Meet the grassroots coach – Scott Upton

Grassroots football coaches – Club Website wants you! We’re giving you a platform to talk about your experiences, motivations, successes and frustrations as a coach. This month, we’d like to introduce…

Name: Scott Upton

Location: Groby, Leicester

Clubs: Groby Juniors FC (www.clubwebsite.co.uk/grobyjuniors)

Position: Chairman & under-11s manager

Coaching Qualifications: FA Level 2

Number of Years Coaching: 20

Affiliated FA: Leicestershire & Rutland County FA

Why did you want to become a football coach?

Football is all about opinions – I’d formed mine from a lifetime of playing and wanted to put them into practice to see if I could get children playing the game how I thought it should be played. I thought too much emphasis was put on getting the ball forward and scoring goals instead of passing and moving and keeping possession.

How did you get into coaching?

I didn’t originally want anything to do with coaching my son’s team. I’d already managed men’s teams and knew only too well what hassle it could be, so when my son started playing aged 8 I was a silent, frustrated parent who stood in the background and kept myself to myself.

I found it difficult as I felt the manager was teaching the players the wrong things. He was a poor coach and eventually my frustration got the better of me and I started to offer bit of advice. As each week would pass I found myself getting more and more involved. At the end of the season the manager announced he was stepping aside and I seemed the natural successor to take over.

How would you describe your coaching philosophy?

I like to win, just like everyone, but I’d rather see my team play good passing football, keeping possession of the ball ahead of scoring goals. I reason that if we keep the ball and pass it around well we will make all the chances and score goals anyway – just as a natural succession from our good play. I also teach my players that football is about good players working hard and that you can work hard and still have a smile on your face.

Who or what has most influenced you as a coach?

Most of my football beliefs have come from my own time playing the game, but one manager that opened my eyes to a much bigger picture is Glenn Hoddle. He came up with new ideas, offered a different philosophy and gave me the ideas to draw up long-term objectives and not just take each week as it comes.

What skills does a grassroots football coach most require?

Experience from having played the game themselves. I find it disturbing when I go on coaching courses and find people on them wanting to acquire coaching badges when they have never even played themselves, not even as kids.

I question the motives behind someone who does this and truly believe that all the courses and all the books and videos in the world will never be an adequate substitute for having played the game… and I feel that inexperienced coaches will pass on bad advice.

What are the most frequent challenges / hurdles you have to overcome as a grassroots coach?

Coaching children has many different challenges based on their ages and you have to adapt your training sessions and approach accordingly. Their attention span gets better with age and you have to make a lot of allowances for that when they are younger. The other major challenge is managing the players’ parents and their aspirations – many of them are over-ambitious and self-centred.

What is your favourite coaching drill and why?

My favourite routine is to play a 3-touch possession game using 4 v 4 with 3 floaters (2 players plus me) to create a 7 v 4 overload but this can be adjusted depending on team size. We play it on a fairly big pitch to give players space-appreciation. What usually happens at the start is that players tend to bunch around the ball but as the session progresses they start to work out how to switch the ball into space, away from defenders, and to move into space off the ball to make passing options for the player in possession.

I try to get them to use one touch – having a picture in their head where the next pass is going before they have even received the ball and to shape their body to be able to play that pass. It also gets the players without the ball to learn that they have to play the pressing game in order to put players with the ball under pressure to force them into making a mistake.

When judging a player, what are the top five attributes you look for?

1. Speed
2. Balance
3. Attitude
4. Athleticism
5. Ability

You have qualified for an FA Youth Award. How important is it that youth football coaches receive education geared specifically towards youth coaching?

I totally agree with it. As I mentioned earlier, young players’ needs change as they get older and a lot of coaching is age-specific. It is important that coaches recognise this and are able to deliver age-specific training sessions at the right stages of players development. The new courses certainly help coaches to do that.

What do you think of the FA’s new approach to youth football as a result of the Youth Development Review?

This subject is very dear to me and I have written numerous emails to Nick Levett [FA National Development Manager for Youth Football] questioning the reasoning behind many of the new FA implementations. I could write vast chapters on it as I believe most of the new motions will prove detrimental in the long term.

Don’t get me wrong, some of the FA’s ideas make sense and I do understand their reasoning but these decisions have been made by a few ill-advised people who appear uninterested in what other people have to say about the subject. I agree that under-7s should be playing 4v4 to encourage more touches but to say that children are not interested in winning games or trophies and to make all football non-competitive until they reach the age of 13 is sheer lunacy.

The education authorities have done many years’ research into maximising children’s work effort and how best to reward them. They have concluded that rewarding children with certificates and medals is the best way to achieve the best results and it has now become part of the national curriculum, so I would like someone from the FA to explain to me the reasoning behind their decision to do the exact opposite and take everything away from a child for doing well at football.

I feel that football could lose many of its players to other sports – where children do receive rewards – if it fails to reward them with materialistic mementos like all the other sports do.

Most of the coaching courses encourage coaches to promote 2v2, 3v3 and 4v4 games in training which is designed to encourage more touches, which I agree with. However, I don’t see the sense in then forcing teams to play in scaled-down 9v9 matches as opposed to playing 11v11, especially as under-12s.

Football is all about learning how to use space with and without the ball, not about running any less. Like it or not, football is largely based on the ability to run – fast and for a long period. Without that ability no player will succeed and all the FA directives seem to be taking us away from this.

