Mixed ability


I am looking for any tips or advice on coaching a skill acquisition such as controlling the ball/ passing the ball/ receiving the ball for u11's for a handful of children who are not at the same level as the rest. Looking at the 3 stages of learning this has now got to influence my further coaching ability as the first stage is not there.  Cognitive, at this stage you have to be intelligectually aware of everything that you are doing. My concern is that some of these children are u11 already and play in a league.  Would I be wrong in thinking that putting children in this environment would be unfair as not only are they still trying to master their 1st stage at this age but also the pressure of another 9 attacking players, not to mention peer observation too.  I ckuld really do with some back up here. Thanks in advance.  Samo

  • Hi Samantha. 

    Regarding the fairness, I think it comes down to the expectations of the parents, club and you as a coach. My son plays in an u10's team and it's his first year playing matches. All of the team are players that other clubs thought weren't good enough. Our focus is purely on their development and enjoyment. They have taken some heavy pre-season losses but because we are not putting pressure on to win the game they are all having a great time. I chat with the parents every training session and matchday, explaining what we are doing in line with the DNA messages. During the games we are just encouraging but giving very little instruction. Just emphasising a key point from training. If we see that in the match we have won! The kids are under no pressure.

    Regarding technical ability, we play lots of small sided games to maximise ball contact. It's also means practising everything realistically to the way the game is played. The smaller space teaches them to try and take care of the ball too. We encourage players to dribble a lot and take opponents on. We also share skills to practice away from training to help with their touch and co-ordination. If you look up 'Coever techniques of the week' on Youtube you will see these.  Also, though it is currently quite difficult ,do you have a futsal club near you running kids sessions? That would help supplement their technical ability.

    The whole 9v9 and bigger pitches drives me crazy. It just encourages the stronger players to dominate and for the most part teams kick the ball long. I wish they played smaller sided games on smaller pitches for longer.

    Please feel free to ask anything else and I would be happy to share planning.



  • When we went to u11 we nearly folded due to lack of players, so we took on some kids who’d never had any coaching into an experienced team who had. It really showed, their technical ability, positional sense and decision making were all not quite right. So we went back to basics for the whole team, split training into three sections. First section we did a lot of individual ball work which helped all the boys refresh their ability. We have the new kids “homework” on what to practise before next training. Then we did some drills based on passing, controlling, and positioning. We play a pass and move game and so they had to understand they couldn’t just admire the pass, they had to be ready to get it back. Finally we played small sided games and encouraged them on positioning. They came on remarkably quickly and this season they’re all contributing at a very similar level, still some work to go with a few things but we give them individual feedback on what to work on. 

    It wont happen overnight but keep consistency and encouragement to them and hopefully they’ll respond well.

    As to the other poster, my other son was told by his old team that he wasn’t going to play this season as he wasn’t good enough (u9s!!) Broke his heart. Wish it was easier to identify teams with the same ethos as you have. 

  • Hi Samantha, trying to integrate less experienced players with a group who all ready play is always a difficult challenge, but not impossible. Steve has given some good points and certainly look at your team as: you, your fellow coach, the parents and the players, to isolate any one of these from the others just makes the job difficult. Be patient with your new players, use your coaching knowledge to create games / sessions that will support their learning, buddy them up with an experienced player when working in pairs. Remember all they lack is experience and of course throwing them in at the deep end before they are ready could cause issues. But with your support and a clear understanding that mistakes are just learning opportunities and part of the normal learning process they will, I'm sure, soon catch up. Encourage them to practice away from the club as you probably only see them for an hour, so its what they do in their own time that will really make an impact on them as a player. Let them experience different positions, as no matter what their starting pos is, it's very likely they will find themselves in multiple areas, so knowing what to do when they are in the box, playing wide or defending is key to them progressing. Be patient and i'm sure they will integrate in with their more experienced team mates and catch up with them. Good luck and enjoy the challenges they give you, they will make you a better coach. Phil

  • Hi Euan. I have seen players as young as 6 having to have trials to get into a certain club in the city I coach in. And, being told they are not quite ready!!! The only people in such clubs lacking ability are the coaches. It's their job to make players better and not to take the plaudits for winning plastic pots. 

