Tom Stanbury

It’s now been a few weeks since all football was suspended in most countries around the world due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

Unfortunately, it appears that restrictions could be in place for a long time - no one knows when we'll even be allowed to even meet up with our players, let alone train together or play matches.

Grassroots managers and coaches often devote many hours a week organising sessions and games, so the current situation has left us with a big football-shaped hole in our lives!

So, what can we be getting on with until things get back to “normal” and grassroots football resumes?

There’s actually quite a lot of ideas and resources to keep you busy and make sure your team and players are ready for when we can finally get back on the pitch.

1. Keep in touch with your team members

Despite us having to stay at home as much as possible, we’re spoilt for choice with ways of keeping in regular touch with those we care about.

It’s easy, fast and often free to send messages or make calls to find out how everyone is doing - they'll no doubt be very grateful for your support and encouragement.

Keeping your team spirit and enthusiasm going during this difficult period is essential – try to keep in regular contact with positive messages to your players and other team members, either individually or as a group.

You could reminisce about great performances or funny moments to give everyone a well-needed mood boost.

By making a special effort now, you could well find your team spirit is stronger and your players are closer when the football finally resumes.

2. Encourage your players to keep fit and on top of their game

We can’t train together or with the usual kit and equipment but that doesn’t mean your players have to just stop and do nothing.

Keeping fit and skills sharp isn’t just important for physical reasons - it also gives a very welcome lift to mental health – hugely important right now.

There’s loads of websites and videos to use for solo-training ideas and inspiration. You’ll obviously need to focus on routines that can be done either at home or in the local park with no (or minimal) equipment needed.

Once you’ve gathered some suitable training options for your players, you could set them a programme to follow and targets to aim for. You might even get them to send you some videos to prove they’re actually doing something!

Here’s an excellent video from YouTube to get you started:

3. Evaluate how this season went

Despite the season ending early for many teams, you can still look back to reflect and evaluate on how it all went.

Think about what went right or wrong and assess which areas you've made progress in.

Did you and/or your players meet or exceed your pre-season goals and objectives?

For those coaches and managers that already use TeamStats, you could go back through your match reports - an ideal way to refresh your memory of what happened in each game.

You could also spend a bit of time analysing your team and player stats - you might spot some trends or gain some insights which can give you an edge next season.

Now may also be the perfect time to get on top of your team finances. TeamStats users can quickly find and contact any players that still owe money and request payments. With the debit/credit card payment options, all debts could be settled in minutes with minimal hassle.

4. Plan for next season

Now that you've gone over last season, it's time to plan for next.

Think about what you can change or introduce to the team with the aim of doing things better, on and off the pitch.

If you have regular training sessions then how could you improve them? Is the location, time and cost optimal? Maybe it's worth looking into other options.

You could look into new drills and ideas for mixing up your sessions. With this extended break from football, it's going to be really important to regain fitness as soon as we can - drills like this are worth considering :

Again, there's loads of training and coaching resources out there on YouTube, blogs and other websites, many at no cost.

Spend some time researching to find resources and ideas that will suit your own situation.

If your team doesn't currently have training sessions, then maybe consider whether you should. Get an idea of interest by contacting your players as there's no point without the numbers. If you think it could work out then start researching and contacting possible venues.

You should probably find out who's still committed to the team for next season, don't take it for granted that everyone will be as a lot of personal situations are unfortunately changing at the moment. This doesn't just apply to players, valuable volunteers should also be consulted.

If you do need to sign some new players, you can start putting the word out there to try and attract some new talent (or at least re-assemble a decent sized squad).

Do you have enough players in the squad but struggle to keep on top of who's available or not? If so, you could look into setting up a team management app (such as TeamStats) which can help with availability tracking and also assist with a lot of your other admin tasks.

How did your team cope financially last season? if you struggled to stay cash positive then you might need to look at raising fees for your players. Not a nice thing to do but you may get into serious difficulty otherwise and unable to pay your league, pitch, referee and other fees.

A good way of getting financial help is finding new sponsors. A lot of busy people currently have more time on their hands than usual and they/their companies may be more open to being approached and discussing getting involved. Just be aware that a lot of businesses have been financially affected by the current crisis so it's probably best to take this into consideration before approaching anyone.

Another option for financing your team is funding and grants.

Have a look at the excellent Football Foundation website to see if you're eligible to apply.

5. Host a “virtual” end of season awards night, party or quiz

Everyone looks forward to that special night at the end of the season where you celebrate and socialise as a unit (regardless of what you've achieved on the pitch).

Unfortunately this year it might not be possible to have such a gathering but where there's a will, there's a way!

