Geraint Davies is an Academy Lead Rugby Coach, here are his views on Children’s sport. 5 Brilliant and very simple ideas to implement!

I’ve spent the last 2 years watching my own children play Football, Rugby, Cricket & Tennis. Standing back watching them as a father is a very different experience to coaching, teaching or coach development. Here’s a summary of my thoughts…

1.Children should play games that are appropriate for both their physical, social & mental stage of development. – 6v6 football at U8 is too big. Make it 2v2 or 3v3. 9v9 rugby at U9 is too big. Make it 3v3 or 4v4. – Young children don’t want to pass & it’s too much to expect them to manage the ball at their feet/hands & to think about their teammates. Let them dribble/run & become evasive attackers. When they pass they’ll get the ball back quickly as it’s low numbers. win-win.

2. Coaches who speak to children with respect & empathy are worth their weight in gold. Children are not stupid, they are children. They need care & patience. They need to be very clear on the expectations of their behaviour & consistency when they don’t meet expectations.

3. Children do like competition & they do like knowing the score. Children don’t like one-sided competition & feeling that they’re not good enough. Change teams up, play ladder competitions (like in Tennis), keep games short & with high activity levels (small sided!).

4. Children like playing. Sitting on the bench is rubbish. EVERY child should get equal game time. The Coach is responsible for creating the environment. Set up the mini pitches, organise the bibs, pump up the balls, help organise the teams….then let them play!

5. Not every game needs a referee/coach. Kids will manage a 3v3 game just fine. Play for 5 minutes, they’ll be ready for a rest! Blow the whistle, change the teams, go again. Support & praise players with feedback & guidance then move onto a different field.

Guest Post by: Geraint Davies: Academy Lead Rugby Coach & Analyst, Ex Teacher and Senior Coach Developer & Coach Mentor Follow him @daviesGDD on Twitter


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/coach. As always, thanks for reading.

I’m also on twitter @Coachdiary and Facebook

Coaching Clinics


Swansea City AFC are holding two coaching conference in Ireland, Dublin and Belfast.

As part of there commitment at Swansea City AFC to support local coaches, they are pleased to announce details of a first ever Coaching Conference in Dublin, Ireland Sunday 4th November 2018.

The conference provides attendees an insight into our Category 1 academy via presentations and practical sessions on our Foundation and Youth Development Phase of the academy.

The conference will be delivered by our Head of Academy Coaching & Coach Educator Roy Thomas, Ireland Recruitment Coordinator Aaron McNeill and a team of academy staff.

Venues TBC



Note: We have no involvement in this conference, just happy to promote anything that involves development of coaches. 

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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

Coaching Clinics Irish Grassroots Football


A team of Swansea City coaches, led by Swansea City’s Head of Academy – Roy Thomas and Ireland Coordinator – Aaron McNeill, will deliver presentations and practical sessions on our foundation and youth development phase at the club.

Places on the event cost £40 per coach and will include lunch, refreshments and a certificate of attendance.

CLICK HERE to book your place.

Bookings close on Thursday 30th November.

This event has been awarded 5 external CPD points for coaches who hold UEFA licences with the Irish Football Association (IFA).

List of Swansea City Academy Coaches attending:

Roy Thomas – Head of Academy Coaching & Coach Educator
Andrew Sparkes – Head of Academy Goalkeeping
Ollie Jefferies – Foundation Phase Academy Coach
Harry Spratley – Academy Analyst
Aaron McNeill – Ireland Coordinator

Further details:

Day: Sunday 3rd December 2017
Location: Pavilion, Stormont Estate, Belfast BT4 3TA
Time: 10-5pm
Cost: £40 per coach (includes tea/coffee, light lunch and certificate of attendance)

For further details please contact –


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

Guest Post

Let’s shed some light on our role as youth soccer coaches

Irish Coach with Shelbourne FC Alo Byrne sheds some light on the role of a coach:

Another typical Saturday, early morning coffee sat in front of the sports news with the laptop running updates ahead of my usual log on to plan pre season sessions and presentations for the weeks and months ahead. It’s a routine, a ritual at this stage if you like. Everybody has various and diverse reasons for taking a route into coaching, some as straightforward as a natural progression from the pitch to the sideline and others more intricate and detailed a road was travelled. Whatever our reasons may be, for those of us that have put the hours in over the years, both on and off the pitch. Countless hours planning sessions, delivering sessions, hours spent on the phone going over minute details that you hope will make a major difference to your preparation and outcome, one thing is for sure , there are moments when we stop and ponder the question , why do it?


