Our club believes that every child has the right to play the game of football feeling safe and free from pressure. The football environment created for our children should be a 'safe place', one which builds trust and protects our player's self esteem. For us to achieve this we must be brave in our role as coaches, we must ensure our players have no fear of failure or of being criticised for making mistakes. Players should be allowed to be ‘risk takers’ and to explore new things, and our coaches should be brave enough to encourage them to carry on trying something if it doesn’t work first time – even if this means your team losing
possession, conceding a goal or even losing a match.
If a player doesn't succeed in doing something it is very important that we find the positive in their action and then praise their intention, this will help them to learn how to accept and learn from their mistakes to become stronger in all 4 corners of their development in the long term.
Over a number of weeks we noticed that some players in one of our under 9s squad were beginning to become frustrated and over critical of themselves when things didn't quite go as intended. We saw signs that a couple of our children were losing confidence and not enjoying trying certain positions/tasks. They almost looked scared to try, and this showed in their performance. Having noticed this, our coaches decided that for our next training session we should focus on how we manage mistakes.
We began by asking our players to work in small groups to try to write down as many examples of mistakes that somebody might make whilst playing football as possible.
We then had a brief team talk with our players to remind/highlight to them that:
• Keeping calm when things get tough and being able to accept & learn from mistakes are very important skills for football players
• All football players – even top professionals – miss shots on goal, miss-hit passes and make poor decisions occasionally.
• Every person who has ever become a professional footballer has made lots of mistakes - So feel SAFE and play with FREEDOM
• Professional players know that mistakes are a part of life.
• Children, sometimes find it harder to ignore the mistakes they make on the field.
• Mistakes often make you feel upset, frustrated and even angry with ourselves.
• Some players are more affected by mistakes than others - that's ok too.
• These negative emotions can have a damaging effect on your game - e.g. hide on the pitch, to stop wanting the ball and to stop making runs into promising positions.
• If you’re not making mistakes, then you’re not doing anything.
The players were then asked to think about “Who makes mistakes?”
The answer is: Everyone, of course. - teachers, parents, policemen… and we reminded them that even football coaches sometimes make mistakes!
Helping our players to keep their self esteem high is critical, we must always remind them to think about, and most importantly give value to, the positive things that they all do and to not be so hard on themselves.
We discussed the fact that in every team there will be at least one player who always tries to be perfect: works hard at training, listens to every word their coaches say and are regularly one of the best players on match days. But they often expect too much of themselves. We asked them recognise that this can make
you feel sad and not good when you don't do everything perfect! As actually there is NO SUCH THING AS PERFECT!!“ So it doesn't have to be 'perfect', it’s the effort that counts, and that's GOOD ENOUGH!”.
For some players, making a mistake, especially during a match, is a big deal. Even the smallest mistake is seen as confirming their worst fear: That they aren’t very good at football. And this is NOT TRUE!!
If we can help our players to realise that mistakes are unavoidable and expected, this will help them to be more calm, to not worry about doing something wrong and to have more confidence in their ability.
Our u9s players then discussed what they think they should do when mistakes are made either by them or by their team mates, and we asked them to think about how important their mistakes are – really?
Every player knows when they make a mistake - but mistakes are opportunities to learn!
So 'Our Promise' is that:
• We will never tell you off for making a mistake – instead we will ask you what was on your mind when that happened? or what were you trying to do?
• We will talk about what you should do if you find yourselves in that position again.
• We will all encourage and support our TEAM MATES.
• We will all have realistic expectations – players who go into a game thinking that: “I must score today”, are setting themselves up for failure.
• We will only ask you to try to achieve realistic goals and targets when you step onto the pitch.
Our players then gathered around to watch a YouTube video in which they could see mistakes being made by footballers of all ages and ability levels – one of our players said: “See, even Ronaldo makes mistakes”.
Our u9s' training session finished with a 'making mistakes' match, where the players were asked to try to make as many mistakes as possible. Our aim behind this was to allow every player to have the chance to experience the moments when a mistake is made, in a 'safe environment'. We saw some really innovative and quite outrageous ideas, and our players had a lot of fun doing this.
However the really impressive outcome was that we started to see the players supporting and reassuring one another in those moments. This of course made our coaches really proud as we know by sticking to this philosophy we will be helping our children to reach their potential, and we're sure that the future will be extremely bright for each and every one of them!