Irish Grassroots Football The Coach Diary

Kids just want to have FUN…

Kids just want to have fun and if they’re not having fun, they may not come back. At the end of the day it’s just a game…a kids game and in years to come when you look back at the results they will mean nothing…..

Someone asked me the other day what would I say to a coach starting out? I remember reading something in an article about that very question and it went something like this,  “If this is your 1st game to coach or your 1000th, take an occasional peek toward the end. Winning is a by-product of doing all things the correct way. What matters the most is the effort you made to make a difference in those kids lifes.”

How many sport organisations ask the kids what they want from sport. How many take a child centre approach to coaching the game. Children have a very different view about their game to what the adults actually think they do.

With regard to soccer even during the early teenage years, we cannot predict who is going to be the best. Many things start to happen and it is not until after 20 years of age do we find out who has survived the journey to elite level. That is ten years, plus the glorious years of child football! – Johan Fallby Sport Psychologist at premier Danish soccer club F.C. Copenhagen

What are the kids after?

Why do they get into the game? Well, they get into because their introduction to any sport was generally through play and play to children = FUN.

You will have more successful athletes if you coach the process, effort, and the pursuit of excellence and then the outcome happens by itself.

Believe it or not children don’t actually think they are going to be professional sports players. It’s only a very small percentage that actually believe this. For most the kids the idea of imitating one of their idols is good enough. That is play. It’s adult that actually dream more about their kids becoming a professional player.

Kids play sport because its fun. They get a chance to hang out with their mats and play outside. They get a chance to put on the club colours at the weekend. They get a chance to play their game for real and all because it’s FUN!

….and what makes it FUN? Organised training sessions where they get a chance to improve their ability, skills and game intelligence in a child centre environment. When the game is fun then the kids will keep coming back.

Kids don’t value winning as much as adults do. They love to win but they prefer to play. So even if the team is winning every week, the kids who don’t play don’t feel part of the success. Kids would rather lose and play than win and not play.

They do not play to win. They like to win, they enjoy competing, but they do not play to win. They play to have fun, to be with their friends, to feel good about themselves, and because it is exciting.

“Be strong and work to eliminate this culture and ignorance from your club. Be curious and find out more about how a sports environment should look like for your child” – Johan Fallby

No kid wants to train two or three times a week to only get 5 or 10 minutes of a game at the weekend. When kids sign up to play a sport or when their parents sign them up, the kids go into this process with their eye on playing the game at the weekend. Training is not the fun part of the week, the game is.


  • Is to make sure the kids are having fun and learning in an age specific environment.
  • We have a culture that’s has come from pro sports where people pay to get entertained “Entertainment Zone” this feeds the win at all costs mentality on kids sport. Grassroots is not that, grassroots is the “development zone”
  • Research has shown that when you focus on development of the game, creating a mastery culture rather than the winning one, everything being equal, you do better in the long run and you end up winning anyway.

Social Neuroscience, of undergrads at Case Western Reserve University : “The No. 1 change any coach can make, on any level, is to focus more on the positive. A recent study, published in Social Neuroscience, of undergrads at Case Western Reserve University, found that young people who are coached using a positive approach — envisioning future success, in particular — were more likely to be compassionate and open to ideas for improvement. They were also more likely to make lasting behavioural changes than those coached by people who focused on their weaknesses”.

In the end of the day the kids that stay in sport for longer are the ones who really benefit. If you see sports as being fun the chances are so will the kids you coach.

Give kids quality coaching in a fun environment with meaningful competition and they will keep coming back for…. So yes, occasionally take a peek into the future, even just a year later and see how many of the kids you coach keep coming back. How many of them have you retained and improved from last year? Your job is to continue to provide an environment that allows them to get better and keep coming back for more.


I have taken lost of references from this interview and If you care about youth sport then I highly recommend you read: Johan Fallby talks to footblogball

Also read Per Göran Fahlström also on footblogball

Changing The Game Project


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 Soccer Parents

Please Don’t Quit

We have all heard the stories of kids quitting. Research suggests that around 70% of children are dropping out of organised sports by the age of 13 and the stats are even higher for girls.

Many other things contribute to kids leaving sport, but the number one reason is it was no longer FUN!!

Now fun can be categorised into lots of meanings. It’s still the number 1 reason they leave.

In a 2014 study for George Washington University, researcher Amanda Visik interviewed numerous athletes and asked them why they played sports, and 9 out of 10 said the 1 reason they played was it was fun…

They defined fun:

  1. As trying their best,
  2. Being treated respectfully by coaches, parents and teammates,
  3. Getting playing time.

They listed eighty-one characteristics of fun, and winning (#48), playing tournaments (#63) and practicing with private trainers (#66) did not finish high on the list.

Here is what kids wanted What kids say is most fun!

