To Improve Participation – Positive Learning & Development in youth sports and football – A vision that started back in 2009 and updated 2015

Looking at all the ways for coaches to help young children on the road to a lifelong involvement in sport and physical activity. Looking to create a ripple effect across Ireland and beyond.

My goal is to push for the restructuring of the small side games in Ireland and making it age appropriate, with non competition sport (where winning is ok, as long as its the kids that want to win for themselves) change the ball sizes (weight) so we adapt the game to the children that play. Get the adults thinking about fun first, development, play and remove the winning at all costs attitude that has been imbedded in youth sports for over two decade now. Education is powerful and the answer to most of our problems we encounter each and every weekend across children’s sports fields. We need to adapt to the child. We need to educate the parents, the coached and the administrators.

Basically get everyone involved within the game singing from the same hymn sheet. The Child First.

Change the mindset from winning at all costs to fun and player focused age specific learning player development.

“Good Coaching is Good Teaching, as simple and as pure as that”

‘Let the kids play’

The Coach Diary

Is looking to assist coaches, parents, administrators, officials and anyone interested in coaching kids throughout Ireland and abroad, by providing them with content that can change the way we coached yesterday.

“Kids don’t need the competitive element we see from adults for the benefit of adults, they are competitive already. Kids need football for kids, which should be FUN and age appropriate. it should fit like a shoe. We are here to facilitate their needs, after all, this is a recreational sport for kids, played by kids.”

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With more and more adult involvement this has made the game over competitive and adult centred. Administrators need to take a step back and look at whats gone wrong. Firstly, ask the kids what they want and need from their game.

I believe that as coaches we can teach the kids so much more than just wanting to winning. We should be focusing on developing players technical skills, game intelligence and instil a life long love for sport and exercise. It’s about giving the children control of their game.

“Competition for kids should be like their shoes, should fit them perfectly. In Ireland kids are playing with shoes that are by far too big”. – Horst Wein – Dublin 2011

My Focus

Is to try and get us all thinking more about the technical side of the game, about PLAYER development and a little less about tactical or just winning all the time, particularly at a younger age (SSG). It is up to the governing bodies that facilitate the sport to lead by example and implement better coaching standards, better structures and teaching for everyone involved.

Remember why young people participate in sport – it’s about fun, the challenge, being part of a team or group, being with friends and self-improvement. @SportNZ

“It’s time to give the game back to the kids” 

I will continue to campaign for change that has the kids best interest at heart, I’m here representing them. Scrap league tables until u13s – implement 2v2s 3v3s into the earlier years focusing on developing the child ability to attack, defend, running with the ball and shooting. Create and environment that makes the child flourish. 8v8 from age u10 & u11 on a small half a pitch and 8v8 for u12s/u13s on half a pitch (sideline to sideline).

Move to 11v11 at u14s (on smaller pitches for certain abilities) & on normal size for others and introduce league structures then!

When you’re focused on winning, even with a group of 8-year-olds, you tend to focus on different things. You focus on gaining tactical advantages rather than emphasising the development of the players. And when you’re focused on tactics, it makes more sense to focus on players staying in specific positions. This prevents players from learning the game in different positions and different ways.

  • No grading until u12s.
  • U8s and U9s should not be travelling long distance to play 30 minutes of football and some only getting 10 mins.
  • Club should be organising in-house blitz over several hours were everyone get lots of football.
  • Invite local clubs to attend.
  • Everyone should play, minimum 50% game time for everyone until u16s.
  • I will continue to support for the introduction of Futsal across the country during winter at least.

Elite Leagues

Review how we separate the best from the rest, Elite grading at age 7, 8, and 9 should not be happening. We should not be using the word Elite where children are involved. We also have A-leagues, which is also not good for player development at the younger ages as it focus on winning to develop instead of developing to win. The fact is, that there are usually only a few children in every age group, especially at youngest ages, who are noticeably more skilled/advanced than the rest (Physical talent). We should not evaluate a 8 and 9 or even a 10-year old on previous team placements to figure out where these children belong at u11s etc. Each year should be a clean slate. Based on research, I suggest no grading until at least u13s and children should be coached in mixed group teaching until at least u12s. Mixing the early developers with the late ones. Grading should not begin until teenage years. The word Elite should not be used in Developmental football for children.

“We must not forget the late “bloomers” some of which have gone further than the so called best. Kids at the youngest ages should be playing together not segregated”.

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  1. The Player is a person first.
  2. To promote participation and positive learning. 
  3. To promote better relationships with coaches. 
  4. To promote coaching values. 
  5. To promote age related competitions and coaching.
  6. To exchange knowledge and run workshops in the field of coaching and parenting in sports. 
  7. To promote a moral code in coaching.
  8. To promote child welfare in youth sports. 
  9. To improve relationships among Coach – Players – Parents.
  10. To provide information in the field of coaching education and parenting. 
  11. To encourage and to assist in the field of coach education. 


“No child should be told he/she can’t play football, football is their game and every child in every part of the world should never be told he/she is not good enough, to PLAY”.

Remember the Kids are the customers and it’s our job to keep the customer happy!

Play, Try, Grow and Improve”

As with everything in life, as you learn more and find out more, your views can change. Mine have changed since I started this blog back in 2010 but the focus has always been the same; to improve the experience for every child that participates.

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I’ve learnt to work with the players I have and try to improve them. I try not to judge so soon and focus on development first. I ask myself, ‘how can I improve them?’ Everyone I coach can be improved. TCD

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At the end of the day, whether we like to believe it or not we are a recreational football nation with a professional international team. It’s what we do down at Grassroots ‘worms eye view’ that will ultimately be the basis of what we produce at the top. The pathway that makes the best 8 year old is not related to the pathway that makes the best 20 year old. 

Head over to Facebook or twitter and let’s get the discussion going .


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 Antonio coach@thecoachdiary.com

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

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