WOODLEY UNITED have led the way with innovative virtual training sessions for their under 8’s team to keep them engaged and active throughout lockdown.
Team coaches Charlie Payne and Paul Meaden, who take care of training the under 8’s age group at Woodley United Football Club, envisaged the idea of running virtual training sessions which has become a huge success.
“We started getting on with it the moment football was suspended. Charlie and I got our heads together and started brainstorming ideas of how we could keep the kids engaged in football, with the club and with each other,” said Paul.
“For us it was important to ensure the kids had a social connection to motivate them to get involved.
“We dipped in and had a go with the virtual sessions, we’ve had teething problems and realised parts where it has gone flat and where its needed to improve. So we’ve added more fun elements.”
There have been challenges along the way, but the coaches have been able to devise sessions to bring out creativity among the group of youngsters who have been able to enjoy the routine of football sessions during lockdown.
“We realised in the first few weeks, a lot of the kids hadn’t seen their mates for a while so getting them on the screen looking at each other was a bit odd for them,” said Charlie.
“So we started with simple activities like who can make the silliest animal noise or do the best goal celebration to make them more comfortable seeing each other acting silly.
“Some of them wouldn’t partake in the football activities, but they just wanted to be there to interact with their mates.”
Starting with the under 8’s age group, Charlie and Paul have ensured that the social aspect of football is always at the forefront of their sessions, including special guest appearances from first-team coaches such as Reading Women’s goalkeeper Rachael Laws and Wycombe Wanderers manager Gareth Ainsworth.
“The football element is completely secondary to everything we’re trying to do,” continued Paul.
“We’re trying to bring normality and a bit of fun and happiness into the kids’ days, and whilst we’re doing it, we will do a bit of football.
“We’ve introduced guests into the session which has been a brilliant addition and has helped us do things such as specialist goalkeeper training.
“We’ve invited members of the first team into our ball mastery sessions, we want to keep things varied.
“We needed to keep the interest going to ensure each session was different and had the idea of midweek being training and Saturday being the matchday to create something to keep interest.
“The kids absolutely love it. We’ve had around 30 kids in each midweek and Saturday sessions and another 20 who wanted to do the goalkeeping sessions. Last week we had the first team goalkeeper coach, who is also Reading Women’s goalkeeper Rachael Laws. She came along and the kids loved hearing her stories. Tomorrow night we have Wycombe Wanderers manager Gareth Ainsworth dropping in for a Q&A.
“We’ve opened it up to the whole youth age range. For this to work, the parents have to get involved and do a bit of coaching, we’ve seen them really step up. To see the benefit extending to the families as well is great.”
“We’ve got the kids to showcase their skills and it’s been lovely to see them do a bit of a show and tell, it helps to engage them,” added Charlie.
“We’ve done drills such as dribbling, so we asked them to make defenders, so the kids went away and made defenders out of objects such as buckets or bins.
“So we made a design a defender competition, they sent a photograph in and the first-team managers voted on the winner.
“It’s all about their journey, we set the framework up for them to be creative.”
The community aspect of the sessions has been paramount to their success, and they are keen for more clubs and age groups to get involved.
“Throughout the club, key members have been coming on board with the idea,” continued Charlie.
“We’re pulling in ideas and resources from other people which has helped to make the club more integrated than it has ever been and that’s certainly a positive we can take out of this strange time. That’s one thing we have to ensure that we continue as a club.
“We are one club in the community, I’m sure there are lots of kids out there who would like to do something like this as well.
“If there are any clubs out there who would like to speak to us and tap into what we are doing, we’d be more than happy to take calls and discuss what we’ve done to either get their kids involved in what we are doing or launch their own version of it.
“This isn’t just about Woodley United, it’s about what we can do as a community for our young players.
“If there are other parents in the community who want their kids to join in, get in touch with us and we’ll happily involve them, it doesn’t matter what club they play for. We want this to be a collaborative process.
“It’s so important to us to see the kids having fun and engaging with their friends, that is the bottom line of it all. And at the end of it, if they play a bit of football and improve a bit, that’s brilliant.
“We’ve created a YouTube channel for our under 8’s where we are posting the activities that we do.
“To feel that weve done something of value for them means a lot. The more we can do this and keep the kids involved, the better,” added Paul.
“The end goal of all of this is to keep kids fit and engaged with team sport all the way into adulthood.”