Player ownership is a relatively new concept I just learned on my FA coaching course. No, it doesn't mean who owns a player! It means allowing players to take control of their own learning. We tend to think that young players, especially with the ages I'm working with, need constant guidance and directions, but in fact if we take a step back and let them take control of their own session, practice and learning process, we will see amazing results.
I have been trialing this concept with my U6 team. Last weekend, I wrote all instructions on a whiteboard and packed equipments into piles for pairs to use. They did not require any additional instruction, and got on with what I wanted impeccably. I was very impressed by the autonomy, and how organized they were. No arguments, no fighting over space, no nothing.
This week, I pushed it further. I set up stacks of cones, placed footballs into a neat pile and put out a few bibs. I told the kids to set up games themselves, first in pairs then progressing to threes and fours, and that they could do whatever they want as long as their games would involve everyone.
The result? The kids came up with games that are better than I've seen from other coaches. The majority went for 1v1 and 2v2 matches, some went for penalty and freekick practices, some went for passing and moving around the pitch. As I walked by each "station", I asked them what they were doing and what they were learning from it. The answers were impeccable: individual skills, dribbling to get past a defender, shooting the ball into corners, all that. There was nothing else I needed to do. The kids themselves put on a session that was extremely fun, organized and challenging with pressures added in the form of defenders or other people playing around them.
Why do coaches still make kids run in lines and dribble through cones??? I overheard the coach next to me saying "in a match, you would..." when all his kids were in lines listening to a lecture. Why not just let them go straight into a match??? You don't study maths by simply listening to instructions. You actually do the maths problems, make mistakes then fix it up and learn as you make mistakes. Why is football any different?
The number 1 question kids ask at football session is "when are we playing a match?". So why not give them the match? Let the game be the teacher. There are a plethora of individual and team challenges, conditions and themes you can add into small matches in order to get specific coaching points across. This summer, I'm giving my players plenty of autonomy to run their own sessions and coming up with their own practices. It might make me look like another lazy and clueless college soccer player with no formal coaching experience at a summer camp making pocket money. But as long as my players are learning, having fun and taking the initiative to lead, so be it. Just please don't lecture them while they stand in a line. Kids want to play football, not listen to lectures. They get enough of that at school and at home.
About the Author
Bao "Terry" Cao is currently a coach at Manchester United Foundation and the FA Development Centre for girls. Terry is licensed by both the FA and USSF. He shares his personal experience of being involved in youth soccer as both a coach and an outside viewer.