Editor of Women's Soccer Coaching, HANNAH DUNCAN, talks to SCW about her experiences as a youth coach and reflects on the first year of the magazine MORE
‘I feel blessed to work with younger players’
Sherlen Lindsay is a foundation-phase coach at Fulham FC, working with the London club’s under-nines and under-10s.
A UEFA B licenced coach, he previously worked at both the Arsenal and Crystal Palace development centres.
His full-time role is supporting the physical education staff at a special educational needs secondary school.
SCW caught up with Sherlen to discuss his passion for the foundation stage, why fun should be at the heart of everything and how you can go about understanding your players as individuals…
SCW: What is it about coaching the foundation phase that you enjoy so much?
SL: “I think it’s one of those phases that in some respects gets a bit left behind, in my opinion. It is something I am quite passionate about.
“As much as I enjoy working with older age groups, I think this is the most important part for me. They are coming into your world and you have got to create it in such a way that they are going to enjoy it, and go home and tell their parents how they have had a great day.
“For me, the foundation phase is the starting point for each player’s journey.”
SCW: What have you learned from foundation players?
SL: “I’ve learned not to take things too seriously where it doesn’t go to plan. For example, you could design a session you think is going to be right for players A, B and C, and then players B and C have had a tough day at school and that plan kind of goes to shreds.
“You have to have an understanding that everyone’s journey to training or games is going to be completely different from yours.
“If I know I have issues at times before coming to training or games, then we’re sure young people are going to have that, too. So understanding what their experience is like, or their moods and so on, it puts your things into perspective.
“So, learning how to be a lot more free and young at heart, while still doing a good job, is one of the big things that I have learned from foundation-phase players.
“For me, the foundation phase is the starting point for a player’s journey…”
“As adults, we sometimes hide how we are actually feeling. The kids that I work with – from ages 6, 7 and 8, up until 12 – you see different versions of them on each occasion you have them. It could be that one hour they are feeling one way and then the next hour, they are feeling something different.
“But the fact they keep on enjoying themselves makes you put things in perspective.”
SCW: There is no such thing as one-size- fits-all, but, for you, what are the elements of a really good foundation session?
SL: “Having fun. I have noticed over the years a lot of emphasis on ‘this player’s got to learn this’ or ‘they’re not good at this, because they don’t understand that’.
“If you are delivering it in that manner, then you’re putting them under pressure and you’re putting yourself under unnecessary pressure too.
“For me, it’s about having fun. A lot of my sessions start the moment I first greet them in the car park, understanding how their day has been and where their mood’s at.
“If I can’t accommodate their mood, I will speak to my fellow coaches and say, ‘Okay, player A, B, or C is not in the state of mind we thought they may be, we may need to adjust a practice for their best interests’.
“Make it as fun as possible because that is what they have come here for. When I played, no matter what age I got to, I still wanted to play the game like I was a kid.
“That involves just having constant fun. And if you can implement your learning style, and have fun alongside it, then, for me, that’s an ideal training session.
“It doesn’t matter what topic you are looking at or what position you would like a player to play, just have as much fun in the learning aspect as possible. Once you get that sorted, your players buy into anything.
“Some coaches I have met ask how I have this energy for the players all the time. It is because they are giving it back to me.
“I am blessed to be in a position where I can work with them and learn from them. If I can make it as fun as possible, then I’m doing my job.”
SCW: How much do you teach players about positions at this age? Or is it just a chance for them to explore different positions?
SL: “It’s a mixture of both. I do believe it’s important for foundation-phase players to learn about what positions mean but I don’t think it is the essential ticket for their journey during this stage.
“I like to give players at least two positions per game because it is giving them the correct amount of workload and at the same time making them able to understand their workload and give feedback afterwards.
“With that feedback, it is important to understand whether they are grasping the level of responsibility you are giving to them, or do you need to strip it back? Or can you slightly push them a bit more?
“You’re not going to find that information unless you actually share your rationale with them and get them to give you feedback to understand if they’re okay with it or not.
“For me, having a position permanently during this phase is a no-no. But giving them the chance to explore at least two positions per game, or two or three weeks in a row, gives you a plan for them to understand what they need to be doing and looking at.”
SCW: Some parents have expectations for their kids at quite an early age. How do you get parents to buy into your philosophy of it not being about winning but of it being fun?
SL: “Being clear on what you’re trying to do with each child is important. It’s essential to keep that communication going.
“If a parent is putting pressure on their child to have high expectations, and I hear it, I find a way to smooth it over – having a private word with the parents directly about how it could be affecting their son or daughter and getting them to understand that the journey is long, that winning and putting pressure on their young shoulders right now is not the key.
“I think it’s an important factor when I speak to parents that we work together to make their child’s journey as smooth and enjoyable as possible.
“I have all this energy for the players because they are giving it back to me..”
“The only way that can really happen is to open the door to what you’re trying to do as a coach and as a club, and bringing parents in and getting them to play a part in their child’s journey – it’s not just a case of dropping their child off or coming to watch training and not understanding what you’re trying to do.
“Once you explain to the parents what you’re trying to do with their child on their journey, a lot of them do understand that winning is not the essential factor and they become a lot more supportive with the club.
“That’s the way forward and what we do at Fulham.”
SCW: What advice would you give coaches working in the foundation phase, or maybe who have just started their journey?
SL: “Again, I’m going to go back to that prime word: fun. Have fun within this space. The serious pressures and demands should only stem from when they reach adulthood – for me, that’s 18-plus, when they have the potential of reaching the first team.
“Secondly, listen to understand your players, not just to respond. We can all respond to anyone.
“Whenever I go into a training session or a game, I like to put the emphasis on letting the players dictate how they want to train and how they want to play the game.
“Yes, it is under a structural guidance from me as the adult, but I need to listen to them to understand where they are coming from – for them to be able to go, ‘you know what, I can hear what you’re saying, Sherlen’.
“Because if I don’t listen to them, who is going to?”
“At four years old, you should just enjoy your football – putting them into that environment, that’s a bit too heavy for me…”
HEAR THE FULL INTERVIEW WITH SHERLEN, INCLUDING HIS THOUGHTS ON PRO CLUBS SIGNING PLAYERS AS YOUNG AS FOUR YEARS OLD, ON OUR PODCAST — CLICK HERE TO DOWNLOAD