The grassroots football season is fast approaching often an exciting time for both players, coaches and parents alike. Grassroots football is now the very lifeblood of the game, kids are joining teams as young as 4 years old and their first experience of playing football is in an organised environment. Until around 20 years ago kids would traditional have their first football experience playing with friends in the street, field or local park but due to a number of factors street footballers are now pretty much none existent, Wayne Rooney being the last and he’s now 30 years old. The death of the street footballer has seen the quality and type of English players drop significantly; we have not produced a world class footballer since Rooney, where are the game changers (Gazza), the proper defenders (Tony Adams) or the number 9’s (Alan Shearer)?
Grassroots football is about falling in love with the game and participation, if kids ever make a living out the game then that is great but the single most important aspect to grassroots football is that the kids are allowed to have fun in a pressure free environment (sounds like the street to me). There are numerous studies where the kids overwhelmingly state that they play football to have fun with their friends.
My top 10 tips for parent coaches and parents from the upcoming grassroots season:
- Let the children play – If in doubt don’t say anything. Parent coaches and many parents are not career coaches and are giving up their own time which is commendable but a constant commentary during match day or constantly stopping training sessions will suck the enjoyment from the kids. Shelve the tactical master plans and the impressions of Premier League managers on the side line. Recreate the street where kids just played, how often in training to kids ask about playing a match? It’s what they want to do, they just want to play.
- Allow the Ref to referee the game – In many cases the referees involved in grassroots football are still children or very young adults. They are still learning and even the very best make mistakes. Many decisions made by referees are subjective and based on an opinion. All referees are trying their best and without them there would be no game for the kids. Please stop and think before you question a decision or even worse give out abuse. Don’t be that fool that ruins the game.
- Do NOT provide an in game commentary – The majority of coaches and parents I come across believe that constantly telling the kids what to do is a positive. In terms of children’s development, it is the most toxic part of the game. The kids hate it, numerous studies show this, it sucks the life out of their play and stunts development as well as enjoyment. Kids start to listen for the command from the side line and become robotic, what happens when parent or coach is not there? The kids will be lost and not able to make their own decision.
- Embrace mistakes – This leads on from number 3 and yes you’ve read it right, embrace mistakes. With every mistake made there is a learning opportunity. It might mean that the team concedes a goal or don’t score a goal but the kids will learn and game intelligence will improve significantly. If a kid continues to make the same mistake week in week out and does not appear to be learning it might be that the coach can provide some assistance in the form of asking a question to make them think about other options.
- Equal playing time is a must – All kids must play same/similar game time. The kids play to have fun with their friends and there is no reason not to play equal game time. Any kids that are constantly playing less game time will begin to fall out of love with the game and eventually give up, they will feel inferior to their peers. No adult should ever make a child feel inferior and ultimately the only reason for unequal game time is to win a game and in all likelihood massage their own ego.
- Never pigeon hole into positions – The kids should be allowed to experience every part of the game. There is no logical reason to play kids in the same position every week. Kids enjoy playing in different areas of the pitch and it improves their development. In the very youngest ages I would not recommend playing positions, just let the kids play, they will develop advanced game intelligence as a result. If positions are played all the kids should be encouraged to play with freedom and not be restricted to a certain part of the pitch. I simply tell my U7 and U8 players when we attack you’re and attacker and when we defend you’re a defender.
- Ask the kids what they want – It’s the kids game, they’re the ones that play the game not the adults on the side line. Ask the kids what they want? Allow the kids to do the team talk, decide who is playing where or run and create their own training sessions of parts of sessions. The children taking ownership is great for football development and life skills.
- Respect the opposition – Remember they are not the enemy it is kids football. Welcome them to your ground, stand together, share a drink and allow the kids to play together before and after the game. Both adults and kids can make new friends.
- NO warms ups – The kids do not need to be warmed up before the game. The kids do not need to do stretches or laps of the pitch. Just give them a ball and let them play before the game that’s a sufficient warm up.
- Be SUPPORTIVE post-match/training – Always remember the kid’s enjoyment is paramount. Always tell the kids you’re proud of them and if things have not gone as hoped on the pitch the kids will have their own disappointment, don’t add to it by giving them the hairdryer treatment. This applies to coach’s post-match team talk (not sure I’ve done too many of these) and to parents. I always say the car journey home is possibly the most dangerous part of kid’s football. Dad might be disappointed his son/daughter did not perform and as emotions run high they tell their child in the car exactly what they think, children are desperate to make their parents proud. If parents keep being negative towards their children, then eventually they will give the game up.
The ultimate message is let the children enjoy the game, let them play and have fun. A supportive parent is one that takes their child to the game and allows them to play without pressure and is proud of them whatever their performance on the pitch. A supportive coach is a fair coach, a coach that allows the children to flourish and fall in love with the game. Follow the above tips and the kids will love the environment they play in and hopefully have a lifelong love for the game.
Good look to all the grassroots family for season 2016/17 and remember IT’S THE KIDS GAME.
Richard – Grassroots football blogger, grassroots football coach (U7’s & U8’s), grassroots football educator and ex academy coach.
Twitter – @contactcounts