Coach education

x1. Working with very young children

At MoF, we start coaching children when they are in Reception year at school (the year they turn 5 years old). Sessions for these young ages are profoundly and fundamentally different to older age groups. Coaches working with this age group will need different skills.

Before the age of 5, we feel the best development for most children is time playing with siblings, friends or family. Taking the child to the playground, playing chase with them, throwing and kicking for funand delight, all these are most useful activities. We used to deliver a Parent-Child class for families with 2-3 year olds, but we concluded that the families would be better with informal home-based or park-based play activities instead.

The 4pm Red class

The Sunday 4pm Red class (usually for Reception or Year 1 children of ages 4-5)  is slightly different from other classes. It is not necessary to have a Problem Statement that follows the unit of work that other groups are studying. However, the MoF Coach Checklist still applies to this class and the coach should still work toward achieving consistent excellence in each area.

Desired outcomes

Here are the desired outcomes for children in the 4pm Red class:

  • Social – making new friends, being able to find a partner to work with and decide roles with partner (e.g. “find a new partner and decide who the follower and leader is”); being able to work with a variety of different people.
  • Psychological – being able to win and lose without losing temper; learning to control emotions; good sporting behaviours without teasing or discouraging others.
  • Tactical – understanding directional play, 1v1s for example; attacking v defending (e.g. get the ball through an area where there are defenders trying to steal it); how to tackle safely without tripping or kicking opponent.
  • Technical – using different parts of the foot to dribble, control, move, and turn with the ball (inside, outside, top, bottom of foot). Activities should involve lots of ball contact.
  • Physical – football specific movements, like changing direction, jumping and landing in different ways, acceleration and deceleration, balance, co-ordination.

The 4pm Red class Lead Coach should choose a variety of activities which build toward the outcomes above. Certainly the activities should be fun, but they also need to be simple and teach football skills. The coach should still plan the session with the aim of developing specific children, and should still teach the children individually within the session. (It is not enough just to put on some fun activities).

When planning the session: Think about your knowledge of the group and plan what you want to achieve in the session. Then design activities which allow you to teach these outcomes.

With this age-group, it is a good idea to revisit activities which worked well in past sessions, and continuously revisit previous learning. (This is a little different from other groups where sessions should always try to build on the previous session).

Giving homework

Each week the Lead Coach should give the group a ball mastery exercise for homework. This homework should be something they have practised in the lesson, and should be presented to children and parents at the end of the session.

The homework should be something the children can do with a ball indoors, so not kicking or passing. The following week, the Lead Coach should give the children a chance to show their progress in the homework task, and help to teach those children who are still struggling. 

The playlists below give some ideas of the kind of technical exercises that may be suitable:

Technical "ball-each" videos for children

Ideas for session activities

The following activities are suggestions of the kinds of activities that have worked previously with the Sunday 4pm Red group:

Ball mastery activities

These will typically be ball-each ball moves, simple for this age-group. The link above will take you to lots of video examples. The coach will need to choose exercises that fit with the ability level of the group. It's important that the coach actually teaches within these activities. So the coach role is to demo the activity, identify the children who can't do it, and help them to do it.

One-ball each games and activities

There is lots you can do with one-ball each, and here are some ideas:

  • Ball mastery sequences: e.g. Throw-bounce-trap (which can be progressed to Throw-bounce-kick-catch, or ask more able children to make their own version up). This can also be added to so you can start with Throw-bounce-trap, and then add on Throw-bounce-trap-drag ball behind, then Throw-bounce-trap-drag ball behind, score a goal.
  • Dribble through 'gates' (two coloured spots on floor). Count the number of gates you can dribble through. Use different parts of the foot. Go through a gate and then turn and come back through same gate. This could be framed for children as a 'walking the dog' activity where the ball is your dog that you are taking for a walk.
  • Wall activities. Use the wall. Throw onto the wall and catch the ball when it comes back. Throw onto wall and then control and trap the ball when it comes back. Passes and control against wall. 
  • Body parts dribble. Children dribble around, and when the coach says "Foot" they all put their foot on the ball. When coach says "Elbow" they all put elbow onto ball etc. 
  • 'Parts of foot' dribble. Show children a move with a particular part of the foot - e.g. an inside turn, and ask them to do same. This could progress into writing their name on floor with the ball by moving the ball with their foot only.
  • Hit the coach, or hit the cones over. Each child with ball, must dribble around and see if they can shoot ball against coach. Coach moves around a small area trying to dodge the footballs. Progress to have someone else be the target. Or you could use tall cones which children need to knock-over, and put back up again afterwards.

