Changing face of youth coaching

I grew up in Australia before moving to the UK, so it is always interesting to compare the differences in how soccer was coached in my day. Obviously in Oz, football is still developing but they are intent on catching up fast – from those at the top of the game right the way down to grassroots level.

We only played once a week in Australia and the season was much shorter… you may expect the opposite given the continuous good weather there. Kids still played out of season, but non-competitively, and had more time to train the finer elements of their game.

Here in England we’re playing so many matches. When I played for Chesterfield we squeeze 46 league games into the mix, not to mention the numerous cup commitments as well. It all adds up to the fact that rest is vital and has to be taken into consideration because the body has to recover from the rigours of matches.

Back in Australia we did a lot more athletic training, with weights and running aplenty, mainly due to the amount of time we had on our hands. Over here all that is done during pre-season and it’s just a case of keeping yourself ticking over during the season.

I think some youth coaches try to make up for their team’s lack of technical ability by over-cooking the stamina side of things with arduous training sessions. That’s a mistake. Kids have an abundance of energy anyway, and the greater reality is that the more training you do then the more strain you put on bones and muscles. I think most coaches recognise it’s a fine balance.

As for my own personal taste, I’ve worked under a few different managers and coaches and they all have very different approaches. I’ve always liked small-sided, compact games as most players do, especially in youth football. Kids love to be competitive and to take part in training sessions where there is something at stake, even if bragging rights end as soon as the final whistle is blown.

My old manager, John Sheridan, is an advocate of that and puts a lot of those games. He liked to keep things varied too, so we were always kept on our toes with five-a-side, seven-a-side, players on the outside of the pitch coming in etc.

I also like individual training, sometimes just with a coach, at other times with one or two other defenders brought away from the main group, with the idea of focusing specifically on the disciplines unique to our positions.

As a former centre-half, I love getting stuck in and I like heading the ball. I’m the kind of player too who cares as much about a friendly as I would the World Cup final. I think a team full of players like me might be a problem, but it’s good to have one or two characters like that thrown into the mix.

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