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From The EPL - Six Pro Tips For Coaching Grassroots Football

The English Premier League Was Back In South Africa This Month

By Soccer Laduma - May 28, 2018 05:30 PM

Premier Skills, the global coach and referee development programme run by the Premier League and the British Council, took place in Durban last week.

Click through the gallery above to see Premier Skills in action

Since Premier Skills began in 2007, 20,027 coaches and referees have been trained in 29 countries around the world, who - in turn - have reached over 1.6 million young people.

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Speaking to Soccer Laduma, Head Coach, Graham Robinson, and South Africa’s Coach Educator, Nomonde Mashabane outlined six tips for grassroots coaches teaching football in their local communities.

Robinson said, “We use the acronym SMILES when working with coaches – it’s easy to remember and easy for them to apply in the communities where they coach football.”

SMILES is broken down into the following:


Coaching in a grassroots situation it’s often difficult to control the environment.  Make sure that the kids feel safe with you, build personal relationships so they trust you and feel safe.  Kids should feel safe being in your care. 


Planning ensures maximum participation. Make an effort to know your players: their strengths, personalities, skills and skill levels. This helps you ensure that you can challenge players appropriately and encourage them to extend themselves.

Always have a backup plan, if Plan A goes off course, Plan B will keep participants interested and engaged.

Fail to prepare, prepare to fail. Many coaches believe they can coach off the cuff and don’t plan a coaching session. If you know the team and players, you’re able to plan a session that is interesting, varied and enjoyable for all players.

“I plan my sessions a week ahead, this makes reporting into the organisation and team management much easier,” said Mashabane.

Not all children will become professional athletes, but football can play a role in developing responsible members of society.


Football is expanding and growing to include people with different levels of ability, different genders and those with physical disabilities.  Ensure your language and actions are not offensive to any of these groups and design activities that include everyone represented in the group.

Players have different abilities and come from different backgrounds.  For some, it is the only time they are not neglected, not bullied, not abused.  Provide an environment where everyone is involved at all times.

No one is superior, irrespective of football ability. There are ways to accommodate a variety of children – planning can assist on this front. 


Kids learn at different levels, although they might be the same age. As a grassroots coach, you should know when to progress or upgrade your session. Understand it’s fine to take it back to basics.  

Learning should take place at each individual’s unique level and understanding of the game. 


Football is fun. Ensure that you include a game within your coaching session, as generally, that’s what the kids are there for.

Creative sessions mean fun, for the participants and for you as the coach.  In our Phase 2 programme, social inclusion is an important part of the curriculum.  We use football terminology and the game to teach literacy and numeracy.  We call it ‘disguised teaching and learning’ where children are learning within the context of something they love.

Take kids who don’t have don’t have fun in school – bringing the classroom outside – healthy eating, numeracy and literacy in an environment where they feel comfortable and relaxed.

Example of an exercise:

Health – passing session – dribble towards a zone – each zone represents a certain food group (protein, fruit & veg) when the child gets to that zone they must identify a food within that food group.

Literacy – passing – set up gates within a playing area.  A team member holds up a word eg PASSING – when they pass the ball when they spell the word. Words are football related and exercise can progress.

Numeracy – three teams working with a variety of football items such as balls, cones, bibs. Teams run to a central point, collect an item and run back to their team. The team who collects the most items, which each have a monetary value and addition or subtraction is required, wins that round. 


Be creative and think out of the box to create solutions rather than finding obstacles. Many coaches use lack of resources as an excuse. If you don’t have the budget for cones, use discarded plastic bottles filled with sand as a substitute. If there is no budget for t-shirts or bibs, recycle old t-shirts and create sashes.  

Africa is a resourceful continent and there are many countries where kids desperate to play football make their own balls using plastic bags. If you don’t have a ball, ask if any members of the team have a ball they can bring to practice. 

In my experience planning is the biggest key to success. Plan your practice, focus on specific skills or outcomes and have a backup plan.

Celebrate wins and celebrate when individuals leapfrog their own capabilities and fears.

As a team identify your goals.  It might not be trophies or elite football. Determine how you as a coach can help a child to use football as a tool to grow in life.  We might not all be pro athletes can we can all be pro-people. 

Since the start of 2017 in South Africa, Premier Skills have been delivered in Johannesburg, Durban and Cape Town where over 100 community coaches have received a CAF D license. 


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