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Match-Day – a day in the life of an under-8s soccer coach

When I was asked to coach my son’s under-8s team I had visions of implementing a sweeper system or teaching my new team the beauty of the Italian art of Catennacio. I imagined stalking the touchline like Sir Alex Ferguson, making constant calculations and changes to our formation to exploit the gaps in our opponents’ formations.

As our first training session approached I got my folders ready filled with formations and even bought a whiteboard to illustrate my managerial genius to my new team – it took five minutes of my first session to bring me down to earth and realise how out of touch with under-8s I was.

Since he was old enough to pay attention I have bombarded my son with the history of the beautiful game; I’ve gone into pain staking detail explaining the strengths of one formation over another, how the great teams in Europe have lined up throughout history and how football is an art form, not just a sport. So when I watched as 14 kids, including my son, all crowded round the ball, playing chase the ball instead of anything resembling football I was distraught! My dream of developing the next Maldini or Messi in tatters I thought that a pragmatic approach was necessary – if I could just get them playing 442, sticking to positions and attempting the odd pass then that would be a huge step forward.

Here’s the thing I didn’t appreciate – 7 year olds don’t care. They don’t care about what some boring grown up has got to say about football; in their eyes, every minute I droned on about tactics was a minute they weren’t running around having fun. I may have taught the kids to pass a football and have a bit of understanding about formations but they have taught me way more about kids, about my son and about being a Dad.

Throw a football into a group of 7 year olds and they’re all going to chase that ball – because it’s fun! They don’t care about standing at left back or covering defence, they want to run about with their mates and have a laugh. I noticed the more I brought in formations and tactics the fewer smiles I saw. I got them playing effective football and we were killing off teams five and six nil. It was after out seventh win in a row that my son gently told me that he wasn’t having that much fun at football anymore. I was shocked – “But you’re winning every game”, “yes but it’s boring” he replied. I’d already sensed it but here it was in plain language for me – the thing he loved to do more than anything else, chase a ball with his mates, had been regimented and ruined by his over zealous Dad. At the very next training session I ripped up the tactics – threw the ball into the middle of the pitch and told them to have a go at it. They loved it, that laughter and craziness that only 14 seven year olds can bring came rushing back!

Now my life as a coach is less Sir Alex Ferguson and more substitute Mum/nurse/counsellor/mediator. And I couldn’t love it more. I’ve got to know the kids and their individual personalities; I listen to their daft stories, laugh at their terrible jokes and patch them up when they fall over. I’m basically there to facilitate two hours a week of fun with their friends, offering the odd tip that gets completely ignored and keeping injuries to a minimum. As long as I can tie their laces for them, have brought drinks and snacks and don’t impede their fun then I’m doing my job as far as they’re concerned!

But here’s what I’ve learnt – while they may not care or be ready to embrace my tactical philosophies; they all respond amazingly to chats about fair play and good sportsmanship. Kids have an inherent honesty and sense of right and wrong that is refreshingly black and white; there are no grey areas with 7 year olds! Sure they make terrible decisions, get annoyed, get carried away and can’t seem to stand still for longer than 5 seconds but they are all amazing little sponges, ready to soak up whatever example they are presented with! I love seeing them grow into fair-minded, kind and honest kids and if 1% of that is down to me then that’s a feeling that no unbeaten run could top!



  1. Geo44 says:

    Nice post. Thanks for sharing.