that our youngest children are exposed to. They experience this on daily basis during sessions and games. Because we are qualified to coach, we often forgot who we are coaching, and why and what our priorities are or should be. We often restrict a child’s love of the game, love of the ball, because we can’t resist to coach more than required.
Our first priority is actually not to make kids better at passing, shooting etc… but to make them fully and truly fall in love with the game and the ball they love to chase nearly every day. We then can build a solid foundation for all these kids to stay in the game for as long as they possibly can. Thanks to that we create more volunteers, referees, coaches. This is a privilege but also a big responsibility on our shoulders. To do that you really do not need to coach, but most certainly need to understand child development which comes to my next point.
Playing the game is the highest form of creativity, where kids can explore their curiosity, experimenting with what is possible, taking risks, making decisions and solving problems. Many times, they crying for the ball, two goals and two teams only to play with complete freedom as its natural for child overall development. But no, we as coaches must drop our coin into the fountain. We love to create more nonsense rules, restrictions in which (without knowing) are strangling kids love of the game.
Perhaps it is worth more to know about how children learn and what their basic needs are before we throw, let’s say, an 8-year-old a session plan full of language, diagrams, and topics that are completely alien to them. Then we wonder, why some kids did not show up the next week? Less is more someone smart said, yet we still seem to forget that when working with youngest players!
People tend to think when you don’t use verbal instructions, demonstrate what to do, then you are not coaching. Really? Well, foundation phase players need only time-limited simple instructions as their concentration levels are very low. That is why observation is your best method of coaching as you allow young players uninterrupted play and therefore they will have good fun and continue to love the game. Constant verbal interaction makes kids shift their focus from what has been said and take away the fun of playing the game. Fun is taken away in the silly name of coaching only!
To conclude: “Football has to be fun for kids or it doesn’t make sense”– Johan Cruff