Be tactile as well as tactical with players

Carl Wild is a university lecturer, leading a football coaching and management degree course in Manchester.

A former Manchester City girls coach, he runs the junior section at Chester FC and has just published a book – The Intelligent Soccer Coach: Player-Centred Sessions To Develop Confident, Creative Players.

In last week’s issue Carl talked about coach development – in this final part, he discusses the players, and treating them as people…

Carl Wild was foundation-phase girls lead at Manchester City and currently works at UCFB as programme leader of the football coaching and management degree

SCW: What changes have you seen in the culture of youth coaching in England in the time that you’ve been doing it? There have been different focuses at different times, and a bit of tinkering hasn’t there?

CW: “It’s always evolving, which is what it should be doing. We should always be looking at what we do, in terms of how we support players.

“I’d say in the last three or four years there has been more of a holistic approach to player development – so not necessarily just focusing on the technical and tactical side, but the whole person, their psychological and social wellbeing as well.

“That is definitely something that I have seen come into the game over the last few years and has obviously been a big positive in terms of supporting players.

“I think the focus has changed physically, in terms of what we’re looking for. It used to be strength and height, whereas the modern game is probably looking more for speed, agility and balance. I think that’s been a real welcome development in the coaching of young children over the last few years.

“The type of practices we put on now is much more player centred, and much more game-based in terms of putting them in situations and environments they are going to find themselves in during a game.

“If they get used to those types of situations, and see similar pictures in a game that they have been seeing in practices, they will recognize them and hopefully develop the skills and the tools to find the solutions to the problems they come across in games.”

SCW: And in terms of that holistic approach, do you think England was lagging behind other countries in terms of treating players as people?

CW: “We were definitely behind both as coaches and as a coach education program. We didn’t recognise soon enough that need for a holistic approach and supporting players around all aspects of the game.


“The practices we put on now are more player centred and more game-based…”


“I think huge amounts of pressure were put on to players, from all sides – not just coaches or parents, but even the players themselves probably put themselves under a lot of pressure to try and achieve within the game. I think we needed to recognize that a little bit more.

“I would also say that it is not just football. Other sports were probably very similar, and life in general was quite similar – people didn’t get the sort of support they needed in day-to-day life around the mental and psychological side of things.

“It definitely needed to be introduced and since it has, it has developed quickly. Players are definitely getting support now that they need and I think that’s nothing but a benefit to the game.”

SCW: And you see that with the new generation of coaches, people like Gareth Southgate, who understand developing the person as a whole…

CW: “I think Gareth is actually the perfect example of what can be achieved by using that sort of approach.

“When we look at young players, I think we’ve got to realise that only a small proportion are actually going to make it in the game.

“Therefore, as coaches we have other responsibilities – we’re not just trying to develop them in terms of their footballing capabilities. There’s other aspects of life we can support them with.

“After family and schooling, we probably come next in terms of contact time, and the impact we have. So I think we’ve got a responsibility there to support them.

“Yes, football is what we’re trying to get them a career in, or reach full potential in, but there’s other things to life, as well, that we can definitely support them with.”

Getting to know your players as people helps build an understanding of how to coach them

SCW: How much do you need to know about players’ personal lives, or what other activities they are involved in? And where is the line drawn?

CW: “It’s a great question. It’s important to know what exactly they are doing outside the contact time we have with them.

“If you think back to school, most of the talented footballers were also talented cross- country runners or talented rugby players and so forth. Because of that, there would be a huge demand on them – they might have something on every single day.

“We need to be mindful of that in terms of our expectations of what they can do when they come into our environment.

“They need to have variety in their lives. They can’t just concentrate on being a footballer at a certain club from 9 or 10 years of age. But, physically and psychologically, we need to be fully aware of it.

“It also helps knowing what’s going on in school – how they’re getting on, how they fit in, what kind of student they are. It just helps with the learning process.

“There might be certain ways they prefer to learn, or educational support needs they have. If we’re aware of that, that can only help their development, because we can replicate what happens at school.

“Then there’s the social side, as well – what’s happening at home with parents and siblings. Any information is quite valuable.

“We can then use it to inform our relationship with players – we can understand what they like, what they don’t like and how we interact with them.

“Hopefully if we get it right in terms of the preparation with their support mechanisms, then we can get that relationship spot on on the pitch as well.”

SCW: You’ve coached boys and girls, and you’ve coached in both the foundation and youth-development phases. How challenging is it to switch between genders and age groups?

CW: “It is very challenging. Just going to work with a different group – even if it’s the same age and gender – can be a completely different experience, because of the different personalities you have.


“You wouldn’t try and teach a seven-year-old algebra. It’s the same thing with football…”


“It’s about getting to know what your players want and need, and what support mechanisms you can provide. A bit of knowledge around what we should be doing at different ages definitely helps.

“I think sometimes we try and jump to the end product a little bit too early. We try to get to that 11-a-side version of the game straight away.

“Quite often, if you go to watch an under- sevens or eights game, you will hear coaches talking about pressing and trying to win the ball back like they would see on a Saturday.

“That is completely understandable but it’s where you should be getting when they are 16, 17 or 18 years of age, not eight.

“You wouldn’t try and teach a seven year old algebra. You’d give them the basics of addition, subtraction and multiplication, to help them later on in life get to the more complicated maths solutions.

“It’s the same thing with football. Give them the basics they need to start off with – the fundamental skills, physical movements and decision-making, like when they pass it and when they keep hold of it.

“Then it’s just being patient and realizing we’ve got 10 to 15 years with them, rather than trying to solve everything within a couple of weeks.”

“A teacher does years of education on how to deal with children. Yet some coaches are basically given a week’s notice…”


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