Coaching a Junior Football Team

Friday, August 08, 2014

By Paul Groves

As a coach of a junior (Under 8’s to Under 17) football team you will eventually find yourself in a position where you are coaching against a team where you know you will win by a large margin.

In these situations there are some big questions to ponder:
  1. How do you approach this game?
  2. What plans do you put in place?
  3. What messages are you sending?
  4. How are you developing your players' games further?

When considering these questions try putting yourself in the shoes of the opposition coach as well.

Imagine the following scenario:
  • Checking the fixture for your Under 13’s side, you see that you are in 5th position by percentage and this week you play the bottom side who have lost every game by over 120 points. 
  • This team have scored 8 points for the season after 9 rounds. 
  • You are aware they only have 17 players. Clearly they are battling and morale is at an all time low.

I want to refer back to the earlier questions now that you have a scenario.

How much of your responsibilities as a junior coach is for the players of the other team?

You are coaching a group of young players but in an indirect way you are also coaching the opposition players.

If they continually get beaten by large margins then the chance of most of these kids returning to play the game is very low. The opposition coach of these teams can change the approach to help retain these players and so they enjoy their footy, even if only for one week.

Junior footy shouldn’t see margins that blow out past 100 points. A coach on the team that is winning can alter team structure and positions to enable players who may have less ability to play in more prominent positions. 

Keep in mind the season the opposition team are having and where their heads must be at. Another massive thumping probably just seals them to not return, whereas a positive performance (which you still win) can probably keep them for the next season.

A few helpful hints to assist:
Best players

Give your best player (who probably plays midfield ALL the time) a role in the back pocket and explain key areas you want him to focus on.

As your better players move up in levels (interleague/TAC Cup) are you equipping them with tools for other positions on the ground?

At TAC Cup level most players are midfielders because they have starred in those spots and played midfield for nearly every game of their footy career. 

Whilst this helps you win - does it help the player develop?

Rotations of positions

Each player plays in one of the lines for an entire quarter. Have 2-3 focus points for them in each position to work though each quarter.

Liaise with the opposition coach

Junior football doesn’t see this enough. Especially in games that may be close. Junior football should see coaches working together on occasions to match the better players against each other in a VARIETY of positions over the ground.

In the above scenario, many coaches will set up the game so they win by as much as possible.  They'll argue:

  • ‘We need percentage to make the finals.’
  • ‘Every other team has won by heaps so we need to.’

Many times all this will do is ultimately contribute to numerous players from the opposition walking away from the great game of Australian Football. A game which can provide lifelong friendships and develop life skills.

So by playing to win by as much as possible are you ‘developing’?

Paul Groves is Director of Development at Mordialloc Braeside Junior Football Club and an Assistant Coach at the Calder Cannons Football Club.

This article was written in 2014 as part of the requirements for the AFL High Performance (Level 3) coaching course

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