What Makes a Good Grassroots Football Coach

What makes a good grassroots football coach goes beyond simply being able to teach a child how to play a 10-yard pass. 

The best grassroots coaches possess special characteristics that not only help players improve, but that also have a profound impact on the lives of the children they work with.

From the ability to take feedback on board to adopt a child-centric and player-focused approach, here are some of the attributes which the best grassroots youth football coaches in the UK all have in common.

A positive attitude and approach

A grassroots football coach must ensure that the players they are working with enjoy themselves. For many children, their future relationship with football is shaped by what happens through their early experience of the sport – the experience given to them by their grassroots coach.

When players enjoy themselves and look forward to every session, they will end up falling in love with football. It is a relationship that will last a lifetime, regardless of their ability, success or the level they go onto play at.

To have that impact on young players, a grassroots coach must be positive, enthusiastic and passionate about their role. 

Children better engage with coaches who show great enthusiasm in what they do. That enthusiasm is infectious to players. If the coach appears indifferent to the session ahead, that often rubs off on their players – and there is nothing enjoyable about indifference.

Players respond more quickly to the methods and teachings of passionate coaches. When children see that a coach clearly loves what they are doing and cares deeply about it, they will be filled with belief that what the coach sets out for them to do is geared to helping them improve. 

At the same time, the best grassroots coaches acknowledge that things might not always go to plan. When that is the case, a positive attitude is a must. No child is going to respond well to being embarrassed, humiliated or told off when they get something wrong.

Instead, the coach has to look for the positives. Identify why the player failed at the task, coach them through what to do next time and help them achieve their target. Praise the good and offer feedback on the bad.

There is no better feeling in football as either a player or coach than seeing an individual master a skill they had previously struggled with – and climbing such mountains can only be done through a positive attitude.

Being a great two-way communicator

It is not merely enough for a grassroots football coach to be a great communicator – they have to be a great two-way communicator. Listening to players and taking on feedback is every bit as important as being able to get a message across clearly.

When it comes to outwards communications, a good grassroots coach will know that talking is sometimes not enough. They will also use clear demonstrations or diagrams to make their point, knowing that different children find different learning methods beneficial.

Asking for and listening to feedback from players is one of the easiest ways that a coach can find out if what they are doing is working. An honest appraisal from a child or parent can inform the approach taken for an individual child going forward and open them up to further improvement.

Players will feel more comfortable giving feedback to an approachable coach. The best grassroots coaches show their players they are willing to listen and make them feel comfortable about saying what they think. It is to the benefit of everyone that they do so.

Being flexible

Receiving feedback from players or parents is only useful if a coach then acts upon it – which is why the best grassroots football coaches are flexible in their approach.

Every child is different and so a one size fits all approach to coaching is an ineffective method. Coaches who are steadfast and rigid in their methods will have far less success than those who are willing to experiment and be flexible.

When one approach does not work with a player, a grassroots coach should not seek to lay blame at the feet of the child or question their ability. Instead, it showed be viewed as a challenge – how can the coach help the player overcome their struggles and master the skill?

Children are not the only ones who should be learning with every session. Coaches too can always improve or reinvent themselves as time goes on, building their knowledge through trying new coaching techniques in a never-ending quest for becoming better.

Realising it is about the players, not the coach

One of the biggest traps a grassroots coach can fall into is thinking that they are Jurgen Klopp or Jose Mourinho – coaches with an ego to make it all about them.

There are numerous reasons why top Premier League managers are desperate for the limelight. Often, it is to relieve pressure on their players. Other times it is to try and coerce their board into a new signing or referees into favouring them or casting doubt on the integrity of the opposition. And some just like the sound of their voices.

Grassroots football is a world away from the billion-pound industry that is the Premier League. The best grassroots coaches know this and make everything about their player’s enjoyment and improvement rather than making it all about them.

Results are not important when it comes to children’s football. The best coaches do not worry or think that their team losing reflects badly on them; instead, they realise that failure is just another path to success and that individual improvement and enjoyment matters more.

The grassroots coach is there to help children have fun. They are there to serve their players and give them a football education. Child development should always come above winning, which is why the players are the most important part of any grassroots football academy. 

Setting a good example

Children are impressionable and that means that to be a success, a grassroots coach must lead by example. Many young players will look up to their football coaches as role models, so what a coach says and does matters.

Setting an example starts from appearances. A coach who turns up to a coaching session in jeans and a flat cap like something out of Peaky Blinders will not be taken seriously. 

Players will think if their coach cannot be bothered to dress appropriately on the training ground or professionally go about their business, why should they? Appearances set the standard for what happens on the pitch. 

A grassroots coach can lead by example by being punctual and organised. If the coach arrives five minutes before training starts and is still trying to layout drills or plan what is going to happen when the session is meant to be underway, then their players too can start thinking it is acceptable to be late or unorganised.

Everything that grassroots coach does whilst working with their players can make an impression and inform what they think is acceptable in football and life. Setting a good example is key.

Getting to know players as people

The best way for a coach to understand the players they are working with is by getting to know them as people. This is especially true when it comes to children through the impact that a grassroots coach can have as a role model.

Football can be a powerful force for good in the lives of young people. It gives them focus and can help keep them out of trouble. The professional game is full of players whose stories feature a theme of “I don’t know where I would be without football.”

A coach who takes an interest in a player’s life off the pitch is in a better position to understand their background. This in turn can help to make a positive impact on a child’s life, both on and off the pitch.

