Know the returns of any game or activity
Why are we doing this practice? That should be at the forefront of your mind when planning your activities. Understanding the returns from different types of practice or formats of the game will help you select the right activity for your players – and give them the best opportunity to become skilful.
Pete Sturgess: Creating games where players can play, explore and be creative is the message we’re sending out. This was showcased in the 'which ball is best' game (see video above). The fact that it was fun also meant that we could strongly link skill development to a love of the game.
When I devised it, I was fairly certain the following would happen:
- Play would be directional (due to having a goal at each end). This allowed me to mention body shape – could players receive the ball facing forward and think in a more attacking way?
- The goalkeeper must roll the ball out. This meant starting positions became important, so I wanted to see what players would do if they were marked when the keeper had the ball.
- We'd use a rugby ball and adopt the rules. This provided the opportunity for lots of changes in speed and direction, such as sidestepping opponents – which wouldn't happen to the same extent in football. Rugby balls are also more secure in your hands, which meant players could disguise intentions or offload in creative ways. I was then able to link this back to football, such as passing to a teammate at the right time.
Understand your players
Every player in your team is different. So, knowing how to cater for everyone in your sessions will help you support their individual skill development.
Pete Sturgess: The STEP principle is a great tool to use when trying to manage difference. Knowing your players, their strengths and weaknesses is also very valuable because this can help your session planning. Matching players to provide as many appropriate challenges as possible is what we’re aiming for.
You might put a good dribbler against two or three opponents who like to pass and move. Planning in this way means the dribbler gets what they need, and the others get to show what they’re good at.
Too often, we restrict the dribbling player to limited touches or insist that they pass. Why? We must develop this ability if the player has a real desire to improve in this area and shows some ability to do it well. Build upon this strength, don’t stop it or frown upon it.
Be patient We want players to become skilful by having a chance to explore and discover the possibilities on the pitch. We also want to help them develop a love for the game. To do this, it’s important to be patient, supportive and encouraging. And don’t forget that developing skill doesn't stop at a certain age. We all continue to learn as we get older – and it's the same with football.
Paul Holder: Developing skill takes time. Exploring and discovering better ways to perform should never stop, irrespective of age. Patience is probably a word not associated closely enough with coaching. Developing skill is a lifelong process and, while we never stop learning, we should also never stop exploring and discovering what’s possible.
Pete Sturgess: We want to develop a generation of players that see the game differently, that can adapt to its continuously changing situations. We want them to see all the possibilities it offers – rather than just seeing it in a very narrow and one-dimensional way that adheres to strict tactics and formations.