  • Hi Stephen

    Firstly, thank you for replying. I do hear you regarding expectations, I also think you missed the expectations of the player which I would bring self motivation into that too. I am not talking about children that have just begun their footballing journey. We are considering children that have been playing between 4 and 6 years already. The syllabus followed is the England DNA and although I do see some of it that works, my other thought is....What have the England Football national won in the last 50 years or so.

    I will be interested on giving homework now to see improvements. I did look at the coever weekly techniques which I will also add to homework. Futsal is played over the winter months (2), however we will see what transpires then as we have a squad of 23.

    I do think the 7aside size to the 9aside is quite a big jump especially like you mentioned a stronger player as I'm feeling the others are just left in no man's 

    Thank for your advice


  • Hi Phil

    They haven't just been integrated, these children have been training and playing since they were 5, everything you have mentioned takes place already. It good to hear im doing all the right things..thank you...Samo

  • i have started to use a passing rotation activity that works on all of this.  crucially, it can help all levels.  You can set mini challenges if too easy for a developed player (use weaker foot - control with weaker foot etc.)

    set up.     6 cones

    4 cones to mark out a large square (one on each corner)

    2 cones in the middle - approx 2 yards apart

    like this.

        *  (ball)                                           *



      *                                                 * (ball)

    1/2 players on each middle cone and  then 1 or 2 on each outside cone.

    1 ball with opposite corner player.

    (if manym players, you could even set up 2 stations and if a free cone  players dribbes to that cone, before passing)

    after ALL passes, player follows the ball and they go same direction

    to start Both players  with ball pass into centre.  centre player controls and plays back out (follow pass), that player plays down 'wing' -  then next player plays back to centre, who plays back out etc etc etc

    and continue like this.

    work on body shape, back foot receiving, control into space, weight of pass, communication etc etc.  change direction and add a 3rd ball, if you can.

    its essentially an hourglass shape made, with passes.   They have to concentrate and be aware if player passing to is ready.  it can get messy and may need some time before they start to really 'get it'  but its good as, despite only 2 balls, they rarely stand still and are practising all you mention.

    I hope that makes sense ??  Slight smile

    good luck.

  • Hi Sam, All players are at their own point in their learning journey, some will be close to others , and some far apart.  The practice spectrum still applies with acquiring new techniques the need for repetition at the low end gradually building to more choice and game related experience as they move up the spectrum into free play. The differentiation that coaches have to apply in all of their sessions is part of your coach armoury - get it and wrong make it too easy, players lose engagement, make it too hard- players lose engagement. You are asking all the right questions so keep doing that - all the stuff you have learnt comes into play- reflect on each session and how it engaged players look at what works for individual players - they all have their own learning preference - use this to your advantage. Some players mature earlier, some do not even show until they have gone through puberty, when all of a sudden they are bigger, faster, become confident and start to use all of the stuff you have been showing. I've yet to see the best player in group at u11 be the best player at u16.  There have been some great ideas given to you in the replies to your question and I don't want to add to the mass of information, other than I have found that in the game at the end of my session, to help players connect with the sessions learning outcome, I still try to create the link by rewarding the activity we have been practising, i.e., if  it is passing,if you score in the game the number of passes becomes the goals so 5 passes and score becomes 5 goals. If you've worked on control -In the game - receiving the ball using the technique practised and then successfully moving it to another team mate = 1 goal (a normal goal could then become 2 or 3) . Linked to this my team talk for the game that week would be on what we learned in training and putting that into practice in the game they are about to play - give out individual challenges, unit (def mid, att) and team challenges ( in possession and out of possession) so that they focus on how their learning fits into the game. This world for individuals who are maybe giving you concern - so give them one thing to master. If its control it may be as simple as " try to be available for the ball when your team has it" or more specific 'when receiving the ball, try to see as much of the pitch as you can' (encouraging the player to have an open body position when receiving and an awareness of the space around hime/her. Most of all keep at at, be patient team coaching is, for most of us, a marathon not a sprint. If we want good players at 16 we may have to put up with a lot of mistakes (learning opportunities) in early years before they get there, 

  • Hi Neil

    This does look like a drill I will try, body shape, etc.

    Thank you