PLANNING A SESSION
Coaching qualifications are necessary to recognise an individual’s learning, authority, knowledge, and progress through the pathway but it’s often said that nothing beats experience – the experience of spending time hosting sessions and interacting with players. Getting practical experience is critical to developing coaching skill, confidence and adaptability.
Planning and hosting a training session can be a testing experience for a new coach, but with practice any apprehension will quickly disperse as the coach becomes more confident in his own abilities. It can be daunting supervising a dozen excitable 12-yearolds, for 60 minutes, and keeping their attention for the majority of that time, but a coach will soon get to know his group and how to motivate them. Here are some pointers to consider while planning a typical training session.
SET THE RULES - A coach needs to set some boundaries for every session, not to enforce a dictatorial approach for the sake of it but to ensure there is order and instructions can be conveyed and understood properly. Also, in every group of young footballers there are those who are more vocal, outspoken, and exuberant, and without observing the ‘rules’ of the session they can intimidate, even unwittingly, the more reserved members. So – if you want players to quietly assemble and wait for the session to start, rather than racing around, expending energy, tell them. If you don’t want shouting out, ask for hands to be raised to ask questions. Keep footballs still while you, the coach, are addressing the group – or have them out of reach. Drinks breaks are exactly that, a chance to take on fluid and not charge around booting balls into an empty net for five minutes. You don’t want to run a session with a vice-like grip of authority, but you want a creative, interactive environment.
MAKE SESSIONS AGE APPROPRIATE - This should be obvious – if you’re coaching a team of eight year olds, the session you provide should be different to if you’re coaching 16-year-olds: in terms of intensity and duration, and also technical difficulty. For example, with junior players you may want to include a dribbling drill, introducing the basics of moving with the ball in an open space. At 16 or 17, you’re more likely to be looking at sessions on making forward runs and introducing the concept of timing, communication and awareness.
MAKE THEM FUN & ENGAGING - Bored footballers switch off, and bored players disconnect from the session. As a coach, you need to balance your goals from the session – practising areas of development and specific skill sets – with the enjoyment of your players. Young footballers just want to score goals, in the main, so think about how you can work up sessions revolving around shooting. Look at drills which incorporate other skills, other than simply smashing a ball into the net: overload play, so three ‘forwards’ combining against one or two ‘defenders’; feeding the ball into a striker with his back to goal, therefore requiring turning; onetouch finishing; striking the ball on the volley.
PACE AND STRUCTURE THE SESSION - Whatever age group you’re coaching, you must have a structure to your session, varying the pace, intensity and drill. A typical one hour training session might be organised like this:
Introduction & briefing: Addressing the players, welcoming any newcomers to the group, briefly explaining the goals of the session ahead.
Warm Up: The purpose of the warm-up is to raise body temperature, and should begin with low intensity activities that are then progressively developed to raise the heart rate. The warm up can include tag games, like dodge ball, catching tails (grabbing bibs placed in players’ shorts), and relay activities.
Movement Session: Fundamental movement skills need to be developed in young players – walking, running, galloping, hopping, skipping; pulling, pushing, bending, curling and twisting; catching, throwing, receiving, dribbling, striking and kicking. Drills might include throw-head score, or jogging with ball in hand before executing a skill, such as throwing to another player, or halfvolleying the ball.
The Main Drill: This will form the main focus of your session. If you’re working to a season training planner, it will probably be a continuation of the areas you’re looking to progress. But take an example – as a coach, you have decided to work on developing possession. A typical drill is ‘Target’, one of those taught by the FA on its Level 1 course. Simply, there are target end zones at the end of each pitch and you need to get the ball into the zone to score. Start with groups of 2 v 2, working together. This drill requires observation, penetration, ball retention, and protection – if one team can’t play the ball forward, can they keep possession? As with all drills, it can and should be progressed: move to 3 v 3 or 4 v 4, make the playing area smaller to make the task more difficult (or larger if it’s too hard).
‘Can we play a game?’: Inevitably, a coach will be asked if the session can finish on, or include, a game. Nothing beats a game for player excitement. However, use a game scenario to develop technical skills but putting conditions into play – limit players to two or three touch; make a rule that no goals can be scored until every player on that side has completed a pass in the build-up; goals have to be scored with a first-time touch; only one player on each team (a nominated centre-forward) can score a goal.
Warm Down: Conclude with a brief warm down at the end of the session, a low intensity activity which brings the players back down and sends them home ready for rest.
EVALUATING YOUR PERFORMANCE AS A COACH
As a coach, it is an imperative part of your learning that you don’t only evaluate the performance of your players, but your own capabilities, too. For your players, the training experience typically lasts for the physical duration of the session – for the coach, there is preparation beforehand, interaction during, and analysis afterwards. A coach should break any session down into the following areas, and use these guidelines:
Session Organisation - Check and maintain the safety factors before and during the session – condition of the playing area, any potential hazards. Present a profession appearance as appropriate for a leader, and ensure the players’ kit and equipment is suitable. Clearly outline the nature, structure and rules of the activity. Ideally, visual aids should be used, such a tactics whiteboard. A coach can also physically demonstrate each drill beforehand to players. Organise the playing area, equipment – cones marking out zones, etc – and groups quickly and effectively.
- Create an enjoyable and positive learning
- Establish and maintain control of the players
throughout the session.
- Enable all players to take a full and active part in
- Provided a realistic and challenging activity
session for the players.
- Adopted an appropriate coaching position
throughout the activity.
- Showed an understanding of when to progress
- Provided clear and accurate explanations.
- Motivated and inspired the players to improve
- Provided an effective interactive debrief.
During the Session - Once you have explained your instructions clearly, and the group is working, let the game and drill flow. Try not to interrupt too much; stand back and observe, but don’t remain in the same place – walk around the group. Is the drill being executed as you expected? By all means, make positive comments but refrain from ‘coaching’ if at all possible at this point. You can call for a break halfway through the session, and add points then. Ask questions, get feedback and perhaps tweak the game a little, introducing an extra element, such as a first time pass.
Key pointers for a coach include:
- Allow as much free play as possible
- Don’t keep stepping in to correct faults
- Don’t be technical
- Don’t be critical
- Let the game be the teacher
- Create an environment where players can learn from their mistake
After The Session - Immediately after the end of the session, while players are taking a drinks break, it’s the ideal opportunity for the coach to ask for feedback – how did they find the session? Did they enjoy it? What was the level of difficulty? What did you, as players, learn from it? How could you progress it? Following on from that, you should conduct a review of your delivery of the session. Ask yourself the following questions:
- Was your organisation of the game appropriate?
- Did your delivery of the game meet the needs of the players?
- Did the session deliver the outcomes of the FA LTPD (Long Term Player Development) Four Corner Model (the four corners are technical, psychological, physical and social)?
- What other activities might also have been appropriate?
- Did you have to adapt the game – if so, how?
- What might you improve in the organisation of the session?
- Did the game enable all the players to be involved fully?
- What feedback did you get from the players and other people on the game?
- Which areas of your communication with players could be improved?
- What progression would you do next with the players?
By continually assessing and re-assessing your coaching performance, you’ll be developing your learning and improving as a coach – and the players you teach will benefit as a result.