Unless you live in a pleasant little cul-de-sac on Neptune, you’ll know that football now finds itself not only the world’s most popular pastime but possibly its greatest obsession. The global enthusiasm for it has reached a level previously unknown, in part due to the financial benefits awaiting its finest exponents but also due to the sheer excitement generated from the game itself.
A major bone of contention in the coaching world these days is how to identify and handle the greater numbers of children wanting to play the sport. Equally important, is how to nurture those showing aptitude and talent whilst protecting a child’s natural enthusiasm.
The Football Association (FA) has long maintained that children should be coached in organised groups from the age of 5 but those of us in the global football family who are aware of what pre school aged children are truly capable of see it differently. There isn’t a youngster that gives their coach a high five at the start of a kids football class who cannot perform any of the tasks set before them; the trick is to make them believe that.
Of course, key issues at this early stage are self-confidence and concentration. Neither are barriers as such, they are simply products of the child’s tender age. Basic balancing skills – such as putting one foot at a time on top of a ball, balancing a bean bag on the head, hopping etc- can provide a surge of belief in a child. Explaining to a parent that concentration levels aren’t a problem either is vital. To ask a child of 2 or 3 to focus for 45 minutes at a specific time each week is impossible; to plant a seed for them to practise at home, is far more realistic.
There also comes a point in each age group when a child may show signs of boredom and/or a need to progress up to the next level. Managing expectations here is important, before dad starts dreaming of watching junior run out at Wembley. To take a child from being one of the better in a lower group to being a new starter in the next group needs care and attention, for both the child and parents alike, pointing out similarities in the sessions and where he or she may struggle to being with.
As the player progresses, grows older, more confident, maintaining that willingness to learn is vital. They may show talent greater than those around them and may be aware of it; your job as a coach is to keep the group and the individual motivated, keep the session moving at a pace everyone is happy with, involving the parents and to offer guidance and encouragement. Especially in the instances of the very young children, you may be the only adult aside from mum and dad instructing them, so your status can border on deification, so do not underestimate your responsibility to that individual, regardless of their potential. You could shape the future of a youngster with just a little more care and enthusiasm.