Grassroots Special: Technical ability is like reading and writing

Tom Byer divulges about his ideologies when it comes to coaching small kids in the most effective methods...
Football has evolved much since it was invented over a century ago. Tactics, technology, equipment and many other facets of the game have all undergone major transformations. With the implementation of goal-line technology, the sport is set to take another major step forward.

Yet some things have remained virtually unchanged, including the coaching and the development of young players. At our schools and academies in Japan, we’ve attempted to bring in a number of new ideas over the years.

When coaching kids, I find that one of the most important factors for running an effective coaching session is the success rate that children experience. I have watched too many sessions where coaches are playing with kids in mini games; after the four-or-five-year old makes it past two or three opposing players, the coach quickly dispossesses the young child or blocks his shot. The young player’s disappointment is evident and they quickly lose enthusiasm.

At our academy in Japan, we don’t allow coaches to take the ball away from young players. We also don’t play with goalkeepers, encouraging players to score more goals. Success is what motivates the kids to continue playing.

I’ve experienced how my own son’s behaviour changes depending on whether or not he scored a goal in practice. If he failed to score, the drive home is quiet and my son is not interested in engaging in conversation. However, if a few goals have been scored he is jubilant and can’t wait to arrive back home where he can quickly inform his mom of his success. He’ll ask when the next practice will be and looks forward to participating.

Coaches need to be skilled at setting kids up for success. Unopposed technical training is also a must in order for kids to master the skill of ball manipulation along with learning how to turn, cut, change direction, and stop-and-start with the ball. These are the basics of football and must be learned from a young age.

Creative passing, vision, and game intelligence are all byproducts of good technical ability. Setting up good drills where kids only have to cross over a line is a victory for them, which can and should be repeated over and over again. Repetition is key in developing technique and this repetition should be uninterrupted. I often see coaches spending half of the training session talking to their charges when they should be getting in that crucial repetitive time which is so important for development.

Coaches must also encourage ‘homework’ and communicate this to the parents constantly. Technical training is like practicing musical scales over and over again and learning to play those notes to perfection. We can can take a novice player from zero and make him or her into a decent footballer, but it you want to be great you have to put in far more work.

At our schools we teach repetitive training, and we show players many things that they can work on by themselves. We regularly make presentations to parents in order to make sure they understand their child’s goals and how they can help their children achieve them.

Travel to any football pitch in any country and you will see kids gathered before practice doing one of two things. Either they are lined up together with their friends and shooting at the goal, with or without a goalkeeper, or you will see them juggling the ball. The reason for this is simple: it’s competitive and kids like to play either together or against their friends. Neither activity does much for development but most kids have never been shown anything else they can do on their own, which will develop them technically.

Technical ability is like reading and writing or adding and subtracting: a basic building block of knowledge that, if learned early enough, can lead to great things. Both coaches and parents need to contribute their time and patience in order to give young players the proper tools to succeed!

Tom Byer has taught his famed footballing techniques to millions of young players in Japan, China, and elsewhere in Asia via his football schools, regular clinics, TV appearances, and other media.

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