Winning the respect of youth football players can be a difficult task for many coaches. Just like adults, young players will try to figure you from the beginning and push the boundaries if they are allowed to. Their attention span can be very short, and if your sessions are not providing enough stimulation you will find it very hard to keep them on task.

The best coaches know how to instantly win the respect of the players from the beginning. This requires recognising when they seem to be losing concentration and using tactics to keep them on task. It also requires you to be prepared before your session begins, planning how you will deliver the session will allow less opportunity for the players to take advantage.

To win your player’s respect, you need to engage them with everything you do. You have to think about more than just encouraging your players or coming across very commanding. Good coaches think of what, when and how they give encouragement. They also think of using different teaching styles for each player on their team, as each player learns in different ways.

Here I will share with you different approaches I have used to help win the respect of the players quickly.

Set The Tone!

Right from the beginning, your players need to know what you are all about and the values and beliefs you stand for (your coaching philosophy).

I wouldn’t mention the word ‘philosophy’ with young players as a lot of them (especially the younger ones, u10 & below) won’t truly understand what the term means. But if you gradually introduce small parts of your expectations, values and beliefs then it will become easier for them to digest the information.

Don’t just mention it once and leave it for the rest of the year. As with most things when it comes to children, they will need constant reminding of what is expected of them so when you feel it’s necessary to re-enforce your expectations.

Lead By Example!

You cannot expect your players to respect you if you too are not following through with the agreed expectations.

Children (even adults) always look for something that they can get away with it almost like they can’t help it, but how you portray yourself can have a massive impact on how they behave.

If you expect them to turn up on time make sure you are the first one there. If it’s to always turn up in appropriate gear make sure you always look the part. If you want your players to show more energy and enthusiasm then ensure that your passion and enthusiasm is evident every time you demonstrate.

Get The Parents on Side!

For me, more coaches should pay more attention to this area and it will make their lives a whole lot easier.

I can hear some of the excuses already. “My parents are just as bad as the children” or “The parents never support me when their child is misbehaving.”

If you have initially made it clear to the parents your expectations, philosophy and have continued to re-enforce this, just as you would with children through communication or letters, then your relationship with them will improve and they will become more accepting of what you are trying to do.

I found that it is best to be very open to the parents about what you are doing, even when it comes to dealing with their misbehaving child. Most of the time, a word from the parent will hold more weight than yours so if a child is rebelling and you have tried everything else then a word with the parents will be next move.

Parents can either be your greatest ally or your greatest hindrance, involving them in process regularly makes them feel involved and appreciated which will make them want to help you with their child.

Realism at All Times!

To engage youth football players your sessions need to keep all the players involved throughout. This cannot be achieved if your sessions involve children standing in lines waiting for their turn or a practise which is controlled entirely by you.

Youth football players should have some ownership within the session. Realism should be evident throughout the practice, from the warm-up right until the small sided game. You can’t expect to keep each child engaged in the session if they have to wait long periods of time before they get to touch the ball, each player should be making decisions on when, where, why and how throughout the session.

Each session should include a variety of games throughout, you want the children to feel excited when they turn up to train. If the players don’t see the importance of your coaching, then they will eventually become disinterested with the session which often leads to bad behaviour.

Become a Student Of The Game

This is a bit of an obvious one for me but I know there are coaches who either don’t take the time to educate themselves on their craft and just Google a few sessions together and hope for the best.

You can’t expect your players or parents to respect you if it looks like you haven’t properly researched your topic. This entails the following;

  • Is the session linked from what was previously taught?
  • Is the session structured in a way so that it gradually increases in difficulty, testing the players appropriately?
  • Are you prepared to differentiate when players either find it too easy or too difficult?
  • Are you delivering your coaching points in a logical order?
  • Are you using your small sided game as an assessment of what was previously taught and not just a chance for your players to play a game where you don’t have to deliver any coaching yourself?

Never short change yourself when it comes to coaching your players. Most coaches are doing it for free so I understand that some may not have the drive to pay money and put themselves on courses or purchase books online.

In these times, I believe there isn’t much room for excuses as there is excellent content available out there for free which can help you develop your coaching philosophy, construct a good coaching session and much more. Here are some resources I recommend you check out;

Keep The Ball

The Coaching Manual

Tovo Academy

Player Development Project

All of the above have excellent free content to help either get you on the right path or help add to your current coaching expertise.

Coaching Style

The coach has many different ways he/she can get their point across. There are 3 main styles that coaches tend to use which are the following;

  1. Command style – This is where the coach makes all the decisions with little suggestions from the players.
  2. Casual Style – This is when the coach takes a very laid-back approach to coaching, saying and showing nothing to their players throughout the session.
  3. Cooperative style – The coach who implements this style, tend to share the decision-making progress with their players using frequent question & answer methods.

Each style has its pros and cons, but the more successful coaches tend to use a mixture of the last two with younger players.

If you had to choose a style to go with, you are more likely to produce better players with using more of the cooperative style of coaching. Using a cooperative style of coaching helps the players take some ownership of the session, thus encouraging further engagement from the players. It also allows you to get your point across without having to bark information constantly from the sidelines, instead, you help players find the solution.

I have found that using the right coaching style will have a massive impact on your players, not only in the way they play the game but with also how they look at you as a coach, so take the time to find the right style that will get the best out of your players.

Motivate!

Engaging youth football players also requires the coach to give positive and constructive feedback to their players. Even from a young age, players need a positive push now and then to keep them on track.

This doesn’t have to be anything major, sometimes all it needs is a little thumbs up from the coach or  “well done” when they manage to execute something you have been working on in a game. No matter how old you are everyone tends to enjoy praise from their coach so don’t be afraid to use it throughout your coaching.

I have also found that using humour is a great asset. You don’t have to be a comedian to get a smile from your players, but making the effort to make your players laugh now and then breaks things up nicely in the session. The thing I find with using humour in my coaching is that it helps my players to become more receptive to my coaching methods.

Your coaching sessions can also have a big impact on players motivation in practices. This is why I urge to use realistic practices that relate heavily to game situations. Players no matter what age can quickly realise when a session is tedious and has no relation to the game. This is one of the biggest things that can stop your players feeling motivated to do your session.

What You Should do Now

These are the 7 things that I do almost every time I coach my players and so far it has helped me to get my players to show respect and understand my expectations right from the beginning. It would be great to hear what approaches you may use that have been equally as effective for you in the past so don’t be afraid to leave a comment below and share your best approaches.

The most important thing to do first if you haven’t already is to take the time to really develop your coaching philosophy and prepare a parent and player friendly version that can quickly get your point across and begin the process of winning the respect of your players.

Kurtis Pottinger founded Let’s Play the Game to provide a better standard of technical sports coaching to young people and primary schools across the West Midlands (UK). The mission is to help children learn the skills they need to excel in sports and beyond, within a fun and inclusive environment. Let’s Play the Game also offers high quality, free content in the form of articles, videos, eBooks and webinars.