All our schools are in full flow now and school training for most age groups has started across the province.
I have mentioned the importance of school football before and how schools work in tandem with the clubs.
As the club season comes to an end, the school season just starts and it is so critical that young players have an opportunity to continue to grow and develop.
Any conditioning work for our young players should be done through games, with the ball at the heart of everything they do.
Some of the benefits of playing small sided games for our young players;
l Constant regular decision making opportunities
l Develops thinking footballers, improves their communication.
l More 2v2, 2v1, 3v2 attacking/defending situations.
l Constant directional changes – game related movements.
l Helps the player understand how to create and exploit space.
l Experience performing skills under pressure.
l Player can learn how to make and break tackles.
l Developing certain life skills, working as part of a team, communication, social interaction, encourage the development of early leadership qualities.
A good blitz is so important: the enjoyment, fun and development the lads in our school got last week was startling, they haven’t stopped talking about it all week. The biggest stand-out factor for me was the enjoyment in the sense that the young lads, particularly those on the periphery will want to come back for more.
Picture the young lad though in the 15 v 15 game, who we will call Niall. Niall is standing at corner forward, in a game dominated by the bigger middle players, and doesn’t touch the ball for 10 minutes or might not touch the ball at all.
The coaches may not even mention Niall’s name throughout the session, this is where interest declines and children lose self-esteem and confidence. If the 15 v 15 match was broken up into 3 x 5 v 5 games, Niall would touch the ball much more, he would hear coaches praising him, he would be much more involved and he would leave training feeling much better about himself.
Speaking as an underage coach, if your sole interest is about winning then that’s not healthy for you or the players.
I spoke to a few coaches in some of our feeder clubs recently about the development and progress of the youngsters that are in our school as I feel strong school-club links are so important.
Some interesting thoughts emerged, particularly about the different ethos of coaches within the clubs.
One coach is solely intent on winning and doesn’t tend to play the younger lads or lads who maybe aren’t the most dominant, instead focusing on the superior players and sometimes even those who don’t attend training. This can be unhealthy, because as I have always said all young people within the group should be entitled to play our games regardless of their ability levels.
Those lads might not necessarily play senior football but they could become an integral part of the club as a secretary, chairman, groundsman, lotto sales and so on.
As a coach you need to develop as many good young people in your club as you possibly can and the power of the coach is not be underestimated.
Most importantly, develop them in the values that are important not just in sport but in life: things like discipline, respect, commitment, industry.
Those are all vital components in whatever direction they go in life, and all of it can be achieved through coaching and games.