Scouting, Development & Coaching In Schools

Sport Trafford and Manchester United Scout Andy Hilton

Andy Hilton is the Head of Football Development at Sport Trafford and a youth talent scout for Manchester United FC. Over 20 years of coaching he has led training sessions for players of all abilities, from U5 beginners to preparatory camps for U16 trialists.

Here are some of the key points from our extended interview:

On Inclusive Coaching

Some kids don’t like to play for football teams because they’ve had experience of coaches shouting at them or because they feel that is a high-pressure environment.

Other kids want to join a football team but don’t know where to start – perhaps because the local club or their friend’s teams are in leagues and require a certain calibre of player.

Just last weekend [Andy] was approached by three lads who he had coached ten years ago, they had all started football in a Saturday morning open session and have stayed in the game through to adulthood.

It’s vitally important to the health of the grassroots game that any player of any ability has somewhere to go and play football and enjoy themselves.

Sport Unlimited is an initiative to get kids involved in sport for 3 hours a week outside of P.E. lessons in school. Sport Unlimited soccer coaching sessions allow kids to play football without having an attachment to any particular club.

On Coaching In Different Environments

Coaching doesn’t change whether it’s in a dedicated skills session, a club environment or in a school.

Football is a great game if you buy into it.

A good coach is enthusiastic, is able to portray his love of the game and sell it to the kids. You can sell it to different kids in different ways; for some it’s about becoming a pro for the money and cars, for some it’s about the Rooney strength or Ronaldo skills and for some it’s about having fun with their mates.

In any given group in school you’ll have 5-6 good players (academies/centre of excellences etc), 12-16 average players (local club teams and mixed ability) and perhaps 2-3 with no interest in the game at all.

The 2-3 with no interest can really destroy your session.

A lot of coaching is about breaking down the challenge for these kids to give them something achievable to do and which they’ll feel satisfaction completing. The same exercise can be ramped up for the more technical players and have a happy medium for the majority.

If you can get kids to make a smidgen of improvement each time, pretty soon a lot of smidgens will have added up to a big improvement.

Enthusiasm can carry you through a lot and get kids on board with you and the session, and then the learning happens naturally.

On Facilities

England does not have sufficient winter training facilities for everyone who wants to play football. Similarly there are not enough good-quality pitches for games.

It’s a positive headache because the problem arises from more kids playing more football which is what we want to encourage.

Most players don’t mind what changing facilities are provided, they want a decent pitch. But it’s easier to find money for upgrading changing rooms and applying a lick of paint.

There simply aren’t the funds for installing and maintaining good drainage systems and high-grade grass. The money would have to be taken away from other areas such as waste disposal, meals for the elderly etc and this presents a political problem. Particularly as football is perceived as being gluttonous already.

In Holland or France every small village junior football club has an A-grade grass pitch, a full-sized 3G astro-turf and a couple of other pitches. These countries have developed brilliant technical players for a series of years.

But on the other hand, there are top-quality English players in the Premier League (the most competitive and most watched league on the planet) who grew up playing on garbage pitches and their touch is fantastic.

There might be a role for Premier League clubs to let their wealth trickle down into the local area’s clubs.

All the local Charter Standard Clubs can use the Carrington training facility one evening every few weeks. Man United Foundation also put a lot of support into community schemes.

But Manchester United spend a lot of their money on their players (U9s all the way up to their Reserves). Manchester City also train in our borough and none of the Sheikhs’ money, and very little of Manchester United’s total budget is spent on local facilities.

On Scouting

Under new regulations, professional clubs can only take players who live within an hour and a half of their ground. So within Trafford we will have scouts from Manchester United, Manchester City, Liverpool, Everton, Bolton Wanderers, Blackburn Rovers, Burnley and (lower-down) Bury, Rochdale, Stockport County, Oldham Athletic and a host of others all competing for the same talent.

It is in the clubs interest to invest in the infrastructure because the more players get involved in football and the better facilities these players have, the bigger the talent pool that they’re all picking out of will grow.

A contribution of £2000 towards pitch maintenance or a lease on a field is nothing to the clubs but would represent a sizeable increase in a football development budget.

The exact same principle applies in Tyneside, Yorkshire, West Midlands and London where there are multiple top-flight clubs fighting for the same players.

It’s like a gold-mine; the more you take out the harder it is to find and the more new seams you need to open up.

On Being Scouted

The scouting criteria at top clubs is simple. They are looking for exceptional in one area: exceptional pace, size, attitude or intelligence.

The academy coaches are good enough to take a player with one exceptional talent and develop their weaker areas.

Clubs won’t replace an academy player with ‘as good as’.

Players joining clubs after U9s will have to be considerably better than the players already involved, those kids who’ve been with the club longer have an obvious advantage because they have been taken through the club’s coaching criteria.

Clubs take on thousands of players but are only looking for one or two to make it professionally. One player coming through the academy system into the first-team is enough to offset the cost of trialling hundreds of players.

It’s important for coaches to warn their players about the incredibly poor-odds of making it into a professional club. The most harmful thing is often the parent’s who get carried away and start talking about the Porsche they want!

Sport Trafford is responsible for sports development in Trafford, they work closely with the Borough Council and Trafford Community Leisure Trust, they can be found online at

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