Communication between your players is something you will almost certainly reference in nearly every single training session you run. It's also one of the hardest things to "coach" and something that certainly your quieter, less confident players may find difficult to implement.

The intention will be for this section of the site to grow in due course, but for the time being, here are some pointers with regard to getting your players communicating effectively:

Don't expect miracles...

The incredibly shy child, for whom just turning up and being involved in a group activity is a massive achievement in itself, is not going to suddenly be bossing the midfield like they're Patrick Vieira or Roy Keane. For some children, talking on the football pitch, or talking at all in a group, is an incredibly frightening thing.

Communication comes in stages...

The first thing most children become comfortable with is calling for the ball, which usually involves shouting the name of the person who has the ball with increasing urgency until they pass it to one of the people shouting at them, whether it's the right thing to do or not. It's a great first step, because the players are showing that they're happy trying to communicate and if we're following the "you can't run before you can walk" rule, this part is the walking.

But - you'll need to encourage your players to move on from this reasonably quickly if you're to use communication effectively within your team.

Imagine hearing 5 people all simultaneously calling your name when you have the ball. It would be hugely confusing and you wouldn't have a clue which one to listen to.

Intelligent communication (telling the player on the ball what to do with it) is something you will want to encourage your players to work on as soon as they're showing they're comfortable communicating verbally on the pitch. Telling a player "down the line", "switch it", "turn and shoot" or "back to keeper" are all specific instructions that are actually useful to the player on the ball, rather than just shouting "Dan! Dan! Dan! Dan! Yes! Dan! DAN!!!! DAN!!!!!" over and over again whilst 5 other people do the same thing until Dan just runs away with his hands over his ears.

Communication doesn't have to be verbal...

Pointing where you want the ball, giving a thumbs up to the player who just played you a good pass that you miscontrolled, pointing where you want your team mate to move to... all of these are ways of communicating that don't involve opening your mouth at all and can be used as well as or even instead of, verbal communciation. For a less confident verbal communicator, these may be ways of helping them be more effective at communicating on the pitch.

Be creative...

I remember struggling enormously to help a couple of players develop their communication skills as they were very quiet and weren't comfortable with talking in a group. We ran a session where we gave the players a topic, in this case "Communication" and asked them to come up with a training exercise that allowed them to work on that topic. They had 5 minutes to come up with something and no coaches had any involvement in the ideas.

The session they put together involved a player in possession of a ball shutting their eyes, whilst 4 of their team mates directed them slowly to dribble through a series of cones to take a shot at goal. Not in the least bit relevant to football in a technical sense, but they had great fun, lots of laughing and quite a bit of chaos whilst the idea of giving useful information to someone really hit home. AND... when they moved into a normal 5v5 match, the amount of communication going on where the players were giving each other useful instructions, was so much better than I'd ever seen it before. The two lads who had been particularly struggling with their communication on the pitch were suddenly talking a bit... a breakthrough - and all because a 12 year old lad came up with an idea none of our coaches had ever thought of. Obviously consider player safety in this sort of scenario... having kids running at full pelt with their eyes shut isn't going to end well.

A couple of ideas for "communication" sessions...
  • Play a match with an invisible ball - the players have to talk through what they're doing and communicate what's going on in the game". You'll get arguments about whether the ball went in or hit the post, but your players will be talking, commentating, instructing each other and gaining confidence.
  • As per the "Be creative" section above, ask your players to come up with an idea for a short practice that revolves around communication - you may be as surprised as I was with the success their ideas bring.
  • I know some coaches have had success by introducing a rule that if a player doesn't call for the ball in a practice match, possession changes to the opposition. Be careful with this - a very shy child who simply can't bring themselves to communicate may now have the added worry of being the player who keeps letting the team down by conceding possession. This is something you can probably only run with players who you feel have the confidence inside them to do this. Goes back to knowing your players and what they will / won't respond well to.
  • Give one player on each team in a practice match the role of "captain" and they are the only one allowed to communicate. Encourage them to give useful information to their team mates. Because the onus is on them to do so and there is nobody to hide behind, it tends to mean they will start talking more. Make sure they know that to start with, you don't mind if they get the information they're giving out wrong - you just want them to be saying something. Even confident communicators may feel worried their coach is thinking that what they're saying is wrong and so go into their shell. Again - be careful with this and only give the role to players you feel can cope with being a lone voice. Rotate the role and then progress into a normal match where everyone can communicate. Note whether communication goes down at that point - sometimes players end up thinking "someone else will do it" and then nobody does. Point this out, perhaps go back to having one communicator and then give them another try as a whole team. They'll get there in the end.
Let us know if you have any other ideas on this topic that have worked for your team by e-mailing [email protected]