Coach Talk Irish Grassroots Football

A Healthy Philosophy of Winning

An important issue requiring clarification is the difference between professional and developmental models of sport. Professional sport is a huge commercial enterprise, where the major objectives are directly linked to their status in the entertainment industry. The goals of professional sports are to entertain and to make money. Financial success is of primary importance and depends heavily on winning.

In a developmental model, sport is an arena for learning, in which the ultimate objective is to develop the individual. The most important product is not wins or dollars, but the quality of the experience for young athletes. In this sense, sport participation is an educational process whereby youngsters can learn to cope with realities they will face in later life. Although winning is sought after, it is by no means the primary goal. Profit is not measured in terms of euros and cents, but rather in terms of the skills and personal characteristics that are acquired.

Most youth sport programs are oriented toward providing a healthy recreational and social-learning experience for youngsters. They are not intended to be miniature professional leagues. Unfortunately, some coaches get caught up in the “winning is everything” philosophy that characterises much of our sport culture. This is not to say that coaches should not try to build winning teams, but some- times winning becomes more important for the coach than it is for the athletes. Winning will take care of itself within the limits of your athletes’ talents and the quality of instruction they receive. In your role as a teacher, it is important to recognise that skills are most likely to develop within a positive and happy relationship between you and your athletes. And while happy athletes don’t always win, they need never lose.

Young athletes can learn from both winning and losing. But for this to occur, winning must be put in a healthy perspective. More exactly, there is a four-part philosophy that Mastery Approach coaches communicate to their athletes.

Young athletes can learn from both winning and losing. But for this to occur, winning must be put in a healthy perspective. More exactly, there is a four-part philosophy that Mastery Approach coaches communicate to their athletes.

1. Winning isn’t everything, nor is it the only thing. Young athletes can’t possibly learn from winning and losing if they think the only objective is to beat their opponents. If youngsters leave your program having enjoyed relating to you and to their team- mates, feeling better about themselves, having improved their skills, and looking forward to future sport participation, you have accom- plished something far more important than a winning record or a league championship.

2. Failure is not the same thing as losing. Athletes should not view losing as a sign of failure or as a threat to their personal value. They should be taught that losing a game is not a reflection of their own self-worth.

3. Success is not equivalent to winning. Winning and losing apply to the outcome of a contest, whereas success and failure do not. How, then, can we define success in sports?

4. Athletes should be taught that success is found in striving for victory. The important idea is that success is related to commitment and effort! Effort is within athletes’ zone of control. They have complete control over the amount of effort they give, but they have only limited control over the outcome that is achieved. “You have no control over results. All you can do is play to the best of your abilities. Success is YOU giving everything that YOU have.”

The core idea in the Mastery Approach emphasises that success is achieved in striving to be your best. Thus, the focus is not on competing with others and trying to outdo them, but on developing one’s own abilities to the maximum. We saw this concept captured in John Wooden’s definition of success, and College Football Hall of Fame coach Frosty Westering expressed the same idea in this statement: “Doing your best is more important than being the best.”

If you can impress on your athletes that they are never “losers” if they commit themselves to doing their best and giving maximum effort, you are bestowing a priceless gift that will assist them in many of life’s tasks. When winning is kept in a healthy perspective, the most important coaching product is not a won-lost record; it is the quality of the sport experience provided for the athletes.

How can you teach a mastery-oriented philosophy of winning?

First, have regular discussions about it. You must continually remind athletes about the importance of effort. Second, back up your words with actions. In other words, don’t just talk about effort, do something about it! Third, help athletes set individualised goals specific to them, and encourage them to work toward them. If they’re working on a technical skill, try to find a way to measure their performance so they can see their improvement. Use praise and recognition to reward effort and improvement. Encourage effort and persistence, telling athletes that skills develop gradually, not all at once. In a mastery climate, the “most improved player” award is just as important as the “most valuable player.” Finally, convey to your athletes that mistakes are one of the best ways to learn, and that they needn’t fear making them.

John Wooden referred to mistakes as “stepping stones to achievement” because they provide the feedback needed to improve performance.

Contribution By Prof. Ronald Smith


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Coach Talk

Coach John Wooden

“Essentially, I was always more of a practice coach than a game coach. This is because of my conviction that a player who practices well, plays well.” – Coach John Wooden

Coach John Wooden

Training was where Wooden always felt he really made the difference to his teams. Each day before training Wooden and his assistants would spend near to two hours planning the day’s session. The planning would sometimes last longer than the session itself. Once done, the notes for that session would be made on a small card that he carried in his pocket.

Not only did this keep them handy, but he could also write down extra notes during the session as things developed.After practice, he would transfer all his notes into another notebook.

His notebooks were an essential part of his coaching toolkit, and he would add notes after games as well.Your practice sessions are the most important part of the week.

Make them count!


We always like to hear your opinions and views. If you feel you have something to say or content to share, please comment below or email me 

If, you don’t have anything to add then please forward this on to a friend. As always, thanks for reading. I’m also on twitter @Coachdiary and @LetTheKidPlay

Coach Talk


Really insightful hour with @JamesJClaffey and thanks to @ancoraemparo @CelticLourdes for organising it!

