Each individual person and each individual journey is unique. Recorded in the 2018/19 season, this solely provides one England international player’s personal reflection on what was important to him in his journey.
The Youth Development Phase can be described as ‘the changing years’ and is typically a period when young people explore their self-identity. This must be considered when coaching; regardless of the level or setting in which you coach, prioritising the development of the youngsters as people is vital.
Although it’s about enjoyment for all young players, their attitude towards competition often changes as they grow and it can become an increasing factor in their experience of football. For some, competition is a positive and motivating factor, whilst for others it becomes a primary reason for dropping out of football altogether. Coaches must consider the players they coach, who they are and why they play, and strive to meet their individual needs.
Fostering a 'love of the ball and love of the game' in players is crucial. As a coach, consider the following:
- What must you avoid, to ensure you don't dampen any individual's love of the game?
- When you coach, do you see the youngsters you coach as young people first, or just as players?
- How do you adapt your coaching to the intentions and motivations of the particular players you coach?
It's important to pay close attention to the growth and development of individuals, especially when coaching in the Youth Development Phase. Periods of growth can be extremely challenging for lots of children, occurring at different times and at different rates. An unfortunate consequence of growth can be injury and it's vital that players are nurtured appropriately through such periods, under appropriate medical guidance where necessary.
Short and long-term growth-related issues often require rest or adapted participation in order to safely support youngsters through them. This often comes with frustration for the player, but can provide alternative opportunities for learning. Regardless, carefully listening to players and giving them a voice is crucial for better understanding individual players' needs.
- How can you support and challenge the players in adapting to adolescent changes, whilst exploring their expanding capabilities?
- How do you develop safe relationships with players to ensure they play an active role in shaping their own development?
- What consideration do you give to the readiness of young players in their learning and therefore the relevance of their training and matchday experiences?
Through growth and maturation, development can result in changing capabilities for the youngsters both as people and as players. It’s vital to avoid early adultification in the Youth Development Phase – meaning that coaches need to resist any temptation to treat young people as adults prematurely. Expecting to see an adult version of football too soon is a mistake to be avoided and is often to the detriment of enjoyment and development.
Self-initiated play can strongly impact in fuelling a youngster's 'love of the ball and love of the game' and it’s really important to encourage and value such play through the Youth Development Phase. Appropriate mixed-aged group play, if carefully managed, can accelerate learning but must be done safely and always with the players' best interests and safeguarding at the heart of it.
As players develop it’s important to ensure they can bring out their personality through their football and keep expressing themselves as they continue to grow. This playful expression must be encouraged in both training and matches, even as players begin to more deeply learn their positional roles with the team.
- How often do the players you coach engage in unstructured play, either at or away from sessions?
- Within your coaching setting, does player-initiated, unstructured play commonly take place? If so, why? If not, what are the barriers and could it be facilitated more?
- Within your coaching, how much attention is paid to players skilfully developing on-pitch connections with others?
Developing on-pitch connections and 'being on the same wavelength' can become more apparent through the Youth Development Phase. For this to occur, players must be able to stay on the ball for the right amount of time in order to then connect and combine well with teammates at the right moment. These connections need to be explored by players and depend on good timing, awareness, eye-contact, verbal and non-verbal communication. They can be achieved in different ways and with various techniques, which all require experimentation to learn.
Each player will have their own characteristics and tendencies, not just in their personalities but also technically due to biomechanics and perception skills. This means all players need to explore their own unique capabilities. It's great when, through curiosity, players can find their own solutions to problems and scenarios they face in the game. Marcus Rashford talked about how he developed the ability to use the sole of his foot and stated this technique was born through a desire to protect the ball against more physically capable opponents.
Coaches must encourage players to discover different skills and explore their own solutions to ultimately become more effective in game situations.
- Do you remain open to the possibilities that as young people grow and develop, their characteristics and preferences may change?
- Attacking movement can be 'frustrating' to learn for young players; what are the skills across the four corners that players require, in order to learn effective movement?
- To what extent do you observe players before, during and after the ball is at their feet?
Being able to prepare space depends heavily on connections with teammates. It takes a high level of skill, timing and understanding to do well, and requires good play before, during and after the ball arrives. Players must learn to search and think before the ball arrives; connect with their teammate to ensure they're prepared as the ball arrives; and make the most of the situation, leading to what comes after. This learning often emerges over time, but must be valued and prioritised if we aim to develop intelligent, skilful and creative players into the future.
The purpose of this article is to provide one real-life example of a developmental journey in order to provide points of consideration when coaching players in the Youth Development Phase. Each individual is unique and it’s important to reflect on this in order to figure out what this means for you when appropriately coaching 12-16 year old children.
To find out more, explore our Youth Development Phase DNA playlist.