The sport might be football and the aim might still be to put the round thing in the back of the net, but there are some significant differences when it comes to coaching kids and coaching adults.
When coaching adults, you are dealing with people who have already had a football upbringing. Their approach and attitudes are already shaped, meaning that the adult football coach is either refining a player or trying to remould them.
Children are more of a blank canvas. The youth football coach can impart ideas and skills on impressionable young minds, setting them on their way to football passion and who knows, maybe even stardom?
We have taken a look at five ways differences between coaching adults and coaching kids.
Prioritising the love of football over learning about football
When working with adults, the priority is to improve those players you work with. Adults already have a love of the game and enjoy playing football, otherwise, they would not dedicate their spare time towards running around and kicking a ball.
Coaches working with children have a far bigger responsibility than just developing skills and abilities. Yes, creating good players is important. More important though is helping children fall in love with football.
For many kids, their first experience of organised football will come during their coaching sessions. It is no exaggeration to say that their future relationship with the game can be shaped and formed within a few months by how much enjoyment they get from playing the game.
Those coaching youth football have the opportunity to leave a legacy by fostering a passion for football within their players which lasts for the rest of the child’s life. Conversely, if a coach gives them a bad experience then it could be enough to put a child off football. The responsibility is therefore huge.
Only a tiny proportion of children will go on to become professionals or make a career out of football. Any boy or girl no matter what their ability level can be encouraged to have a lifelong affinity to football, however.
A successful youth football coach is never judged on how many of his players make it into the Premier League, the EFL or the higher reaches of the Non-League scene.
The best contribution a coach can make is by encouraging hundreds of kids to have an interest in the sport – which is why prioritising love over learning is so important when it comes to coaching kids’ football.
Coaching youth football requires greater inclusivity
Coaching an adult club generally involves working with a group of players who have similar experiences and abilities, hence why they are on the same team.
That can make session planning easier. There is not such a broad spectrum of individuals who need to be catered for, meaning that a coach can deploy a one size fits all approach to the players being worked with.
Youth football is very different and that means that coaches need to be more inclusive. There will often be a vast disparity in ability between the best players in the group and the less-able.
Some may have been kicking a ball around from the moment they could walk; others might be taking their first steps into a world of formal practice and training.
When coaching kids, attention must be paid to every individual child. Coaches have to cater for various levels of skill, knowledge and even motivation.
And going back to the earlier point about prioritising love over learning, the best way to both improve and foster a child’s enjoyment of football is to give them the focus they need.
That is the reason that We Make Footballers place so much importance on one-on-one training and the benefits it can bring to their academies.
Focussing on every individual can make coaching youth football harder work than coaching adults. It would be wrong to try and suggest otherwise.
But when a coach sees a player master the art of scoring goals with their weaker foot or Cruyff turning their way out of a tight spot because of the hours that coach has put in helping that child, the greater inclusivity required becomes all worth it.
Listen to feedback – from children and parents
Feedback is important whether you are coaching adults or kids. When working with adults, it can inform what has worked in a session and what has not.
This can then be used to inform what happens in future so that a coach can make improvements and attempt to get the best out of their players.
When working with children, feedback becomes even more vital. The best youth football coaches are those who take the adult glasses off and see the world through the eyes of a child. That gives them a better idea of what will work when coaching the young players under their charge.
Of course, getting into the mindset of a child is easier said than done. Listening to what kids liked or did not like about their football training sessions is therefore the best way to bridge the generational divide and understand how to better work with players.
As well as children, youth football coaches have another invaluable source of feedback available to the parents. Some coaches might seem pushy, interfering with parents as an irritant or barrier to what the coach is trying to do with their players.
And whilst it is true that some parents can be difficult, at the end of the day they want the same as the coach – the best for their kids.
Parents can pass on feedback in the form of what their child has said about recent sessions, as well as what they have been working on in the back garden or up the park away from coaching.
If used correctly, parents provide eyes and ears for the coach beyond the limited access that a coach has with the child. This can help them better plan for the individual.
Fostering a positive relationship with parents and seeking feedback from adults as well as children can benefit everyone involved with the coaching children process.
Competition is used in a developmental way
Competition has been a frequent source of controversy in youth football for many years now. In adult football, the need for it is fairly clear-cut – adults play football because they enjoy it, but also to experience that winning feeling that comes with success. You need competition for that.
In kid’s football, competition should be harnessed differently. It serves as a source of motivation to improve skill levels and can be a lot of fun, so long as too much emphasis is not placed on winning.
There is another important side to the competition which children benefit from experiencing – losing. A controlled amount of failure teaches kids as much as winning; both in the need to work hard to get better and avoid defeat next time and in terms of learning about fairness, respect and sportsmanship.
Nobody goes through football – or life for that matter – without experiencing setbacks. Whereas in adult football the aim is to avoid losing, in children’s football it is no bad thing for the long term benefits it brings.
Competition is important for both adults and children, but very different reasons.
Youth coaches are helping make people as well as players
Playing football benefits children across all areas of life, not just sports. Children who attend We Make Footballers learn about the importance of exercise for their physical and mental health.
They develop social skills and make friends through a shared common interest in football. Listening to and learning from a coach helps children become disciplined and respectful. Football helps children understand the progress that can be made and the value of hard work.
Coaches become mentors and inspirations. Weekly football coaching sessions keep kids occupied, off the street and out of trouble. That element of youth football is particularly important at a time when budgets are being cut and children are finding themselves left behind.
This is arguably the biggest difference between coaching adults and coaching kids. For adults, the football experience given to them by a coach is just that – a football experience.
For kids, football coaching can teach them lessons and instil in them attitudes and characteristics that last for life. A youth football coach is making people, not just footballers.
Think you have what it to takes to coach youth football? To find out more about becoming a youth football coach with We Make Footballers, please see the We Make Footballers franchise website.