For some I’m sure the answer to that question is a simple. Others will espouse a romanticised version of what they believe are honourable and admirable reasons for taking on the responsibility and demands that are presented to us when confronting the sometimes thankless task of youth and grassroots coaching in soccer. Personally after years of consideration and contemplation for myself the answer to that question is quite a straightforward and to the point. I coach FOR THE LOVE OF THE GAME.

This very reason is the intrinsic motivation that drives my every want and need to grow and develop both my practical knowledge and ability as a coach,to be able to help the players that I coach to reach the upward limits of their potential. Coaching I have come to realise after years of coach education and time spent on the sidelines and learning from coaches that are infinitely wiser than I could ever hope to be, is a simple and yet strangely complex interaction between you and your players. This process I believe has been over complicated at times by new methods and trends, courses promising to give you the secrets to developing players, techniques and gimmicks disguised in clever marketing has clouded the simplicity of the coaching process.


Our own development as coaches can at times become intertwined with that of the children we coach. As we improve our coaching skill set , we would hope that the kids we coach reap the benefits of this improvement. The important factor for me personally has been to find a balance between seeking my own education and finding the time to spend refining what I have learned in a practical coaching sense on the pitch. Some coaches I find enter into a badge collecting race without sufficient time spent coaching and developing practical coaching competences.

The more coaches chase the “holy grail” of learning , the less it seems they learn. It is my belief that the whole coaching concept at youth level has turned into a proverbial merry-go – round  where coaches continually chase the next piece of information that will help them stand out from the crowd and put them at the cutting edge of coaching. This constant race to become the creme de la creme of coaches has left us dizzy, dis orientated and disconnected from the real reasons why we are there to coach in the first place. We are here to facilitate a learning process, but not necessarily ours! We are a facilitator, the kids are the learners and the game environment as set and adjusted by the coach is the teacher. It is my opinion that we must keep this at our core of understanding when it comes to coaching kids, this is their journey, their sporting experience and we are guilty at times of making it all about us adults. We must keep coaching more child centred and as much as coach education and learning is a vital component of our own development, it must never take precedence over the learner! One day we may wake up and realise that we are not as important as we make ourselves out to be in terms of development in soccer, what if given the right environment and circumstances that development is a child centred and child driven process?

With this in mind, where does that leave the coaches role? There are numerous and varied ways we can help aid learning and discovery, without having a hand in every decision. It is my belief that having an atmosphere that promotes risk, creativity and free thinking will ultimately lead to better decision makers and kids that will play without fear. Too often do we micro manage and hijack kids decisions on the pitch.

Coaches can help simply by keeping track of moments during learning that they can help the players to reflect upon during natural breaks in play, a mistimed pass or what we may perceive to be a poorly timed run are crucial parts of the learning process and must be allowed to take place without our needless constant intervention. If we were to use the analogy of a child doing their maths homework, do you think they would develop greater numeracy skills if we shout at them every time they get a sum wrong or on the other hand constantly supply them with the answers, this is their journey, their childhood experience, we must remember this!

There are countless amounts of research currently in circulation in relation to pedagogy and teaching methods in youth sport, I’m not writing this to direct you towards the research, but more to highlight my own general observations into the need for coaches to re-examine our role in the coaching process and bring a spotlight to issues that I believe are crucial to the sporting experience of the kids we coach.

If we can begin to view our role as that of a facilitator of learning and promote a environment free of fear and anxiety for our young players, built on a solid foundation of fun and love of the game, then we may just be on the cusp of a new dawn of coaching, until that day comes I feel we may continue to lose participants at a young age in what has become an adult dominant and driven process.

Yours in Sport

Alo Byrne

You can check out more of Alo’s writing at For The Love Of The Game


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

Academies Irish Grassroots Football

Irish Based Catalan Elite Football Philosophy

Catalan Elite Football began this summer in Ireland. Based out of Parnells GAA in Coolock and running every Friday from 7pm to 9pm and catering for kids aged 6 to 14 years.

Catalan Professional coach Marc Miquel writes about his experiences so far in Ireland, in his own words:

After four months coaching in Dublin I’ve noticed many differences beetwen Football in the Catalan region and the football that is practiced here in Ireland. I can say that there’s a lot of work to do, its going to be a challenging process in order to reach the targets in which we have set for ourselves.

“Our focus in Catalan Elite Football is to develop tactical qualities of the players as individuals”

Our main focus is to change the mentality of Irish people and players both on and off the pitch. We want them to consider said that this process possible for us to develop more intelligent players.

Our main focus in Spanish and Catalan football is to develop the cognitive qualities of the players, to use the brain in the game. In Ireland from my experience so far, players think about the game a lot less than that of Catalan players. Maybe one of the reasons is the fact that they do not have a professional league with professional players on their doorstep to watch on a weekly basis. For this reason I have found that players need continuous reminding of the concept of training. We hope that we can make a small difference towards this, like our Academy Director says,

“every process starts with a little change.”

