February has almost gone and it’s been a month since my last blog update. There’s been a good reason for the delay this time ( believe it or not ) as I’ve been hoping to have some good news to announce and I’m pleased to say that this is indeed the case. Finally after two years of waiting I’ve been able to achieve my main target and pass my Youth Award Module 3 Assessment. It’s been a long and extremely frustrating road with the weather and availability of assessors prolonging the agony. Now at long last I feel I can resume my learning journey and progress once more. Massive thanks must go to the football club for making the assessment finally happen. My overwhelming feeling is relief; like a weight has finally been lifted, and on reflection that shouldn’t be the case for what is a valuable series of coaching courses. The farcical assessment process has devalued the course in my eyes though I am led to believe that this has improved. I sincerely hope this is the case as the courses overall are valuable to coaches from all areas and who coach all age groups and I would still recommend them. I hope those of you who go through assessment have a far less strenuous time of it than myself and my colleagues.
So, back to the assessment itself, what did I coach? How did I prepare? These are the questions many of you have asked me via comments and emails. I also understand that some of you have had issues downloading the zip file of my log book. Fear not dear readers I shall endeavour to correct these within the rest of this update. Firstly let’s focus on my session. The assessment on the practical element was broken down into two aspects, a whole and a part in line with the session structure recommended by the Youth Award. The session topic was finishing, more specifically creating opportunities to finish. I coach within the Foundation Phase, mostly the Under 9′s age group at City so our players play 7 a side with the club formation being 1-2-3-1. My whole part practice was set up like this:
The pitch was approximately 70 x 50 and divided into 1/3s for reference. Players were to play for 25 minutes with no restrictions (basically a 7v7 game). Now one of the key aspects to the youth award and the coaching interventions it encourages is the use of challenges. Prior to my session I sat down and produced what I call a challenge chart. This was a fantastic idea recommended to me by an FA Club Co-ordinator and I’ve no idea why they don’t teach you this on the courses but they bloody well should. The idea is simple and is very much flowchart based. Start with your session topic and think of the challenges you might use in order to get your topic across, break this down then further into team, unit and individual challenges. When you’ve down this you should end up with something like the following:
As you can see there are a number of challenges I have listed, some directly related to my topic, others indirectly. For example challenging the goalkeeper to try to play to the furthest player forward when it is safe to do so should hopefully move the ball into the attacking third more often and provide the forward player opportunities to receive the ball in a dangerous area for the opposition. In addition some of the challenges for player positions appear to be the same (such as defenders and goalkeepers) and indeed they are for good reason. As a coach you are encouraged to use challenges but trying to give each individual player a challenge in one session would take an awful long time and would be extremely difficult to evaluate with each individual. By providing team and unit challenges you can encourage peer reviews between players on the same and opposition teams, you can give them a challenge, let them play and after a few minutes pull them in to review. This encourages the use of trial and error and guided discovery interventions / methods rather than the traditional Command and Q & A. This is not to say you should ignore individual challenges. Far from it but rather than trying to give everyone an individual challenge select or “bull-seye” 3 or 4 players that your session topic is relevant to. I selected the 2 strikers and 2 Centre Midfielders as my targets as having watched them in previous sessions I felt I could introduce challenges specific to them to help them within the finishing topic. I gave them their individual challenges mid game but rather than stopping the whole practice with the dreaded “stop” “stand still”, I let the game continue and I either called them over to the side line or walked into the practice to give them their challenges. The use of these challenges is key, by introducing the topic and initial challenges into the whole part practice you can the continue to work on them within your part practice session but you must ensure you give the players the opportunities to review their challenges. How did it go? What did you try? Did it work? What would you do differently? Show me… etc
The whole part session is not just about challenges of course but they form a major part of it but it is not enough to just give the players challenges. As I’ve mentioned they must be provided with opportunities to review not only with you as the coach but with each other and even by themselves (Give yourself a score out of 10, why did you get that score? How could you score higher?). As a coach one thing I was keen to work on was my use of praise also. Making praise relevant and specific was something that stuck with me after the courses so I tried to make sure when I praised a player it was specific; Well done for opening your body to receive the ball, I love how you tried a one touch finish, that’s fantastic movement to support the striker. I didn’t just praise the successful outcome but also good intentions to try to encourage the players to keep trying and not be afraid to make a mistake!
