Why focus on the individual

By Sporting Influencer Sept 2019 for Yellow for Yelling

Let’s start with some statistics many of us may have seen or heard:

Of all 1.5 million players playing organised youth football in England, only 180 of the who at any one time will make it as a Premier League professional. Out of all the boys who enter an academy at the age of 9, less than half of 1% make it or make a living from the game.

That’s a success rate of 0.012%.  – From  “No Hunger in Paradise: The Players. The Journey. The Dream,”

Not for a second, I’m I waving the white flag and giving up on players attempting to reach such highs and potential successes. However, our role as facilitators, mentors and coaches require us to create an inclusive environment where each player strives towards their own potential. Let’s say 1% of players will make it into a professional club, that leaves the other 99% of players. This is where the inclusive environment and striving to reach/guide players towards their individual potential (whatever that may be) enters the equation.



In 2014, George Washington University interviewed youth athletes and asked them why they played sports, and 9 out of 10 said the #1 reason they played was it was fun. If your young athletes are not having fun, they will eventually walk away.

In addition, according to the National Alliance for Youth Sports, around 70 percent of kids in the United States stop playing organized sports by the age of 13 because “it’s just not fun anymore.” (Washington Post, 2016 & changingthegameproject.com).


We’ve become so disillusioned by the eagerness to propel our young players to stardom before they simply fall in the love game.

Neil Antrobus (@AntrobusN) recently wrote on Twitter “Educating and developing players is a long process. If some parents want to rush it for plastic trophies, they are forgetting their greatest trophy. Their child!”  I’d say many coaches are guilty, as many use it to define success or happiness. Yet, take away the trophy, people watching, the fancy goals and at the end of the day you’ll still have young children, organizing their own games, rules and goals whilst visualising themselves in sold out stadiums with their friends.

This isn’t a matter of arguing about winning or losing, it is about knowing what’s important to each player and how we can create an environment where each player can flourish whilst winning, drawing, losing, making mistakes, executing their first step over or running endlessly around chasing the ball. We can simply find the answer to this by asking the individual what’s important to them.


Considering around 1% so-called “make it” what about the rest of the 99% of players involved in the game? Yes, we can continue to develop players within our environments and giving them the best opportunity to realise their dreams. But what else are we providing? Do we focus on the individual when coaching, have we identified individual strengths and weaknesses, i.e. Jim can pass with his right foot, then setting individual targets initially within practices to focus a little more on his left or different types of passes with his right (Inside, outside of the foot). Finding a small way to tell our players your development is important to me and finding ways to better them as a player in the game.


In an interview with TGG in 2017, Rene Meulensteen said: “I always told the players, ‘we’ve got something we can add to your game’. Add is positive; add means more; add means better. Not once did a player come to me and say ‘what a lot of BS that is!”. (From Training Ground Guru, Article 2019).

Do we account for individual differences within our sessions and games, do we tell/show players (Demo/using I-Pad/Fifa/Clips) and provide opportunities for players to attempt something new in an unopposed or opposed setting?

When setting an individual target, it’s important to consider how we offer individual feedback to players. How we present the feedback needs to be considered on an individual basis, some may want a verbal explanation, another may want to see a video or others may only need a short intervention i.e. “Remember to scan your shoulder”. With parents being one of the major influences on a child participating in sport, can we involve them in discussions throughout the season, updating them on progress with what advice was giving to individual players i.e. Jimmy has an array of skills he can impose within the game, but I’d like him to scan his surrounding before he receives the ball, so he can make a better decision of what to do next.”


Does the sport create an environment for a greater long-lasting purpose and do you as a coach place greater importance on the player or person first? In my experience as a coach, I’ve developed from being an over the top controlling person to allowing players to lead various elements of practices i.e. themes for practices, setting up warm-ups, leading warm-ups or SSG (Small Sided Games) just to give some examples. For me, it’s about acknowledging the statistics stated at the beginning of the blog and my own experiences by creating opportunities for individuals to gain experiences in leading and communicating to the group, making a decision, officiating or challenging the group.

You as a coach may never know, what each is capable until you create such an environment as you might have the next Howard Webb, Jose Mourinho, Doctor, Leader, Business person or Teacher as some examples. among the group. Our environments need to provide a long-lasting purpose for each individual where their individualistic attributes can be developed.


Or do we view them as players or commodities for a club/academy? We mustn’t use our environments where players are seen as commodities, we then totally forget about them as people and what’s important to them. This approach may play a big part in players dropping out of the game as they may not identify the game they play as fun or it being too serious. We need to provide a meaningful purpose for an individual to continually turn up to practices and games and offer ways in which they can strive towards personal successes whatever they may define as success for them. If we’re not doing this, we are then being considered as a disservice to the individual.

Before simply directing individuals within our sessions and games, can we start by connecting with them first? Acknowledging them as people getting accustomed to family background, their experiences, wants and needs, likes and dislikes, get an insight into a variety of personalities within the group along with communication/feedback preferences. All of which will lead towards creating a better environment for the individual to flourish. These attempts and desires will highlight that you are interested in them as people first and shows you care about them.


This touches on work by Lerner, 2005, that highlights the 5 C’s of positive youth development:

Positive Youth Development;

  • Confidence
  • Competence
  • Character
  • Connection
  • Caring

(Lerner, 2005)

We acknowledge that each individual’s confidence may fluctuate due to several elements while they progress through the sport alongside external reasons like family, school, social media, peers etc. We as coaches must find time within our session to communicate with every player and parents. Not solely regarding football-related topics, but having general conversations to connect and to show that we care for the person. Most families and players will remember you by the way you made them feel not by how many games we’ve won at U9. Such statements lead to work by Rob Anderson from Fortius Training that highlight that additional role that sport can provide people by helping them to be better equipped with essential character-building life skills through sport such:

  • Leadership
  • Handling adversity
  • Teamwork
  • Persistence
  • Compassion

Other additions could be:

  • Creativity
  • Problem Solving
  • Communication

To summarise the most important element of the blog is that we need the awareness and appreciation of the person within the player first and foremost. Although the art of coaching may be complex in nature and effectiveness often difficult to measure. We need to place the person at the centre of any skill-based training for one to strive towards growth and potential.

I’ll end by providing these three questions for you to reflect:

Would you like to be coached by you?

Will you be the coach that will be remembered long after they stop playing?

What would you like to be remembered for as a coach?

Thank you!

The Sporting Influencer

Listen to Richard Cashman in episode #23 on “Off the Pitch with Active”

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