This process will acquire different methods to make the things, develop the qualities that the smartest players have (based around tactical elements) or start to produce different players.

“The players do not recognise the training as a training, it is more like going to enjoy time with their friends. They don’t think to improve as a players and as a team in every training, it appears this is the coaches problem”.

Our focus in Catalan Elite Football is to develop tactical qualities of the players as individuals. The company’s founder, Colm Barron, studied the different football methodologies around Europe and specifically in Futbol Salou and the Tecnifutbol Academy. After meeting with Albert Vinas and studying the smartfootball methodology he decided with the support of Albert to reproduce the methodology in Ireland in the Catalan academy. In one of the last travels he visited Complex Esportiu Futbol Salou where I was working and spoke to both Albert Viñas (Complex boss) and Colm, they decided to give me the chance to help the academy to introduce the Catalan methodology. Our work started there….

Trainings And Matches
I’m gonna talk about the general level which we could see in our academy, in different pitches around Dublin and clubs where Catalan Elite Football started to work in (Knocklyon United, St. James Athletic and Park Celtic).

“When I came to Ireland I imagined strong players with really good physical qualities, showing aggressively to the ball, but they do not! They aren’t aggressive to the ball, it’s hard to see two players fighting powerful for the ball”.

Like I mentioned above the players do not recognise the training as a training, it is more like going to enjoy time with their friends. They don’t think to improve as a players and as a team in every training, it appears this is the coaches problem. Many of them are parents that find the players enjoyment to be more important, not the learning sense. Of course for us it’s really important that the players enjoy in the sessions, but they have to enjoy learning about the game with the games the coaches purpose. Our thinking is to help the players to develop their qualities within the trainings and out of it, as a player but as a person first. We understand the youth football as a person formation to develop useful skills for their life, trying to instil our passion for the game and the attitude to fight for your dreams and improve every day.

The training mentality is to play all versus all running behind the ball without thinking anything more. I was surprised because I used small sided games (2v2/3v3…) as a real match in a different pitch size and they don’t understand this game as a match. We are trying to explain to the players that by using these types of games they can reproduce a similar competition game in unreal spaces, but they are going to touch the ball more which will allow them to improve as players.

To review what I have seen in trainings, players don’t show passion and attitude for the game, and the tactical content is not introduced in the majority of the sessions. These things are some of what make the process harder, the process to understand the game. In order to create smart players, they must make mistakes within the sessions, they have to experience different game situations that they can find in the competition. Trying to reproduce the competition in the training where the players have to use the brain to beat opposite team.

Related with the previous problem, they don’t have collective sense, team sense, because they play as an individuals inside the squad. If you think as an individual you just want to run closer to the goal to score but will never think as a team, and with this mentality it’s impossible to develop the cognitive element. For this reason there’s a lot of transitions in the games that I watch in Ireland and this seems to be the same in the national teams. The coaches want the ball far from their goal and if the striker is lucky he will get options to score. If not, the other team will try to clear again, for this reason it is rare that any team will control the game.

What’s the problem if there’s a lot of transitions?

The problem is that the players lose their positions and nobody is organised. Everybody want a to run with ball and they don’t think where the defenders are, where their mates are, and where is the best space to play. The collective options disappear.

For the last part in this point I want to talk about the biggest surprise that I received. When I came to Ireland I imagined strong players with really good physical qualities, showing aggressively to the ball, but they do not! They aren’t aggressive to the ball, it’s hard to see two players fighting powerful for the ball. I think they have really good physical qualities which they have to transfer to the game and be aggressive to compete every ball, after that start to introduce technical and tactical elements to become better players.

More from Miguel in the coming weeks…

You can follow the Academy on Twitter @catalanelite Facebook at Catalan Elite football
or straight to their website


Part Two

Competition System
The competition has to be a part of the formation process for players. This competition needs to a part of both trainings and the games. I find it difficult to understand when parents struggle to accept the opinion on the levels of the players. All around the world in football and life, people are categorised by their current level. The best work with the best to become better, and other who are below that level at the time work harder to become a part of that group. This is soccer all over the world. It does not mean that the player of lesser ability at that time cannot improve past the others, it may just take more time.

“Of course everybody always wants to win, but it doesn’t have to be the most important. If you lose you have to learn about your mistakes and if you win you should keep working in the elements that you made good”.