Your Why ➡️


We always like to hear your opinions and views. If you feel you have something to say or content to share, please comment below or email me 

If, you don’t have anything to add then please forward this on to a friend. As always, thanks for reading. I’m also on twitter @Coachdiary and @LetTheKidPlay

Coach Talk

Tactic Talk

TCD – What is Tactic all about

Tactic – Tactic is a new website for players and coaches to share sports video. We have taken the footage editing tools you see on ‘Match of the Day’ and made it easy for everyone to highlight Tactics. Users can link Youtube videos of their favourite team, or their own match footage and then add their analysis. They can share this with everyone or in private ‘TeamTalks’. It’s a really fun website to browse and watch how other read the game.

TCD – What makes you different?

Tactic – Tactic focuses on Fun rather than data. With Tactic you can embed questions for others to answer – “Will he score, What pass does he make, what would you do next” – when you share the video other users have to anticipate play – a core skill in soccer but something thats hard to teach!! Tactic allows you to discuss the game, not just the outcome.

TCD – Does it cost anything?

Tactic – No, and that makes us different too, Tactic is FREE for Players and Coaches to join. Like Facebook everyone creates a profile so you can follow teammates or other coaches. When signing up you have to select if you are a Coaches or Player – Coaches can create TeamTalks and  create drill templates.

TCD – What age do you have to be?

Tactic – We allow Players from 10yrs.+ to join Tactic and create their first sports profile. However we are very conscious of minors and they are required to enter a parent/ guardian email when they signup. This is used then to notify the guardian when they are added to any TeamTalks. Also if someone asks to follow them an email is sent to the guardian again. We know that kids spend hours on Youtube looking at videos so we have created a platform that is safe and sports focused for them to watch and interact with video – created by their coach or teammates.

TCD – How easy is it to create a TacticTalk?

Tactic – Have a go!!! It really easy and we have posted some videos on our TacticTalks Youtube channel to explain how. We are a new Startup here in Ireland so we will be adding new features as we grow, because we allow users to ask questions about the footage we have some really cool features to add. Our saying is “The footage stops, the Game begins”

To find out more go to Tactic Talk you can also check out their YouTube Page – Create a TacticTalk and YouTube Tactic Talks – About TacticTalks

Founder of  Tactic Sports Software Ltd is Conor Duff you can reach him at


I always like to hear your opinions and views. If you feel you have something to say, please comment below or email me If, you don’t have anything to add then please forward this on to a friend. As always, thanks for reading.

I’m also on twitter @Coachdiary and @LetTheKidPlay

Coach Talk

COACH TALK: Dennis Hortin

This week I’ve gone Nordic, I’m speaking to Swedish Coach Dennis Hortin from AIK Alvsjo. Dennis has some very forward thinking  and progressive views on player development. This possibly the longest and most informative interview I have done. I thoroughly enjoyed chatting to him.

Let’s Start >

DH: This is by far the most I’ve written in english for a good while, so I know there’s a lot of spelling and grammar fails in there, so please point me to them and perhaps suggest how I can phrase it differently if you have time.

TCD: I don’t really like to add or change your words. It’s nice to listen to non-English speaking coach. If I feel there is a need to change a word or two I will. Otherwise we keep your words. So lets start.

TCD: How did you get into coaching?

DH: I’ve been in to football since I was 6 years old, and until I was 26. everything was focused on my own journey as a footballer but from this age I slowly moved towards coaching. I don’t know why exactly or if I deliberately wanted to be a coach but since my contracts as a footballer rarely gave enough money to pay for my bills and food I had to earn more money which often ended up in additional responsibilities in a club and in most cases that was to engage in youth coaching.

I found it very interesting and the interactions with youth players quickly made me aware of that knowing the game and “teaching” (I’ll get back to the quote later) it are two very different concepts. I started to dig deeper into coaching and that eventually ended up in a great interest for learning, What learning actually is and the coaching that got me hooked.

It is very interesting and a lot more complex than what I initially thought.

I’m 34 now, so actually starting on my 10th year as a coach now in 2015. Time flies and I think it’s important to reflect on what I do and how I practice to minimise the risk of me just repeating my first year as a coach over and over.

TCD: You might talk to me about your coaching philosophy?

DH: First of all, I want to get away from tradition and market driven forces since they are rarely evidence-based.

I’m aware evidence is rarely fundamental truths, but to cite Dr Richard Bailey, “Thou shalt embrace science for it is a candle in the dark.”

Meaning that I try to guide my self with evidence, but apply it in the context of the socio-cultural aspects and challenges in the society were I practice.

So in practice, it’s an holistic approach that comes down to a bio-psycho-social (BPS) balance, game based practice design focused on deliberate play, self-determination theory (SDT), early engagement/diversification/sampling and late specialisation and promotion of multi sport activity.  Also to nurture a mindset of growth and learning and a guided discovery type of approach that also are very much in line with the UN child convention and “Idrotten Vill” (the Swedish National Association of Sports guideline “The will of sports”).

It is also a game that requires a lot of soft skills such as creativity, decision making and co-operation. These are concepts that are fundamental to the game and that technically can’t be taught, but it can be learnt. Hence why I quoted “teaching” previously. It’s all about the environment I create that provides learning opportunities for the players to develop these soft skills, and I need to back off to give them room to learn.

