Young players can take instructions like 'make the pitch big' and 'check your shoulders' very literally - so take a different approach, says HANNAH DUNCAN MORE
‘We welcome coaches across the spectrum’
Hannah Duncan has always started early.
At a time when the regulations allowed it, she was playing in senior matches at the age of 14, and took her first steps on the coaching ladder at 17.
Now 32, she continues to combine playing and coaching – she took a girls team through from under-11s to under-16s, has taken a representative team to the world-renowned Gothia Cup and is now coaching a boys’ under-7s team at a Premier League club.
A captain at three of the clubs she has played for, and possessing the Uefa B licence, Hannah knows a fair bit about leadership and communication.
A journalism graduate, she is now editor of our sister title, Women’s Soccer Coaching, which launched in December 2020.
As part of this eight-page showcase of the best of WSC so far, we caught up with Hannah to discuss the ins and outs of youth coaching and how the first year of the magazine has panned out…
SCW: Taking a team from under-11s to under-16s is quite a challenge, both in terms of the soccer and their own personal development. Because that is an age where they transform entirely…
HD: “Yes it is. It can be really beneficial to stick with the same team through the age groups, because you develop really good relationships with the players, which is a key factor in coaching, understanding them as people as well as players.
“But coaching them at under-11s is very different to under 16s, having developed as people and you’re also putting on completely different sessions.
“I think if you stay with the same team, you end up developing yourself during the process as well. Some coaches like to specialise with certain age groups and that’s great too.
“But, for me, especially early in my coaching journey, I think it’s been really good to have that experience of different age groups from the foundation phase through to the youth development phase.”
SCW: How do you deal with mixed ability groups?
HD: “It can be quite a challenge. I think the important thing is knowing your players as individuals and knowing what their needs and motivations are.
“If you’ve got a player who struggles with the ball at their feet, and needs a bit more time to make a decision or execute a skill, perhaps you can mark out within your area a safe space for them.
“The important thing is knowing your players and their motivations…”
“They could dribble into that area and that gives them a chance to get a few touches on the ball before they dribble out again, and maybe then take on a player or make a pass.
“For very young players, you could start with a ball in their hand rather than their feet just so they get used to the movement or pattern of whatever it is that you’re doing, and then you can introduce dribbling, running with the ball or passing.
“As well as looking at those players who perhaps have a lesser ability at a certain age, you’ve also got to make sure you’re still challenging those players that are of a higher ability, and they don’t end up getting bored or held back.
“It’s just making sure all the players in your team are being catered for and are being challenged at a level appropriate to them.”
SCW: You have been captain at a few of your clubs, you know a little bit about leadership. What makes a young leader?
HD: “I think there’s a lot of different factors. There’s a lot to be said for sharing the armband around at a young age and seeing who thrives with that responsibility.
“But when they’re a little bit older, the sort of things I look for in a captain is somebody who is a bit of a role model for the others – they turn up on time, they listen when the coach is talking, they help put the equipment away without being asked, they ask really good questions on how they can improve.
“They’re a player that can support their teammates, by offering advice, explaining things they don’t understand or just noticing when a teammate is a bit quieter than usual.
“There’s lots of different aspects to it – it’s not necessarily the loudest player or the most gifted player.”
SCW: You’re editor of Women’s Soccer Coaching and there’s been a few star names in its pages since it launched a year ago…
HD: “Yeah, we’ve been really lucky. We’ve had people like Dawn Scott, who has worked with the US women’s national team and England as well.
“We’ve had Amy Griffin, who coaches the US women’s deaf team, we recently had the Barcelona head coach, Jonatan Giraldez, and Lisa Fallon, who has worked in the men’s game in Ireland.
“It’s great to have the support of these names and pick their brains but we target all coaches across all levels, whether it’s a volunteer mum or dad working once a week for an hour with under-sevens or somebody looking to do their Uefa Pro license.
“We welcome coaches from across the spectrum and they’ve all offered really relevant advice to coaches at a similar stage of their career as they are.”
SCW: You’ve also had some special editions of the magazine that focus on specialist areas of interest. Tell us a little bit more about those…
HD: “We’ve done a few of those now. The first one was in February, which was all around the menstrual cycle, and how it affects players and their physical and psychological performance.
“It was about building that awareness for coaches at all levels of the game, to realize that could impact their players.
“We’ve recently done one around mums who coach. We had some really good insight about how to juggle being a mum and coaching, and how to coach your own children.
“We’ve also done one on youth coaching, including a feature on the perils of early specialisation, and one on communication.
“Amy Griffin provided really great insight into how she deals with the challenges around communication. That was a really good one.”
SCW: Any favourite pieces you could pick out from the first 12 months of Women’s Soccer Coaching?
HD: “It’s quite difficult to narrow it down! Certainly, we’ve had some really interesting ones that have opened my eyes as a coach.
“We had one right back in issue three, from Justin Bryant, who’s a goalkeeper coach in the US.
“It’s giving them that specific insight to help them become better coaches…”
“He did a piece around how to work with shorter goalkeepers – 90% of female teams will face that challenge, where you don’t have a 6′ 5” goalkeeper like you do in the men’s game, yet the goals are the same height. So how do you deal with the technical, tactical and physical challenges that that presents?
“We’ve had a piece around how players learn and we did a piece around storytelling in coaching, building in Disney themes to keep players interested and spark their imagination.
“We’ve had some great session plans from coaches across the game and an FA coach, Kelsey Byrne, did an interesting piece around using stats to inform your coaching sessions.
“She based that around some finishing stats she’d got from the Women’s Super League – how many touches a player can take before they get a shot off, where the assists come from, how many players might be in front of the ball, and things like that.
“It’s then how you build that information, and real-life game scenario situations, into your coaching practices so you’re coaching for things that are relevant to the game.
“It’s those sort of things that coaches who perhaps don’t have that experience of the female game can learn about.
“It’s giving them that really specific, valuable insight that can help them become better coaches, and equally, then support their players even more.”
“I happen to think it’s important to give players as many opportunities to experience different positions as possible…”
HEAR THE FULL-LENGTH INTERVIEW WITH HANNAH, INCLUDING HER VIEWS ON NOT GIVING YOUTH PLAYERS FIXED POSITIONS TOO EARLY, ON OUR PODCAST — CLICK HERE TO DOWNLOAD