The match day formation has a part of player learning. Practice in the match should be focussed on the work realized during the week. It’s a chance for checking if the players are improving and develop the competitive sense. Competition is a part of sport and players must learn to compete, not just compete to win because this thinking I feel is wrong. They have to use the competition to experience everything that is involved. The opposite pressure, the fans clapping, sharing your passion with the team members, sharing a dressing room, developing the cognitive and creative elements into the game because it’s reproduced in the game as a maximum expression.

“We have competitive leagues from u8 in Spain. Again this is the real game, there is no problem with competitive leagues from the earliest age, the problem is the environment that surrounds this”.

In this moment what appears to be the biggest problem is that everybody wants to win without focus in the players formative process. It’s a world problem, but the problem is in the adults not the kids, because the adults alter the kids mind. Of course everybody always wants to win, but it doesn’t have to be the most important. If you lose you have to learn about your mistakes and if you win you should keep working in the elements that you made good.

The competition in Ireland is difficult to understand, the governing bodies doesn’t have the elements structured and the rules which they play are not really established. For example the youngest kids don’t have league qualification, this is not really important, but it can be used in the right way as feedback for the players and you can introduce different targets in their learnings.

We have competitive leagues from u8 in Spain. Again this is the real game, there is no problem with competitive leagues from the earliest age, the problem is the environment that surrounds this. If the environment is professional and the parents are educated then there is no problem with this competition, in fact I think it is quite important for young players.

In Ireland they split the players in four categories, 5, 7, 9 & 11 a –side. I think it’s a good idea for the players development to play in progressive players numbers, but sometimes they play 6v6, 6v5, 11v14 because the difference in the score is huge. The rules in the federation doesn’t seem really clear! Do you think it’s a good decision to create 9-a-side game just for one year (under 12’s)? I think no, because you have to set up one different size pitch just for one year??!! I’m not sure how this fits into the development model for players!

I have never thought about the offside rule before, now I am thinking about it everyday. I think it’s an essential part of the game because the players must think in the game, if not they just can wait closer to the goal line. Offside is a rule from the earliest age in Catalonia, It’s a nice rule to learn to move into the space, work the defensive line as a team, make the passes in the right tempo with the right weight,… I have heard people say that the youngest players will “not understand” the offside rule. In our Catalan Academy we work with players from aged 6-15 and we introduce the offside rule in any tactical game related sessions of which there are many, and we incorporate offside. Now we have 7 year olds asking “can we play offside”, and they enforce the rule themselves. This is the real game and prepares the players for the real 11-v-11 game.

The last element I’m going to talk about are the referees. It’s a controversial role in the football world but really important at the same time because the referee has to make decisions about the game. In Ireland, the coaches or parents are the referees in the 5-a-side, other categories have the referee but they don’t exit the sidelines in the youth football. I consider that the referee federation has to be connected with the football federation, to create a competitive and air environment like the structure we have in Spain or around different European countries.

Marc Miquel
Catalan Elite Football & Complex Esportiu Futbol Salou
Cambrils (Barcelona), Spain.

You can follow the Academy on Twitter @catalanelite Facebook at Catalan Elite football
or straight to their website


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


Coaching Mastery with Changing The Game Project

Get a free copy of the book ‘Changing The Game’

Many of you know that I work closely with John O’Sullivan and the Changing the Game Project. John’s is an internationally known writer and speaker, as well as a former professional soccer player and longtime coach. We share a lot of each others content as we work to transform youth sports and make it a better place for coaches to coach, and for players to play.

This week – for the first and only time in 2015 – John is releasing his amazing online video series called “Coaching Mastery.” He first ran this course last year in 2014, and coaches from nearly every sport, from 4 different continents, called it one of the most unique and inspirational coaching courses they had ever done. I was lucky enough to be one of the select few coaches John offered it to last year, and the things I learned really blew me away.

See, this course is not your traditional X’s and O’s course. It is all about things such as the psychology of performance and leadership, how to build a winning team culture, and even how to educate your team parents so they don’t drive you up the wall. He has some amazing interviews with some of the world’s leading experts in sport science and psychology, coaching, and leadership. The things you will learn in this course will take your coaching, and your teams, to a whole new level.

This course is truly one of a kind

If you are interested in this type of coaching, John has asked me to invite all my subscribers to his FREE video series, where over the next 2 weeks you will learn many of these things, and hear from some amazing experts. All you have to do to get over an hour of this one of a kind coaching and leadership training is go here and sign up:

Click here to get started

I know I am looking forward to the 2015 version of Coaching Mastery and I am confident that many of you will get a load from this free video series. Its all new content, which I’m really looking forward to.

Again, if you want to join, just sign up here.

Let me know what you think and if you have any questions about it just ask.

– End

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: 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