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The Importance of Team Building in Youth Football: How to Foster a Positive Environment

As a coach of a youth football team, one of the most important things you can do is develop a positive team culture. This means creating an environment where players feel valued, supported, and motivated to work hard and achieve their goals.

Recently, I decided to coach a youth football team (who play a high level of youth football) knowing beforehand that there was a lot of work to do as the teams standards were not quite up to the rest of the league.

Almost everything you could think of was wrong with this team such as;

  • A lack of players (9 in total for an u14s team who play 11 a side).
  • Players signed who were not at the level that was needed to be competitive in that league.
  • The morale of the players was clearly at an all-time low because of the constant heavy defeats that they were suffering every week.
  • Lack of respect for the coaches: it was clear that they didn’t respect the coach that was currently coaching and from what I heard it was the same with the previous ones as well.
  • Poor punctuation and discipline: The players were just turning up at whatever time they saw fit which was unacceptable.
  • Parental unrest: The parents had enough of it all and could be quite volatile on the sidelines and in group chats, sometimes stating how they feel the team should be coached.

I could list more but I didn’t intend for this post to be a 2000+ word article, every coach I told about the role thought I was mad for considering it. At the time, there was another position I was considering and even their chairman (who knew about the side because they played in the same league) tried to warn me about the side.

For some reason, though, I had something telling me that I should take the role and help turn around this side fortune so I decided to accept the position.

In this blog post, I will share what I did in my first 3 months to win the respect of the players and parents and put the team on the right path to creating a positive team culture.

Mastering The Art of Youth Football Coaching: A Comprehensive Checklist

Are you struggling to keep your youth football players engaged in training? Do you find it difficult develop sessions that will develop your players? why not get my youth football coaching checklist for grassroots coaches that will give you 10 easy to follow steps that will point you in the right direction!

Lead by example

As a coach, you are a role model for your team. How you behave and what you say will have a huge impact on your players. Leading by example means setting high standards for yourself and your players. In my very first training session with the players, I laid out my expectations of them and what they can expect from me in return.

One thing I couldn’t have was the players not respecting me or each other so I needed to be consistent with everything that was laid out in the beginning.

And sure enough, I was tested on the principles in my first session. Two players were having a little argument with each other during the practice and both players began to start swearing at each other. I quickly called them both over and said “Can I remind you both about what I said at the beginning of the session about respecting each other? We are a team and cannot move forward unless we are all on the same wavelength, we squash this now or you both will simply miss out today”.

As it was the first session, I felt a firm but fair approach was needed and that the boys needed to know that I wasn’t going to stand for any messing about.

As a coach, you have to show respect to your players, treat them fairly, and be enthusiastic about the game. When your players see that you are committed, positive, and dedicated, they will be more likely to follow your lead and this is what I have found with my players over the years.

Communicate effectively

Effective communication is essential for developing a positive team culture. This means being clear and concise in your instructions, giving feedback that is constructive and specific, and encouraging open and honest dialogue with your players.

For me, tone is everything when communicating with your players especially if you want your message to hit home. I have watched many sessions that were delivered by coaches who had all the appropriate badges and knowledge behind them but still struggle to get the players to listen to their message. This was because they were too monotone when they spoke and the players would switch off.

Compare that to a coach who is a bit more enthusiastic and uses a good variation with their tone of voice and you will see the players grasp what the coach wants from the practice a lot quicker.

Make sure you also listen to your players, take their concerns seriously, and provide support and guidance when needed.

Encourage teamwork

Encouraging teamwork means promoting the idea that the team is more important than any individual player. This was an area my players struggled with massively.

We had players that had good technical ability but would struggle to conjoin with other players as soon as they went on the pitch. It was clear to me that for too long, these players weren’t taught to see the game and also what to do when out of possession.

They were also very quick to attack each other when things were going wrong and I quickly realized if things were going to change then this needed to be addressed asap!

I began promoting positive communication instead of negative comments towards each other and began fostering our own football language.

This means promoting cooperation, communication, and support among team members. It means encouraging players to work together, share ideas, and support each other to achieve their goals.

There is nothing sweeter than seeing your players make huge improvements in their game. After about 3 months of hard work with my team, we began to see that they were taking on board some of the things that we have been trying to instill into them.

In our previous match, (even though we lost) the opposition coach even came over to me to congratulate us on how much we have improved as a team. He even went on to say that we had given them their greatest challenge when trying to play from the back because of how we pressed together as a group.