To me, it’s not about being on top of the players and dictate and instruct learning. The learning is their journey and I just provide an environment that allows learning and needless to say representative tasks are fundamental. Pretty much everything I do is game based.

TCD” What coaches inspire you?

DH: Coaches that aren’t stuck in tradition and that are open for debate. But mainly, I tend to follow people outside the world of football since I feel it’s so much tradition bias in what is often preached.

While I can see the excellence in coaches such as Guardiola, Bielsa, Mourinho etc, I’m not sure what they practice always aligns with youth football and learning. Their world is completely different from mine. I find much more useful inputs, discussions and interactions thru contacts on social networks. After all, there are so many excellent youth coaches out there that aren’t known to the public, and they are the ones I can get so much from. And of course people like Côté, Toms, Bailey, Kidman, Pearce, Hancock etc.

Interactions with people like mentioned above really help me improve my coaching. The ones that inspire me are not the type of coach who stands on the top of an iceberg only acknowledge and preach what is visable above the surface. It’s the ones who see what’s below that inspire me.

TCD: What is your current role at the club?

DH: I work as head of youth (boys 5-13 mainly, but are involved in 14-16 as well) as a coordinator which means that I interact with around 40 youth teams and close to 100 volunteer coaches and I’m there for them in terms of practice design, discussion regarding BPS balance in our programme, communication, promotion of the application of SDT, diverse content, the promotion of multi sport activity and planning. Most of them are parents and to me, that is excellent. Many voices in the football industry blame the “not educated” parents at youth level when player development falls short at the elite senior level. The best thing with parents are that they are there for the child, they have mature values and are open for ideas and discussions. With just a little bit of support and a few meetings a year, parents are awesome youth coaches.

I’m involved in our programme and curriculum, and also run sessions in the afternoon from 3-5 PM for children 10-16 year olds that want to play more football.

And on top of these practical responsibilities, administration and communication are important to constantly maintain and a huge part in a role like mine.

TCD: How many teams do you have at the club?

DH: As stated above, my responsibilities are at the boys 5-13, and that’s about 40 teams. But in the club, it’s almost 70 teams if boys 14+, seniors and the girls/woman side are included. We have 100 teams playing each weekend, and we’re the 9th biggest football club in terms of number of youth players in Sweden. We have around 1400 active youth players in the club. Reason why we have 100 teams playing each weekend, but only 70 teams “on paper” so to speak is that each team consist of 18-30 players which means that some teams need to register for two or three parallel series to ensure enough pitch time for all players. Ages 5-7 don’t play fixtures.

TCD: From what age do teams begin to play in organised fixtures?

DH: From 8, they play 5 vs 5. This is subject for debate imo. But with the way pitch time are dictated it’s hard to structure it in another way at the moment. I’d like the StFF (Stockholm regional FA) to remove organised fixtures at ages below 11 and promote pool play rather than the adult type of season schedules.

TCD: Talk to me about the football format in Sweden (numbers on each team at a specific ages etc)?

DH: That’s different from club to club, but in general, in the more crowded areas, I’d say 18-30 players in a team. That requires several teams playing each weekend like mentioned above. It’s common that a team of ~25 players are registered for 3 parallel mini leagues to ensure pitch time for all players. We have players in the club from 5 year olds (just play activities 18 sundays over the year), and 6 and 7 year olds that don’t take part in organised fixtures, but come together once a week to play.

Parents do the coaching, and in general there are no payed coaches below senior level but we’re moving towards hired coaches younger ages. Coaching is also considered a job here but economy and priorities are holding up the progress.

It’s hard to talk for all clubs of course but in general this is what it looks like. And in no way do I think this is a good setup from an optimal player development perspective. We definitely need change.

TCD: What pathway has your club adopted and what to you believe is the best pathway for development, when do you grade etc?

DH: In contradiction to tradition and market, we don’t split youth football in elite and recreation. We believe that they should and need to co-exist for our programme to be effective, no matter if our ultimate goal is to contribute to our society in terms of healthier people or elite level participation. We don’t grade players but from 17, when most are through puberty, we have a U17 team that participate in the top domestic league. The first age group that entered this new model was our boys born in 2001. When they reach 17, our hopes are that we can have a full team in the U17 team that competes at the top national level and a “shadow team” that run parallel with players that aren’t there yet, but that get the same opportunities as the main U17 team to perhaps challenge for a spot in our U19 team that also compete at the highest national level.

So from 17, you could say that we have two parallel pathways but with the same opportunities, and with the understanding of that trying to identify future success is risky business, even as late as at 17 or even 19. So it’s a lot about keeping players in the club for as long as possible and maintaining equal opportunities.

We also promote diverse content all year around for 6-9 year olds and during the winter for 10-12 year olds. This isn’t optimal, but for now a good way to include diverse training for those who don’t participate in other sports. As much as possible should be game based activities and coaches are encouraged to let the kids help out with planning and content. From around age 10, we include what the Swedish school of sport and health sciences label as “pedagogical rules”. No players have fixed positions before age 16. All players have equal pitch time. This isn’t the case yet for our U17, U19 and senior teams, but hopes are we’re educating good enough and many enough players to provide our U17, U19 and senior team with homegrown players and at a level good enough to allow rotation in the future.

