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Two young players take part in a 1v1 activity during football training on a grass field.

Think back to when you were a kid at training. Do you remember standing in line waiting your turn? Hoping that the end-of-session match would come around fast? 

Things could have been better. They could have been more fun. 

Fun makes you motivated. And motivation keeps you interested. We’re trying to develop a generation of players that see the game differently. Players who are passionate. Players who are skilful.  

It all starts with the right environment. As a coach, that’s down to you.  

Here are some techniques to create a safe, fun, inclusive football environment that gets players coming back for more. 

Encourage creativity

To master the ball and solve problems in games, players need to be creative. That only happens in an environment that values creativity. 

To spark creativity, try asking your players to: 

  • hide and manoeuvre the ball in small spaces 
  • stay on the ball for as long as possible before passing
  • receive the ball in position to play forward. 

Communicate in a positive way

A friendly football coaching environment is one with positive communication. 

At the heart of this is genuine praise. Spot a player staying on the ball for longer than usual? Tell them. It shows your team that you notice and value that action. It might even make them do it more often. 

But don’t do all the talking. Ask your players for input too. When planning your next activity, ask how they would achieve the objective. This encourages your team to think of creative solutions. 

Want your players to feel comfortable raising concerns and making suggestions? Let them know you’re willing to listen.

Allow freedom

To create skilful players, start your sessions with an objective, rather than a topic

An objective is a game problem like:

Get the ball over the halfway line as quickly as you can.

Then you leave your players to decide how to do it. Maybe they decide the best approach is to play out from the back with short passes. Each player contributes in their own way, practising what they’re good at.  

A topic is a specific activity like:

Playing out from the back with short passes.

In this case, you’re telling your players how to get the ball over the halfway line. They’re not free to discover other possibilities.  

Why do objectives create a better coaching environment? Because they create a more realistic football situation. When your players face that problem in a game, they’ll have already practised working it out themselves.  

If your team is young or unaccustomed to freedom, start slow. Try putting three cones down and asking a player to make a square with the final cone. Then amp up the autonomy as they get more comfortable. 

Steven Gerrard on making sessions enjoyable 

Embrace mistakes

No one likes being wrong. Especially in front of others.  

But acknowledging that something was a mistake is the first step in learning from it. Owning your errors in front of your players makes a powerful statement. 

Not getting the returns you want from a session? Hold your hands up and make a change.  

You’re telling your players that you tried something, but it hasn’t gone how you want. So now you’re learning and adapting. Just like your team needs to.  

Mistakes are bound to happen, and players become skilful when they learn from them. So, create a football coaching environment where errors are okay.  

Be a good role model

A good football environment starts with a good role model. That means a coach who is consistent, kind, patient, fair, honest and non-judgemental.  

When a coach behaves like this, they create a secure and trusting relationship with their players.  

But a harsh and judgmental environment stops players from trying new things. It prevents them from being creative.  

Want your team to explore and develop? Be positive, supportive, and let them make mistakes. This inspires a love of the game. It keeps them coming back week after week. 

And with that comes the opportunity to develop skilful play. 

Gareth Southgate on the importance of role models 

To hear some top players talk about the football environment that gave them their start, check out this article.