Follow-the-Leader game

This is an excellent activity as it encourages pair work, co-operation and dribbling and controlling the ball with the head-up. Set up some gates or cones. One ball per player. Demonstrate "Follow The Leader". Then put children in pairs of roughly equal ability, and ask them to organise themselves so one is a follower and one a leader. Swap round later. Change partners.

An element of competition can be introduced by:

The follower gets a point if they can catch-up with the leader and pass their ball so it hits the leader's ball. The activity can be made more interesting and varied by using more equipment: Gates to dribble through; goals to dribble round; walls to pass and receive on; ladders or hoops to jump through, over or across.

Pair work activities

For example: Pass in twos, with trap ball under sole of foot to receive the ball.

For very shy children, you could ask them to partner with their parent - but better to get them working with another child.

Area invasion games

These are games where children need to move with a ball through an area or into an area, usually past someone who is Defending that area. So a simple version may be to put four squares with cones on the floor, and put a defender (in a bib) guarding each square. Ask everyone else with a ball each to see if they are able to dribble through the squares. Defenders are only allowed in the squares, and they have a goal to shoot at if they tackle someone.

Tip for high Active Learning Time: Change defenders without stopping the activity by changing the bib one at a time while the activity continues.

This same idea could be used to get across a channel with Defenders in it. You could pretend it is a river with sharks in and the little fish - with a ball each - must cross the river without getting eaten.

These area invasion games are useful as they put children in opposed situations, but there are safe areas where the children cannot be tackled. Therefore the children can explore the opposed situations at their own time and pace.

"Stuck In The Mud" tag game

This is a tag game with two or three taggers in bibs. The others must try to dodge them and not get tagged. When you are tagged you stand still with legs apart. You can be freed by someone else if they high-5 you. Or to make it more difficult, you can be freed when they crawl between your legs. You can do this tag game with or without a ball.

Tip for high Active Learning Time: Change taggers while the activity continues by changing bibs one at a time.

Stuck in the Mud can be progressed to include a ball each, with defenders either with or without a ball. The dribblers are tagged either when they are tackled, or when a defender passes their ball to it hits an attacker's ball.

"Rob The Nest" dribble game

This is a game where children are in three or four teams. They each have a "nest" which is a square made up of 4 cones (or a goal). They must go and get as many footballs as they can and return them to their nest. Dribbling only, no hands. All children go at once. Each child can only dribble one ball at a time. They are allowed to steal from other people's nests. Children are not allowed to defend their nest.

All children should go at once in this activity, no queues or waiting time.

Progress: Put some gates up, and the ball must be dribbled through 2 gates before being dribbled to the nest.

Progress: Tackling is allowed within a certain area.


These should be used most weeks to get the children used to directional, opposed football.

One problem is that children will just shoot the ball without dribbling and that the defender will retreat to the goalline. To deal with this, try putting the goals back-to-back instead. This will mean that the player with the ball must dribble around the goal - it forces more touches, changes of directions and turns. Shy, new children could play against mum or dad, but try to get them all to play against other children at some point.

(Suggest don't go beyond 1v1 into 2v2 with this group. Children in 4pm Red are not ready to pass or combine, they will only get in each other's way. So please no small-sided games. If there are children who are ready for small-sided games then they should be in the 4pm Blue or Yellow group).

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Mark Carter

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