DNA Insights Podcast Episode 5

Hi coaches

 I hope you have enjoyed these five episodes, myself and Lauren certainly had a great time putting them together. One question from me relating to that free play - deliberate practice continuum.

"If you have limited time with your players then in that hour long session, how much of it would be free play with fewer interruptions and stoppages?"

There is no right or wrong answer as it depends upon so many things but in order to get massive returns regarding independent decision making, realistic practice, creativity and skill we must consider what our training and playing priorities are.

It would be great to hear your thoughts.

Thanks so much for listening to our podcasts and we at the FA and the digital team wish you all the best as you strive to develop some great footballers and some great young people as well.



  • Cheers Lauren and Pete for the five great podcasts

    If we treat everyone like our own children (if we have some) then our job as parents is to teach them life skills and that is by giving them the confidence  to do stuff for themselves and as time goes on to take a back seat in our interventions, this is how our children grow.

    if i can take one thing from these its the importance of individual player development, and if we want to get to the end of their coaching journey; to become a more skillful player, so maybe they can take/move on to the next level.

    Then it has to be fun and enjoyable along the way, so our  youngsters want to continue.

    cheers both

  • Thanks for the post, Lee. You are right, we need to give the same patience, kindness and joy of learning to each child that chooses football and our team. This is not always easy but if we do then it helps set the right platform for developing all of their skill sets and begins their lifelong engagement with football and being fit and active. What a great job it is to be a Foundation Phase coachThumbsup

    Cheers. Pete

  • Hi Pete, the podcast series has been great and really brilliant way to have these discussions and the length of each episode has been good.  As one of your disciples for several years, most of my sessions are free play with minimal group interruptions preferring talking to individuals - alot of my players get other very formal training in the week.  An hour practise is arrive into a SSG which gives overloads due to arrival times, then break into a practise based on a topic that we're working on (try always to be opposed but give opportunity to defend and attack and involve all players with no queues or waiting), then finish with a match which will have conditions related too the earlier practise (eg double goal if we can win the ball back in the opponents half or can only pass forward).

    The point i wanted to make you aware, as both a coach and chairman i have witnessed for a long time and more importantly since the return of football since lockdown.  I coach Under 10's but have seen and heard this at every age group.  Our league has introduced half of the fixtures in a league season at U9 &U10 as competitive.  In discussions with you previously, i know if all coaches have their players welfare at heart this isn't a problem but unfortunately that is not what i see in practise and coaches (and probably parents) are much more focused on winning a trophy than developing players.  This means you see players getting very little game time, or not being selected for fixtures at all or even strong players being dual registered and playing Saturday and Sunday instead of weaker players that play and train each week. 

    We have returned to competitive football after missing nearly a whole season of football and these practises are rife - all because our league have continued the "competitive fixtures" rather than the development football.  When i challenged our league about the amount of competitive football at these young ages, they just referred to following FA guidance.  So i know the FA shouldn't need to intervene because you would like to think coaches would be sensible but that is not the reality and i believe this needs FA intervention to stop kids falling out of love with a game at early ages because their coach wants to chase a trophy rather than the development of players.

  • hi Daniel,

    i agree with evrything your saying, unfortunatley the importance on how to win is an adult problem.

    kids whatever age will want to win wether its a friendly or not and thats in their nature. 

    We as coaches can only stick to our own philosophy on how we can give equal attention to each youngster.

    As sad as it is to watch other clubs,parents or coaches treat youngsters, we have a obligation to our own to treat them fairly and with the respect they deserve. Our county says all children should be given equal game time where possible, so that leaves it to our own conscience to treat them right,

    i also see it as if coaches move up each year with the same kids, then maybe they have not coached well from the start if they cant themselves trust that THEIR players they have coached all this time, are not good enough ( in their eyes) to PLAY.

    And thats the important word PLAY, these kids arent bringing millions into the club for winning the champions league. They are bringing hopefully smiles, laughter and long lasting friendships. lets hope clubs/leagues can see the importance of that.

    all the best

  • Couldn't agree more Lee and feel it's tragic that we would need rules in foundation phase to protect the interests of the young players but here we are.  The other point i forgot to mention is i fail to see a significant benefit to making 50% of U9 & U10 football competitive yet we all know what the significant negatives are.  In my experience, when the game starts, whether it's a friendly, development league match or competitive cup match, the kids want to win, it's upto to us as adults to ensure that the desire to win doesn't impact the development of players. 

