Meet the Coach – Simon Denton

Calling all grassroots football coaches! Club Website wants you!

Yes, we're on the lookout for amateur football's equivalent of Brendan Rodgers or Pep Guardiola to give us the lowdown on coaching at grassroots level. In return for just a small amount of your time, we'll give you a platform to deliver your philosophy on the beautiful game to the football world!

Kicking things off again this month, we're very pleased to introduce...

Name: Simon Denton

Location: Dereham, Norfolk

Club: Dereham Town

Position: Under-16s Manager

Coaching Qualifications: FA Level Two

Number of Years Coaching: 8

Affiliated FA: Norfolk FA

Why did you want to become a football coach?

I have two children, both heavily into their football. When my eldest started playing I noticed that there were a number of coaches/managers who either didn’t have the knowledge or didn’t know how to interact with young children wanting to play football.

I’ve never played football at a very high standard, but thought I had enough about me to teach children and develop their ability, but making sure they enjoyed the experience at the same time.

How did you get into coaching?

When my youngest boy started playing for his first team aged six I helped out a bit and from that time I’ve always has some involvement with one of my children’s teams - sometimes both!

How would you describe your coaching philosophy?

My ultimate aim is to ensure that all my players are comfortable with the ball at their feet, so that they are fully prepared to progress into adult football when the time comes. So the way my teams play is very much getting the ball on the floor, retaining possession and then looking for opportunities to get in behind the opposition, whether that is round, through or over the top of them.

I’d never advocate a one-dimensional long ball game as that is less likely to develop the players’ ball skills. You first need a solid backbone of the team though, so maintaining a consistent back five (including keeper) and coaching them to defend as a unit is essential.

Who or what has most influenced you as a coach?

The Henry/Bergkamp era Arsenal team was wonderful to watch and they influenced the style of football I like my teams to play but, as a Fulham fan, two managers have influenced me more than most: Micky Adams for bulldog spirit and Roy Hodgson for organisation.

Micky Adams took on a Fulham team that were 91st in the Football League. Without spending any money he brought in a number of players and created a team spirit where players would have run through brick walls for each other. In his first full season the team were promoted - the start of an upward trajectory that eventually saw them end up in the top flight. Remarkable.

A few years later Roy Hodgson took on a team almost certain to be relegated. He totally changed the way they played, creating organisation and structure so the team was difficult to break down. It wasn’t pretty to watch, but every single player knew exactly what their job was. They escaped relegation then qualified for Europe and reached the Europa League final – something that will never be repeated.

What skills does a grassroots football coach most require?

Organisation – As well as planning training sessions and tactics for matches, you also need to be organised with any admin, such as calling opposition managers to arrange fixtures, sending through match reports to the league, managing your team’s website – the list goes on!

Communication – This relates to both players and parents, although as players get to under-15/16s I like them to take a bit more responsibility and I do most communication through them rather than their parents.

Technical/tactical knowledge – You need a Level One to coach as a minimum, but good coaches are constantly learning by attending CPD events, observing other coaches, reading books etc.

Forward thinking – Having a Plan B is important if a particular training drill doesn’t work as expected or a game doesn’t go according to plan.

Patience – Especially with the younger players, as they may not initially be able to perform the tasks you set for them in training sessions. Similarly, you may have been working on certain areas of the game in training that don’t initially translate to matches. If at first you don’t succeed…

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

Parents coaching from the other side of the pitch – A lot of the time with different instructions than you. You need to make sure the players know their responsibilities on the pitch and do their best to follow the instructions they receive from the coaching team.

Playing against physically stronger players – In youth football, the bigger, stronger teams will, more often than not, beat a physically smaller team even if they aren’t technically as good. As long as the players give 100 percent and play the football the right way, they are developing. Over time, players even out physically so the more technical players will be better prepared for adult football.

Finding the time to plan sessions – It is pointless getting to training and winging it. Kids will know straight away plus they won’t get as much from the session. The vast majority of grassroots coaches will need to juggle their team with a full time job, family commitments and so on, so it's difficult to find the time.

What is your favourite coaching drill and why?

This is my go-to drill to sharpen up quick pass and moving with one touch (see diagram below). It also encourages players to work in triangles which is a good habit to get into. Players are lined up one per cone, two floating players in the middle, and any spare players queue on the first set of cones.

• X1 and X2 play a one-two
• X1 then passes long to X3
• X3 sets ball back to X2 who passes forward to X4 to play on the half turn to X3 who has spun round the cone (to replicate losing his marker in the game)
• X3 then dribbles the ball to the back of the queue
• All players on the cones move on to the next cone when they have made their final pass. The two central players stay there, but the coach rotates these every few minutes so everyone gets a go
• Play goes in both directions to maximise the number of touches of the ball for all players

Coaching points:
• One touch if you can, two touch if you need. Three touches shouldn’t be necessary
• Check away from the cone before receiving the ball to replicate losing a marker in a match
• Weight and accuracy of passing – keep the ball on the floor, and send it with enough pace to get to your team mate without it being intercepted in a match situation
• Once the players are used to the drill, increase tempo so passes and runs are at match pace
• The body shape of X4 is important as he needs to be able to see where the ball is coming from and where he wants to send it. He should use his back foot to pass the ball to replicate taking the defender out of the game in a match situation

What sort of environment do you create for your team and how do you create it?

