When I visited the Ajax Academy they were in the final phase of selection their U8 Academy team. The process began with more than a hundred players and they had narrowed this down to the final 30. When we spoke to the coaches they emphasized that this was their most important age group. They said that this was the future of Ajax and they took great care to make sure that they selected players carefully and then assigned excellent coaches to look after their development.
The U8 teams are the foundation of any club. Without a strong development plan and coaching structure the future of the club is in jeopardy. I think that most people would agree with this. Why then are the coaches of U8 teams often viewed as inferior coaches when compared to those coaching the marque age groups that compete in Nationals Leagues and tournaments? You might not think this is true for you or your club but look how the coaches of those younger teams are constantly looking for an opportunity, ‘move up and coach older teams’. The look at working with younger players as a stepping stone toward working with progressively older age groups.
When you look at the curriculum of our licensing and soccer education programs you can see this as well. The lower level licenses deal with coaching younger players in addition to the overall core principles of the game. As you move up through the D, C, B and A license they focus less and less on how to work with young players. Shouldn’t their been education track for those that have shown an ability to work with young players and want to peruse even better methods of bringing out the best in these children? An ‘A’ License for Coaching Young Players?
The course could include specific methods for engaging these young boys and girls and helping them to develop a love for the game along with the skills to progressively improve their level of ability and understanding. Coaching young players is VERY different than coaching older players. They’re motivated by different things. They have different reasons for playing and they process information and instruction differently than their older counterparts.
We need to start looking at coaching our youngest players as specialist that deserve respect for their ability to lay the foundation that all future learning and achievement are built upon. The same could be said for elementary school teachers. They are also under appreciated and under compensated for the important work that they do. At least in their case the system has recognized the special skill set they require and give them the opportunity to learn as much about their specialty as possible. Even to the point of receiving a Masters in Elementary Education.
If we could start to develop, 'Master Coaches' for our U8, 9 and 10 teams I think we could see a rapid increase in the development of our players that carries all the way through their youth career. This would allow for more and more advanced concepts to be taught because the foundational skills of the players have been so well developed.
As a coach of younger players I obviously feel this is an important topic but if you coach older teams you should be concerned about it too because the quality of coaching and coaching education we provide our youngest players effect the quality of the player you will have on your U16 team.
Have a great day,