Cameron Herbert with the Herbert FC U9s, UEFA Champions League Final, 2041

Why You Should Coach Kids Before Adults

There’s a few steps you should take before coaching in the Premier League. One of those steps is coaching children — at least 13 years old or younger, and preferably for several years before moving into the adult game (players older than 18.) Coach development is important and coaching children is incredibly helpful for your development as a coach. There’s plenty of reasons why coaching children is important, but I’m giving my favorite three:

  1. Improving your communication skills
  2. Quickest way to see results
  3. Giving back &“paying your dues”

Most of the coaches I speak to have big aspirations and goals in the coaching world, and fair play to them, hold onto those before reality crushes them! The fact is, skipping youth coaching and trying to find a way into collegiate, semi-pro or professional coaching is more damaging than anything because you, as a coach, have not developed. Here’s why coaching children is necessary for your development.

Improving Your Communication Skills

Some coaches never shut up during their sessions. Their coaching points are too long, they ramble, talk too much in the abstract, and waste everyone’s time while thinking they’ve given the most groundbreaking bit of footballing insight… to their U11 team.

This problem doesn’t stop being a problem when you coach adults either. Believe it or not, but most players just want to be told how to get better as quickly as possible so that they can get back to training. Your monologue is helping no one.

When you work with children you are often fighting against their attention span and lack thereof. You have a few seconds to get in, make a quick point, and get back out before the flow of the session is lost because if you lose that session flow with children once, it’s very hard to get back in the same session.

Want the kids to improve? Choose your words carefully, choose your points carefully, and be fast. This carries over to adults. The only difference with adults is that adults use mean words and will tell you: “shut up four eyes” if you talk too much (speaking from experience.)

Improving your communication means you’ll be able to correct errors faster. Runs off the ball, how a player receives the ball, if a player is scanning, etc are all small, micro details that are integral to the development of a player. If you aren’t able to spot and correct these small details quickly, in session, you won’t be helping anyone, you won’t be coaching. Kids are the best to learn with because it’s painfully obvious when they stop listening to you — that’s a sign you’re taking too long to get to the point.

If you can’t explain to an 11 year old how to make a decision in a two-versus one, are you going to be able to explain to an adult how to create a two-versus-one?

Quickest Way to See Results

The older the players get, the less they develop. Players develop at an exponential rate, so an eight year old will get much better in six months than a 30 year old player because there’s (often) less things for the 30 year old player to learn compared to the eight year old who has everything to learn.

Ironically, those who “only want to coach tactics” will often refuse to coach children because they don’t want to “waste their time” or “aren’t good with kids”, despite it being the best environment to see results of their coaching the fastest. You can teach U9 players Juego de Posicion just like how you can teach them to sit behind the ball and park the bus.

Good results aren’t subjective. You’re a coach. If your players are getting better that’s excellent and you’re doing your job. Your style of training or “philosophy” is working, therefore you can take it with you into your next challenge and improve on it where necessary. If you’re not developing players, then you’re doing something wrong and need to fix it. If you spend years coaching children, you’ll figure out what works best because you can see results quickly. Coaches are rarely (and wrongly) released from youth coaching roles due to poor game results, it’s mostly due to poor development results. So, take advantage of this leniency and figure out your way to best develop a player.

Unfortunately, you aren’t afforded the luxury of time when coaching in a results driven environment. So, internet tacticos, make sure you have your style of play, training ideas and objectives ironed out before taking over a Premier League team. Remember, even if you make it to that Premier League team, you’re still expected to make players better. If you can’t develop a 9 year old, how can you develop a 28 year old four time Carabao Cup winner?

Food for thought: If you’re coaching for your own self-interest, should you be coaching?

Giving Back and Paying Your Dues

You become a role model when you coach, whether you like it or not. Players look up to you and want you to help them. As a football coach, fan, analyst, player, whatever you are, by coaching youth football you are helping build the love for football that we all have. That’s beautiful to me.

Coaching in Canada has taught me that not everyone will love the game as much as I do. However, seeing a child fall in love with football the way I have is a reward I want every coach to get. You get that reward by giving back.

Ultimately, coaching youth football is your foot in the door to coaching football as a job. You have to start somewhere and it’s often at youth level. There’s more youth teams than there are senior teams, so get comfortable.

Most people won’t start coaching at the collegiate, semi-pro or pro level and why should they? If you have no playing or coaching experience, no concrete ideas, and never put on a session before, why should you coach players who are nearing the end of their development cycle, or worse, senior level players?

You “pay your dues” by coaching in youth football but this is where you leave your mark and do things differently; it’s how you put valuable lines on your resume. Maybe you introduce total football to a U12 team, or teach your U9 team to play out from defense and beat the press from a defending team. These are very achievable goals, but few coaches set them from my experience.

Final Thoughts

I speak to coaches and aspiring coaches often. Many want to coach their local U16 side and have a Pep Guardiola with La Masia moment. This comes from a place of ambition and naivety, especially from people who never went anywhere meaningful with their playing days (like myself and 99% of coaches.) Have dreams and goals, but understand and respect the pathway to achieve them.

Youth coaching isn’t a chore — it’s how you learn to coach. Not only are you changing lives blah blah blah but this is where you see your development evolve (or devolve) right before your eyes.

So, before you go and try to teach16 year old players who don’t know what being “goalside” is how to press in a man-oriented manner with zonal-marking nuances and ultimately getting frustrated with them because you can’t see that they don’t know what zonal-marking is, I suggest coaching children so that you become really good at identifying problems, solving problems, and winning the U9 UEFA Champions League.

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