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Grassroots tips for coaching kids


There are many important rules to follow when coaching children in football - and ten of them were a focal point at the UEFA Grassroots Conference in Minsk.

Local youngsters joined coaches for a fun session in Minsk
Local youngsters joined coaches for a fun session in Minsk ©Sportsfile

How do you coach kids? A crucial question that has been addressed at the UEFA Grassroots Conference in Minsk – with ten golden rules identified that are key in getting children to enjoy the pleasure of football or other sports.

The ten rules were explained to grassroots delegates from across Europe by Sergio Lara-Bercial, sports coaching expert at Leeds Beckett University in England, and Kris Van Der Haegen, coach education director at the Royal Belgian Football Association (URBSFA/KBVB).

Learning about football - and having fun doing it
Learning about football - and having fun doing it©Sportsfile

A coaching session with local children during the UEFA conference also served to highlight the topic and its importance.

These ten rules for positive sporting experiences for children are part of the iCoachKids project co-funded by the European Union Erasmus+ programme and led by Leeds Beckett University and the International Council for Coaching Excellence.

The aim of the ‘iCoachKids Pledge’ is to make sure that young sports participants have a positive experience led by suitably trained coaches - leading to a lifelong involvement in sport, and healthier lives.

The ten key points, Lara-Bercial and Van Der Haegen stressed, should provide important lessons for anyone involved in coaching children.

Here’s a summary of the golden rules:

Be child-centered
Always have the best interests of children at heart, and listen to them. It’s all about what children want and need. Take the adult glasses off - and see the sport through the eyes of the child.

Be holistic
Try to see and develop children in your sessions as people first and foremost, and not only as athletes. Challenge them to think, as well as to move.

Be inclusive
Be prepared to cater for all levels of activities and motivations. Pay attention to every child, not only the better ones. Get to know the kids you coach, dare to coach them differently – and remove all barriers to participation.

Coaches should create a good atmosphere - and listen to the children
Coaches should create a good atmosphere - and listen to the children©Sportsfile

Make It Fun and Safe
Children want to learn and have fun doing it, and they want to feel safe. Coaches must create caring and enjoyable climates – an atmosphere that allows children to thrive…and that keeps them coming back for more.

Prioritise the Love for Sport Above Learning Sport
Only a small proportion of kids want to be elite athletes, and of those who do, only a few succeed. Yet all of them have the potential to become healthy, active adults. Creating that fantastic legacy is part of a coach’s job.

Focus on foundational skills
During childhood, coaches shouldn’t worry too much about the sport’s specific skills. At a young age, kids need to gain essential motor skills, and learn the basics of how to play a game. This focus on fundamental skills leads to lifelong participation, as well as a higher level of performance.

Engage parents positively
Parents aren’t the enemy – they’re the biggest resource at a coach’s disposal. They want the best for their kids – and so does the coach. Partnership is the key word…talk to parents. It’s the coach’s responsibility to help them understand the best ways that they can help their children make the most out of sport.

Helping children thrive - and come back for more
Helping children thrive - and come back for more©Sportsfile

Plan progressive programmes
A coach is taking children on a learning journey. Any plan needs to take into account their age and stage of development, and the best ways to help them make progress. Children aren’t mini-adults. Coaches have to make the game fit the kids – not the other way around!

Use different methods to enhance learning
There is not one single best way to coach. Different strategies are better suited for different stages of learning. The art of coaching is to know when a child needs to be exposed to one type of practice or another.

Football helps kids live healthy lives
Football helps kids live healthy lives©Sportsfile

Use competition in a developmental way
Competition isn’t the devil! It all depends on how it is organised, presented and managed. When done properly, competitions are an amazing motivator – and a lot of fun. Competitions can also teach children good skills and attitudes such as fairness, sportsmanship, respect and teamwork. Make sure that the format, atmosphere and competitions are appropriate for the kids.

“The main ingredient for a coach,” said Kris Van Der Haegen in summing up, “is to understand that their job is take and guide children on a journey over time – a journey of learning, discovery and enjoyment. But remember that the destination is up to them…”