Learn to step outside of your comfort zone

Not many people like change – and when you have worked with a group of players for years, jumping ship for a fresh start can be daunting.

But stepping out of your comfort zone to face a new challenge can sometimes be the best way to stretch yourself and support your own development.

It is something I have done this season. Leaving my group of Under-16 girls, who I had been working with since they were under-11s, was a really tough decision and I still miss coaching them.

But an opportunity came up to step into a role at the development centre of a Premier League club, and in terms of a new challenge, career prospects and personal development, it was hard to say no.

I am only a few weeks in, but it has already been great for my coaching, enabling me to work in the foundation phase again, primarily with Under-7s – an age I’ve not previously coached – and with boys, which is again a new experience. If nothing else, I have become an expert at tying shoelaces!

Hannah worked with the same core of female players from Under-11s right through to Under-16s – but is now adjusting to coaching much younger boys

In grassroots football especially, it can be easy to stick with the same group of players for a number of years. Many coaches are roped in as volunteer parents and it is natural they will want to stay with their son or daughter’s team. But there really is so much value from searching for new experiences.

Learning to deliver sessions and messages to different ages is probably the biggest challenge. While Under-16s certainly come with their own challenges, setting up a session and getting the message across can be fairly straightforward on the most part.

However, being faced with a bunch of excitable Under-7s who – let’s be honest – really just want to kick the ball as hard as they can towards goal, can be more challenging, requiring more creative solutions.

Already I have found myself in rabbit-hole conversations about what they’re having for dinner (“hair and gravy”, in one boy’s case) and what a father got for his birthday (“gold air pods worth a million pounds” – the same boy, funnily enough). But it’s all part of the fun and, while these conversations may seem silly and a waste of training time, they are proving vital for building relationships with a new group of players.

The ways in which I have become accustomed to speaking with players, or delivering messages non-verbally, has had to be completely flipped on its head.


“Learning to deliver messages is probably the biggest challenge…”


A 15-year-old player knows exactly what a coach means by ‘paint pictures’ or ‘check your shoulder’, but a six-year-old can take these things very literally!

Being both more precise and more creative is a new skill to master – in fact, letting them come up with their own ideas has actually been the most successful method.

For example, I was showing them out-of-possession shape (1-3-1) and one of the boys decided it looked like an aeroplane. Whether it does or it doesn’t isn’t really the point – it helped him and his team-mates remember it.

Working with boys rather than girls is also a different experience and, again, one which has proved really insightful so far.

Their knowledge, motivations and behaviours are – on the whole – very different from the girls.

The girls I coached always wanted to know why they were doing things – which gives them a deeper understanding – whereas the boys I coach will just do as has been asked.

Girls tend to want more social time when they turn up, whereas boys gravitate towards a ball. The boys’ general football knowledge is wider, too, which gives them more reference points.

All in all, it’s another challenge for my session planning and delivery, as well as behaviour management.

So, while it can be comfortable and rewarding to remain with the same group and watch them grow, opportunities for personal development and progression are imperative too.

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