Fixed Mindset & Relative Age Effect together

This blog is about one of my coaching adventures with ‘fixed mindsets’, the ‘relative age effect’ as well as a few other phrases that make me sound really clever.

Currently I am coaching a young player who is an U10. He has been a great challenge to me over the last few years though probably through no fault of his own.

Let me tell you a little bit about him

He is born in the first week of his selection year plus he is quite big for his age anyway. He is well co-ordinated, is physically stronger than most of the other players in his age group and can hit a ball powerfully with his preferred foot.

It is a huge struggle to get him to try anything new. Often when I put a condition on a training game that encourages the use of a technique he isn’t that good at he will go in goal, somehow conveniently forget the condition is on the game or simply drift out of the game till all conditions are removed.

He is intelligent and realises he is more effective than the other players and he has certainly noticed that when he plays the team scores more goals. He knows the right answers to any questions he just regularly makes no effort to actually do what he says. He is also quite immature for his age and certainly feels that the world revolves around him. He has a strong desire to win and regularly tells me how many goals he scored.

I feel I have had very little effect on him and that already although still bigger than most players in his age group so still effective he is beginning to fall behind some of his peers. This is beginning to manifest itself in that he is regularly no longer picked first when players pick or swap players. The first time this happened he was actually moving forward expecting to be picked and his face showed how stunned he was that it wasn’t his name being called.

Here are some (I have tried more than I can mention) of the things I have tried with him. I moved him up with two other bigger players to train with an older age group once a week. The two other players within the first session began to adapt how they played because they could no longer rely on their size. He, however, even after half a season of sessions never changed at all. He still tried to use his physicality all the time although obviously it now worked less often. The only difference in his behaviour was that he started to target the smaller older players in the games and would simply leave the bigger ones totally alone.

An interesting side note to this after about 5 weeks of these 3 players training with the older group. I overheard one of their team mates say to them ‘Why don’t you only train with us on a Wednesday anymore’. One of the 3 players said ‘I don’t know Sean just told us to go on Thursdays instead’ while he said ‘It is because we are too good’.

He is one footed and loves to smash shots in from everywhere. I once did a training game were if a players did 5 turns or passes or shots with their ‘other foot’ in a game then they could have a free shot on goal from 8m. The players had to run off the pitch and mark it on a white board so everyone knew what they were up to. He constantly told other players on his team to use their ‘other foot’ to get free shots but over the course of all the games played only twice did he have to go to the whiteboard himself.

The usual challenges have not worked with him really. What has worked though is giving him and another player a personal challenge. I matched him with his best mate in a 4 v 4 and said they both had to stop each other from scoring and see who won at the end. The first one he lost because he simply never even tried to defend but the next one he went for it. I thought I had cracked it but when I have tried to match him against other players nearer his size often he doesn’t try. Only with his best mate will he be fully engaged every time. It works well with lots of other players I coach. He is about the only one who will just try to outscore the other player and leave the defending up to others.

Another story about him that paints a picture of possibly what environment he has away from football. Once he was dropped off to a holiday program by a relative of his. I didn’t know her but with the player by her side the first thing she said to me was ‘I hear this little lad scores all the goals and is the top scorer for the club’. We have no top scorer awards and the Coaches in his age group don’t record who scored the goals.

In summary I have a player who I feel doesn’t respond well to a challenge and he will soon have a big one when he begins to understand he is not the ‘best’ player on the team anymore. He is possibly in an environment that encourages him to believe and possibly emphasises that he is better than his fellow players.

His current success is largely based on something that is a fluke of his birth and growth rate and will potentially fade as he grows older. Plus his immaturity basically makes him believe that he is already a very good footballer who doesn’t need to learn anything more about football because he is naturally good at it.

I don’t think I have tried everything with him but I have tried enough different ways to engage him to believe that my impact can only be limited until he matures a bit. At the moment he seems to be inside a ‘perfect storm’ that is stopping him developing.

I don’t know if I will be coaching him when he matures by the way as I recently found out he has been telling the other players he plans to trial with ‘bigger’ clubs in the area next season.

Thanks to all the Coaches who contact me and retweet my blog it is really appreciated.

Please leave a comment or email me

Follow me on Twitter @SeanDArcy66

Till next time


4 thoughts on “Fixed Mindset & Relative Age Effect together

  1. Have you tried asking him what he would like to get better at? How can he do that? You can see he is keen on the game and you want to help him be the best he can be.
    Ask him about his favourite team / players. What does he admire about their skills? Would he like to learn how to do that? Then offer to help at practice.
    Does he understand what conditions/constraints are for in games? Does he think they are to highlight what he can’t do? Does he (and/or team mates) need it explained that it is designed to help them get better / more comfortable at something different? Have you tried to encourage him to practice those things on his own, away from the eyes of his mates, where he can get better without fear of looking clumsy/inept/less “good” (in his mind)?

    Just a few thoughts in case you hadn’t tried those yet.


    • Thanks mate great comments.
      I have spoken to him about what he would like to do. The problem I came across was that he knows the ‘right answers’ so he told me ‘left foot’ and ‘passing’ and unfortunately both times, I don’t really have the words to describe it, I felt he started to get unsettled that I didn’t accept the ‘right answers’ so I backed off. Look maybe my approach was wrong but like I said he is quite immature and I feel at home he is getting told things that are not helping me form a good enough relationship with him (by the way I don’t feel I have a poor relationship). I feel he is probably getting told or hearing things such as that he is at the wrong club, he is too good for the team and should see the season out then leave.
      In the last week coincidentally I have had a series of emails off his father asking the club to rethink the way it does things. The emails were not rude or nasty in any way but none too surprisingly everything he suggested as a better way to run the club seemed to coincide with his son getting to do exactly what he wants.
      Like I said in the email I think I need to wait till he matures a bit because right now I think he is in a ‘perfect storm’ that is hampering his development. I know I wrote stopping in the blog but I think now maybe that is too harsh.


      • Hmm. If he has the ‘right’ answers, it may be that he is playing ‘buzz word bingo’. They’ll say words they think you want to hear.
        So then, the trick is can you drill down and ask probing questions to ask, “When you say improve your left foot, in what way? What part of the foot, what do you want to do with your left foot that you can’t do now? What exercises / games / activities can I help you with to help you get better at that? What about a player you watch who uses their left foot – who is it and what do they do that you would like to be able to….” etc

        Any use?
        Good Luck


  2. He is certainly playing ‘Buzz Word Bingo’ but in the past I have felt I have 1 or 2 questions maximum to ask before he starts feeling uncomfortable. I cannot drill down and ask probing questions because he does not react well if I don’t accept the ‘right answer’. If we are talking in fixed mindset terms he begins to think he has made a mistake and starts to feel uncomfortable. Like I said his immaturity has lead me to believe that just backing off for a while is a strategy worth following.
    Thanks for the comments and they certainly made me think.


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