What is matchday like for a grassroots coach?

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Grassroots coach and football writer, Glenn Moore, provides an insight into his matchday coaching experience and some important lessons learned on the FA Youth Award courses.

Looking at a neighbouring pitch last week, as my U12s prepared to kick-off, I saw a fellow manager struggling to erect a portable goal.

Goal construction is like putting together IKEA furniture, either you have the type of brain that gets it, or you don’t. This guy didn’t. As one of my parents went over to help I thought, ‘if only it had been on the FA youth module courses’.

Putting up goals, collecting subs, wondering how many players will turn up, finding a spare set of shinpads, negotiating rates with five-a-side centres, trying to find away grounds. There are a lot of things grassroots youth team coaches do that Jose Mourinho never has to worry about. Most of these aspects of the parks game come under common sense, but maybe potential coaches should be educated in such matters.

That said, FA courses already have a busy syllabus, and in an ideal world every youth coach would have to do them. Actually, in an ideal world parents would have to take a course too, to learn how to support their child in the literal sense of the word.

I first took my badges to improve my understanding of the game to assist my work as a football reporter. Then, when my eldest son began playing, I realised his coach was so fixated on winning he barely allowed his own son on the pitch and discouraged any initiative. Instead of simmering on the touchline I began coaching the team myself, and extended my learning to the FA Youth Awards.

There are a lot of things grassroots youth team coaches do that Jose Mourinho never has to worry about 

The courses I completed did touch on parental behaviour, especially in the breaks when coaches get together to share war stories and tips. This element of the courses should not be underestimated – or forsaken by spending lunch on the phone. I found the knowledge picked up on the Youth Module courses – and the qualification – gave me the confidence and status to tell parents to be quieter.

Most parents are a positive force, whether helping put the goals up, acting as a taxi service, or simply persuading little Jonny or Jenny to get up on a cold winter’s morning. However, even some of the knowledgeable and well-meaning ones can be a problem. A parent may know the game, but they might not know your gameplan. If they give contradictory instructions who’s the child going to listen to? I try and explain all this at the start of the season. Most take it on board, but others need reminders.

So much for the grown-ups. The ones that matter are the players. I aim to be positive before and after games. In-game instruction is restricted to off-the ball positional information (especially as we have just begun playing offside). When a player is on the ball I want them to make their own decision. If they make the wrong one I can have a quiet word later in one of the breaks and ask what they could have done differently.

Making such notes is one reason I often have paper and pen handy – as well as remembering positions as I try and mix them up over the season. This may weaken the team in the short term but it gives everyone a chance of playing centre-forward, of learning from different roles, and sometimes unexpectedly finding their right position.

That’s a key message the FA Youth Modules reinforced. Winning is not everything. Kids, parents, myself, all want to win, very much so, but I have come to appreciate it is more rewarding seeing individuals improve as players and grow in self-esteem, than racking up trophies. And, honestly, I don’t just tell myself that when we lose.

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