The kids are alright, but coaches can make them better

Recently, for better or worse, I decided to return to youth football coaching with a club not far from me in south Roscommon. Coaching is not a new experience for me; from troubled 16-year-olds in west Dublin to kids who couldn’t speak a world of English in South Korea, the language of football is most certainly universal.

  Most youth teams I played on growing up were coached and managed by someone’s dad or older brother and therefore individual technical coaching could be found wanting. More often than not the team talk was: “Get stuck in, let him know you’re there!” We did. Nowadays the landscape has changed and it’s all about participation; if anything this makes coaching a more difficult prospect.

  Some clubs have upwards of 30 kids registered. The young players I’ve seen are all unique in terms of ability and definitely in terms of motivation. This makes it difficult to tailor coaching to each player and therefore it impedes on progress across the board. I’m all for eliminating competition among the very young athletes, but, realistically, some players are better than others.

  Now that doesn’t mean weaker players will never be as good, it just means that players need to be separated so that they can develop fully. I understand that parents worry about their kid playing at a lower level, but from experience this will aid development rather than hinder it. Some youth leagues may not keep scores or give trophies anymore, but kids still know. By age ten some kids can ping a ball 30 yards, while some struggle to push pass it 5. There’s nothing abnormal about that, but it doesn’t make sense to ask the former to take part in drills designed for the latter, and vice versa.

  As I write this I’m sitting 30 minutes away from the famed La Masia Academy in Barcelona. The kids there are still separated into different categories and the parents trust that it’s for the best. The aim, as always, is to get the kid who can’t perform a 5-yard pass to one day ping it 30.