Bluffers, Blaggers and Egos – my guide to how to spot a bad youth coach

I have been so busy promoting and writing my book ‘Losing my Spurs – Gazza, the Grief and the Glory’ that I haven’t had time to write any blogs. To be honest there hasn’t been anything that has really caught my eye enough to write about. Then a friend was speaking to me about his boy starting to play competitive football and how he was worried about the quality of coaching at that level and the dangers of being overcoached. I shared his concerns as I have always thought that some coaches do more harm than good and have often questioned their motivation. I did offer some advice, but when I thought about it afterwards, I felt I had not done a good enough job in explaining what to watch out for. So here is my guide to the Bluffers, Blaggers and Egos.

There are 3 different dangerous coaches to look out for:

  1. The Trophy Hunter

The first thing you should do when talking your child to a football club or to football coaching is have a conversation with the manager or coach. When you talk to the coach of your kid’s potential team if all they talk about is how many games they have won or how many trophies they have won then pick your child up off the ground, run to your car and get out of there! Winning trophies and matches is the by-product of successful coaching and it should never be the other way around. It should be all about how your child is progressing and whether they are enjoying their football. In my experience, the managers who are chasing trophies are doing it for themselves. They want the kudos of being a ‘successful’ manager and coach rather than developing children as footballers, the team is all about their ego, stay clear of these coaches.

2. Subbuteo managers

When you go and watch your child playing in a game, stand near the manager and just listen. If you hear words of encouragement to players who have made mistakes then you may be on to a winner. If what you hear is ‘Pass’ ‘Shoot’ ‘Kick it’ then stop the game, grab your child off the pitch, run to your car and go home! I can remember many years ago managing a Charlton Athletic academy team and we were playing against a top Premier League side and their manager was a well-known ex-professional footballer. He spent the whole game telling the kids what to do. It was like he was playing Subbuteo moving players around and playing the game for them. Obviously, they did well as he was a better footballer than the ten-year-old children on the pitch. It took everything I had not to do the same and to stick true to what I believed. We lost the game, but I walked away happy with the knowledge that the children in my team had developed in the game and were making improvements. Funnily enough, the first question I was asked by the Academy director afterwards was ‘What was the score?’ which made me chuckle. The problem with telling children what to do every time they get the ball is what happens when you aren’t there? I can tell you; you end up with a footballer who has no decision-making or problem-solving skills. In the game in question, there were times I could see the players in the other team waiting for the shout as they didn’t know what to do. If your coach is fairly quiet in the game other than encouragement but then talks to players afterwards in a two-way discussion about what they could or should have done in certain situations then you have a good one.

3. Bluffers and Blaggers

Other coaches to look out for are the coaches who just point out things that have gone wrong but with no advice about what to do about it. They would be the ones on a sinking boat shouting “Hole, there is a hole!’ at the top of their voice until they inevitably sink to the bottom of the ocean. You can spot these coaches and managers as they will be shouting things like, ‘Start winning your tackles’ ‘Stop losing the ball’  ‘Finish it’. These statements are no help whatsoever to a young footballer. They need hows, if they keep giving the ball away then coach them. Is their technique the problem? Are they panicking and need to calm down? Are they short of confidence and need building up? That is your job. If you are just pointing out problems then you are actually doing more damage than good as there is nothing worse as a player than having your faults constantly being thrown in your face but without feeling like you know what to do about it.

So hopefully this might help a few people in finding a suitable environment for their children to play, improve and enjoy their football as at the end of the day a smile on their face is the only thing that really matters.

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