For many grassroots coaches time with players is precious. Quite often an hour a week is the maximum time afforded and even this can be reduced when children turn up late, notices have to be communicated and shared facilities mean access and preparation time impact on the main session.
It is vital therefore, that coaches work effectively with young players, making the best use of the time that is available to them.
Routine doesn’t always need to mean boredom. Young players should be given a number of start-up activities that allow them to begin practising, sometimes individually, as soon as they arrive at a practice session.
This might include ball-and-a-wall activities, keep-up challenges or a small-sided game. If the children are able to set up the game without the need of the coach they will be able to play it every week, or even with their friends when they are not at training. The activity could range from a simple practice to a game with conditions or challenges.
When players are engaged in the arrival activities the coach has the opportunity to set up any other practice areas, speak with parents and move around the group to welcome and speak with individual players.
With a little prior planning and design you may be able to put the players into a simple practice or game that is linked to the overall session objective. For example:
Organisation: groups of 5 players, 4 attackers and 1 defender, 1 ball and 4 cones.
Challenge: if the player can pass or dribble through the box to a teammate without interception from the defender then a point is scored.
Try to have a specific learning focus for your session. The players should be regularly reminded what they are trying to achieve.
For example, they need to:
- improving their dribbling
- dribble past an opponent
- dribble in a small-sided game.
Throughout the session, try to remind the players what the outcome of the session is as often as possible. If you have the opportunity to write the learning focus on a white-board or tactics board it will provide a visual reference for you to return to with your players.
Similar to outlining the learning focus, it is important to define what success is for your session. In this way, the players have a check-list of aims and expectations to work towards. When setting these expectations it is important that the players have some input, helping to shape what ‘good’ looks like. This will change depending on the age, experience and needs of the group.
Success for shooting may be based around basic outcomes such as:
- ensure your shot is on target
- aim your shot away from the goalkeeper.
Through to more specific and advanced aims, such as:
- create space to receive and shoot
- add deception to your shot.
Make the most of any breaks in the session by setting challenges or posing questions for the children to consider during their break. Focus the time the children spend talking and the potential for learning and development will increase.
- “While you are having your break try to think of three ways that you can improve on your passing.”
- “As a team can you try and think of a plan to create more space when you have possession.”
- “Can you and your partner share two ideas which will help you get better at the game just played.”
Make it personal
Throughout your session try to spend some time speaking with individuals and small groups rather than working with the players as a large group. This way you can give specific information to an individual. The main group of players can continue with their activity without necessarily having to be stopped.
Specific information should be based on an individual’s performance and needs and not that of the whole group.
- “Next time you get the ball, instead of passing to a teammate, can you try and dribble past your opponent?”
- “Now try that turn with your other foot. Can you change your speed and direction?”
Planning makes perfect
With time at a minimum, it is important to plan your coaching sessions to ensure you give appropriate attention to the areas you wish to improve. It is common to glance at your watch during a session and realise that you have spent too long on one aspect of the session at the detriment of another.
It is important to have an idea of where you would like the session to progress towards. By adding specific boundaries you will have a concise route-map through your session. Break your session down into segments and allocate a rough time for each progression of the practice.
Keep it simple
Try to make your practice sessions simple and easy to implement. We have all attempted complicated coaching sessions using lots of cones and instructions, and often they are unnecessary. If you can try and keep your practice set-up simple and clear, then it will be easier for the children to make the transition between different parts of the practice and most importantly allow more time for practising and playing.
When players are focusing on one aspect of the game throughout the session, it can be both beneficial and necessary to give the players a break from the learning focus. As you become more experienced as a coach you will pick up signs which indicate the players are in need of a short change of activity. With a few simple tasks integrated into the session, children can keep their concentration levels high during the coaching practices.
- “See how many ways you can get the ball into the air without using your hands.”
- “Try and put two skill-moves together.”
- “Go and try to nut-meg someone.”
The coaching tips outlined here have been mostly used with players aged between 5 and 11 years old. However all the ideas can be changed and tweaked to be used with players of different age and ability. Have a go and see how they work with your group.
This article was first published in The Boot Room magazine in April 2012.