Article in World Class Coaching

I was pleased to see an article in the fantastic WCC back in April. I have been a long admirer of the magazine and it is a pleasure to be associated with it.

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By Steve O'Donoghue

Question - How do you convince young players that they are part of a team without crushing individuality? What is the best way to incorporate club rules so that all the players respect them?

How do you convince young players that they are part of a team without crushing individuality? What is the best way to incorporate club rules so that all the players respect them?

One tip I used when the season started was to get the lads to understand that playing as a team was more important than playing as individuals. I figured that the lads had probably been told this over and over during their young lives, so I decided the best way to get them to understand what I was trying to say was to do it visually. I believe that young boys and girls usually respond better if they are shown how something works. Below is the visual idea I used for our very first game of the season.

I ask for all the parents to come into the dressing room before the game so they can listen to the team talk. It’s important for me that they know exactly how I want the club run and exactly what we expect of them and the players. I don’t want to have the disciplinary problems that contributed to the folding of the last club to surface here, but in all honesty, I can’t see that happening. Not with the parents and players we have here now.

I tell the players they are the most important people at the club and the most important thing is that they enjoy themselves. I want them to look forward to playing football for Hattersley Football Cluc and all we ask is that they try their best. I go on to explain that they are a team and they must all stick together, If someone makes a mistake, we don’t want to see players getting on their backs, because in life everyone makes mistakes, everyone, even me, sometimes. I reason with them that if they all stick together they will be stronger as a team.

I ask for a volunteer, someone who is strong. One player, Owen Pemberton steps forward. I give him a pencil and ask him to snap it. He looks at me as if he has misheard me and I tell him again to snap the pencil. He does this, to great cheers from his team mates. I then hold up nine pencils and tell the team that these pencils represent all of them, the team itself. I give the pencils to Owen and ask him to break them. Of course it is impossible for him to break them, (try it, if you don’t believe me) and eventually he gives up. I ask the lads if they understand what they’ve just seen. They all start shouting out about the pencils being stronger together than on their own. Bingo. I name the side. We high five, and walk out of the dressing room for our very first game as Hattersley Jets.

As a coach how do you feel when things aren't going the way you hoped? Sometimes it's difficult to find someone to talk to once you've crossed the line line from parent to manager. In the book I discuss how I felt after emotions got the better of me in a quarter final and ended up arguing with one of my own players on the pitch.

I think that by reading about my experiences, you will be able to relate to them and possibly find some of my methods can be used for yourself.

How do you decide what to do when things start to go wrong? How do you deal with discipline? We're not school teachers, well most of us anyway. We are just volunteers who are coaching something we love. I had a long chat with my assistant about how we can ensure that we 'get it right' when it came to rules. Below is how we managed it:

We were always reminding the players that we didn’t want football training to have the same atmosphere as a lesson in school; we wanted the lads to have fun. However there are times when you need some sort of order and policing or the training sessions just catapult into chaos. We also told the lads at the start of the season that we only wanted a small squad to ensure positive chances for development, for everyone.

We decided to tell players that if they couldn’t behave they would start the next game as a substitute, to which I heard one whisper ‘so what, I’ll still get on.’ This was a head scratcher for sure, and I realised that being fair to them was actually no punishment at all.

So after a meeting with Ben we decided to draw up some rules. I realised that these rules wouldn’t carry much clout if we just rolled them out, so I decided to let the players make them. We sat them down and simply asked them what they thought the relevant punishments should be for:

• Not turning up for training. • Turning up late for training. • Messing around in training. • Missing a match day.

We sat and watched the lads debate the issues and eventually they came up with their own version of what would be expected if a player breeched the ‘Golden Rules’ of the team.

If they missed training for no valid reason, they would miss the next game. It was decided that if the player couldn’t attend through no fault of their own, then this would be reduced to substitute. If a player turned up late they would have to perform a forfeit set by a team member the week before. This would usually involve some form of running or press up activity. If a player was constantly spoiling a training session through bad behaviour, they would be sat out for ten minutes with a coach and would start the following match as last choice sub. (I particularly like this because it gives the coach time to talk with the individual. Quite often the kids that mess about are doing so because they are craving attention. This way they will get that, but not at the expense of their team mates.) If a player didn’t show up on match day then they would also miss the next match unless their parent had telephoned to say they were ill or at an engagement.

This actually worked really well for us. When a player crossed a ‘Golden Rule’ he was punished, but not by us, by their peers. We could just sit back and say ‘sorry but I’m not banning you, these are your rules, and you all agreed to them.’ Giving the kids ownership of their own punishment is a great way to instil a code of conduct regarding behaviour.

Far away from the bright lights of the premier league there are armies of volunteers all over the country, who are going the extra mile so that young boys and girls can at least, for a short while anyway, dream of one day being the next Lionel Messi.

This book….Junior Football is Not a Man’s Game, discusses ways in which we can help make this happen, and hopefully identifies situations that you have found yourself in and help you realise that you are not alone. Whether it's dealing with parents or dealing with players, at training or on match days.

By Steve O'Donoghue, author of Junior Football is Not a Man's Game


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