A coach’s first objective must be to develop players, especially in their early years.
It is in the best interest and the future of the club that players and parents, as well as coaching staff, are aware of the club’s emphasis on developing young players.
Here’s what we expect from NJFC coaching staff.
Start with the right attitude
You are coaching juniors. You have a lot to tell them, but there is a limit to what they can take in.
Understand the players’ situation. You are used to football; they may find it challenging or even a little bit scary. From time to time, to ask them what they want to know, what they are enjoying and what they are struggling with. Find ways to spend time with the team occasionally where you can all talk together about learning footy.
For the majority of our kids, the footy they play as juniors will be the only competitive footy they ever play. So we aim to make them footy heroes right now, this year, rather than in 10 years’ time. At the same time, we aim to provide them with skills, values and disciplines they can use throughout life.
This is a very different task from the job given to AFL coaches, who are measured by their success in winning their club a flag. Our mission is in many ways a bigger, tougher and more important mission.
Prepare, organise, communicate
Prepare for training and games. Be clear and organised at training and on game days. Have a clear understanding of your jobs and those of your assistants and team manager. Arrive early. If you need resources or there is something you don’t understand, talk with your team manager and NJFC officials.
Parents rate communication to players as the single most important quality in a junior coach. Help players and parents to understand your expectations, style and goals, as well as the team rules. Provide players with clear feedback, encouraging good behaviours and correcting mistakes in a supportive way. Check that communication is working by having the players re-explain to you what you have explained to them, about their own play and the team’s play.
Use a positive tone
We ensure that we emphasise positive talk rather than negative talk. We make certain that the kids feel good about themselves and playing football and are not constantly worried about doing the wrong thing and being berated for it. We don’t under any circumstances single out players in front of the players and/or parents for doing the wrong thing on the field. If necessary, we speak to them afterwards regarding any specifics they can work on (and ensure we put this in a positive light by telling them all the good things they did first).
Where possible we encourage those less skilled players during breaks when addressing the whole team for their contributions, however minor these contributions may be – shepherds, use of voice, following team rules, positioning, calling back players to get on their men etc. It is important that less high-impact players feel part of the team as much as the players who gain lots of possessions.
Put winning in its right place
We always remember that most of our players will not progress to the AFL or even district-level football. At AFL level, football is a business and a career. At the NJFC, football is first and foremost a game – a challenging and tough game, but still a game to be enjoyed. Even for players who may progress to the game’s highest levels, coaching for future success will often be different from coaching for immediate success. And few players will succeed at the highest level unless they enjoy their junior footy.
- The participation and enjoyment of the children should be the priority in the very early years. Build a love of the game. This will be good for the kids, and good for the club.
- As players progress to Under-11 level and above, player development becomes an increasingly important goal.
- The importance of winning should be secondary in the early age groups. From the Under-13s on, coaches can increasingly emphasise the personal and team qualities needed to win games.
Build your team
We aim to create lasting friendships and to make a player’s experience at the NJFC something they can look back on positively throughout their life. Fostering positive relationships within the team, with mutual respect between all the players, is one of the coach’s most important duties.
Develop the players
We aim at all levels of the club to develop better players. This means developing teamwork, discipline, skills and fitness.
Coaches are encouraged to:
- Maximise the effectiveness of training periods. One important indicator should be the number of times each player gets to handle the ball during training.
- Coach via game simulations as well as classic drills.
- Teach all players the importance of reading the play and ground positioning via whiteboard style sessions in the clubrooms.
- Highlight the importance to the players of communication on the ground. Even the least skilled player in a team can make a valuable contribution with just their voice.
- Help players to develop their fitness and their understanding of how their bodies work.
- Vary training routines by introducing outside experts, organising joint training sessions, swapping teams with other coaches etc.
- Set achievable goals for the year, beyond “winning the flag”, so that kids can look back and see how they have developed as a team.
- Seeking out help from the club to do all these things.
Rotate and select equally
The NJFC Rotation and Selection Policy requires that all players get equal time on the ground. Where a player is given less time for disciplinary reasons, the coach must explain to the player why they are getting less time, and inform the club. Rotations are more of a priority than the score board.
If necessary, coaches and managers can print off another team sheet each week to monitor bench time for each player. It is very easy to get this wrong when you have six players on the bench. If we do get this wrong (and we will only know if we monitor this), then we let the player know of the error and that they will get more time next week. We take positive action if and when we get this wrong; we don’t wait for parents to come to us with concerns.
Play kids in different positions. Pigeon-holing kids in the one position is not fair on the development of the team or the players. We let players and parents know the reasons we are moving them around to play in different positions. We let the players know that this will develop them into better footballers and ensure all players get to spend reasonable amounts of time in the forward, backline, centre and on-ball positions.
Maintain a culture of respect
Coaches should constantly reinforce the importance of giving respect to earn respect. This means encouraging and enforcing respect for opposition players and teams, coaches and club officials, umpires, and members of the public. Racial and religious vilification, sexual harassment and denigration of people’s sexuality should not be tolerated. Avoid bad language and discourage it from players and other coaches and officials.
In their own language and behaviour, coaches should aim to direct players towards good behaviours while not attacking players’ personalities.
– Guidelines adapted from original guidelines written by 2011 football manager Michael Bland