The experience with the academy was short but valuable. It’s definitely a bit more simple, because all we need to do is to develop skills. And the exercises are easier to carry. But it doesn’t mean it’s not a huge responsability and shouldn’t be taken very seriously. That’s the period when kids absorb new and better skills most easily. It’s more simple but requires specific skills and a lot passion from the coach, because it’s all about hidden learning. At this age they still want to have fun and you won’t achieve much lecturing them or stopping the session all the time.
It’s our job to drive that energy to the right direction while at the same time controling them. If you let it loose they’ll eat you alive. It’s important to set the tone from the beginning. And to prepare the sessions carefully so that, at the same time they learn and have fun. In every session.
From that experience I could see that it’s important to have a few coaching points and repeat them exhaustively, until they get rid of bad habits. And MOST IMPORTANTLY: TO SHOW. 100 words will be less effective than 1 action. This is particularly true in real game situations. After I played a few games with them they started to mimic some of my behaviors. How I ran, how I stopped, how I used space, the position of my body when I passed. Also when you play with them and against them, you just have a more complete understand of their thought processes, their strengths and weaknesses at that split second. COACHES, PLAY GAMES WITH your kids.
I had a very good group of U11s. All my players are crazy about the game and have decent skills, drive and physicality. And before dropping this position to move to my new job we played two games. In the first one, at Lions we beat them 10-0. In this game I learned (or remembered) how they’re competitive and take games seriously already, in total contrast to the training sessions. Also, how they have zero tactical awareness. We don’t wanna drill young kids with tactical exercises. At this age it’s all about skills. But at least we need to make sure that they have basic concepts of how to occupy space.
In the second, we played against a very physical Brisbane City’s SAP U11 team and still managed to play an equal game, losing by 1 goal. It was a totally different story, and I also learned that other teams will use negative tactics to win games, even in this age group. They had at least two players smashing the hell out of us and nothing would happen, because the referee was an underprepared thirteen year old provided by their club.
This is something else we need to take into account when working with kids. They can be nasty. They don’t particularly understand actions and consequences. I had a number of times during training one or two kids catching a ball inside the goal and the others still shooting as powerfully as they could not considering for a second that a ball in the head might give someone a concussion or even make someone lose their vision if hit in the eye. They’re sweet. But they cross the line to evil really fast.
From a pure technical point of view, it’s interesting to be working with three age groups at the same time (U11s U14s and U18s), because it’s clear how some of the mistakes being made at 18 are the same ones made when they’re 11. So something was not taught along that road. From that perspective, it’s a very rewarding job to coach youngsters and mould good footballers when they’re most moudable.