Meeting Young People’s Needs

Reproduced from “Developing Youth Football Players” by Horst Wein.

The key to developing successful youth football players is in understanding and meeting the needs of young players rather than subjecting them to boring exercises or a game designed for adults. These are some basic, yet important, needs children have that coaches should always keep in mind.

Need for security

During training, children need a familiar and intimate atmosphere that gives them security and confidence. Frequent changes of training site or coach or educator is not recommended. Returning to games that they are already familiar with (but with some variations) is welcomed by kids as long as the contents of the training sessions link with something that they already know. Children require stability.

Training should always take place in a safe environment, and specific rules should be applied to ensure safety and avoid any dangerous situations.

Need for new experiences

Nothing can be understood completely when it has not been experienced first. Coaches should allow children to experiment with tasks. Children need to discover on their own everything that surrounds them. This also applies to the world of sport and in particular to football. Kids should be stimulated with games and activities that are within their physical and mental capacities. This method of coaching allows them to develop their abilities and capacities step by step through their own discovery.

Need to be acknowledged

Children become highly motivated when their efforts in mastering a skill or problem are praised. Through praise they are encouraged to try even harder. To children younger than 12 years old, the teacher, coach or parent is like a mirror in which they see their capacity or incapacity. That is why educators and parents have to learn to be positive, to praise the children frequently and keep critical comments to a minimum.

Need to show responsibility

Children prefer to do things on their own without depending too much on adults. They like to reach independence as quickly as possible. The coaching methods and behaviour of the educator should consider this need, making sure that the children are frequently allowed to find solutions on their own to problems the coach presents. The educator should interfere only when the problems cannot be solved by the pupils. Youngsters can also perform the task of putting down or collecting cones, modifying the rules of a practice game, or choosing players for demonstrations or certain activities. Their need to demonstrate responsibility can also be stimulated in each training session by allowing them 10 minutes to freely choose what to practice, how to do it, and where and with whom to execute a determined skill or game.

Coaches who are reluctant to give up some responsibility to the children must realise that learning also takes place out of their presence. In any team game the world over, children organise their play in its logical fashion even if an adult is not available to guide them. First, they make sure that the teams are even because they want competition. They want the game to be fair and challenging, thus forcing them to play to their full potential. Second, kids don’t need referees. The players take care of the rules themselves, modifying them according to conditions and the environment: no off-side, more players, bigger field and so forth. Third, teams are often composed of players of various ages. The younger players learn from the older ones, who, at the same time, are challenged by the younger players. This is how good teams are built at the senior level as well.

Need to play

Playing games is as vital for children as sleep. Playing is necessary for the health of their body and minds. As children learn by playing, the central part of each training session should be the practice and understanding of simplified games. The art of coaching is to always adapt instruction to the children’s ability and capacity level – not vice versa. Playing games stimulates communication and decision-making; playing football without thinking can be compared to shooting without aiming.

Need to socialise

Children instinctively look for communication with others. The older they are, the more they need company of a similar age. They love to be associated and to identify themselves with a group or team with the aim of achieving common objectives.

Need to move

Nature wants children to be active. Youngsters have no patience to wait in queues for their turn. The rules of adult games must be modified to allow children to play the ball more often. Games with fewer players assure active participation.

Need to live in the present

Generally, neither the past nor the future interests children very much. Their sense of time is completely different from that of adults. Children live intensely in the present, without bothering about tomorrow or yesterday, which they deem to be far away.

Need for variety

Children crave variety, which results in less boredom and fatigue. A great variety of stimulation is fundamental to maintaining their attention level. Unless coaches frequently vary the method of presentation and its contents, most children’s attention deviates. Coaches should also vary the grade of intensity of the exercises and games.

Need to be understood by adults

Children seem to live in a different world: They have different problems, they learn differently and they don’t think as logically as adults do. Their ideas, thoughts and reasoning often lack coherence. Their emotional constancy depends to a high degree on their speed of biological growth. In general kids don’t know how to use their energy well and, therefore, tire easily. They behave exactly the way they feel. For all these reasons, adults who live and work with children should know how to stimulate and guide them in their search for personality and identity.


What Game Intelligence Looks Like

Reproduced from “Developing Youth Football Players” by Horst Wein.

An intelligent player does the following:

  • Generally chooses the best option in less time.
  • Not only looks for the best solution to the problem he or she is confronted with on the pitch by quickly prioritizing all the various alternatives, but also calculates the risk factors involved. The player rarely loses focus until he or she has resolved the situation.
  • Knows in any moment of the match how to give adequate speed to the ball and to the rhythm of the team.
  • Is never rushed and feels secure and confident when performing a particular move anywhere on the pitch. The player controls all the space around with his or her eyes, in front, behind and to either side, taking full advantage of both very limited space and wide open spaces. The player always appears to have time. He or she knows that rushing and doing things too quickly tend to produce errors.
  • Always tries to achieve a balance between taking risks and safety. Too much risk could mean losing the ball, or even the match, whilst playing without any risk rarely helps turn the match in your favour. The player is brave enough to take risks!
  • Stands out because he or she can adapt to the ever-changing situations in the game, to the referee, to team-mates, to opponents, and to the pitch and weather conditions.
  • Knows that things do not always come off. This is why their performance level rarely dips after making a mistake (or two or three) in a row.
  • Has good visual-motor assessment or spatial awareness. This means a player correctly determines the distance between a team-mate, the opposition and themselves, or to the lines of the pitch and the location of the goals. These are skills acquired through many years of practice  with simplified games that also sharpened his or her decision-making skills.
  • Knows when and where to pass the ball and when it is better to keep possession.
  • Keeps it simple. Only a master, an outstanding player, can play simply.
  • Knows what he or she is going to do with the ball before the player even receives or controls it.
  • Uses creativity to the benefit of the team and team-mates.
  • Knows how to play football without the ball, constantly making himself or herself available to the team-mates to whom he or she offers possible solutions to many situations that arise on the pitch.
  • Is a player who contributes all his or her qualities for the good of the team. A football player who does not use intelligence to serve his or her team-mates will never succeed in the game. He or she will instead tend to perceive only a portion of the game, seeing plays completely isolated and never seeing the big picture.
  • Frequently asks questions and quickly learns from his or her mistakes. This player is good at memorizing a variety of players and reproducing them.
  • Only does what is within his or her capabilities.
  • Knows how to pace himself or herself throughout a game. Experience allows the player to make appropriate decisions, such as when to run or when it is a waste of energy.
  • Is not affected by stress, knowing that a high level of stress tends to narrow focus and perception and also influences decision-making negatively. This explains why sometimes key players do not make positive contributions in decisive matches. The pressure nullifies their usual intelligent play.

