Let the kids play…

The reason that football is such a great sport to play or watch is that every game is different, each passage of play is unique, every combination between players is a first and no matter how long we might practice something on the training field the chances of exactly the same thing happening in a game are very small.

The amount of information being processed by a player throughout a game means that they are constantly making decisions. Imagine slowing down time and seeing what’s going on as a young player receives a pass. They’re assessing the speed and direction of the approaching ball, they will need to check their immediate surroundings and see how much time and space they have, they will be sub-consciously using their kinaesthetic capability to adjust their body position, and, hopefully, they will be working out what they want to do next.

So the challenge for us as we help our young players to develop is how can we guide them through this seemingly random world so that, together with their team mates, they carry out the plan that we’ve spent hours working on over the last few weeks that we’ve seen the Barcelona/Chelsea/Arsenal players do.

As someone who watches a lot of junior players in games and training sessions it seems to me that the answer must be to shout and scream instructions at them like some manic “Match of the Day” commentator. If you’ve ever watched junior games you will have seen them, the blokes with tracksuits on running up and down the touchline “directing the play” like an orchestral conductor, throwing the baton (water bottle) away in temper when little Johnny, aged 7, doesn’t stick to his instructions to “sit and hold the midfield” and the other team score.

Surely there has to be a better way.

Perhaps one of the key skills we parents and coaches should be developing in our young footballers is an ability to think for themselves, to make decisions and work out solutions to problems.

Of course the difficulty with this is that the best way to learn to think, make decisions, and work out solutions is to be given the freedom to play, to get things right and sometimes to make mistakes.

From a coaches perspective this means being quiet, watching and supporting rather than instructing and directing. So set up games in training sessions that challenge the players to think and experiment, help them with ideas, use lots of “what if” questions, then step back and let them learn by playing.

Parents and spectators can help by taking away the pressure for a result from the weekend match and let them enjoy the game, let them know when they’ve got it right and give them guidance when they need it to work out the answers themselves.

So my challenge to you all whether you’re a coach, a parent, or a spectator, whatever the age group, is to give it a try, go to a junior game, watch, support and encourage but let the players play, make their mistakes and learn.

Remember as adults we’re there to help, support, and encourage but the game belongs to the players, so let them play………….