From 13, we have teams registered at three different levels to provide diverse opposition for our players. But we don’t practice ability grouping prior to 17. All teams in an age group practice at the same time and under supervision of an age group manager, which is similar to my role but concentrated at one or two age groups. Reason why we keep all teams in each age group together from 13 is that we want to slowly bring them together for a softer transfer to our U17 team, which of course will consist of players from different teams and if they already know each other we put less stress on the players psycho-socially and the team will hopefully be up and running instantly in contradiction to what’s currently the case, which of course favours environment and learning climate as well.

This is a very brief conclusion to our model, and restricted to the boys/mens sides. I’d might add that not everyone buys in to this yet, so some teams still run traditional approaches, but we’re getting closer and closer for each year.

TCD: Across the world it seems winning has now become a priority for many coaches working in youth sport. Is this the same in Sweden?

DH: Yes I agree, but I think we need to define “winning” in terms of a motive or priority. I don’t think winning is the motive, but more a “bi-product” of the false idea that ability grouping is a must to develop future elite players and that end up in currently weaker players being left behind, ending up in selected teams winning more than non selected teams. This is the common belief and practice in Sweden. So in regards to your question and in the light of my “definition”, yes, winning seems to be important.

TCD: How has player centred coaching evolved in Sweden?

It’s getting there. We’ve had a debate over the last couple of years that are culminating right now in the light of how our senior national team drops on the FIFA rankings and how few players we have represented in the top European leagues.

The generation born in the late 60’s to early 80’s like Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Fredrik Ljungberg, Olof Mellberg, Henrik Larsson, Kim Källström, Thomas Brolin, Patrik Andersson, Stefan Schwarz, Jonas Thern is soon gone. Only Zlatan and Kim still playing of the ones I mentioned, and they are well over 30 years old, and no new players from the mid 80’s and later seem to fill their place. This has definitely added to the debate in Sweden and I think we’re about to see a lot of change. Though, policymakers and authorities perhaps don’t lead the change. It’s more of something that comes from the “people” which of course is a good thing, because it will be more accepted than if changes are dictated from the top. Same procedure as player centred coaching pretty much.

But from time to time, our national and regional FA’s propose changes. The SvFF are currently making changes to the coach education programme, and the regional FA’s that run most of the youth competitions have recently made changes that are very positive. The tradition is still a coach centred one, but the player centred approach are being practiced more and more. We’re not there yet, but as initially stated, we’re getting there.

What’s the SFA’s vision for coaching in Sweden?

The SvFF are making changes, but I’m not entirely sure they are in control. For example the LTAD model is being used and marketed as change without any obvious changes to content. It looks good to the naked eye perhaps and “makes sense” to the general public with “ages and stages”, but learning, development and progress are so much more than chronological age, it’s a very sensitive process that is effected not only by biological development, but psychological and social development as well, and many models fail to take that in to consideration. That’s why it’s so dangerous to use it. I think authorities should be expected to deliver a more thought out model.

With that said, I do think that SvFF is on the right path, even though progress is slightly slow and a bit off at times.

So I’d say that the vision is blurry, but the progress towards something is on and currently in the right direction.

What’s the one thing you would change about youth football in Sweden?

Oh, I’m not sure I can restrict myself to just one thing, but If I had the power to change things, it would be to create multi sport clubs for 5-16 year olds, and sport specific clubs shouldn’t engage players younger than 11. In that way there’s a good window for 11-16 year old players to choose to specialise, and time for a more diverse type of content that are of great value long-term. Academies should start at 17 when the majority of kids are through puberty but since it’s so hard to predict future success even as late as at 17, academies and traditional clubs should work together rather than competing at admin level to ensure a wide path to the senior game.

To support this financially, (brace yourself) I’d also like to cancel all youth national teams and youth regional teams below U19 level since I can’t see the value of a system that either give false indications to the ones who are included, or exclude players that perhaps shouldn’t have been. It provides nothing more than psychological setbacks. Hence why we don’t practice ability grouping prior to 17 and parallel to U17 and U19 will run shadow teams.

I understand this is very thought provoking, but I think that this is much in line with what evidence suggest.

On top of that I’d like to see changes in content and tradition as well, but I’ll stop here.

What advice would you give to a coach starting out?

Find your own way, and look deep and wide for input and ideas. Look beyond the sport specific content, and look in to several areas of research. Such as psychology, sociology, neuroscience, physiology and try to grasp the complexity of it all. Search for contradictions in what is preached, follow and interact with people who talk straight. This will not lead to knowledge, but it will help you grasping the complexity.

A final message if you like?

I’d like to take this opportunity to highlight some common myths in youth sports.

Early specialisation, 10000 hrs, isolated technique practice, learning styles and ability grouping are frequently preached and practiced with no evidence to support it. This is a slippery slope in my book, and any one that preach such practice as obvious or something that shouldn’t or can’t be questioned simply don’t know what they are talking about.

And finally I want to state that since youth sports and development is so complex, I don’t think there are any right answers.

