Mind your language!

It often looks like coaches and players are all on the same page and all understanding each other.

But, sometimes, soccer can be a different language to some – even those we share a pitch with.

With terms like ‘regista’ or ‘false nine’, there is usually an appreciation that it potentially needs to be followed with an explanation – at least when players first hear them.

However, even language we consider ‘basic’ in soccer terms can mean something totally different to others, particularly very young players.

As someone who has coached players from age ? and upwards, here are some simple phrases often misunderstood:

Get into space: To a five-year-old, space is probably something they have learned about in school, with stars and planets – not necessarily an area of a football pitch clear of other players.

Make the pitch big: Tell young players to ‘make the pitch big’ and you will likely be faced with them enthusiastically running to grab the cones you have carefully set out, moving them a few yards further away. And you can’t argue with their logic.

Check your shoulder: Something we are all probably very keen to drum into young players – but, to them, what does it really mean? Check their shoulder for a bug that might have just landed on it? Probably not what the coach had in mind.

Paint pictures: Getting players to scan and notice their surroundings is important, but language is key. Tell them to ‘paint pictures’ and some will end up asking where the brushes and paper are.

Pick the ball up in midfield: Ask a player to do this and admire their baffled face when you award the other team a free-kick for handball.

Drive with the ball: But they’re only seven – they’re not old enough to drive…

Coaches should choose their words carefully when teaching some concepts to young players

These phrases can be introduced over time, and players will certainly need a good understanding of them as they develop through the foundation phase and into the youth development phase.

But if these ‘common’ phrases can cause confusion among young and inexperienced players, how can we successfully deliver the messages in the meantime?

Relating these ideas to everyday things could be one way. For example, when encouraging players to scan (or ‘check their shoulders’ or ‘paint pictures’), it could be related to a sat nav in their parents’ car.


“Tell young players to ‘paint pictures’ and some will ask where the brushes are…”


Why do their parents use a sat nav? Well, it tells them where to go, where there’s bad traffic and the quickest route. That is what we want players to have in their heads. So, when they are looking around, they are making their own sat nav in their head.

If we want players to ‘make the pitch big’ when in possession, relate this to a firework exploding – and when they lose the ball, teams can snap shut like a Venus flytrap.

And, when encouraging players to run with the ball, transform the ball into a car they are ‘driving’ forwards at speed.

Maybe encourage players to come up with their own words and descriptions for things. For example, I was showing a group of under-sevens an out-of-possession formation recently, and one said it looked like a airplane. So, for that group, it instantly became the airplane shape.

Finally, ensure players understand ‘why’ they are doing things. If a player learns it is good to ‘check their shoulder’, that’s a great starting point – but are they understanding why? What they are looking for and how can they use that information?

If they don’t know, there is little point in them doing it in the first place. So, whatever words or phrases you develop with your players, be sure to check their understanding of the ‘why’ as well.

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