Soccer Coaching Blog | Professional Soccer Coaching Advice

The power of unorganised play

David Clarke

Here’s something for you to try. Before your players arrive at training, mark out a pitch and place a ball in the middle. Make sure there are no other balls available.

As your players arrive, stay inside the clubhouse, or well away from the playing area, and let them go out and get started on their own.

When there are enough players they will probably organise themselves into teams and start playing a game (of sorts) or drill. Let them play for five minutes and then stop them. Find out what rules they were playing and why. You will either find that they are playing a game you have taught them, or they have made up their own.

There will be well thought out reasons for their rules, usually based on what they have found works and what doesn’t.

Researchers have tried out this method of letting players take the lead and ended up with some startling findings, namely that adults will either kick the ball around or perform technical moves and tricks (essentially something that features little or no refereeing), while children will come up with all sorts of ideas and mini games.

If it doesn’t happen the first time you try it don’t give up.
Say to a couple of players as they head outside “Why don’t you get a game started?” You’ll probably notice the younger ones organising full-scale games, while the older kids may be perfecting the finer elements. But whatever they choose, the message is clear: children love to play games, and if you let them, they will learn much faster and retain more of what they are learning. Involve your players in setting and changing the rules for games and, from that, sessions.

The more involved they feel, the more they’ll invest, and undoubtedly, the more they will surprise you! Empowering your group is an important thing, and will aid their football development hugely.

The more they feel they are part of a unit where they have a voice and a strong influence, the more they’ll invest not only in the physical action of playing the game, but also in the bonding elements that ultimately make up a team.

Football, certainly at the highest level, has the image of being very authoritarian, with pecking orders and protocol very evident. But that’s a world away from youth coaching, and the skills and responsibility players can gain from playing a significant role in their team will undoubtedly be transferred to other areas of their life away from the football pitch. Get them into good habits now, where they feel their opinions and ideas are valued and appreciated, and you’ll be the first to gain from the benefits.

Why not try it this weekend?