However, I do think there are answers that are wrong.


TCD would like to thank Dennis for contributing to the blog. Certainly one of the most informative and honest interviews I’ve had the pleasure to do.

Follow him on twitter @DHrtin

I always like to hear your opinions. Please comment below or email me, if you don’t have anything to add then please forward this on to a friend.

Thanks for reading. I’m also on twitter @Coachdiary

Coach Talk

COACH TALK: Christian McAuley

This week I spoke with Christian McAuley grassroots coach at Newbridge town.

TCD: How did you get into coaching?

CM: Like many coaches I got in to coaching because of my son. I wanted to give him the best football education and set about researching player development. Although I played football for 25+ years I soon found out how little I knew about the game and particularly how to teach it to young kids. I attended a number of workshops\coaching courses. I started out doing KS1 & KS2 and did the Coerver Coaching Diploma and a few weeks ago I passed the FAI Youth Cert. Having said all that most of my coaching development has come from reading about other coaches who I consider to be leaders in player development. People like Mark Senor (@markproskills) Matt Whitehouse (@The_W_Address) Nick Levett (@nlevett) Tim Lees (@timlees10) Jay Cochrane (@JayCochrane1983) Gary Kleiban (@3four3) and more recently John Davis (@renegadestyle) have all shaped the way I think of youth football.

TCD: What is your coaching philosophy?

CM: Up to now my philosophy has been a dribble don’t pass attitude for young kids. Use your skills and try to show off when you’re on the ball. I hate to see a kid just kick the ball with no purpose. Don’t be afraid to try new things and never ever give up. I can safety say that I’ve never told a kid to pass the ball just that if you lose it you must try your best to win it back. We do play games where passing is the best option and this helps the kids understand that although we want them to be creative on the ball, passing is a part of the game that must be learnt. The players have had some success with this philosophy when they reached the Final of the U9 DB Sports Summer Tournament in August.

This year we’ve gently introduced our U9 players to new concepts:

  • Possession and pressure based philosophy. We use the two “P’s” – Possession and Pressure to reaffirm the message to the kids.
  • We teach the 3 rules of possession 1. Spacing 2. Awareness 3. Communication;
  • We work a lot with Rondos and teach individual techniques on how to receive the ball in different scenarios, losing your man and coordinated pressure;
  • We ask questions constantly to reiterate the messages to both the team and to individuals;
  • Core Stability and Movement program;
  • Carol Dweck Growth Mindset theory;

TCD: What is your current role at the club?

CM: Currently I am a coach to the U9 age group in our Academy. We have 50+ kids registered and have an average attendance every Sunday morning of ~45. I am also part of a team of people within the club who are focusing on our Academy helping to put in best practices and educate other coaches within the Academy, most of whom are parents with kids playing in the Academy. Every year the Academy is growing and building a great reputation in the local area. We are attracting more and more experienced coaches also which can only benefit the children. I genuinely believe that if the club continues on this path you will hear great things from this club in the future.

TCD: How many teams do you have at the club?

We have 21 Schoolboy teams and 3 senior teams starting from U10. We also have 200 children from 4 years of age to 8 years of age registered in our Academy.

TCD: You have been using Funino at the club, what is funino?

CM: The Academy is currently using FUNINO – a small sided games programme developed by Horst Wein a University Lecture and former German and Spanish Olympic Hockey Teams Coach. His methods have been used for many years by a number of Football Federations including the Spanish Football Federation. FUNINO uses smaller pitch sizes and player numbers to encourage greater participation and more touches of the ball for all involved. The use of 4 goals out wide (without goal keepers) helps to alleviate the normal crowding or swarming traditionally experienced within these age groups and the scoring zone helps to assist with spatial awareness.

“At U8, our kids in the Academy are playing 3v3 – now what kids are going to benefit more?”

The club introduced to Funino two years ago and has been a revelation to many coaches. The great thing about Funino is you don’t need to be a football coach to teach it. All you need is to read the manual and put what you read into practice. The Manual explains everything, even gives questions to ask players and the answers. You don’t need to know anything about guided discovery… Just follow the manual. I learned so much about football by reading this manual.

TCD: Silly question but how have the kids enjoyed and adapted to this game?

CM: The kids really love playing Funino. With no goalkeepers and four goals there are lots of opportunities for them to score goals. All through our coaching we encourage the kids to dribble, use your tricks to beat the defender. The scoring zone makes dribbling and 1v1 skills a must in this game. A lot of the kids have become really competent 1v1 players. There is variety of different games that can be played on the Funnio pitch. All our 1v1’s and 2v2 training games are played on the Funino Pitch.

Last Easter we organised a 5v5 tournament based on Funnio rules. The tournament was attended by a number of Kildare and Dublin Clubs and the feedback on the game was excellent. In my opinion every kid should grow up playing Funino.

TCD: More and more clubs are not entering their young teams into organised fixtures and instead keep them at the academies to further implement the clubs’s philosophy. How has this worked for your club?

CM: Newbridge Town have invested heavily in coaching material mainly focusing on the Academy age groups. 3 years ago they invested in a Skills program, two years ago invested in Funnio and this year they signed a long term partnership with the Ajax Online Academy. Every year new equipment is bought; this year saw the purchase of 3 sets of high quality 5 aside goals and almost 100 more footballs.

