The Germans coined a phrase. "funino" fun + nino (Spanish for child) this is where the game of football needs to get back to, the child & fun. My whole coaching philosophy is built on this principle, child-led, fun, exploration which leads to further curiosity. The whole time is spent coaching the 99%, not the 1% that may make it in the adult game. I believe it's far more important to have more children wanting to play the game and be active well into their adult years, than only focusing on the 1% that could play professionally. My personal football coaching philosophy, “Free range football” as I call it, allows children time to discover our beautiful game. Each session should be as close to the game as we can get it, that means no lines no laps and no lectures.
This means the game is the whole session. Changing the landscape they play on, and adding obstacles and zones they may have to move through or around, gives them more chances to explore different ways of playing. Germany has launched new regulations that will transform the way football is played by children under 11 years old in the country & must be introduced from the start of the 2024/25 season. The new forms of play are intended to give all children on the pitch the opportunity as often as possible to have the ball at their feet themselves, to take an active part in the game, to score goals and thus to have a personal sense of achievement. More details from the athletic here: https://theathletic.com/3343982/2022/06/06/dfb-germany-youth-football/ In recent years we have seen the English football association change the formats of the game for children. The game was the game in the past, one format (11v11), same size pitch and ball. This led to undeveloped players, technically, physically and mentally but worse kids losing interest in the game and dropping out altogether. Forcing the adult game on kids was unfair, so introduced smaller formats and more appropriate-sized balls that are better fit. 5v5s, 7v7s, 9v9s before moving to the recognised game of 11v11 at u13. Even within these formats, I’ve seen children get lost, I think one of the biggest barriers in youth football is the language we use. Youth football is full of adult terminology, that let's face it, does not make sense to a lot of kids. We have to spend the time reframing what we mean and allow the kids to create their own language in their own games. I have successfully used an example using hens and foxes with different age groups. when the hens have the ball (or egg) they are actually defending, moving the ball around to put the ball back in the hen house (the opposition's goal), the fox on the other hand does not have the ball and are actually attacking, with the aim to steal the ball and take it to the fox hole (the opposition's goal), this reframing of language helps explain urgency, pressing and helps define the attacking/defending aspects of the game. I believe the future of youth football is in even smaller formats of the game. 2v2’s, 3v3’s, 4v4, then moving to 8v8 before the more traditional 11v11. Small-sided, child-led formats are something I have been working on for a while and seeing National federations such as Germany working on a similar approach was good to see and good also to know I am on the right path. I love creating games to give an alternative way to describe football. Creating new roles, and defining them in a way they understand, will help them understand player roles when they hopefully play in the adult version of the game. Recently I've revamped the school I coach football curriculum, shifting from traditional static drills to a dynamic and engaging 4v4 league. Why 4v4? Inspired by Rick Fenoglio's year-long study at Manchester Metropolitan University, which found significant improvements in smaller-sided games compared to 8v8, we've seen: ⚽️ Passes Increase by +135% ⚽️ Goals Scored Soar by +500% ⚽️ 1v1 Encounters Up by +225% ⚽️ Dribbling Skills Rise by +280% And yes, these numbers truly reflect in our games! The best part? Watching kids who were previously less engaged with football now scoring goals, showing off their dribbling skills, and brimming with newfound confidence. In traditional formats, many children tended to get lost in the crowd – not anymore. Here's what we've introduced: 🥅 Targeted Goals: 14-hole target sheets on goals, making scoring a strategic challenge. 🌀 No Goalkeepers: A focus on outfield play, ensuring every player is actively involved and developing a well-rounded skill set. ⏱ Quick Matches: 5-minute games called rounds, that encourage a fast-paced and energetic atmosphere. 🔥 Weekly Challenges: From fictional team sponsors to ‘boss level’ challenges for continuous excitement and engagement. The more traditional training session is built into each round. So for example a boss we have used was Caesar. One of Caesar's most renowned strategic talents was his use of fortifications during the Gallic Wars, He famously built a series of fortifications around the Gallic stronghold of Alesia, effectively besieging the city. When a Gallic relief army arrived to lift the siege, Caesar built another outer ring of fortifications facing outward, trapping the Gauls between two sets of walls in what's known as the Battle of Alesia. This "double besiegement" was a masterstroke and led to a decisive Roman victory. What does this mean for our football session? The children have a collective goal target to meet to beat the boss, so all 6 teams work together to not only outscore each other but also the boss. The boss has set out his fortification, or in our case zones on the pitch where the players cannot go, which forces shots from a distance, and movement to create space and passes where the children might not have usually passed. It's a constraints-led approach but has a holistic way to teach the game and also the children learn some historical facts they might not have known. coaching. With just an hour a week, instilling confidence is key, and the results have been truly inspiring. Parents and Teachers have noted newfound confidence in the children during and outside of school. And sometimes that is all we can do, confidence and belief are such key ingredients. It can be the difference between a child going on to play professionally to a child dropping out altogether. Let the story and the game be the teacher and allow space and time for curiosity.