This weeks interview is with John Bilton, one of the most respected Youth coaches in English professional soccer. We would like to express our thanks to John for sharing some of his expert knowledge.

Q/ What is the main quality you look for in a younger player ?

A/ Depends on the age of a player. For the young player 11 years & under there is an important requirement for the player to have the ability to develop their agility, balance, co-ordination, speed and football skills to a high standard. Most players are not capable of doing this so they will never play at an high standard but they may enjoy playing at a lower standard. The job of the coach is to develop the player to their genetic potential, you can't do any more than that. For the older player at say 16, in order for them to stand any chance of becoming a professional they must have good all round technical ability and positional specific ability. A good understanding and ability to play in their position with in the team, in other words can they "play tactically. From a physiological prospective they must have the height for the position and have speed and all round athletic ability as indicated above for the young group. Psychologically they must have a burning desire to succeed. Some young players think they want to be pro's but do not like all the hard work and dedication that is required. Mental toughness is a must with a high level of confidence. Competitiveness is extremely important. It is my belief that you should develop a winning attitude in players at an early age, by failing to do this you fail to prepare the player to be a professional.

Q/ Have you noticed an improvement over the years in younger professional players attitudes to training (warm-up, diet..) ?

A/ Yes, but you need to affect this improvement or it will not happen. There is a need for an holistic approach to player education with a planned programme for players and parents from 8 to 18 year olds.

Q/ Briefly, how much of a role does sports science play in your preparation ?

It could play a greater role than it does but you have to be realistic in terms of time and a pay back on time. I believe that there are too many sport scientists that do not really understand the game and the problems that players and coaches have. Lets not forget that sports scientists do research to prove that why & what the leading sports coaches are doing is successful. I personally keep topping up my knowledge base so that I can select and apply what will be successful. I have learned very little from sports scientists be a large amount from top coaches particularly in other sports and countries when they visit the UK to do seminars. I do not see much evidence of sport scientists within English football changing beliefs of coaches and the game. They very often hide behind the "there is no evidence to suggest" I think that much of coaching is an art based on sound principles.

Q/ What are the three major qualities a Youth soccer coach should have ?

A/ 3 qualities are:

1 - A very good all round knowledge base of all areas of the game.
2 - A very open and enquiring mind.
3 - A passion for the game to coach and develop individual players and not simply to coach football

Q/ What is your favourite coaching drill ?

My favourite drill is the 3v3 practice on my web site, you can coach anything within this. To visualise this drill and others on John's site, click here.

John Bilton is currently in charge of Youth Development, Conditioning and is the Goalkeeping Coach at Rotherham United Football Club - English League Division 1. He formerly worked at Leeds Utd FC (Premier League) and holds the UEFA "A" License, the English Football Associations Fitness Trainers License (one of only 10 Holders in England) and has a Bachelor of Science degree in Applied Sports Coaching. You can visit his website for more useful information and coaching tips.

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