Football is a fast-paced game that requires dozens of decisions every minute. Heightening young players’ awareness is a great way to set them up for success because the more information they have the better decisions they will make.
Indeed, awareness is what makes the difference between good players and great players. It is why some players always seem to have an extra second on the ball, or why some players always seem to be in the right place at the right time.
But coaches sometimes neglect awareness because it’s difficult to write down the coaching points, or to perform ‘repetitions’ of awareness.
So, here are 5 ways to develop player awareness in any session you coach:
1. Strategically Messy Training
With multiple drills going on at once, or lots of interference during a particular drill, players are forced to become more aware of their surroundings. This is a great way to teach kids to keep their eyes open and their heads on a swivel, so that they can constantly recognize and react to changing situations on the pitch. Challenge your players to stay focused on the task assigned to them even in a messy, chaotic area.
2. Directional Practice Drills
Don’t allow your players the luxury of always facing their teammates and looking up the pitch, because this won’t always be the case during a real match. Use directional drills in which your players receive passes on the turn. This forces them to be aware of what’s behind them, so that they can quickly receive, turn, and jump into action without missing a beat. This can become an invaluable skill for a developing player.
3. Small-Sided Games Without Bibs
Practice bibs can certainly make for a more convenient and orderly practice (and they do accurately simulate match conditions) but if you are specifically working on improving your players’ awareness, try playing your small-sided games without bibs. This technique makes it necessary for your players to look at faces and positions, rather than just bib colours, and ultimately forces them to be more aware of teammates and opposition on the pitch.
4. Proper Eyewear When Necessary
Many young players perform beneath their abilities because of a very simple problem: poor natural eyesight. If you have players struggling in this area, consider recommending athletic eyewear like Acuvue contact lenses. Glasses and sports goggles are also options, but contact lenses are generally seen as the safest and most comfortable options, and also offer the widest field of corrective vision for improved awareness. Improved vision helped a player in my U12 grassroots team improve his performances so much that he has recently been keeping an Academy player out of his school team.
5. Play In Different Positions
Despite best intentions, coaches often put players in the same position time and again, and then leave them there for the whole game. However, for the purpose of fostering better awareness, it’s a better to give players a range of experiences all over the pitch. Understanding the demands of new positions helps players to utilize their teammates better, and generally improves their match play.
Got another tip for improving player awareness? Let us know in the comments below…