In a previous podcast we spoke with Tom Statham, Foundation Phase Coach at Manchester United. Tom has 26 years of experience working at Manchester United with the youngest age groups since 1994. Tom has been directly involved in developing young players that have gone onto play for Manchester United and other clubs. Tom in this blog explores the ‘Games Programme’ and what it looks like to him and shares some of his own experiences from it and also gives advice to coaches working across all levels.

Below are some of the key messages that we took away from our Podcast with Tom, having reflected upon his own experiences of working within the Foundation Phase and particularly within the games programme:

Purpose of Games Programme: Is another part of the programme, which aim is to give the kids another fantastic experience playing football. Tom expresses the importance of playing games; “if you want to play football, you need to play football” is a quote that sticks out. Tom talks about the importance of giving children as much experience of playing different types of games and formats to help children to develop.

Importance of Variety: As teams are limited to playing games with their own age banding often provided by the governing body, school football can play a big part in providing children the opportunity to play with older children. As coaches, Tom encourages us to find ways of getting children to play with older players as much as possible having seen great benefits for players from his own experiences. This variety is also important in helping children that transition from mini soccer to 11v11, which is why it’s important to expose children to different formats to help them to adapt to the bigger games as they get older. There is no best format for mini – soccer, all formats are good and provide different returns.

Connecting Coaching and Games Programme: Tom shared that there should be no connection to training to match days when working with young players in the Foundation Phase. Tom personally doesn’t place too much importance of the games programme to both the children and parents, as we doesn’t want them to recreate an adult game – “It doesn’t matter what the score is”. Remember, don’t impost adult ideas and onto children. Toms’ biggest piece of advice is “do not tailor your training to your games”. Tom highlights that your training sessions shouldn’t be in preparation for your games at the weekend and coaches should explore using different types of games and formats in training to what they are playing in on a Sunday.

Being Consistent: Through his experience, Tom learnt that the importance of making sure that children love playing football. Tom before the game decides on how he will behave and he makes sure he doesn’t show his emotions and it doesn’t matter if the referee gives bad decisions or the result isn’t going your way; what is important is the children just loving playing football.

Be Patient: All children develop at different rates. As children progress from mini – soccer to 11 v 11, it’s so important to give children time to allow them to develop and grow. Exploring ways of playing children down with younger age groups in order to help them to develop.

When To Go Position Specific: In Toms experience he has seen children that enjoy simply playing in one or two positions; where as others that really enjoying playing in different positions. Tom explains this and highlights the importance of getting to know your kids. Empowering the children to organise the teams and taking a lead can equally as beneficial to help the players to lead and shape their own experiences on a match day.

When Does Winning Matter?: “Winning is always important”, Tom speaks about how winning is important. In tense and high pressured situations, we need to as coaches alleviate this to ensure that can play and enjoy themselves. Children want to win and by creating World Cup competitions in training etc. Kids love it! Most importantly, Tom speaks about the importance of giving all children equal game time to be consistent and fair to them all.

Create Puzzles; Not Solve Them: Tom talks about the role of the coach is to create puzzles for the players; not to solve them for them. Create games in training that will give them different challenges and use a small bank of practices that the children know so they spend less time learning the practice and more time learning the skill. “Design and create games that are enjoyable and appropriate for your kids”, using your training sessions to allow them to solve the problems for themselves. Tom believes players will learn more from playing than listening to him as a coach.

For more information on Toms’ tournament programme visit: https://www.specialistsoccertours.co.uk/tom-statham.html and to listen to the full podcast visit: https://open.spotify.com/show/1zFwLpNnQNXvR0AUpYfzPh 

We also recorded the video with Tom which can be viewed here: https://footballdna.co.uk/features/insight-into-the-games-programme-26-years-of-coaching-at-manchester-united/