5-11’s ARE the foundation phase…

The under-appreciated heroes

I’ve been at St. George’s Park, our national football centre, for the last couple of days and whilst I have been here there is an FA Advanced Youth Award taking place. This course currently is the pinnacle coaching award for youth coaches in this country, a Level 4 course, and specialises in different age groups; 5-11’s (Foundation Phase), 12-16’s (Youth Development Phase), 17-21’s (Professional Development Phase) and goalkeepers. It’s an excellent course that really drills down into the relevant important information in those specific areas.

I bumped into one of my colleagues and asked how the course was going and it’s his reply that interested me. He said it was going very well and there was some good people on it – and he then told me six or seven “big names” that were attending. One was an Academy Manager, one was a First Team goalkeeper coach and the other five were U18’s coaches at Premier League¬†clubs.

And it’s that point I found interesting.

At what stage will the “big names” be coaches that work in the Foundation Phase?

At what stage will the “big names” be coaches that work in the Foundation Phase?

Now, my colleague would absolutely support the importance of the coaches that work in the 5-11 age group, without a shadow of a doubt, but it was the instinctive reply that proved we aren’t there yet.

Developing the base

Coaches in the Mini-Soccer age groups are essential. It is called the foundation phase for a reason. Without the high quality base of fundamental movement skills the coaches install, the coaches that the do their stuff in the secondary school age groups cannot function effectively. They do not have a base to build upon to teach games and the further tactical elements that come with older age group requirements.

There is a fair debate that the way primary school sport is delivered in this country doesn’t provide an adequate covering of high quality teaching of FMS. There are pockets of great work going on, of course, and the premium funding that has been provided will have been helped, but this still isn’t ‘world class’ across the board. This could be better, for sure. Would I like to see a qualified PE teacher in every primary school? Absolutely. But that’s a different debate.

Children need to develop a few things at the younger age in order to continue playing for the long term. Fostering a love of the game is one of those. We need to ignite a fire in them at these ages so they fall in love with football. We want them to have so much fun at coaching sessions that they come bounding through the gates for the next session.

From a coaching perspective this means age-appropriate sessions, built upon the foundations of fun, game-based and that capture the imagination of kids. Putting on a session that makes children think they are on a desert island, dribbling around an area, and that if they fall off they might get chased by pirates or sharks! It needs to be games that allow them to pretend to be Lightning McQueen as they travel around an area and sometimes they might get chased by the Sheriff, trying to take their ball off them! It’s creative stuff like this that makes them want to come back and that is a fundamental aspect of this age group – retaining players in the game.

As well as the love of the game, this is also the team to build a technical base. This is the time for loads of 1v1’s, 2v2’s and 3v3’s. It’s the time for all the different combinations of these in playing with matched numbers or in-balance and out of balance. Coaches in the Foundation age groups make this happen.

And if we didn’t?

The question I am interested in then is this – what would happen if we didn’t develop these skills and motivation at the younger age groups?

Well, the knock-on effect would not be great for the coaches working in the older age groups. They would have a generation of kids that couldn’t move. These players would not have a technical base to learn to play ‘the game’ tactically. Ultimately, kids would be likely to stop playing and find something else to do.

So, for me, the Foundation Phase coaches, the ones that work their magic with the youngest are the Kings! They are the ones that should be held up as the “big names”.


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10 thoughts on “5-11’s ARE the foundation phase…

  • May 4, 2016 at 9:00 pm

    Good read Nick and, as always, valid points. The big names are often the only ones mentioned in the wider coaching world but the players will pass through lots of hands before these coaches get to work with them. Until Foundation Phase coaching is recognised (and properly rewarded) many will continue to regard it as a stepping stone to the “proper” game.

    • May 5, 2016 at 11:09 am

      Hi Tony,

      Thanks for the message, nice to hear from you. You make a great point about the reward element too, wonder how many coaches in FP are paid the same as the PDP? Guessing a minority!


  • May 16, 2016 at 3:15 pm

    The 5 to 11 age group are mostly coached by grassroots parents and volunteers, it seems logical that they should be given the training to coach the kids properly and to make this happen it should be completely funded by the FA and league clubs – after all if you want a well coached and knowledgeable young player you need a knowledgeable and well trained coach to provide them and they should not be the ones paying for it. Our grassroots club has had 20 of its players signed by 5 different professional academies in the last 9 years. Surely we as a club and our coaches should not be asked to pay for the next course they deserve some kind of funding to reward our coaching which in turn is put back into the grassroots club to buy equipment and find and coach more players. Why don’t we make league teams pay the grassroots clubs for the players, this would have two benefits. Firstly money goes into progressive and well coached teams, which helps them but also spurs others to attain the same levels as they see the rewards. Secondly it stops the mass exodus of players to academies for trials and trial games and development teams etc. We have had 20 kids signed but at least three times that amount have been away with clubs on 6 week trials, built up only to be thrown back a couple of months later. It is exactly the same as an academy taking a player from another academy, cannot see the difference.

    • June 29, 2016 at 1:36 pm

      Couldn’t agree more with Richard. Both my 5 and 4 yr old sons live, breathe and sleep football and, especially the older one, has received some excellent coaching since getting into football 6 months ago and both kids are actually quite talented.
      However, as you point out, there is a huge lack of investment in coaching the younger ages although the club my two go to is funded via parents and is a extremely well run.
      By comparison I took my older one to an additional coaching session (he can’t get enough) which had 22 5-7 yr olds on a single 5 a side pitch with a coach who appeared to be nothing more than a babysitter. Kids this age need direction in how to play the game, not just dribble the ball in a match, and I was astounded to see the lack of understanding of the game in this group of children. There is undoubtedly demand within kids grassroots football, but the supply of talented coaches is poor. Suffice to say, my kids won’t be going back to this session whilst I carry on looking for extra sessions for my children to benefit from.

  • Pingback: The PE Playbook – May 2016 Edition – drowningintheshallow

  • June 5, 2016 at 10:00 am

    One of the problems in grassroots football is the youngest players /teams usually have the least experienced coaches generally a parent ( that’s how I stated )

    • June 12, 2016 at 7:43 pm

      Hi John,

      Absolutely, one of the challenges for sure.

  • March 25, 2017 at 9:44 am

    Great read Nick.
    We need to start the development of Fundamental Movement Skills prior to school. Pre-school & nurseries are crucial but the key is parent education. I’ve been a Dad for 4 years now and not once has a health care professional, nursery teacher, school teacher or anyone else given me advice on how to develop my children’s ability, balance & co-ordination (physical literacy skills). Key life, not just sport skills which we all need for the most basic of tasks in everyday life. I’ve received advice on my children’s diet, cleanliness, general health and how to develop reading and writing but never once about developing physical literacy.

    Without physical literacy these children are being denied life long opportunities in sport and the wider world.

  • March 28, 2017 at 2:58 am

    Tried to get onto this course and told only coaches in pro clubs can do it !?!?! wonder where their players come from ….. Want better academy kids let Grassroots coaches attend AYA. How many of these coaches will coach 7,8,9 years olds ?

  • March 31, 2017 at 7:43 pm

    Really agree with this. I am involved in 16-19 football and there has been a big gap in the local area coaching younger kids in last 8 years. Some players in the 16-19 bracket are not striking the ball, running with the ball, etc properly. I am also coaching my sons U8 team and notice a huge difference being able to teach correct movements early and really get them to engage at sessions, playing different positions, fun challenges etc….excited to see what the standard is like of this group in 8 years and knowing that the enjoyment will carry them through.


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