I admit hearing feedback like that from other coaches felt like we had just won the game because of where we started from.

When your players work together as a team, they are more likely to achieve success and feel motivated to continue working hard.

Set realistic goals

Setting realistic goals is essential for developing a positive team culture. This means setting achievable targets that challenge players while also recognizing their abilities and limitations.

Right from the start I made it clear to the players what our goal was for the rest of the remaining season and that was to be a ‘competitive team’ again. Before I had joined, I heard from parents and other coaches that the team would be out of games within the first quarter on a regular basis so this was the first issue I wanted to address.

It was unlikely that we were going to go from losing matches to winning every game but we can become a more competitive side and I thought that this would be a sign of good progress.

With this goal in mind I began to assess our strengths and weaknesses and began focusing on building each area. The biggest area for me that needed attention was our shape when out of possession as we were too open and teams were just cutting through us. I made it our immediate goal to make us more compact and improve our pressing strategy so that we could win the ball higher up the pitch.

I believe that setting these goals early on was one of the reasons why the team have seen huge improvements with their game style.

having goals helps encourage your players to work hard and persevere while also acknowledging that mistakes and setbacks are a natural part of the learning process. When your players see that they are making progress and achieving their goals, they are more likely to feel motivated and continue with the process.

Involve parents in the process

Whether you like it or not parents play a vital role in developing a positive team culture. They can provide support, encouragement, and guidance to their children, which can help to reinforce the positive messages that you are promoting.

It was important for me to involve the parents in the process by providing regular updates on my thoughts after games about the team’s progress, encouraging them to attend games and practices, and creating opportunities for them to provide feedback and suggestions (not regarding team selection, tactics or coaching).

It was difficult in the beginning as I was trying to change an old regime and a few parents rebelled as they weren’t getting everything their own way like they used to, however slowly but surely the parents have begun to come around to the ideas and methods.

Whatever you decide to introduce, in the beginning, will have some haters but as long as you are consistent with your approach throughout and the parents can see the benefits of what you are doing, you will get them onside.

Encourage feedback and reflection

During sessions, it was important for the players to regularly receive feedback and develop a thirst for wanting to improve themselves. Feedback naturally happens often in sessions as the players need to understand what is needed to be successful at the practice and what they can do to make this happen.

During practice, there will be moments when certain players are pulled out for a quick chat on a particular area that I have noticed they can brush up on during the exercise.

This quick chat (about 30 seconds or so) isn’t all one-sided as it’s important that the player is involved as well, so I will ask them a question or two to check for understanding and encourage them to reflect on what has just happened.

In the session, after completing an exercise I like to do a quick debrief of what we have just covered so that I am checking in regularly throughout the practice and offering more moments of reflection to the players. At these moments there will be lots of Q&A and input from the players on the practice.

It is important to encourage feedback and reflection as we want to promote a culture of continuous improvement. Players need to have opportunities to reflect on their performance, receive feedback from coaches and teammates, and identify areas for improvement.

For me, players have to take ownership of their development and be open to constructive criticism.

Foster a love of the game

Most importantly we need our players to have a love for the game so it’s important to create an environment where the players feel passionate about football.

This is why promoting positivity during the sessions is hugely important as we want the players to have a great experience whenever they play for the team. This is why at my sessions you won’t see repetitive drills or lines of kids waiting for their turn, everything has to have an element of realism and set a problem for the players.

Having multi-functional practices allows the players to express their creativity and individuality on the pitch and because there is still that element of realism the players still feel a deep connection to the game.

When this is consistent throughout, your players are more likely to work hard and develop a positive team culture.

In conclusion, developing a positive team culture is essential for the success and well-being of your youth football team. As a coach, you can lead by example, communicate effectively, create a positive and inclusive environment, encourage teamwork, set realistic goals, involve parents, and encourage feedback and reflection.

When you have this in place you will find that your message will get across to players a lot quicker meaning it will help massively for your player’s development.

How do you try to foster a positive environment?

Mastering The Art Of Youth Football Coaching: A Comprehensive Checklist

Are you struggling to keep your youth football players engaged in training? Do you find it difficult develop sessions that will develop your players? why not get my youth football coaching checklist for grassroots coaches that will give you 10 easy to follow steps that will point you in the right direction!

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