The reason for this post is that I came across and great response from a coach to a child (Chris) age 11 who wanted to quit playing football.

It’s starts Here > Hello Coach Leath, 

My dad says I can’t quit my team, but I don’t want to play football anymore. All I do is sit on the bench during the games. What should I do?

Your Friend,

Chris, 11

Dear Chris,

Congratulations on making the football team. Believe it or not, the first year I tried out for football I did not make the team. I remember how sad I was when the coach read off the names of the kids who would be playing that year. I tried out the next year and sat on the bench during most of the games, only playing a few plays. But I knew I would not play in the games. The other players were bigger and better than I was, so why would coach put me in?

So, instead of complaining about playing time, I decided to make practice my games. Every Tuesday and Thursday I would prepare for practice as if I was going to be playing a game. I went all out on the scout team, knowing that the harder I was to block in practice, the better my team would do in the game. When they did well in the game, I took pride in knowing I helped them prepare.

Practice was hard, Chris. I got knocked down, a lot. I was scared, but I tried not to let the other players know how scared I was. Some of the players hit really hard and the noise alone made me want to quit.

After a few weeks I got better and was less afraid. I made some friends on the team and started to have fun. I still got knocked down, and I wasn’t very good, but I realized what a privilege it was to be on the team. I promised myself I would finish the season and then decide if I wanted to play again.

Also, I thought I was letting my dad down by not starting. When I told him I was embarrassed because I sat the bench, he told me he was proud that I made the team, and that he loved to watch me go all out in practice. That helped a lot knowing that my dad just loved to watch me practice.

The next year, you know what? I was one of the best players on the team. I was voted team captain and rarely came out of the game. I am not saying this will happen for you, but I am telling you that in order to be good at something, you have to be okay with being bad at it first. Then you get better. Always aim to get better, no matter what you do in life.

I want to encourage you to finish the season. You don’t have to play next year, but you should follow through with your commitment and try to have as much fun while you are there. Please don’t quit.

Stay Curious,

Coach Leath


the noral of the story is never quit, never give up and alsways finish something you’ve started. See it out where at all possible.

You can check out James Leath blog here and he’s also on Twitter @jamesleath

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

Irish Grassroots Football

Touches and then, more quality touches!

If I want to be come a better writer I must read more books. If I want to be become a better footballer, I must get more touches of the ball. Well, that’s how it use to work.

For many years now we have been comparing every promising young footballer to the talents of Roy Keane but we need to go back as far as 1999 Ray Houghton and 1996 Ronnie Whelan to find Irish players with great talent (technical) that were able to compete at the highest level. Under the current climate, as we look to the future it is highly unlikely that we will ever see players of this calibre playing for Ireland again.

My view on last nights game (Ireland v Portugal 1-5)….

I think we did ok on occasions and tried to at least play from the back. Ireland had a weakened team but Portugal also have 4-5 starters on the bench. Portugal’s passing in tight passes compared to ours was exceptional and this is the part of the game that we are light years behind in. The biggest problem is education, it’s culture, it’s mentality but most of it’s how many people really and truly care.

Educating the parents (who are mostly the coaches) and the ‘coaches’ who do develop by doing their coaching badges. The current coaching pathway teaches you nothing about the athlete. They don’t focus on the player coach relationship, teaching the player to play over winning, which it the most important area for the young player. Most of the FAI tutors have been the same tutors for many years. The content of the course may have changed but the delivery is still very much the same. In Spain and Portugal the tutors are also working with the best Academies in that area. So, not only are they current they are working with various age groups within those professional academies. They understand the child and whats required at different age groups in a professional environment and the focus is on coaching the player to play. They also have a philosophy, which every coach buys into too. These same tutors are able to pass this information onto the rookie coach just starting out, which is hugely valuable to the grassroots coach and the game.

No point in comparing!

We aren’t and won’t ever get that level of tutoring (no disrespect to these tutors), so it’s up to each individual coach to find his own way after he completes a course and everyone is doing something completely different. Soccer in Ireland is a recreational sport so we will only ever get a recreational standard.  The question is,…. Are we expecting too much? The biggest concern is players aren’t touching the ball enough and when they do it’s organised coaching, so they consistently have adults telling them what to do and where to go. We teach them what we see but the player does not see what you see!!

988365_595997677104474_1080675562_nMajority of kids are getting on average 150 touches of a ball per week (if even), based on 2x1hr training session and 1 hour match. This is not enough to develop players like they can in Europe. How many times do we see kids playing football on their own, how many carry a ball with them at all times, how many small sided recreational football pitches do we have around Ireland for kids to just play on their own. If you throw a stone in some of these countries it will land on a football pitch. If we throw a stone in Ireland it lands on a green with a sign saying, “No football allowed”, we aren’t providing enough spaces for kids to play and maybe that’s why they don’t play.