Keeping teams out of organised fixtures has allowed more kids play football. Like I said previously we have 50+ kids at U9 in our Academy. We have at least 15 new kids join this year that never played before. If we had entered teams in organised fixtures at U8 when “leagues” start in the KDUL at least half of those kids would be lost because there would be no places on teams for them.

NTFC_Academy 2By keeping the kids away from organised fixtures, more kids benefit from playing and the club also benefits financially not having to pay league fees, Referees etc. It’s a win-win situation for the players and the Club. Every Sunday coaches get to teach kids skills and tricks at training and not have to worry who they are playing on Saturday.

Only last week a coach told me that his team conceded 2 goals from corners at the weekend so at his following training session he worked on defending from corners. Our coaches in the academy don’t have to think like that. It’s just skills, skills and more skills.

Many Clubs now see the idea of 7 olds playing organised football as counterproductive. In the KDUL organised leagues start at U8’s who play 7 aside. At U8, our kids in the Academy are playing 3v3 – now what kids are going to benefit more?

We also give the kids matches against other clubs. We have organised and played in a number of Tournaments over the course of the Academy and played in Funnio blitzes against other like-minded clubs. We’ve also organise internal leagues where we mix age groups.

TCD: From what age will teams begin to play in organised fixtures?

CM: This was a debating point within the club some said U9, U10 others taught U11’s would be best. In the end it was decided to go at U10. Entering at U11’s will not be ruled out for future age groups.
Next year the first batch of children who have been through the full Skills and Funino program will leave the Academy and it will be very exciting to see how these kids develop.

TCD: You participated recently in the Silent Sideline Weekend, how did you find it?

CM: The day went very well and we had great support from all our coaches and parents. It really gave us the chance to try educating our coaches and parents that we need less coaching and directing from the side-line each week. We only want them to encourage the players and keep everything positive regardless of how the game is going. The silent side-line highlighted this and the kids thought it was great.

TCD: Your club along with some others are using the Ajax online coaching philosophy, how is this implemented and measured?

CM: Yes this is our first season implementing the Ajax online academy. The first thing we decided to do was bring Ajax Technical Director Patrick Ladru to Newbridge Town to put on a workshop and introduce the system and the Ajax philosophy to all our coaches. So we set about introducing the Ajax training programme into our academy along with our younger teams. So from a very early age our coaches can start introducing the Ajax training sessions to our players. The program caters for all age groups from basic to difficult. This makes transition from academy to teams an easier one, with very little difference in the style training.

It was clear to us at the club that we should help our players by helping our coaches. By offering them structure, especially within their training sessions we could drastically improve the quality of coaching each player receives. The Ajax system is our way of ensuring that all kids at the club received similar, high-quality training. It also opened up the opportunity to send our teams to Ajax and play against local teams and receive coaching sessions with Ajax coaches. Our U13s are the first team to make the trip this March.

TCD: The Kildare league is taking big strides in the area of player and coach development. Are local teams buying into playing in the K-league or do they see the Dublin leagues as the stepping stone to success?

CM: The Kildare league is having problem with many one-sided fixtures and is seeking to address this issue by educating coaches and recently set up the “Koaches Association” lead by the KDUL’s Football director, Mike Geoghegan. They had their first workshop in October with another one planned in December. This is a great initiative and hopefully will see the standard of play improve across the league.

Without doubt the Dublin leagues are the strongest in the country and lure of a big Dublin club can be too hard to resist for some. There are many players travelling from Kildare to play in the DDSL every week – I know of two U9 players travelling from Newbridge, so I don’t see that changing anytime soon unless the Kildare Clubs can really improve their coaching standards.

Here at Newbridge there has been big drive over the last few years to improve the standard of coaching with a particular focus on the younger age groups. Our aim to give our kids the best football education in Kildare so they will not need to travel to a Dublin Club but Kildare Clubs need to be competing in the last rounds of the SFAI Cups on regular basis if they want to stop all our young talent travelling to Dublin.

TCD: What changes would you make to the kids game?

CM: Firstly, I would abolish the all organised fixtures up to U10. Looking at the KDUL I would abolish the 7 aside game for U8’s and U9’s.

If leagues want to keep control of these age groups, then I would suggest that when a Team registers with the league they are given a Funinio Manual and a Skills program where the emphasis is on 1v1’s and 2v2’s. Every 8 weeks a club or the league would host a 3v3 or 5v5 Blitz day or Invite a number of Clubs to a Tournament type event. Have the players’ ref their own games. Refereeing their own games should be practiced at training with kids encouraged to be honest. The Academy director of the league would get see all young talent playing in one day. Playing every 8 weeks leaves more time for coaches to teach ball mastery, 1v1 skills and not have to worry about training session based on defending corners.


  • Training to games time ratio increases. Coaches get 8 weeks to work with team before they play a game;
  • Clubs only travel once every 8 weeks;
  • KDUL Academy coaches get to see and help the best young players in Kildare in 1 day;
  • Reduced costs for teams, less travel expenses, no need to pay refs;
  • Playing 5 aside tournament type football far more enjoyable for children.

