Growing RICH Youth Footballers

Thursday, September 03, 2015

By Paul Thomas
Head Coach - Henley High School Sport Specialist Football Program

‘The gardener does not make a plant grow. The job of a gardener is to create the optimal conditions.’

- Sir Ken Robinson (internationally recognized leader in development, creativity and innovation in education)

The coach doesn’t make a player grow. The job of the coach is to provide the optimal conditions for growth. When directed to develop and articulate the coaching philosophy it becomes evident that ‘educating’ young footballers is deeply set as one, if not, the coaches most important aim. Coaches are fast becoming more aware that their role is beyond the education of footballers solely in the provision of skill drills, game sense activities and game day strategies. Many Coaches are adopting a holistic approach in player development, growing and educating the ‘whole athlete.’ A best practice model of this approach can be found in the English Football Association’s ‘four corner model’.

The Four Corner model is integral in ‘The FA’ achieving their vision of educating the whole athlete throughout the eight stages in their Long Term Player Development model.

The core attributes and characteristics of the future player offered in the ‘four corners’ are:

  • Technical / Tactical
  • Physical
  • Social
  • Psychological 

In the video ‘Coaching the Whole Child’ presented by SportsCoach UKTV Pete Sturgess, National Development Coach, discusses the Four Corner Model as having two sides for growth for youth players, as coaches share in a positive sport experience for the whole child. The two sides being ‘game skills growth and personal skills growth.


In providing opportunities for growth in the four core attributes and characteristics of the future player there is a strong belief, which I agree with, that there must be set of values that underpin the relationship between coaches and athletes in effective player development. The set of values should underpin and drive the culture of the team. Michael Inglis, AHPRA Sports Psychologist, discusses in an Interview with Laura Mossman in Issue four of the Player Development Project Magazine that ‘values are our internal sport compass; they are enduring beliefs and attitudes that shape our behavior and define the direction we want to go. Inglis explains further that values help give the athlete, and coaches, a broader perception of player development and often remove the sole emphasis on winning and results.

Where values drive culture and they are owned by the whole team they can provide a behavioural framework for the ‘what we do and how we act’ within the team. As an example of this the Sydney Swans and the ‘Bloods Culture’ continually drives the organization. In the lead up to the 2014 AFL finals series, former Swan Luke Ablett wrote in an article titled ‘How Sydney Swans built the Bloods culture’ “probably the most important element of a successful football club culture is not just the statistical measurements, but the character traits that you aspire to. 

A key concept that must be understood when developing a set of values is they should be clear and easy to remember. They must also be able to be reflected upon and, as Luke Ablett added in his piece, must be able to be measured and display the character traits the group aspire to. Where a set of values are forced on players from a coach without player buy in, much like goal setting, desirable results seldom come to fruition. However, in a coach knowing their values and achieving player buy in on behaviour of expectations to meet those values and to better understand those values, a greater opportunity exists for success in living those values, behaviours and character traits. 

To determine your values, a simple exercise might be to simply rank the core values using an ‘App’ like ‘VALUES INK’ into categories of importance to you or your team. From the extensive list, you may wish to start to combine words that you feel have similar associations to you, like trust and honesty, and use the term ‘integrity’ to convey meaning for both in your set of values. 

It is important to note here that some of your coaching non-negotiables are going to form some of your values set, like those of respect or responsibility. With youth players an acronym or term that is easy to remember can have greater effect in the ‘buy in’ and ownership of the set of values. 

The values that underpin my coaching philosophy and direct the growth of the four corners of the young men that come through my teams are easily identified by the acronym RICH. My aim is to educate and develop RICH youth footballers who are RICH in character and the four corner model. RICH is not only easy for youth athletes to recall, it is also a term I have found easy to refer to when giving positive feedback or constructive criticism about youth athlete behaviour standards and performance.

R- Respect - respect yourself, others and resources

I- Integrity - Honesty and Reliability are values that are priceless in peer and self-assessment

C- Communication - what you say and how you say it can build bridges or barriers toward success and growth

H- Hard work - persistence and determination drive development and will not go unnoticed.

These values were penned by me and shared with the youth players with whom I am working with to develop. I have explained to them the process of how I developed the acronym and what it meant to me. Their buy in came from them working through each word and telling me what each meant to them. However the more important exercise was each player having the opportunity to express what each looked like and how we would know we were displaying these traits and values. This is how we measure ourselves. We measure against their response to the standards they decided upon and in agreeance with those the coaching staff imposed. 

Some of the Standards the players set include:

  • Asking questions to clarify understanding and respecting all questions (communication & respect)
  • Consistently strive to reach and respect team and individual goals (hardwork & respect)
  • Be honest with reflection of own, peers and coach performance (integrity & communication)
  • Demonstrate discipline toward all umpires calls (respect)
  • Be humble in victory and defeat (integrity)
  • Take care of all resources- put water bottles back in container, put training bibs back in the bag, put all balls away in bin at end of session (respect)

Added to this each player was also given the opportunity to put forth reasons ‘why we wanted to be RICH in character and what purpose being RICH served in youth sport development. 

Our measurement has been in the form of anecdotal notes through player and coach reviews. We have used these notes as benchmarks for our group and in the continuing to grow RICH in character.

‘The gardener does not make a plant grow. The job of a gardener is to create the optimal conditions.’ 

- Sir Ken Robinson (internationally recognized leader in development, creativity and innovation in education).

Paul Thomas is the Head Coach - Henley High School Sport Specialist Football Program.

This article was written as part of the assessment process for the High Performance Coaching Course.

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