Integrating technology into youth football development

Integrating technology into youth football development

As a young coach working in youth football development, I have integrated technology significantly into my coaching practice. Knowing how much I myself interact with my phone, computer and social media on a daily basis, and knowing the players I work with have very similar habits, it has always been logical [to me] to try and reach my players through these mediums. In doing this, I can further their development through delivery of additional content, reflective practice and other forms of engagement.

In studying the Sport and Technology subject as part of completing a Masters of Education (Sports Coaching) at the University of Sydney, I have been able to reflect on some creative ways in which I have utilized technology in coaching.

Team website

Having created my own website/blog when I was 16, I have always been acutely aware of how they can be used to provide further reading and learning. The idea of a team website first came to me when I considered the limited time I had per week with my players on a face-to-face basis, and brainstormed ways I could further their football education. A blog, where I could collate match videos and feedback, seemed a logical way to achieve this Рparticularly as the team of millennials I was working with were intimately familiar with using the Internet.

In all honesty, the very first websites I created (the first in 2015, and a second in 2016) was very basic – using WordPress, I created a password-protected page on my blog, sharing the link and password to my players. Content-wise, I put full game videos and images of our style of play on the page. It was a medium to share content, rather than interact with the players.

In 2017, I dedicated more time to create a more comprehensive online resource for the team. I included more of our team culture components, including reminders of the team goals, rules and expectations.

Additionally, I created individual pages for each aspect of our style of play, including descriptions, analysis and videos of the type of football we wanted to play. Videos included case studies of professional teams who were similar to what we wanted to teach.

I also used the website as a blog, writing semi-regular articles that complemented the training sessions. Where possible, I used clips from our own games, but also examples from top-level football.

Where possible, I used formatting tools like Blockquotes to emphasize key coaching phrases and cues.

While this resource was, on the whole, well received and utilized by the players (and parents – given access to encourage their active participation in the learning process), I still wasn’t happy with the accessibility or interactivity of the team website, or with the functionality of WordPress for the intended purpose of the website. Therefore, for 2018, I investigated alternative tools, deciding on Google Sites for my new squad’s website.

What appealed to me about Google Sites is the ability to drag and drop content directly from Google, where I was already storing much of my resources and planning materials. Specifically, Google Sites allows you to embed directly from YouTube or Drive very quickly, making it easy for me to update the weekly training content quickly. Having researched ways to improve student engagement with teaching materials, I decided on utilizing video more extensively, with an emphasis on our own matches. Additionally, the amount of text was significantly reduced, with the incorporation of player-led activities they can do by themselves.

An example of a training week page

It is interesting to look at the evolution of my team websites over the years, both as a record of how I have evolved in my practice, but also in how I have changed in my use of online content to further player learning. Originally, I used the website, in the same way, that I was used to using the Internet – reading and writing long blog posts. Now, I’ve shifted towards a heavy use of video. This possibly also reflects a wider change in attention spans and engagement online in young people.

Reflections

Another area in which my coaching practice has evolved is in my integration of reflective practice into player learning. Reflection is considered fundamental to the retention and understanding of new content, which, in a football context, is critical when trying to teach young players new skills and tactics.

Technology has been a useful tool to introduce reflective skills into my teams. Using Google Forms, I created a weekly template for players to complete following the match. The two questions were always consistent. The form was embedded into the team website with a reminder to complete sent to players’ parents’ email following the game.

This became a very interesting way in which to assess the learning and development of my players. I was able to gain insight into their grasp of the weekly training content, which I could then use to guide future session design and coaching interventions. That, in turn, gave players some autonomy in guiding their development as a squad, as they realized they could use the reflections as a way to select future training focuses. Additionally, I could understand what kind of language players used to describe themselves and the game, which became invaluable in allowing me to change the words & pictures I used in speaking to specific individuals. From the perspective of the player, it would be interesting to know whether they took any personal value out of completing this weekly reflection.

A major bugbear of mine in using Google Form technologies for this purpose is that it was not easily accessible to the player, as it required them to navigate to a specific link delivered via email to their parents. I have investigated possible alternatives for this purpose, with Visual Coaching and S2S increasingly popular technologies. The ability to use this software as phone apps may be a more practical tool to engage young players quickly and easily.

Sheets

In completing my Masters’ study, I have become more educated in the use of Excel and Google Sheets for the purpose of storing data. As a coach, I collate a significant amount of data, ranging from training attendance, the season playing time and physical monitoring statistics. More recently, I’ve begun to organize and manage that data far more effectively, using key features of Google Sheets. For example, I now use conditional formatting in the physical monitoring data to create quick and easy ways to identify red flags at a glance.

End notes

Technology, and coaching have evolved significantly in the modern era, but at present, there is still untapped potential to marry the two to enable effective youth development practice. There is the possibility of using online content such as websites and office software, as well as other mediums not yet discussed, including social media (Twitter, Instagram etc) and phone apps (Hudl Technique, Teamapp etc), to further support player learning.

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