Football is the biggest sport in England, with over 2 million people over the age of 16 playing once a week, and millions of children playing regularly. This being the case, understanding tactics is an important part of the sport. But how young should coaches start to teach tactics to children? And how important are tactics to children’s development at grassroots level?

Tactics in its simplest form is being able to understand formations. As different formations allow for different tactical advantages and disadvantages, this knowledge is checked by coaches on a regular basis. Children will be introduced to different levels of tactics depending of factors such as:

  • Ability of the player
  • Ability of their team
  • Standard of the coach and their education
  • Age of the player

Depending on the ability of the children, tactics such as playing through the thirds can be taught to children as young as 7 years old. However, many grassroots players will struggle with this knowledge and so they should be allowed to develop in their own time as this tactical knowledge will be taught to them at a later date.

An example of this is that in academies, players are taught about trigger movements, pockets of pass and overload situations that will not be covered by many grassroots clubs.

Children should not be assigned specific positions until they are into their teenage years; however, the majority of grassroots managers will give their players positions, which could damage their development. The reason for this tactical development technique is because it develops their all-round generic game understanding, which will be beneficial for the individual.

According to the FA U7/8 youth development booklet, although the word tactic is not mentioned, it is covered in many areas and can be taught to children of this age without them consciously being aware.

The Future Game is a technical guide to be followed by clubs up and down the country; however, the only tactical element involved in this document is being able to have “exceptional decision-making skills”. The Future Game is for all forms of the game, from grassroots to elite level performances.

Coaches with a good knowledge and education will be able to implement the FA’s LTPD (Long Term Player Development) 4 corners model. This models allows coaches to be able to cover all areas of development and game understanding in their sessions, which both tactically and physically will be beneficial to the players involved. The 4 corners are:

  • Technical
  • Physical
  • Psychological
  • Social