Winning; Enjoyment; Development – As a grassroots coach, in what order do you prioritise these three aspects of football and why?

I know there are a lot of managers out there that will say development is number one just because they know it’s the answer you are looking for. Although I certainly wouldn’t argue, as every player should learn to be the best that they can be, I personally believe that there is a good argument for all three.

At the end of the day we are all involved in football for the enjoyment of it. Some kids, as hard as they try, will never be world beaters and their development will be virtually non-existent, but as long as they are having fun who cares? You will also find that winning goes hand-in-hand with enjoyment. No-one wants to lose every week. And then there are players out there that do possess ability and it is important that they are coached to help them achieve their maximum potential.

With this in mind, should all young footballers get the same amount of game time regardless of their ability and why?

I think it’s down to the individual. Some players should be rewarded with more game time for giving more effort in games, and some players perhaps need to learn that they have to try harder in order to be rewarded with more game time, otherwise players can become too complacent and there is not enough incentive to improve.

What is the best thing about being a grassroots football coach?

Most coaches are admired by their players as role models and it is fantastic to know that you can play a positive role in their lives and development. Many times I have had to speak to a child about his behaviour at school or somewhere away from football because, in the parent’s words: “You’re the only one that he will listen to.” It’s also rewarding to see players develop and improve, especially the ones that were significantly behind the standard of the other players when they joined.

Five aside – a few quickfire question

Describe yourself as a coach in three words: Ambitious. Knowledgeable. Enthusiastic.

What professional manager/coach are you most like: Alex Ferguson. I don’t think he’s as good as everyone says, but he was loyal to the one club for a long time, like me and he eats, sleeps, breathes football, like I do.

If you could add any footballer (past or present) to your team: Paul Gascoigne… I would give him better advice so hopefully he wouldn’t have turned out to be the sad person he now is.

Describe your perfect team: Brazil 1970 or Holland 1974… need I say more?

Your proudest moment as a grassroots football coach: Last season my under-10s completed the treble. We won Division One with the perfect record of winning every league game. They then won the cup and finally we won the National ACES tournament, against the very best teams in England. I’ve trained most of the players since they were aged just four and carved them in the way I want the game to be played with the emphasis all on passing and possession.

Have your say!

What do you think of the issues Scott has raised? Do you like his possession-based approach to the game? What about his views on the FA’s changes to youth football? We’d love you to get involved, so please give us your feedback on the points raised in the comments section below.

If you’d like to be featured in ‘Meet the Grassroots Coach’, please email your name, contact number, location and details of your coaching qualifications to [email protected].

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Dan Pope
Writer at Teamer

Freelance writer, editor and copywriter, with a passion for grassroots sport. A right back turned football writer, Dan is the former editor of Club Website and has been lucky enough to work in the field of grassroots and community sport for the last 10 years.


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6 Comments

  1. John Rogers on October 31, 2013 at 11:49 am

    You can tell what kind of coach Scott is – all three pictures are of his kids team with trophies and he used to coach men’s football!

  2. Derek Graham on October 31, 2013 at 11:58 am

    Paul sounds a great coach and I agree with 95% of what he says. I was a manager/coach for 6 years from U5-U10s. I do think 9 v 9 is a good step though between 7v7 and 11v11. But Paul is absolutely right that the lack of competition until U13 will cause players to lose interest to other sports and become lost to the game. There has got to be a happy medium between not driving 5 year olds to try to win incessantly yet alloing 10 and 11 year olds to compete, win (or lose) and gain rewards from this.

  3. Lee Shelton on October 31, 2013 at 3:02 pm

    The irony that Paul took over the team after being a parent that had more and more input can’t be ignored. Each parent has the best interests of the children at heart but the coach is in charge of the session. To miss intelligence from the top 5 player attributes is confusing with a pass and possession team mentality. Although, like myself, as coaches we support each other and it’s always good to see what others believe as good practice.

  4. Graham Stephenson on November 1, 2013 at 12:53 pm

    I agree about the non-competitive approach being taken by the FA-a retrograde step. This has been the problem with school sport over the last 30years or so.

  5. Matt on November 6, 2013 at 2:32 pm

    Scott – do you really think that a coach who has not played football has nothing to offer the sport in a coaching capacity? I think there are good and bad coaches who have played the game and good and bad coaches who have not. Whether they have played is incidental as they may have experience in coaching other sports or working with children i.e attributes that someone who has played may not have. I admit that knowledge of the game is very important but you can learn this – there are many successful Premier League Managers who never played. I think this is too black and white as there are lots of different aspects of being a successful youth coach, experience of playing is indeed one of them but you cannot exclude those who did not- we just need to make sure that the training of those coaches is the best it can be!

  6. Matt L on November 10, 2013 at 8:12 am

    Some sense spoken, but then a lot of nonsense!
    Quotes from his own team website include such gems as “I’ve been chasing J***b for 4 seasons, ever since I first saw him play, and finally him and his dad have given into my constant harassment and decided to join us.”
    Or “R**n is the latest edition to the squad, and in many ways the final piece in the jigsaw, as he will bring additional pace and power to our midfield and attack. His arrival, along with that of our new goalkeeper, has filled me with excitement for the coming season and left me counting down the days until I can unveil the new-look Groby Juniors to our rivals.” Of 13 listed players, 8 have previous clubs. This is an Under 11 football team, not the Premier league. Have these players been developed or poached! You be the judge.
    Have to agree with John Roger, winning over development.

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