TCD would like to thank Christian for contributing to the blog.




I always like to hear your opinions. Please comment below or email me, if you don’t have anything to add then please forward this on to a friend.

Thanks for reading. I’m also on twitter @Coachdiary

Coach Talk

COACHTALK: Johnny McKinstry

Johnny is qualified at the highest level in Europe and America, holding  an Academy Managers’ Licence (English FA); Premier Diploma (NSCAA); and UEFA ‘A’ Coaching Licence (IFA) as well as a range of other academic and professional qualifications.

He was Head Coach of the Sierra Leone National Men’s Football team from April 2013 – September 2014, at that time the youngest active Head Coach in international football (at only 27 years of age). He has achieved an awful lot and already has had extensive experience of coaching in Europe, North America and Africa.

TCD: Did you play football when you were younger? 

JM: Yes, growing up I played football along with a variety of other sports (Rugby, Cricket, Squash), but football was always my real passion.  Unfortunately I was not to go on to be one of the great Irish players of our generation – whilst I could play the game it was never a genuine prospect for me in terms of progressing into the professional ranks.

TCD: When did you know that you wanted a career in coaching? 

JM:  Football has always been a real passion for me and I have always felt I understood the game.  Growing up I could see patterns within the game and even as a kid playing I had opinions on how I thought my team mates and I should play, and on occasion would let the coach know those opinions.  When I accepted that the likelihood of becoming a professional player was not realistic, I was intent on having a role within the game and from a very early age, maybe around 16, I developed a firm belief that I could help make other players better.

“Football is the most accessible game in the world. A ball (or something similar) and goal posts (or something similar) and you’ve got yourself a game” – J Mc

TCD: What is your football philosophy? 

  • “Recruit & Develop of World Class People”……good people will do all within their power to not let you or their team-mates down. Therefore is we want to create a world class team, then we should invest time in recruiting and developing world class people
  • “Your Most Important Player is the one with the Ball at their Feet”……if we accept that every player can win the game for our team…to score the winning goal or to make a game changing tackle, then it will affect how we coach our athletes.  Think back to Tony Adams’ championship sealing goal for Arsenal against Everton.  Have we equipped our central defenders with the skill and composure to do that?  If that answer is no, then I think we need to ask ourselves why?
  • “Send Them to Work with a Full ToolBox”……you would not ask a mechanic to fix your car if they did not possess the correct tools in which to do so.  If we did, we would expect that something would go wrong eventually.  Yet we often rush pass the opportunity to equip our players with the correct skills (tools) in order to perform their roles on the field.  If we do this then how can we criticise when things go wrong.  We need to spend time in ensuring that all of our players are able to perform the wide range of skills required to succeed within the game
  • “They have to answer the question by themselves”……too often I see what I term ‘playstation coaches’ on the sidelines (at both junior and professional level) who constantly instruct from the bench, telling the players the decisions they should be making.  I firmly believe that we should structure our training programs to encourage decision making as often as possible.  Players must be able to play the situation they are presented with, and they often must do so within a split-second.  We have given them the tools to use, now we must give them the capacity to select when and how to use them.  This is no different that a student having worked with their teacher all year, and then sitting their examinations. Once they are to be tested, they have to do it for themselves.

The above represent some of the key components of my beliefs about the game and how to develop winning teams and world class athletes.

TCD: In your view what are the key traits of a modern coach? 

JM:  I think that the modern coach must be extremely knowledgable in so many different aspects of the game.  That is not to say that they must micro-manage all areas.  At the top level we have analysts, nutritionists, sport scientists, various forms of coaching staff.  They all have their jobs and should be allowed to do them; but the coach must have an appreciation of each area.  By doing so it better places them to make the correct decisions for their athletes.  I also believe the modern coach should be very approachable for their players. That is not to say they are ‘one of the gang’. Not at all. But players should feel comfortable communicating with the coach, and discussing ideas, because after all it is they who are playing the game.  It is important that a coach realises that players need to be part of the process.

TCD: Have you any mentors? 

JM:  Over the years I have been fortunate to take guidance from a number of experienced coaches within the game.  That is not to say they have been the recognised names that people will see in the media; but having been part of coach education in Northern Ireland, England and the USA I have crossed paths with a great numbers of coaches who have a wide variety of experiences within the game.  The great thing about meeting colleagues in such environments is that everyone is very open about sharing their experiences, and that in turn helps you to refine your own view of the game whilst at the same time putting across your own opinions.

TCD: You have travelled the world coaching, working with different cultures. How do these cultures (players) differ in terms of teaching the game? 

JM:  First of all it is important to acknowledge that there is good quality everywhere.  I have been fortunate to work with elite level young players in the UK, USA and Africa; and being honest, on a technical level there is not too much difference between the very best in my experience.  You do of course get some environmental differences.  In Africa the young players tend to be very driven.  The game means so much to them as success will not only vastly alter their own lives, but also the lives of their families and communities.  So you can imagine the work rate that is often apparent at Academy level in Africa.  On the other side of this coin, I would say that tactical understanding tends to be more developed in European and American countries.  This is largely down to players exposure to the game on TV and live.  You don’t have to go far these days to have the nuances of the game explained via football review shows with the likes of Gary Neville.  This means players come to training with a base level of understanding for you to build on.  In Africa and the worlds developing nations this education is more firmly routed on the training pitch and a key responsibility of the coach.