Group video apps such as Skype, Zoom, Facebook Messenger or Houseparty don't cost anything to use and make it simple organise virtual meet-ups - the next best thing to actually being in the same room as your teammates.

6. Sort out your kit and equipment

Now is the perfect time for a spring sort out (and clean).

If you're like most coaches and managers, you've probably got multiple bags and boxes of sweaty kit, equipment and balls that haven't been organised in ages.

Tip everything out (in the garden ideally!) and go through it all.

Decide what you want to keep, what needs cleaning/repairing and what you don't want any more.

For the stuff you want to get rid of, decide what's useless and can be thrown away.

If there's unwanted items that are too good to chuck out, you have three options:

1. Sell it second-hand to top up team/club funds - Gumtree and Facebook Marketplace are good free options for local sales, or there's always eBay. 

2. Give it away for free to another team in your area

3. Donate it to a charity such as KitAid - a charity that recycles football kits and distributes to underprivileged children and adults in some of the world’s poorest countries.

You'll also probably find things in there that you'd completely forgotten about or have no idea where they came from!

If there are any unknown items then send photos to your players and usually they'll claim the missing item and be surprised and grateful for its return.

Once you've finished your sort out (and feel all warm and fuzzy inside) you'll have a good idea of anything new you need to buy - there's plenty of retailers still operating online that can provide what you need.

One retailer who are definitely still open for business is Amazon - you can view their huge range of football kit, balls, boots and equipment here.

You may have decided that its time for a brand new kit - this needs some proper research to make sure you get the best design, service and deal. It's a big chunk of money to spend, so start approaching those potential sponsors or applying for funding!

7. Take part in some challenges

You're probably aware of the various "challenges" that are being posted all over social media - some good, many probably of no interest!

One of the first to be "created" and probably of most appeal to any football team is the #ToiletRollChallenge – kick ups with a toilet roll!

A lot of teams have been setting their players the challenge to see who can do the most kickups and/or with the best tricks (video proof is obviously essential!).

Has your team already done this? If not, it could be worth a try. By offering prizes (or some sort of incentive) you'll get a lot more of your players up for it.

You could even create a fancy video linking everyone’s efforts together, just like Sutton United Under 13s did here:

Other football-related challenges that aren't as well known but still worth a try can be found on the FA's #FootballsStayingHome YouTube channel - Fancy a go at the Wheelie Bin, Deck Chair or Washing Line challenges?!

For something less physical, there's also a challenge that has been shared across social media which has gained traction since Jamie Carragher tweeted about it.

You have to come up with your your best world XI team from players that have played since you were born, but you can't have more than one player from the same country or who has played at the same club as any of the others. It's actually very difficult to do and requires a bit of research into player's career histories to make sure you don't break the rules!

8. Get your football fix

For many of us football is a huge part of our lives.

When we're not managing or coaching our own teams we're regularly watching pro matches live on TV or in stadiums.

Or thinking about it, reading about it or tweaking our fantasy teams!

With all that being taken away in one hit, it can be a struggle to get our fix!

The bad news is there's no direct replacement, there never will be - but you already knew that.

The good news is there are some great free resources that have been specially made available and should help with football-related cravings:

FIFA have launched #WorldCupAtHome - 30 classic full-length World Cup matches have been added to their YouTube channel.

FIFA - World Cup At Home

UEFA.tv is following suit by streaming classic European Championships and Champions League ties.

The official England YouTube channel have also added old matches and have plenty of #FootballsStayingHome special content

The BBC are doing something similar with Match of the Day. Every Saturday night, an ex-player chooses three iconic matches that they were involved in. Extended highlights are then shown followed by some interesting analysis. Well worth a watch.

Plenty of options there to get stuck into and take a trip down memory lane!

To make things more social, you could even arrange to watch these matches at the same time as your team (or friends) and chat with them as the action happens (just don't do it in the same room please!).

Other ideas you could try are watching football related movies, reading books or playing games such as FIFA or Football Manager.

9. Look after yourself

Hopefully this article has given you some ideas and inspiration for how you can use your spare time during this strange and difficult period.

The most important advice is to look after yourself, not just physically but mentally too.

We don't yet know how long this situation will last and the longer it goes on, the bigger impact it will have on us all.

Plenty of exercise, eating well and getting quality sleep will all play their part in keeping you on track, and your mood and emotions in the right place - try to keep on top of these as best you can.

Despite the days and weeks almost blurring into one for many of us, having some sort of schedule and routine can really help - you could use some of the ideas from this article to help give your days some structure, productivity and sense of achievement.

Hopefully football (and life!) will resume in the reasonably near future but until then, take care and stay safe.

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