It's been said that organising a junior jootball team is a little bit like herding cats…impossible and pointless! Well, those of us who enjoy seeing the growth and development of our young players would take issue with the "pointless" aspect, although in an ever faster-paced world, with all of our lives filled up with so many different things and particularly for those of us who have children who pursue different interests, keeping tabs on the availability of players for your team can definitely seem impossible.
It is not unusual to find yourself with a completely different 11 from one game to the next simply through player absence and it can be difficult to build any level of continuity. This can be very frustrating as it often totally undermines what you are able to do as a coach. Whether your primary focus is winning (mine isn’t) or balancing the number of minutes that each player gets to support their personal development, the uneven nature of player attendance can make this difficult.
“It’s like playing chess but not knowing which pieces you are starting the game with!”
Often, the biggest headache for a Junior Football coaches is not selecting a team at all but knowing who is available to select the team from. It’s like playing chess but not knowing which pieces you are starting the game with!
It can be very frustrating when you have planned to use certain players only for them to become unavailable or let you down at the last minute and it can be easy to fall into the trap of relying on the availability of a core number of players all of the time although again it only takes for 1 or 2 of them to be unavailable for it to cause significant issues.
It is hard enough to keep track of who is available to play each game let alone knowing who will actually be at training and this can often be worse! It is not untypical to arrive at a session, especially in the half-term week in Autumn / Spring or during the Easter holidays to find yourself with 3 or 4 players in attendance and the rest of the team away on holiday leaving you considering if you would have been better served by cancelling the session and saving yourself the trouble.
Any development plans for your team can soon be undermined by sporadic attendance at training and the availability of the players that you have designed particular sessions around is obviously crucial. There is no point in deciding to work on your team’s defending one week if none of your defenders are at your training session. Knowing who is going to turn up plays a crucial part in planning and the development for your team. Obviously, it can be difficult enough during ‘normal’ times let alone during the current covid-19 pandemic which is making everybody's lives much more complicated and player availability can change at short or even no notice.
We all have things that come up at the last minute that prevents us from attending training or matches and having a central record or point of focus can only be a significant help as players in their own bubbles or school year groups are potentially asked to self-isolate then this can remove them out of training and matches for anything up to 2 weeks and keeping tabs on who is available to participate in your sessions or your matches is clearly a challenge.
For someone who preaches the importance of communication as a team when on the pitch, I found myself letting the whole team down with my disorganised, often last-minute texting when I first started coaching the team. I thought communicating should be easy, but for some reason it was a total mess. I soon realised I was going to have to up my game if I was going to get a handle on the situation.
I started off by manully composing and sending out emails but soon began to realise that this is a non-starter as a format for organising 16 squad players to join training and matches effectively. We all have overflowing inboxes as it is and it became apparent these important messages were often being missed by my team members or sometimes just ignored.
I then quickly tried and rejected an endless stream of messaging apps such as WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger. Again, all the important details were so easily lost in these threads meaning I had to scroll through endless messages trying to check who had responded to what, that it soon became too difficult.
I found myself looking for something different and thankfully it didn’t take long for me to discover TeamStats, an all-in-one app for managing and organising your team.
TeamStats enabled me to create fixtures with all the details from location to meeting time and provided automatic prompts to players to confirm their availability for the fixture which offered me a simple overview of availability. It made the job of understanding who I had to work with for each game so much easier and allowed me to know for certain who was available well in advance and cut down on those horrible late surprises that undermine any Junior Football team.
It's made my life as the coach so much easier and saved me endless time - no more last minute phone calls, notes scribbled on backs of envelopes and messy threads on messaging apps.
It really helps with my football team organisation and all I have to do is schedule automated alerts for our matches, training and events and the messages requesting availability are automatically created and sent out to my team members by SMS text messages, in-app notifications and/or email. I can choose the time that the messages are sent, and I can chase specific team members if needed.
TeamStats have really nailed the user experience and process here - my players (parents) can confirm back to me in a couple of clicks. They respond to alerts that are instantly sent at the prescheduled day/times and are prompted to set availability with an optional message. They can change their responses at any time and their availability can be set for any of the events in the schedule.
The app also allows me to track responses so I always know who can make which event and I can instantly see all yes/no/maybe responses for every match or training session. I can chase up replies from non-responders by re-requesting availability and set responses manually and make updates as needed.
For the first time since I started as a junior football coach, I feel in control of the information that’s at the heart of making what I do a success. I can plan and support the players so much more effectively than before and we all benefit from that.