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Coaching counsel: Is talk cheap?

Ben Bartlett starts a new coaching-focused column today.

Ben is a UEFA A Licence Coach and is Regional Coach Development Manager (East) at The Football Association, having previously worked in player development and coach development roles at Colchester United, Chelsea and Aldershot Town.

With experience of developing players at Club, Centre of Excellence and Senior level, Ben has been fortunate to see several players progress into International Youth squads and currently coaches within The FA's Elite Performance Centre for prospective England U15 Female Internationals.

As a Coach Educator at Level 1, 2, 3, UEFA B and FA Youth Award Modules 1, 2 + 3; coaches often ask for resources, ideas and sessions that can aid their coaching work. This website is a contribution towards this, providing free, accessible and user friendly resources for coaches.

Ben played for 15 years in non-league, mostly with Witham Town FC (Ryman League) and latterly with Farnborough (Player Coach) and Hungerford Town.

Ben is also involved with – a support and resource provider to coaches working across a range of ages and abilities.

The art of coaching young players

Thanks for reading the contribution. The intention is to write, probe and, hopefully, generate discussion around coaching, particular coaching young players, which is an art many of us are still trying to master and, which, on different days, we sometimes seem closer to achieving and others farther away……

Frequently coaches mention the difficulty in trying to balance, whether on match-day or the practice field, verbally interacting with their players against leaving them alone.

Some research by a guy named Kurt Lewin evidenced that 3% of people changed their behaviour as a result of being directly informed, whilst 33% changed their behaviour from being involved in their own learning.

So does telling the players what to do reap the rewards? It quite possibly does in that moment, but the question to consider is does the learning last? As the referenced research suggests, value is attributed to what we learn, not necessarily what we are taught and, I would urge you to consider, that perspective is King.

Players make decisions and execute skills based upon their perspective at that moment in time. That may be based upon what they see, know or have experienced before. Undoubtedly, that will be different from what we, the coach, see’s, knows or has experienced before.


Maybe our job is to provide an environment where learning is the champion not the league table or the ladder of who’s best in the team at any point in time.

There is a risk that as coaches we act like waiters to the players; something gets spilt and we swoop in and tidy it up for them; possibly missing valuable opportunities for them to self-discover, build interdependence and for players to spend some time struggling, which might just develop resilience and that oft demanded quality of ‘character’.

A case in point. I’m fortunate to do some coaching with a group of potential International Youth players and work with an inspirational and aspirational group of staff; 4 of us coaches, a physiotherapist and an exercise scientist.

Over the last 4 months we’ve hosted 3 weekend camps & 3 fitness testing events for the players and provided a variety of coaching and game-based environments to seek to support their development and progression into International players of the future.

19.4 hours of time has been spent on the pitch (that doesn’t include their joys of ice-baths, foam-roller work and treatment sessions). As a staff, we’ve recorded 4,976 interactions in that time; some praise, some critique, some reminders, some affirmation. This has been done individually & collectively; in-play and during breaks.


Subjectively, from discussion amongst the staff, players and upon self-reflection, we’ve recorded that 38% of those interactions didn’t help. Our interactions were either wrong, premature (players often reflected that they were getting there and us telling them made them even more self-conscious), unnecessarily repetitive or overly critical.

Now, the coaches are all self-motivated, altruistic types who are keen to help; but as our statistics suggest (and it’s not a perfect science, I know) we are as apt to harm as we are to help.

Maybe silence is golden, perhaps our role is as much to provide an environment where failure is part of learning as much as success is and, I ask you to consider that, despite what the conventional wisdom may suggest, shouting, instructing, insisting and moulding may make the players like we want them to be – not like they aspire to be.

Batching is convenient but the factory line produces identical – not individual.

More questions than answers? Perhaps. But the parting one is – who is at the centre of this process – the coach? Or the players?

By Ben Bartlett

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