When it comes to football, a player will better respect and trust a coach who they feel is looking out for them. That leads to improved performances through motivation and hard work.

Away from the sport, if a child believes that their coach has their best interests at heart then they are more likely to look up to them and listen. A strong relationship between coach and player can be a vehicle for change.

We Make Footballers are the UK’s number one football coaching academy for children aged 4-12 years old. 

If you think you have what it takes to become a grassroots coach, please contact us through our website to find out more.

 

 

The Power of Visualisation

David Beckham puts down the ball 25 yards out from goal in front of the Stretford End. It is the final minute of the last match of World Cup qualifying. The England captain knows that if he scores, his side is going to the World Cup finals. He takes a short run-up. He strikes the ball perfectly. It bends up and over the wall and crashes against the back of the net. 66,000 fans explode with unbridled joy. What does Beckham do? He turns around, picks up another ball and repeats the free-kick. For none of this is happening on Saturday 6th October 2001 at Old Trafford. It is all taking place in Beckham’s mind in the weeks, months and years leading up to him scoring one of the most famous goals in English football history.

This is the power of visualisation. To some, the notion that imagining a moment or action happening can make it more likely is the sort of thing that only happens in the movies.

Proof that it is a real-life route to success however comes from both science and the mindsets of world-class athletes in numerous sports over the past 50 years, all of whom used the power of visualisation in different ways.

Formula One world champion Niki Lauda would use it to prepare and familiarise himself with the task ahead. Walking every track before a race, he imagined his breaking points and the racing line he would take. Having already driven the race before in his mind, Lauda found it easier to do it the second time around when sat in his car. The result? Three world titles and a place amongst the greatest racing drivers who ever lived.

Mike Tyson used the power of visualisation for another purpose – to breed confidence and belief that he was the best in the world. He would box Muhammad Ali over and over in his head, always winning. Having beaten the greatest boxer who ever lived numerous times in his mind, Tyson convinced himself he could never lose to any mere mortal opponent during his heyday. And he hardly ever did.

Jonny Wilkinson visualised winning the Rugby World Cup for England from the moment he first started playing the sport. Very few athletes have ever had the razor-sharp focus as Wilkinson. It meant that when the opportunity presented itself for a last-minute drop goal in the final against Australia in 2003, he was not daunted or overcome. He could seize the moment because he had been there before inside his head.

Wilkinson talks about the power of visualisation in his autobiography: “If you have realistically imagined situations, you feel better prepared and less fearful of the unexpected.”

And what of the science behind it? During the 1980s, the US Olympic Team began experimenting with visualisation. Athletes were asked to visualise running their race, imagining how they looked and felt. When they were hooked up to a machine to measure the response of the body, it was discovered that the same muscles fired in the same sequence when they visualised as they would if the athletes were on the track.

Visualisation, therefore, helps to hardwire patterns to the brain through muscle memory, whereby the process to complete an action becomes second nature. 

What the US Olympic Team discovered is that you can train your body and mind almost as effectively through visualisation as you can practice. The major benefit of this is that athletes can visualise anywhere. On the team coach to games or events. In the evening when they are sat at home after dinner. In the shower. Whilst eating lunch. Suddenly, practice is not restricted to the training pitch, nor does it have to take a physical toll on the body. The power of visualisation can be utilised anytime, anywhere. 

This is particularly helpful when a player is out injured. They may not be able to train physically, but they can keep themselves ticking over mentally and remain connected to their sport. There are other chemical benefits to visualisation too. When a person visualises, the brain releases dopamine and noradrenaline, two hormones that are both proven to improve performance.

When an athlete visualises themselves taking that penalty kick, the body becomes trained to respond by releasing dopamine and noradrenaline. When it then does so when the situation arises in real life, the chances of success rise.

Football coaches who work with young players at the grassroots level tend to focus less on the mental side of the game. That is not the case with We Make Footballers, where franchisees are encouraged to embrace the power of visualisation. The reason for this is because it is even more effective in children. The power of visualisation works when the visualiser truly believes that they can achieve what they are imagining and that it will one day come true.

Dr Leslie Sherlin talks in her book ‘The Rise of Superman’ about how it is easier to work with children as they have few inhibitions, they are less cynical than adults and are more open to believing that anything is possible.

She writes: “Children are too young to know what impossible means. ‘Can you do something?’ ‘I don’t know? Let me go try.’ And they’re too young to know what to be afraid of.”

To a child, it is not impossible or unlikely that they will one-day captain England at football. They are therefore more susceptible to the power of visualisation; their belief is stronger and the effects more profound. Children do not just imagine themselves in such scenarios, either. When a child plays football in their back garden or down the park, then they will often pretend to be their favourite player. 

This is another example of a different strand of visualisation. They imagine that they are taking a free kick like Cristiano Ronaldo. Dribbling like Lionel Messi. Flicks and tricks like Neymar. This sort of visualisation is powerful. A child who watches the best in the world to imagine they are that same player will copy the same little details that make said player so effective. They will dribble with their head up like Messi. Strike the ball in the same sweet spot Ronaldo does. Take the first touch to get into space to perform a piece of skill like Neymar.

Beckham, Lauda, Tyson and Wilkinson all dreamed of being the best in the world at what they did from a young age. They visualised it over and over again, took what they had imagined doing and put it into practice on the training pitch. When the time eventually came along for their moment of sporting glory that would write them into the history books forever, they were ready for it.

Whether it is the free-kick that sends England to the World Cup or the We Make Footballers student scoring with his weaker foot for the first time, that is the power of visualisation.