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  • Nick Levett

Guest blog by Aaron Danks: connection trumps content…

Updated: Sep 18, 2023

Social media is a funny thing; you build a picture of someone based upon the kind of things they talk about and the content they share. You tend to find people like yourself, ones that hold similar values and beliefs mostly, and then start to absorb their content and knowledge. Aaron for me is one such coach. Whilst working at a Premier League club, heading up their U18’s, his views resonated with me and as such the link was made.

Aaron was therefore a natural person to write a guest blog and as soon as I saw the outcome of the story I knew I had made the right decision.

Connection trumps content

By Aaron Danks.

For “My favourite moment” I’ve cheated a little and gone for “My favourite lesson learnt”.

For this I’ve got a short and simple lesson I’ve learnt from my coaching journey. My first route into coaching was as an apprentice coach at Birmingham City’s community programme as a 16 year old. My days would often consist of taking a bag of footballs on a bus and going into inner city Birmingham schools to deliver football sessions.

We had a great team of staff many with great experience at delivering sessions and we’d often be sharing best practices and coaching tips to improve techniques and skills.

I’d evaluate blaming the pupils for being disruptive, distracted or disobedient.

So on my trips into these schools I’d have an immaculate plan of what I wanted to deliver, coaching points on how to pass a ball correctly; where to place the children’s non kicking foot, how far I’d want them to follow through…so much detail. I’d have some fantastic games to play with them, cops and robbers, relay races and 4v4s – just like the Dutch do! I was ready, dressed right, on time and full of enthusiasm.

Often the sessions wouldn’t go to plan…some weeks the games worked well others they didn’t. I’d evaluate blaming the pupils for being disruptive, distracted or disobedient. What I failed to recognise at the time was the diversity of the groups placed in front of me. There would often be a few kids wide eyed at the front of every session hanging on every word I delivered, there would then be the kids who’d had a bad day – told off for not paying attention earlier, the ones who’d never played football before, some scared some intimidated some just plain not interested.

I quickly learnt my session plan counted for little if I didn’t manage to connect with the group and get the group connected.

I’ve been so fortunate to work in football for 16 seasons and into my current role as an U18s coach at a category 1 academy. Now I have innovative game plans I want to deliver, inspirational individual programmes, and I’ve researched the latest in coaching methodology to put into my sessions. But the players in front of me often have issues at home, distractions from agents, parents and friends, concerns over contracts, frustrations of not playing the list is endless as to why it’d be easy to deem them disruptive, distracted or disobedient.

A very wise mentor told me “people don’t care what you know, until they know that you care” that message has rung true in every coaching environment I’ve ever experienced. Now I place as much if not more emphasis on knowing my players as I do to planning practices and studying the game.

If I’ve learnt one thing in 16 seasons of coaching its connection trumps content.


What I love about this short story is how it hits the nail straight on the head. The X’s and the O’s of how are session moves and fluctuates are key components, for sure, but I’m not sure they are as important relative to knowing your players.

A couple of years ago, it was December, and my session with the U10’s at the PL club I worked at was all set to go. Things were planned, cones were organised and the equipment was all in the right place with bibs laid out. As we were just about to start, Harvey was told by James that Santa Claus didn’t exist…! You can forget your X’s and O’s for the next half hour, the world has just changed for those kids!!!! It was crucial that I lent on my strong relationships with the players that I had developed and tried my best to manage the situation.

Connection trumps content.

For more information on Aaron, please follow him on Twitter Here


Blog first published: 22 May 2016

Section: Coaching, children, grassroots, sport Views: 3,231

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