Coaching Players Aged 7 to 9

Reproduced from “Developing Youth Football Players” by Horst Wein.

Children aged 7 to 9 have some significant characteristics.

  • They lack fine motor skills.
  • Their movements are usually whole-body actions with little accuracy.
  • They have short bursts of energy and enthusiasm.
  • They are still developing coordination and they are still clumsy.
  • They play or participate for fun and for enjoyment.
  • Their actions are not yet automatic or programmed.
  • They are unsure what actions lead to success at a skill.
  • They see every detail as being important.
  • They are uncertain in their actions and in how to achieve desired outcomes.
  • They lack a clear idea or model of a new skill.
  • They cannot follow too many instructions or handle too much information at one time.
  • They are unable to use feedback effectively.

By being aware of these traits, coaches can tailor their teaching to meet young players’ characteristics and needs.

Tailoring Coaching Practices to Match Characteristics


Comparing Team Goals: Winning Versus Development

Reproduced from “Developing Youth Football Players” by Horst Wein.

Before starting to train young people, coaches have to choose between two very different types of work ethic:

  1. Trying to lead their teams to victory in the short-term – at any cost.
  2. Seeking to develop the children with an age-orientated, gradual and long-term approach to the complexity and difficulty of the game of football.

Objective: To Win

  • Usually the players chosen are physically more advanced, especially in strength. They are generally the tallest ones. Their efforts to improve, regular attendance at the training sessions and behaviour as a team member receive less attention than does their actual performance on the pitch, which guarantees a win.
  • There is little room for younger, less able or under-developed players. Football is undemocratic.
  • From the age of 8, excessive emphasis is placed on tactics.
  • The players rely mainly on long passes (the goalkeeper clears the ball with the foot). They play faster than their skill level allows.
  • There is little thought given to building up the game. Usually the ball doesn’t pass through midfield and goes directly to the forwards through long passes.
  • When attacking there are few changes of direction (switches from left to right).
  • The coach instructs with the objective of winning the match and the championship. The player has to obey the coach, who gives orders or instructions from the sidelines.
  • To win, players are taught to be disloyal, to create traps, be dishonest and to deceive opponents and the referee. The ends justify the means.
  • The game plan has been thought out by the coach as it applies to adult players. There is no time or room for flair.
  • There is premature specialisation in a particular role. Always the same play and the subs rarely get an opportunity.
  • Young people are prematurely exposed to adult’s competition instead of adapting the competition for efficient learning. It takes many years of disappointments and frustration for the children to finally develop the same correct habits that adults show in 11v11.
  • Excessive emphasis is placed on physical skill and workout, as this is the manner in which results are achieved most quickly.
  • To win, during training there is an emphasis on traditional methods of teaching.
  • Everything connected with football is valued more than the individual. Dubious behaviour to achieve a good result is frequently accepted.

Objective: To Promote Development

  • Everyone plays, not just the strongest players. The coach prefers players with ball sense who have an understanding of keeping it in possession and who are intelligent. Good behaviour on and off the pitch is one of the criteria when making a selection about who will play. Putting in effort is also important.
  • Everyone has the same right to play, regardless of physique and ability. Football is democratic.
  • Matches serve to highlight how much skill players have and allow them to gain experience in tactics.
  • All players touch the ball. They tend to make short passes and dribbles. The goalkeeper usually throws the ball in order to construct the next attack.
  • The ball generally advances from defence to the midfielders, with the game based on communication and co-operation.
  • Often the weight of the attack is changed with the objective of creating spaces for penetration.
  • The coach motivates the team with the aim of improving performance of each player and the team as a whole. The player decides what the next move will be rather than the coach deciding for him or her, using perception and decision-making capabilities.
  • Players are taught the values of sportsmanship, honesty, respect for rules and loyalty to the team.
  • The individual is allowed to introduce his or her flair, skill and imagination.
  • Everyone gets several opportunities in the competition to experience different positions in the team. Everyone plays, regardless of ability.
  • With the aim to assure more efficient learning of the complex game of football, the competition is adapted according to physical and intellectual abilities, at each stage of the young person’s growth. More self-esteem and fun are guaranteed.
  • The surrounding environment is respected and the players’ co-ordination and ability to play under various conditions improve with the variety of competitions to which the children get exposed each season.
  • To be able to understand the game and to make fewer mistakes, the method of discovering skills and capacities in simplified games is emphasised during training.
  • Priority is given to the development of the person through sport. Sports is used as ‘training for life’.