How to support psychological development

Guide 5 - 11

Aiding your team’s psychological development can be the most demanding area of The FA 4 Corner Model.

To provide support, the England DNA suggests a different way of working: allow your players greater responsibility and ownership over their own development.
This approach involves reducing your ‘management’ of sessions, which can feel strange. However, it’s important to recognise that you're not handing over complete control. The right environment drip-feeds lots of opportunity to practise decision-making and problem solving.

You should encourage your players to adopt a growth mindset. Explain (and illustrate, e.g. "you couldn’t do that two weeks ago") that their current level of ability is not fixed. This will help them to recognise that improvement is within their control.

Coaching in this way encourages the development of executive functions, such as:

  • intrinsic motivation
  • planning
  • self-control
  • regulation of emotions.

Although these skills don’t fully mature until a person’s late 20s, progress can be supported throughout the Foundation Phase. For more tips, scroll down now.

Step one: players aged 5-8
Supporting the psychological development of your youngest players is incredibly important – it will help them to cope with the demands of both football and everyday life.

Our top tips:

The FA


Challenge your players with a wide range of experiences and situations. 

The FA


Allow your players an appropriate level of ownership and choice.

The FA


Always praise effort – and recognise accomplishments. 

The FA


Listen to your team and use their opinions to help shape your actions. 

The FA


Recognise that play helps your team to improve their problem solving. 

The FA


Use small-sided games to encourage your team to make 'real world' decisions. 

The FA


Give motivated children 'homework'.

The FA


Say less and watch more – allow time for your players to make their own decisions.

The FA


Ask questions, or offer individual advice, that will help a player's understanding. 

The FA


Show a real interest in the children you coach. 

Don't forget that, as your team gets older, these tips still apply and you should continue to use them in your sessions wherever possible.

Step two: players aged 9-12
The England DNA aims to develop players who are independent, able to take responsibility for their actions and have the potential to lead.

To encourage these skills, it’s important to allow your players the freedom to solve tactical problems and engage them in match play to consolidate their learning. As you increase your team’s independence, ensure you maintain a supportive relationship – young players need to know that, if something goes wrong, you’ll be there to help.

Our top tips:

The FA


Slowly introduce more complex concepts. 

The FA


Help your players to reflect on training and matches. 

The FA


Ask players to identify and allocate responsibilities within the team. 

The FA


Use positive reinforcement to shape behaviour and development. 

Next steps

Want to know why psychological development is so important? Click here.

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