Motivating and Engaging the Young Learner


Footballers learn most effectively when they are engaged and motivated. Ensure the player is feeling a sense of mastery, being suitably challenged and knows that what they are doing has meaning. Young players can become disillusioned, distracted and even bored if one of these conditions is not met. In practical terms:


Providing Meaning (Purpose). What you will be working on? Why is this relevant in a game? How can this help them? What will they gain? Why should they try?


Providing a sense of Mastery (Achievement). How do the players achieve? How will they gain a sense of accomplishment? How will they know they are improving (scoring points, increasing speed)? An example with defending....rather than defenders simply stopping attacks, can they gain possession and pass to the coach to gain a point? Defenders v Attackers: first to 5 wins?


Providing Challenge/Support (Autonomy). Is the session suitably stretching? Too stretching? Too easy? Is the player succeeding or failing every time? Use the STEP (Space, Task, Equipment, People) principle to ensure the balance is correct. A good balance should return gradual improvements.


Creating an environment that fosters this allows the individual and the team to accelerate their learning. Players respond to praise and positive correction. Avoid criticising and accept that mistakes are a vital part of the learning process, managing frustration is essential!

Motivated learners display confidence, positivity and resilience. If a session lacks Meaning, Achievement or Challenge, motivation will drop and behavioural issues may surface.

"What I'm doing has meaning for myself and the team"

"I have choice and can determine what I contribute and how"

"I can make progress and develop mastery"

The coach can provide incentices, structure and praise. The session should be set-up to appeal to the child's problem-solving ability, sense of curiousity and naturally competitive spirit.

Don't ignore or rush the debrief. This is vital to embed learning and heighten recall. Link back to what you are trying to achieve as a team. Focus on improvements and progress made. Remind players of progress at start of next session.


This list illustrates why Guided Discovery is important.

TIPS: Sessions with Mastery, Meaning and Challenge


Meaning/Purpose. There are plenty of interesting facts to share with children which reinforce why learning/improving a specific aspect of the game is important. Share these with players to stimulate and inspire the players. Let's take passing for example. Did you know that Barcelona average 756 passes per game? On average retain 65% possession? That Messi has a successful pass rate of 81%? If you are encouraging composure and retaining the ball this suddenly gives the session some meaning (beyond simply taking part in a 'passing drill'). Link it to the style of football that you want to play and what the team can achieve if everyone commits to improving.


Mastery/Achievement. Progress the difficulty of the session so all players feel some sense of achievement initially. Praise small improvements, focus on individual's efforts. Make players feel good for their contribution and application. Set small goals for individuals to achieve within the session where possible.


Challenge/Autonomy. Ensure any session has a great deal of independent decision-making for the child, the goal being to empower the player as often as possible. A player repetitively faced with game-realistic problems to solve - and encouraged to find their own solutions - will feel positive, creative and capable.