“Another issue we face is coach burn out. The volunteer coach can only do so much. We can’t keep asking coaches to give up all their spare time and give nothing back in return. If we really want to challenge in the football world we need professional coaches. Unfortunately the game of football and the coach is not taken seriously enough in this country” – Me

Last weekend I spoke to two coaches from Sligo and Mayo who are also involved with ETP. They have kids who only play ten games a year and might go 2-3 months without a game. Most of these kids will end up leaving the game to GAA sports because they can provide a challenge every weekend and soccer can’t. Irish players are going backwards, they are far less intelligent on the pitch to how they were 15-20 years ago and why??? They don’t get enough touches of the ball and they are getting less and less as the years go back not to mention that they are being coached on positional sense and tactics instead of ball retention, control and delivery.

Play Like Spain

“Let’s play like Spain, two touch football” people forget that to play like Spain you have to be playing like that from at 7. If we only encourage our players at a young age to only take two touches then they will never be able to go 1v1 in a game. Iberian kids are encouraged to go 1v1 at a very young age, they are encouraged to dribble and take risks. There is a lot more to the way Spain and Portugal play and it starts at a very young age. They also play Futsal from age 6 to 12 and can continue all they way up to professional senior Futsal if they prefer. Futsal is the most technical game in the world (the closet thing to street football) and all the best players have started with this game. The Irish mentality of “get rid of it or pass, pass, pass” needs to change. Which won’t happen anytime soon but we won’t stop trying.

“We need to change the attitude of the people who think getting kids playing 11v11 as quick as possible makes sense. Most of these people are involved with the Grassroots governing body the SFAI, who’s combined age reaches tens of thousands. That’s how far removed they are from the needs and wants of a 9 year old kid” 

We have far too many parents coaching kids (and without them we wouldn’t a game) and not enough qualified coaches with the right philosophy. We need to decide what we want, do we want to be a footballing nation challenging at the biggest and best tournaments in the world or would we rather just make up the numbers??

Ultimately, the environment must be Safe, Fun and kids need to be challenged whilst learning something every-time they train. They must be getting better every week but how many really are? Can we change a society that loves to win at all cost to one that focuses on improving the athlete? With the focus on Playing over Winning. I know I’ve been here before because every-time we are on the end of a big defeat, everyone comes out ranting and raving on what needs to be done but nothing ever gets done. 14 years ago we were able to compete with the best European teams, now we are 14 years behind them and still waiting  for a plan. Let’s hope one comes soon!!!

A few ideas that could get kids on the ball more:

We know that smaller number, smaller pitches = to more touches, more goals and more fun.

  • National Plan where everyone is doing the same thing.
  • u8s to u12s should be playing Futsal or least weekend blitzes where they get at least 1.5 hours of football not 3 hours of travel time to play 30 minutes of football.
  • December to March should be Futsal for everyone.
  • League to start futsal sections.
  • Roll out Futsal in Schools across Ireland.
  • No league or cups until u13
  • No national cups until u14s
  • Tournaments and Blitzes for all ages up to u12s
  • 5v5 to u9s (Size 3 light football)
  • 7v7 to u11s (Size 4 light football 250gram, with an option to continue 7v7 to u12s in parts of the country that don’t have the same level of participation)
  • 8v8 or 9v9 to u13s (size5 light 350gram balls)
  • 11v11 at u14s (with the option to play 9v9 for lower level teams) (Size 5 410gram footballs)

Marketing the game: 

Just looking to how the GAA promote in schools could be a solution.

  • LOI players to visit local clubs.
  • Maybe even take a PE session.
  • Bring the trophies and prizes into schools.
  • Allocate local clubs certain schools to target, that way clubs aren’t fighting for the same schools.
  • For instance in D15 we have over 26 junior schools, all have been targeted by the GAA but many have never had an FAI personal enter the school. FAI headquarters are in D15.
  • When was the last time an Irish international player went to a local school to promote the game?
  • The only way to get kids interested is to get them interested at a young age.

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 worms eye view that will ultimately be the basis of what we produce at the top.

Please share your views below.


Worth a read Pete McDonnell Blog and his views on last night’s 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

The Coach Diary

My daughter likes football!

I always taught my daughter didn’t like football. Yesterday she surprised me and asked ‘did I want to play 1v1 out the back?’. I answered, sure! As we walked out the back, she turned and said ‘get the goals, I’m not playing without goals.’ A few minutes later I had the goals out and we were ready to play.

To my astonishment she started to tell me rules of the game ( I have never spoke to her about football before). She said, “The keeper can pick the ball up and when you kick the ball out, it’s my ball.” After 15 minutes she lead 4-1. Yelling ‘Score’ (Very American I know) every-time she scored and pumping the air. Again I was surprised how she was able to connect with both feet and with power. We were playing in a ten by ten grid, with small goals either end of the back garden.

