The age of the participants is a huge factor in how a session should be structured and what content it should include. It is too often the case that coaches view younger players as undersized adults and coordinate sessions that represent this manner of thinking. Not only are the majority of the players not biologically or technically equipped for such sessions, they are also not psychologically prepared to perform such tasks. There is a major difference between what a young player seeks to gain from a session compared to that of an adult. At the St Peter F.C. Academy we accept this and as a result our coaches structure the session accordingly. The time line below highlights how players’ aims and their process of thinking develops through the years, therefore establishing what the coaches at St Peter’s Academy main emphasis should be during sessions:
Minis: Up to 9 years old: Training for FUN – The participants engage in football for enjoyment and many just wish to kick a ball, they are uninterested in their role as a holding player in a midfield unit or how they can interact with another striker.
Minis to Under 13’s: 9 to 13 years old: Training to LEARN – Players have now established a love for the sport and look to build on the fun aspects by learning new techniques that will allow them to progress onto the next stage. Session satisfaction is obtained through learning to do something new. Commonly regarded as the ‘golden age of learning’ for children.
Under 14’s and Under 15’s: 13 to 16 years old: Training to IMPROVE and BEGIN TO COMPETE – Players wish to improve on the basis that already have and find greater satisfaction out of sessions that they feel they have improved their ability during.
Under 16’s: 16 upwards: Training to COMPETE – Players now wish to win within a competitive setting. Therefore training is based around this success and players enjoy sessions that lead to the feeling of potential or actual victory.
These variables are not independent of each other (for example a player may not be able to compete effectively if they do not learn a new concept or technique or improve upon a present one) and a player will not jump from one to the other just because their age has increased. For many players fun will always remain the foundations of their participation, they will incorporate the other elements as well but they will provide less significance for them. Other players may naturally, or forcibly, accelerate through the stages before players of a similar age. This could be down to technical ability or pressure from peers and family, that they find themselves in a win or lose environment before they should be. It is the job of a coach to recognise when certain individuals are ready to step up from playing for fun to playing for competition. After all the worst-case scenario is that the talented player forgets why football was fun and quits before their full potential is realised. Therefore at St Peter’s Academy we only run one team from the Under 14 age group upwards and begin to play and train for competition; however we still incorporate learning, development and fun.
St Peter FC Academy, Director of Coaching