After breaking for drinks and another review we moved into the part practice setup.
Here the setup is as shown, a 60 x 40 area divided into 4 squares, with goals at opposite ends and diagonals. 1 defender is in each box and pairs of strikers attack the first defender in a 2v1 situation, if they chose they can they try to beat the next defender in a 2v1. The objective is of course to beat the goalkeeper to score. Defenders stay in their boxes to begin with. If defenders win the ball they can play into the green target goals to score but must remain within their own boxes. Once a goal is scored or the ball is dead the attackers get their ball and move round to the start of the next wave (shown by the white arrow). I chose a wave practice for this as I was conscious that managing 2 groups could be a challenge and I was keen to avoid bouncing between groups without stepping back and seeing the whole picture (something I’ve been guilty of in the past). Wave practices at this age group in my opinion are also the best. They keep all the players active, rotations are quick and the opportunities to give information as a coach are there without having to stop the practice entirely. My coaching position for example was at one end of the practice and I was able to talk with attacking pairs as they moved round to the next wave. The other fantastic thing about wave practices, particularly those where there are more than 1 route / target is that it is very easy to manage difference. For example when asked about my session I was able to suggest that I could remove one defender and have a single 2v1 in one channel with defenders rotating alternately. In addition the strugglers could work in this single channel and rather than joining the start point of the 2 x 2v1 they could go back to the beginning of the 1 x 2v1 until such time as they became copers / achievers. With the achievers I could increase the difficulty by allowing the first defender to recover into the 2nd square thus making a 2v2. There’s a great deal of flexibility.
So with the session setup, the initial challenges given, the players began to play. Having practised this session with the players, they knew the setup and were soon moving round trying to score goals. As I mentioned earlier I was really focusing on creating opportunities to score and it wasn’t until after a few minutes players began to ask if they could shoot from the square furthest away. If you scroll back up you will see I had placed no restriction on this, the topic was creating finishing opportunities it wasn’t caveated by being within 10 yards etc. I asked them if they felt the session topic would apply further away, they felt it would and so elected to allow it. Of course as coaches we appreciate that goals can be scored from anywhere but giving the players a little control and ownership of the session is again something that’s encouraged in the youth modules and gives them opportunities to be creative. As the players went through in waves I asked them questions, challenged them and provide advice when needed. technical information, encouragement, effective praise as mentioned above paying particular attention to those players I had bulls-eyed from the whole part practice. One of the strikers was challenged in the whole part practice to try to receive the ball so he could shoot quickly as he gets into great positions but then is quickly closed down due to body position and touches. He worked hard at this and was receiving the ball more often than not on the half turn and letting the ball come across his body. Within the part practice however he was then taking 2 or 3 touches before trying to finish and was invariably being closed down. His next challenge therefore (after praise for showing great body position) was to try to score with 1 touch from 10 yards or less. As he tried this he was encouraged throughout and praised for the intention. Gradually he became more confident and began to show signs of success by getting shots away. The whole part practice was 25 minutes long. Using a quick drinks break and rotation opportunities to review in their pairs we were able to get a fair amount of challenges, technical content (which comes off the back of the challenges) and evaluation work done before the session and the assessment was over.
After the session I had an interview and evaluation with the assessor. I was asked about the session, how it had linked with previous ones, why I felt I needed to do this one and what the next session might be. Here I talked about the bulls-eyed players, what had been identified in previous games, where we wanted to get to and suggested the next session might be focused more on finishing techniques such as from crosses and so on. I was then questioned about managing difference within the session (as I’ve described above) and given general feedback on my performance. My logbook was reviewed and I was asked a few questions on the back of the Youth Award Curriculum.
Key areas being: