In this blog we will look at some Coaching in the Youth Development Phase Tips. The Youth Development Phase should be seen as an extension of the Foundation Phase where you begin to work with young adolescents aged between U13-U16. In this blog, we are going to explore some tips to help coaches when working with players in these age groups and some of the key considerations that you may need to take into account as a coach. In this age group we see a dramatic change in growth and development to children as they progress through this phase as well as significant changes to the game format that they’re exposed too regularly as well. Therefore, understanding these changes will help to better inform us in how we should approach coaching players during this time.

Here are some examples of the types of changes that happen to children as they enter and progress through the Youth Development Phase:

  • Growth (Puberty)
  • Secondary School
  • Developing Identity/Independence
  • Autonomy
  • Progression from Mini-Soccer to 11 v 11 Football

As children transition through this phase we begin to see that children start to grow at all different rates. In this phase, age is just a number. Children will begin to hit maturation at all different age groups and we see some significant increases in growth for some individuals as well as others that will develop physically at a later stage. Late and Early developers can have play a pivotal role in sport with children that have gone through growth early beginning to start dominate sports. Therefore, as coaches, we need to take this into consideration when working with young adolescents that whilst this may lead onto some individuals having more success; we cannot forget those late developers that may go on to flourish longer term.

Children develop a sense of autonomy as the begin to explore their own identity as well as begin to grow and rely on social groups to help develop this identity. Sport can play a major part in this, as children can grow their identity within a team environment with others opinions of them become more important to them as they grow their self-awareness. With that, children begin to move into a 11-aside football and now their football becomes more of a team based game.

Hormonal changes as well as changes to the brain also play a major role in the way that children function through this phase. Hormonal changes can effect each individual differently; however, we tend to find children that are going through puberty tend to be more impulsive and they typically don’t always have a lot of self-control or good judgment and are more prone to risk-taking behaviour. This is because the self-monitoring, problem-solving and decision-making part of the brain – the prefrontal cortex – develops last. Another important thing to be aware of is ‘pruning’. Pruning is the brain removing connections in the brain that are no longer needed which consequently leads onto the brain becoming more efficient. This process begins in the back of the brain with the front part of the brain, the prefrontal cortex being remodelled last. The prefrontal cortex is the decision-marking part of the brain and is responsible for children’s abilities to plan and think about consequences as well as solve emotions. Pruning and brain growth typically takes place during sleep, therefore, encouraging teenagers to get large amounts of sleep as well as living a healthy lifestyle can be vital in helping them during this period.

We would encourage any coaches that want to have a better understanding of the brain and some of the changes that children go through during this time to listen to our Podcast with Sally Needham:

So, with all this in mind – what are the does this mean for us as coaches? What strategies can we implement?

During this time coaches need to consider how the players think, feel and behave within their environment, and help by having a positive approach with their players which helps to encourage and develop: self-identity, confidence and emotional control. Therefore, despite the move into a more team based game it’s essential we continue to support players as individuals and we have a ‘person first’ approach to our coaching.

Showing an Interest: In your training sessions, allow for time where you can speak with players and talk to them and delve deeper into what is happening with them. Showing that you care and you’re interested in them as people, as well as providing affirmation when you see things you notice as a coach are excellent ways to connect with players to help them through this period of growth.

Variety: Having a varied approach to your training and games programme can be of significant importance to help early and late developers opportunities to flourish. A great way of doing this is through bio-banding which consists of playing children of similar psychological age against one another to prevent ‘large v little’ dominating who succeeds within your programme. Different types of formats and fixtures such as: Futsal, smaller formats and pitches can help players to flourish based on what stage of development they are in.

Supporting them to develop their Identity: As we enter this phase, we as coaches can help support players in exploring their own identity. On the pitch as children begin to play 11v11 they will now look at becoming more ‘position specific’ as they nail down a position that they enjoy but also that suits them. We as coaches should continue to look at what positions will help players develop, not necessarily get immediate results. During this time, we can help to begin to develop players understanding of the game but also their roles and responsibilities within a team too.

With taking the above into account; what type of sessions could I use? 

As mentioned above, variety in the way that you work with your players will help to keep them engaged but also give different types of players to flourish. When approaching your training sessions, it’s important you take into account the fact that your players are now moving into 11-a-side football and are now being exposed to bigger areas of the pitch. Therefore, recreating opportunities where your players can play across bigger areas is important to help them to adapt to this change. Likewise, as mentioned above, exposing players to small, tight areas can also help some players to adapt as well as challenge some players that are now physically more suited to 11v11 football. With this in mind, here are some examples of the different types of session types that you may wish to use to help support your players:
Individual Development Sessions: Individual sessions are a great way of enabling you to connect with the player and help to support them in growing their identity but also supporting them both with their confidence and self-esteem. Allowing for individual practice in your training sessions can be a great way of providing bespoke work to a player by giving them tailored support to meet their needs. Individual sessions can often be linked to: the players position, strength or area of improvement. Likewise, giving players an opportunity to develop their own individual sessions by leading can also be an excellent way of empowering them to explore their own way of working on what they feel they wish to improve.
Unit Work: As highlighted above, working within a team environment becomes more important as players enter the Youth Development Phase as they grow their awareness of self and others. Therefore, working with units i.e. defensive unit can be a great way of supporting your players in understanding their roles and responsibilities within a team. Unit work can be delivered in a structured way by giving them ways of dealing with different situations that they may face in a game. Likewise, it may be that you take more of an unstructured approach and provide players with an opportunity to practice with one another in practices that are going to provoke thought and challenge them to solve problems and make decisions as a unit.
Team Based: As players transition into a 11v11, providing them with opportunities to practice can be invaluable. If you do not have enough players to expose them to an 11v11 game in training, you may look at sectioning of the pitch into different areas and organising your games/numbers based on the number of players or situation that they may find themselves in a specific area. For example, you may work within a third of the pitch and relate the game to the scenarios that they may face in these areas.
Game Situations: Game situations refer to specific situations the players may find themselves in a game. Game situations can often refer to restarts i.e. goal kicks, throw ins, corner kicks and giving your players an opportunity to explore different ways of taking advantage of these restarts can be beneficial; equally, allowing them time to learn how they may defend against them too is important as well. Game situations can be delivered in a variety of different ways from unopposed practices to work through a specific routine to in a game restarting the ball from a game situation each time a goal is scored or the ball goes out of play.
If you are looking some coaching drills and sessions for this age group then check out the U13 – U16 Full Season (36 Weeks) Curriculum on the site here!
Ultimately, when working with players in the Youth Development Phase coaches need to be aware; aware of the physical, social and psychological changes that are taking place in children during this period but also how this needs to be taken into account with the changes of both the technical and tactical demands of the game.
For more detail and insight into the Youth Development Phase check out the webinar on this topic with Dean Harding –