    I know of many coaches who do prioritise development but still the majority see success as the result not the performance.  Personally, and i have given it a great deal of thought, i've yet to work out how winning a game develops the individual ability of a player?  I'm open to hear how but for me, it's the challenge of the game and the experiences that lie within it that aid development.  It can be a sign of how well the team has performed but as anyone who has followed football for any length of time knows, the best performing team, playing the best football doesn't always win.

  • Sorry but i'd also add, if i wanted to win every week, i would fix positions, limit touches in my own half, put my quickest & best shots up front and instruct my GK and defenders to go long at every opportunity, my fast players to chase the ball and shoot on sight as FP gk's aren't the strongest.  I would win regularly but am i developing players?

  • As in the previous Podcasts, really good listen and useful to consider that free play question... but smiling to myself as I realise my reticence to put a figure on it. The comment that therefore springs to mind from this Podcast is we should, ‘Try to create an environment where coaches, parents and players can get it wrong’.

    Ok... so if top level adults get to play a match for about 90mins with around 15 minutes half time break i.e just over 85% playing time, then we should be aiming up towards that! After all, if that’s the 1 hour that group gets together to play... do they really want to be listening to the likes of me for any longer! Sweat smile

  • Daniel, another great point well made and one that we have been wrestling with for decades now with little or no success. I am not against winning, in fact we want players going into each game wanting to play well and win when possible and I would hope that this would happen whatever the game (development or competitive). I firmly believe that the atmosphere, intensity and environment that the game is played in is set by the coaches and the other adults present and unfortunately if this is a win at all costs approach then you will continue to see all the things that you mention (some players not playing and spending much of the game on the side), doing everything to just win over the development of more skilful players. Having different periods of the season for development and competition was an attempt to moderate this but as I say, if the adults involved see things differently and value and encourage other things it will never change regardless of what the period of the season is called. We have to hope that through education and clear and consistent messages we can eventually improve things but even if we had development only games until U14 as in some countries, if the adults involved displayed other behaviours then even this would not work and the poor practice would continue.

    As adults we have to show how to win, lose or draw with dignity, respect and sportsmanship so that we provide great role models for the players. Behaving in this way does not mean we don't want to win or we are not competitive. It means we recognise that there are bigger and more important lessons to be learned from playing football matches and we must never forget this.

    Let's keep providing great role models as it will be more beneficial in the long runThumbsup Cheers. Pete

  • James, thanks for posting again, your comments are always of interest. Lots of creativity comes from failed attempts so as you allude to, if the environment is harsh and unforgiving of mistakes you will not get a lot of exploration and trying new things. Even at the top level mistakes are made (Fabianski is a top GK but even he has off days - sorry West Ham fans!!) so why would we feel that berating a 9 year old player was OK? A safe and secure environment that encouraged lots of exploration under the watchful eye of a knowledgeable coach gives us the best of both worlds and is key to learning and developing new ideas and skills. Regarding time involved in your 1 hour session for some freer play, if the players in your team get little or no opportunity to play informally then I would use the whole time to give them these experiences. This does not mean its a free for all as the activities can still have some order and structure but they would focus on solving game problems and looking for possible solutions to these problems. My role would be one of designing an appropriate activity or game and then looking to identify lots of learning opportunities where I can carefully extend the learning whilst the players are busily enjoying playing the game. This is still good coaching and it involves appropriate game design and good questions to ask the players as they play (either as a whole group or individually)

    Thanks again, James. Pete

  • Thanks for the reply Pete and i completely agree, like everything we want to change in society education is key but i believe all things we don't like about grassroots football are linked to an unhealthy desire to win at all costs.  Abuse of referee's, abuse of players/coaches, lack of game time and opportunities, lack of focus on creating the correct environment and coaching for results over development, all disappear when all the stakeholders accept that the foundation phase in particular, should be a learning environment where development of individual players occurs rather than being a winning team.  Like you say, if you are winning whilst offering equal game time, switching positions, creating an environment where the players have ownership and are free to experiment, then happy days but i feel we (clubs, leagues, FA, coaches) need to continue to push for this and be able to call out poor examples and action taken.