“Dad, I’m winning 4-1. Just because you coach, doesn’t mean you can play”

A few things stud out for me. I never once tried to stop the game and coach her. I did ask her if she wanted me to show her how to control the ball. She said, ‘I’m ok, that will take to long’ (She didn’t want to be coached, she wanted to play) so I didn’t persist. In fairness she was doing just fine and I didn’t want our little game to turn into a coaching session. I firmly believe that kids don’t need coaching at this age, what they need is to be allowed play, to discover and learn by themselves. I see hundreds of children in academies every weekend, standing in line waiting to kick or pass a ball, while parents stare on and coaches, over coach & complicate the process (The best players ever, were creations of street game not organised structured football). This is not natural learning and not only that, most of it is boring and doesn’t challenge the children. For me, that is not the game;  it doesn’t’ even resemble the game one bit.

We need to get away from all this adult control and over coaching and allow the children to challenge themselves and learn the game in its natural form. If we want to get back to resembling anything like street football, we need to remove the adult control and create an environment that resembles what street football is; Challenging, Creative, Goals, Fast and Fun. This can only be achieved by letting them play, there is plenty of time to coach but not enough time given to self learn.

My daughter said to be during our game. “Dad, I’m winning 4-1. Just because you coach, doesn’t mean you can play”. In that short 40 minute game she touched the ball more times than any weekend academy would have allowed her too, she scored more goals (she won 9-4) then most kids would in a month of organised sports and she started with a smile and ended with a laugh – at my expense. Most importantly, she created the game, she controlled it and she had fun.

This little game made a lot of sense to me. Children can teach us so much, if we just listen to what they have to say!

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

Kids Play, because it’s FUN!

This is an email that was sent to me by a coach of an u11s team. Here it goes:

I have a group on Facebook for my under 11 team where we posted match reports and photos etc. They were beaten at the weekend so I did a little Q & A with them at training on Tuesday. Here’s what I posted in the group. I’d be interested to hear what you think?

Everyone knows I’m fortunate to look after one of the best kid’s football teams around. A nicer bunch you wouldn’t get anywhere. On Saturday lost their first league game since they were under 7 (almost 3 years). Obviously the lads were disappointed but they’ll learn more about themselves from games like that. We spoke briefly after the game about how they were feeling but never analysed the match or what had gone wrong – if indeed anything had gone wrong. In fact, the opposition played superbly and took the chances they created very well. We agreed nothing more was to be mentioned about the game and we’d train again during the week.

As I was planning out the session, I started thinking what drives these kids to be as good as they are? What do they like about the game and match days and what do they not like. The SILENT SIDELINE weekend is also coming up at the end of March. So I wrote down a few questions and asked them before training.

Here’s what they said:

(10 of the squad of 12 were present)

  1. Why do you play football, to have fun, to exercise or to win? A. 10 said have fun
  2. What matters most, having fun or winning? A.10 said having fun. 2 also said its nice winning but it’s not important
  3. Would you play football if we didn’t keep the score? A. 10 said yes
  4. Do parents & supporters shout too much at matches? A. 10 said yes
  5. Does it confuse you when parents & supporters shout during a match and tell you what to do? A. 9 said yes, 1 said no
  6. Do you get nervous when parents & supporters tell you to do something during a match and your manager has told you to do something different? A. 5 said yes, (because we hear them moan about it on the sideline). 5 said no, (we listen to our coach says. He’s in charge)
  7. Do you play better when lots of people are shouting instructions at you? A. 10 said no
  8. Would you try a new trick in a match? A. 5 said yes, 5 said no. The 5 who said yes were all midfield/forwards – “because it could create a chance for us to score a goal or make a goal”. The 5 who said no mainly play as defenders, because they felt that “if we make a mistake it could cost the team”. They also said they were afraid to “mess up” because they hear people give out on the sideline.
  9. Do you think you play better when your parents are watching or not? A. 5 said when they’re watching, 5 said when they’re not watching.
  10. Do you enjoy playing for this team? A. 10 said yes (phew)
  11. Would you play for this team if we lost every week? A. 10 said yes
  12. What’s the best thing about playing for this team? A. They said; “it’s fun, we’re with our friends, we learn stuff, training is fun and different every week, because the coaches don’t scream at us”. (They mentioned 2 games we’ve played this season where opposition managers had been screaming at their teams before, during & after the game)

A team that’s as good as this is rare. There’s a couple of things that show up clearly in the above and it’s the most important one to me and is making me reconsider how we do things – None of them said winning is what matters.


Interesting results and ones that don’t surprise me. You could conduct this exercise with thousands of kids and 99% of the time get similar replies. Adults just seem to forget that. I conducted a similar exercise when I asked 12 years old 3 questions, here are their answers 3 Questions I asked our u13s.

Thanks for Sharing PK

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