Preparing your team for a grassroots tournament

FA county coach developer, Rebecca Garlick, provides a list of practical coaching tips.

For all the excitement and enjoyment, taking a team to a tournament can be a challenging time for coaches.

With this in mind, planning for the event is absolutely essential. The more planning done prior to the day, the more time there is to focus on what is most important: players enjoying their football.

1. Set clear expectations
For players in the younger age-groups, tournaments may be the only time of the season where they get to experience ‘competitive’ football. With the potential for the heightened emotions that come with winning and losing, setting expectations for parents, coaches and players is crucial.

Clear guidelines for all those involved is a great way of nurturing positive behaviours both on and off the field. For example, parents are asked to support the coaches to provide a fun and safe learning environment allowing for ownership, mistakes and learning. It also gives you something to refer back to if, for whatever reason, someone doesn’t meet those expectations.

2. Define Success
It’s important to work with the players to define what success might look like for the group. All of those involved would like to win the tournament, but try to encourage players to think beyond that as it may be an unrealistic expectation.

Instead, work with the players to decide three things the group will try to achieve on the day – be sure to include individual challenges as part of the process. Task cards are a great way of doing this, giving each player a specific challenge. Don’t be afraid to share these with the parents; it can be a great tool to focus encouragement from the sidelines.

3. Provide equal opportunities to develop

When it comes to equal playing time, the club at which I work has an interesting take: how would you feel if your child was on a fairground ride and one child got longer on it than the other? Players are there to have an enjoyable experience and it’s important that we enable each player an equal opportunity to learn from and enjoy the day.

Try to find out in advance how long each game will be and how many matches will be played – allowing you to work out a rough estimate of how many minutes each of your players should be playing. Also, ensure equal opportunities to play in defensive and attacking positions, as well as giving the option for a turn in goal.

4. Plan for downtime
Depending on the tournament organisation, there can often be lots of downtime. Try to allow for a little bit of freedom for players during these periods, so that they can have food and drink. Also, try listing some optional downtime tasks for the players. This could include the following:

  • check all the equipment is in order
  • watch another team
  • work with a partner to come up with three things another team does well
  • play a 2v2 against two other friends
  • reflect on the things we did well/things to improve from the previous game
  • try to add a variety of tasks, challenges and options covering all four corners of the FA’s player development model.

5. Consider “what if…”

Planning for a whole range of scenarios – positive and negative, on and off the pitch – is crucial if you want the day to be a success. What is your plan if a game goes to penalties and only a handful of players want to take a penalty? How will you respond if the goalkeeper lets in seven goals and doesn’t want to play in goal again? How might you deal with a parent who is consistently abusing the referee and opposition? It is important to have a contingency plan in place in order to maintain a positive and enjoyable environment.

6. Set your philosophy – and stick to it
It’s very easy for coaches, parents and players to let their emotions overtake them due to the competitive nature of a tournament. However, don’t forget what you set out to achieve in your success measures. There is nothing more satisfying than seeing a group of young players work together on and off the field to achieve the common goal of enjoying the day. Our role as coaches is to simply support that by creating the right environment in which it can happen.

Article courtesy of the FA Bootroom


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