An environment where the players know they need to take it seriously, but can have fun at the same time. My team only trains for an hour each week so it is important that we maximise the number of touches of the ball each player gets during that time. We get to training 30 minutes early and chat during the warm up, so the players can be fully focused and prepared for the next hour.

A good team spirit and togetherness is essential, and can give you that extra 10 percent that can win you a game. We encourage our players rather than moan at them, and our players all do the same. If something needs to be said it will be done in a constructive way.

Fair play and respect are also important. Part of my role is developing the players as people, not just footballers, and under-15s/16s is a very important age to help steer players in the right direction. Don’t cheat, don’t moan at the referee, don’t retaliate. It is important to have a responsible captain who will speak to the ref constructively if there are any on-pitch issues.

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

Attitude – A very good player who is bad for team spirit is not as useful as a slightly less talented player who has an excellent attitude.

Commitment – Both in terms of attendance at training/matches, but also on the pitch. Will they play at 100 percent capacity for you for the whole match?

Technical ability – Who wouldn’t want a technically gifted player? Players should find a team most suited to their ability level, whatever that is. There is no point in a top player being in a team they are too good for. Similarly, players shouldn’t be in teams where team mates are at a higher standard and they won’t get a game.

Decision making – Does the player know when to play a simple five yard pass versus taking someone on one-against-one?

First touch – Does the player have his body in the right shape to move the ball where he wants on the first touch? Can he control the ball with both feet, chest, thigh etc?

I’ve never listed those attributes before and it’s interesting that only two of my five are about ‘ability’.

How important is it that youth football coaches receive education geared specifically towards coaching young players (as is the case with the FA Youth Awards)?

I think it is important that grassroots coaches get as much support as possible, and this should be tailored to the age groups they are coaching. I coach my under-16s in a different way to the way I would coach under-8s, for example. It will be interesting for me next season when I go back down to coach our under-9s!

When I did my Level Two, it was an eye opener for me and it made me think about aspects of the game I’d not considered before, and has helped me greatly in my subsequent coaching.

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

The rationale behind the plans is a sound one, giving young players more touches of the ball. 11-a-side football on a massive pitch at 10 years old isn’t good, especially for keepers. Anything that gives players more touches of the ball is good for their development, and being able to affect the game in a smaller area and under pressure is essential if we want to grow our players like they do in Spain.

The negative element is that players won’t be able to play a year up because of the restrictions around pitch sizes. One of my own children played up a year when he was younger and he is a better player for it. Some players who may be too good for their own age group need additional challenges.

And there is obviously the issue with creating new pitches with new sizes – as we all know green space is limited and costly. Overall though, the changes are more positive than negative.

Should all young footballers get the same amount of game time regardless of their ability and why?

This depends on a number of factors really - in the younger age groups all players need the same amount of game time to give them as many touches of the ball as possible at a young age. As they move closer towards adult football, players tend to be more competitive and will want to win games more than they did in the younger ages.

By that time, players should be playing for teams where the majority of players are of similar ability. In that instance, players should be given an even amount of pitch time.

For players in these older age groups who are not at the same level as the rest of the team, it is important to develop these players, but you may have to be more selective in the game situations you put them in. For example, it isn’t fair to throw a player in at the deep end against a really good team if you don’t think they are ready for it.

Communication is the key here – as long as players know at the start of the season how squads are selected, there shouldn’t be any surprises.

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

This is an easy one – coaches have a massive impact on young footballers' development and seeing your players develop as footballers and as young men is extremely rewarding. The fact that nine of my previous youth team are now thriving in adult football at the age of 17-18 makes it all worthwhile.


Five aside - a few quickfire questions

Describe yourself as a coach in three words: Organised. Honest. Approachable.

What professional manager/coach are you most like: Roy Hodgson – build from the back and be organised.

If you could add any footballer (past or present) to your team: Thierry Henry in his prime – completely unplayable and scored for fun.

Describe your perfect team: 11 technically gifted players who would carry your instructions out, make the right decisions and give 100 percent, playing an attractive style of football.

Your proudest moment as a grassroots football coach: Seeing my current team develop over the three seasons I've managed them. We were a struggling team three seasons ago, but the players have worked extremely hard to improve during this time.

This is our final season in youth football and we have been league cup semi-finalists and, all being well, should finish in the top 3-4 in the league. But the pinnacle has been reaching the county cup final. Playing in front of nearly 300 people in such a prestigious match was a great experience for everyone involved and, even though we lost 4-3, we’ll all look back on it with great pride.


Have your say on the coaching points raised!

Simon has laid his coaching cards firmly on the table, so now we want you to get involved and give us your feedback on the points he's raised. Agree or disagree, like or dislike, we want to start a debate within the grassroots coaching community so that you can share your coaching ideas.

So please tell us what you think in the comments section below!

If you'd like to be the next coach we meet here at Club Website, please email your name, contact number, location and details of your coaching qualifications to

We look forward to hearing from you!

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