TCD: 4 years in what some might say is a remote part of the world must be a huge challenge, how did you end up in Africa? 

JM:  An interesting opportunity was presented to me to put it plainly.  I was working with the New York Red Bulls back in 2009 and I got a phone call from someone I knew who wanted to put me together with the people setting up a football academy in Sierra Leone.  It just peaked my interest.  I have always sought out challenges in life, and I viewed the opportunity here in Sierra Leone as just that.  I also saw it as an opportunity to have a significant impact on football in a country that I knew would be football crazy. It was definitely a good decision.

TCD: Is African football evolving and if so in what way? 

JM:  Yes, I believe it is.  One of the biggest drawbacks in Africa has often been the tactical development of the game.  Technique and fitness have never really been an issue; but through the lack of exposure to the global game through TV etc, the tactical level was somewhat lacking.  However through an increased access to watching the game from all over the planet, young players in Africa are able to see exactly what their peers in the rest of the world see.  The great teams and players  and the way the game is played.  Exposure to things like this naturally have a knock on effect of their understanding of the game.

“My ambition has always been to coach at the highest level – the Premier League, the Bundesliga, La Liga, Serie A”.

TCD: Do kids still play on the streets or is gaming etc a factor also? 

JM:  Yes, absolutely.  Football is the most accessible game in the world. A ball (or something similar) and goal posts (or something similar) and you’ve got yourself a game.  Kids do have access to computer games through local gaming centres, but this costs a small amount of money so is only an occasional thing for most.  It is very common to see people of all ages playing football in the street and on bits of waste land.

JMCK 2TCD: Not many people coach an international team at 27, how did you end up coaching Sierra Leone? 

JM:  At the time the post of National Team Coach became available I had been living and working in Sierra Leone for over three years.  I had watched the Leone Stars regularly during that period, and I had a real belief that if I could get in the room with the decision makers at that time, that I would be a strong candidate for the job.  I had my UEFA ‘A’ licence, I had worked all over the world, and I knew the game.

We arranged a meeting and in the two days leading up to it I watched the last couple of Sierra Leone games, as well as video of Tunisia (our next opponents) several times over and put together a presentation and dossier on how I would develop the team and how we would go about winning the upcoming game.  No detail was left out….it was very thorough.  Between my presentation and interview, the association decided that I was the right man for the job and two days later was invited back in to agree terms,

TCD: You left that role in September, what are you doing now? 

JM:   As I have said, my time working here in Sierra Leone extends back further than the National Team…almost 5 years now.  Since 2010 I have managed a football academy located about an hour outside the capital city of Freetown where we work with the countries best young talent between the ages of 11 and 18, offering them around 12 hours training per week as well as full time education working towards their international GCSE.  During my time with the National team I combined both the roles, so now that my time with the Sierra Leone team has come to an end I am concentrating entirely on the next generation of players once again.

TCD: You’ve achieved a lot for such a young person, what has been your best achievement to date? 

JM:  Taking Sierra Leone into the top 50 of the FIFA World rankings was a great achievement.  That set a new record high for us as a country, and on a personal note placed us above both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland which made me smile somewhat.  I think however the moment that meant the most to me was seeing one of my young academy players here in Sierra Leone make his debut for the u20 National Team.  Having only just turned 17 we had worked together for 4 years, and he was the youngest player on the pitch that afternoon.  I felt very proud that day.  I still do.

TCD: Whats the plan for the future, how long will you stay in Africa

JM:  It’s hard to say.  A football life often entails not knowing what is around the corner.  For me, I am happy to be working with the excellent young players we have here at the Academy, but you are always keeping an eye out for potential new challenges and opportunities.  6 years ago living in New York I could not have foreseen how the next half-decade would have developed; but it has been excellent.  I hope the years to come will bring equal amounts of opportunity and enjoyment.  Wherever I go next I am sure it will be a challenge, as I seem to enjoy those….it always seems more fun when you can upset the odds.  For now, I am eager to get moving on completing the UEFA Pro Licence, and I am currently in the middle of a MSc degree in Performance Coaching. So plenty of learning going on in preparation for anything that should come along.

TCD: Whats the dream? 

JM:  My ambition has always been to coach at the highest level – the Premier League, the Bundesliga, La Liga, Serie A.  I want to achieve something in those leagues.  Not just to work in them, but to achieve success.  That is what this game is about ultimately – winning.  I believe I can develop a winning team at the highest level.  It maybe won’t come tomorrow, but I know if I can marching forward that it will come.  I just have to make sure I am ready for it.

TCD would like to thank Johnny for taking the time to speak with us. You can find out more about Johnny on his website  he’s also on twitter @johnnymckinstry

Images by Darren McKinstry


I always like to hear your opinions and views. If you feel you have something to say, please comment below or email me and if you don’t have anything to add, please pass this on to a friend.

As always, thanks for reading.

I’m also on twitter  @Coachdiary