12 - 16 17 - 21

SESSION: Designing game-realistic practice

    Effective coaching practices are realistic and relevant to the game of football.

    Here, former FA youth coach educator, Kalam Mooniaruck, delivers a series of game-realistic practices with players in the youth development phase (12-16 years old) as part of the FA Advanced Youth Award course.

    Part one: small-group practice


    ​Part two: small-sided games


    Part three: 11 v 11 game


    Coach reflections: Kalam Mooniaruck

    How did you decide the session theme and objective?The session focused on the technical/tactical theme of trying to ‘beat the block’. As part of this we wanted to challenge the players to make more passes and have more possession in the space behind the opposition – as quite regularly we see teams keep the ball in front of defenders without being able to play behind them. As we were working with young players I tried to make the session more child-friendly by calling it ‘behind enemy lines’.

    Why did you split the players into three smaller groups at the start of the practice?Before the session we had identified and discussed a number of individuals in the group. My colleague - who works with the club on a regular basis - had helped me understand certain challenges that individual players were working on.

    By using three small-group practices we could split some of the targeted players up to give them lots of opportunities to focus on their challenge area. The smaller numbers in each group also meant that we would have more chance to observe them in action.

    For example: one player’s challenge was to stay on the ball more, so he was placed in a team with three players and played against a team who had four. This meant he would have fewer opportunities to pass and as a result would have to stay on the ball longer.

    What are the benefits of using constraints in practice sessions?
    Constraints help empower players to try more things than they would do if they were just left to play. As the players are trying new things you have to provide support if they are unsuccessful and reward them for effort over performance.

    We have to remember it’s not as simple as setting challenges and expecting the players to simply complete them. For example, it might take six weeks before they get better at keeping the ball in tight areas.

    Throughout the session I was thinking about what I could do to spark the kids to practise the theme more: would it be a question, a challenge or something else.

    Why is it important that a practice looks like ‘the game’?We try and design practices which stay as close to the game as possible – there are always aspects of the game involved as a focus. It’s not just a case of standing back and letting them play.

    What are the different returns for the different practice types?In an 11v11 game there are so many things that can happen, so you lose opportunities to repeat and practise certain aspects of the game. When you constrain practices you can ensure the players get more opportunities to practise certain things.


    Kalam is currently head of academy coach development at West Ham United.

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