What Does A New Coach Learn? 6 Lessons

Coaching Soccer

The learning curve is steepest when you first take on a new challenge. With that in mind, this post is from a guest writer who has just completed their first full season as a grassroots football coach. What Alan Hunter has learnt in this time can act as great advice to new coaches, and as timely reminders to more experienced coaches of how crucial it is to get the basics right.

I’m going to hand you over to Alan; please let us know what your earliest lessons learnt were in the comments beneath this article.

I’m Alan Hunter and I’m currently coaching an U14 grassroots team. I started coaching with the same team 18 months ago and have since earned my FA Level 1 Certificate in Coaching Football and completed the FA Youth Award Modules 1 and 2. In the next year I will be looking to complete my FA Level 2 badge and Module 3 of the Youth Award. In this article I’m going to discuss 6 Lessons Learnt in my first full season coaching junior football. Hopefully you can relate to my experiences and perhaps even learn something new yourself.

Lessons Learnt

I was surprised at how easy it is to get into football coaching.

The English F.A. have regional centres running courses up and down the country all year round taught by qualified instructors.

The courses range from short and inexpensive ones through to the UEFA Pro licence – you can decide how much you want to do and how far you want to go.

Regional F.A centres can also help with finding local clubs for you to get involved with once you have taken those first steps.

This all makes it relatively easy to find a club and gain some basic qualifications. This was how I started approx 18 months ago…

Then the real learning started…

I have heard several experienced coaches / tutors say something similar about learning for football coaches. It was along the lines of:

“A football coach should never think he has “arrived” or that he knows it all – he / she should always strive to learn and keep their knowledge and practices up to date.”

So, in my relatively short period of time what have I learnt? Or should I say what mistakes have I made!?

1) Be genuine and get to know your players

Take an interest in them. A casual “hello, how are you? How was school? Did you enjoy your holiday?” etc can go further than think.

Find out what motivates them or makes them tick: Are they naturally competitive? Have they got a short attention span?

Kids naturally look up to football coaches – I have found it important to recognise this and make an effort to engage with them.

2) Plan your sessions thoroughly

I find having a key point or theme i.e. passing, shooting etc helps with structuring sessions. This sounds obvious, but it’s easy to arrive with some idea’s then look back and realise they didn’t quite fit together.

If you’re coaching youth players [Editor's note - that is, anybody over age 10] you have to include a warm up plus some skills, small-sided games and a cool down. Also consider how long each of these sections should last and where your water breaks and rest periods can be included. I quickly started using simple session planners to keep track of all of this.

If you train once a week and play a match once a week then you may only have 1 or 1.5 hours with the kids so time is precious. Good planning maximises use of this limited time.

3) Have a Plan B or be able to vary your session

I have spent time planning the best session ever, arrived early and got set up. Then only 7 kids turned up instead of the 14 or 15 that I was expecting.

And it started raining.

Needless to say that session didn’t work out as expected.

No doubt experienced coaches will be able to vary plans and sessions to suit changes in circumstances and be able to think on their feet better. I have found it very helpful to have a degree of flexibility built into my session or in the worst-case scenario a plan B.

4) Review, Record and Persevere

A few comforting words that I will keep with me for a long time:

“As long as you are involved in coaching young footballers you will have sessions that don’t go to plan and you struggle to keep control of.”

Keeping this in mind certainly helps when this happens.

To begin with I was too quick to ditch a certain practice as it “didn’t work”. However, when I returned to it some time later the kids loved it. There could be a number of reasons for this e.g. how you explained the session, how you set it up or just a handful of kids not really up for it.

So now I tend to review sessions and note things that went well and things that didn’t go according to plan. Don’t be too quick to ditch something without reviewing it first.

5) Keep it simple

Drills, practice plans, games, whatever you want to call your session – it doesn’t need to be complex.

If the kids have to spend half of the time trying to figure out what they are doing it will just suck the fun straight out of the game. These methods have helped me get games started quickly and cut down on confusion:

  • Make use of tactics boards beforehand so kids can “see” how it works
  • Explain things without using jargon and check with them that they understand.
  • Start simple and progress or challenge them as a team or individually when required.

6) Make it fun

Always remember that kids play football because they enjoy it.

If they don’t enjoy it they will stop playing, but if they do enjoy it you will enjoy coaching them.

Now I’m working towards my Level 2 and growing in confidence as a coach, my aim for the upcoming season is to ensure I stick to these basic principles.

Oh yea, and keep learning!

Thanks for reading. I’ll provide updates on how my coach education is progressing throughout the season.

Do you agree or disagree with these lessons? To have your say, or to tell us what lessons you have learnt since you started coaching, please leave a comment below.

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  • Godderz
    Great stuff! I think I've learned to try and get the kids playing in a drill as soon as possible and then add the restrictions I want. For example, just get them playing keep away which they understand, but then add layers in such as limiting touches, play a one-two, find the extra man, etc. Good luck as you continue up the ladder and thanks for sharing!
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