Youth Development Phase and the psychological corner

Guide 12 - 16

Football is played by people. As a coach, it's important to understand the people you're coaching so that you can support their performance and overall development.

This is especially important when working with youngsters in the Youth Development Phase, as they're very much in their formative stages of growth, both as people and as players.

Early adolescence is a time of change and discovery, often bringing some challenges for the youngsters but also vast opportunities for development. Growth and maturation doesn't only take place in the physical corner; important maturation also takes place in the psychological corner – although often far less visible. A better understanding of how young teenagers are developing helps coaches in providing the experiences they need to thrive.

Developing resilience in players is vital, not only for now but also for later life and for wherever their sporting journeys take them. Both achieving successes and overcoming setbacks, if managed well, help to provide opportunities to develop confidence and psychological robustness. Coaches need to consider how the players think, feel and behave within their environment, and help foster a positive approach to the challenges and situations their footballing experiences will bring.

Self-esteem, self-identity, emotional control and concentration are just some other psychological aspects to try and help develop in the young people you coach. Regardless of the setting you coach in, it's vital to see the players as young people first and foremost – in order to help them be the best versions of themselves.

Remember, you’re not expected to be an expert psychologist, but what you can do as a coach is create good conditions for the youngsters to develop psychologically. You can do this through the interactions you share, the experiences you offer and the programme you shape.

Joce Brooks, FA Education psychology performance lead, explains more in the video below.

Psychological development

Within any group of players there'll be a range of personalities and characters. This individual difference is great and needs to be cultivated. Each person will develop uniquely, at their own speed and in their own way, and we need to always be inclusive and empathetic towards their individual differences. Here are some considerations for you as a coach:

  • To what degree do you genuinely care for the development of the youngsters you coach?
  • How much do you truly believe in them?
  • How does the way you coach make the players feel?
  • To what extent do you praise effort, as well as successful performance?
  • Does your coaching environment provide challenges and support to each individual?

Through effective coaching and clever practice design, you can help players develop the perception, anticipation and decision-making needed to play football. These skills will also develop through the experiences players gain from competitions. Some other on-pitch psychological skills that can be specifically developed are positive self-talk or specific aspects of concentration. Psychological skills can also be developed off the pitch through individual or group tasks.

Your own coaching expertise, in combination with understanding who your players are and why they play football, will help you determine ways to safely and positively support your players.

The psychological development of young players must be valued, nurtured and planned by coaches working in the Youth Development Phase. Developing psychologically is important for the youngsters both in the present and in the future, and for them as people as well as players.

To find out more, explore our Youth Development Phase DNA playlist.

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