This paper outlines two distinct approaches to coaching in Australian junior football. After examining these two concepts, it seems clear that the ‘Developmental Focus’ is the approach that Glen Eira FC would strongly advocate from it”s junior coaches
Football is one of the world’s most difficult sports to master. It takes around 10 years of dedicated practice to get to a high level of skill. This sport rewards technical ability and decision making, over mere athletic ability. Junior football in Australia can generally be divided into two different coaching concepts.
1. “Win focused” – ‘all about the team’ (the more traditional approach) and
2. “Development focused” – ‘all about the individual’. (the more modern approach encouragedby the FFA)
Win focus – involves an emphasis on the results of the “team”, over and above the individual. Tactics and physicality are emphasised along with the concepts of “true grit” courage and commitment. Coaches generally look for bigger, stronger and more athletic players and will encourage a direct style of play (minimal passes and long ball to goal) to win. This style of play is often very effective at junior levels and is reinforced due to the fact that coaches (and parents) measure performances based on the score. Losing is taken hard by players and coaches,which increases the pressure to take less risks on the field. Parents will be drawn into this ‘win mentality’ adding further pressure on their children to ‘perform’. This approach limits the development of critical skills and decision making, and so reduces a player’s potential to play at higher levels in later years (note: critical ages for skill development is from 8-13 years old). Ultimately all this leads to an early drop out of the sport in later teens – as the player decides it is no longer “fun”.
‘Development focus’ – is an emphasis on the individual’s development, over the team. The coach’s focus is on developing player skill through a possession-based style of play. Player size and strength and athleticism is less important. Weekend games are not strongly win focused, but are rather seen as learning opportunities to test player skills/decision making. Players are not afraid to make mistakes, and are encouraged to take risks. This leads to improved confidence in players, who are free to explore/try new moves. The possession-based style allows more touches of the ball, allowing increased opportunities to learn. There is an acceptance, however, that this style of play can lead to increased errors (through more passing and risk taking). In this case, an opposition team, with a more direct style of play, will take advantage of errors resulting in more scores against your team. But players, parents and coaches all understand that the longer term benefits mean “playing well” is more important than just trying to “win”. Ultimately, improvements in player skills and decision making will lead to success on the field, in the longer term. Importantly, the reduced pressure and more enjoyable experiences mean players are more likely to stay in the sport longer. Players will also benefit through better long term prospects of reaching higher levels in the sport as they get older.
By Peter Branca
Glen Eira FC Junior Boys CCC