Using effective practice design to develop receiving skills during winter

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Vinny Halsall, FA physical education officer (West), looks at effective practice design to develop receiving skills during the winter months and provides some top tips for coaches working on receiving.
As grassroots coaches, we all strive to create the most positive football experiences for our young players.
In trying to achieve this, I find that a useful framework is one proposed by Simon Sinek’s ‘start with the why’ mantra: once a clear ‘why’ is established, ideally underpinned by a club philosophy, we can then consider the detail around the ‘how’, the ‘what’ and their application in your context.

Why? As we emerge from a global pandemic, making the most of the time we have with our young players has become even more precious.

Even in a normal season, time with players is limited, with most grassroots coaches having just one hour per week for practice sessions.

Then the winter months, along with the inevitable inclement weather, heighten the challenge of making practice sessions enjoyable and engaging so that our young players always want to come back week after week.

Young players also want to learn and improve, something Amanda Visek’s research shows, so designing practices which have realism and challenge is vital. Games-based learning is an approach that I would advocate as it provides both of these features.

How? Plan your sessions with a specific focus in mind. My example here is around receiving skills.

Aim for progressions which require minimum movement of cones/spots/markers. This will free you up to engage and interact with your players and allow you to move into the next practice quickly.

Link several sessions and matchdays together with the same theme so that your young players spend precious time learning and developing their receiving skills, rather than getting used to new topics and practices.

As referenced earlier, games-based learning is an approach that I encourage with whole-part-whole practice design being really effective in helping young players to apply their knowledge and understanding in realistic situations.

What? Organisation:

  • Firstly, set up a playing area that looks like the graphic below.
  • Use marker cones for the outer area and spots for inner corners. 
  • The size of the area will depend on the age and number of players in your session, as well as how much space you have, so grids could be 8x8, 9x9, 10x10 etc.

A session graphic showing a pitch divided into 15 small grids.

Arrival activity - space invaders:

  • As players arrive, they can choose their group of three. 
  • Players start passing and moving in one of the small grids. 
  • The receiving player must take the ball to a ‘free’ corner. 
  • After approximately one minute, nominate a player to call ‘change’; two players leave the area to form new groups of three, while the player with ball remains and is joined by two new players. 
  • Progression after week one could be a 2v1 practice.
A session plan graphic showing 18 players split up into threes. The pitch is made up of 15 small grids and each group of three has their own grid.

Four-goal game (whole):

  • Play 4v4/5v5 games – players will need two areas. 
  • Organise the areas next to each other with a safety channel separating them. 
  • Each team has two goals to score in. 
  • Teams are awarded one point for passing through a gate and two points for running with the ball through a gate.
A session plan graphic shows a pitch made up of 15 small grids. Two small pitches take up six grids each, with a safety channel down the middle taking up the remaining three grids. Players play 4v4 in the two small pitches with four goals on each pitch.

2v1/2v2 game (part):

  • Groups of three or four depending on numbers in session. 
  • Use the areas already marked on the pitch with cones and spots.
  • The player on the ball passes to their teammate, who then tries to travel with the ball to the side marker spot for one point or the end line for two points. 
  • If the defender(s) win the ball, they pass or travel through a cone gate to score. 
  • When playing 2v2, the recovering defender joins in after the opposition player receives the ball from their teammate.
A session plan graphic shows a pitch made up of 15 small grids. Four players play take up two grids and play a 2v1 that changes into a 2v2 game. The aim is for a player to pass to their teammate who then has to take on the defender to get past them or to get to the cones on the left or right. The other two players can join in to make it a 2v1 or a 2v2 situation.

End game: (whole)

  • Continue 4v4/5v5 games.
  • Explore why the pitch has three channels.
  • To score:
    • One point for passing through a gate.
    • Two points for running with the ball through a gate.
    • Double points if switched from channel one to three or vice-versa and leads to a goal.
A session plan graphic showing a pitch made up of 15 small grids. The pitch has a goal at both ends.

Top tips for developing receiving skills 


ABC
Use ‘ABC’ as a means of helping your players to remember the key concepts of receiving skills: awareness, body position and control.

Praise Praise their performance when they demonstrate one or more of the above: remember 90% of children play better with positivity.

Plan Plan additional FA four corner detail around each concept for those players who are ready to learn faster:

  • A – check shoulders to see what is around/behind you. Scan once on the ball to see what your options are. 
  • B – when side-on make good decisions to receive or turn. Technique for front foot/back foot receiving. 
  • C – develop techniques for controlling away from danger/pressure. Judge weight of pass to help with decision-making.

 

Three whiteboards - one a large board split and colour coded to represent The FA's four corner model - and multiple whiteboard markers are placed on a 3G pitch.
Work in the four corners to help your players develop further.

Effective questioning Develop their understanding and performance through effective questioning. Drive-by interventions work well here so that the game can keep running as you support individual players. Examples might include:

  • “Well done, Grace! Can you tell me what you did well when you received the ball?” 
  • “Great play Oliver! What was really good about your control when you received that pass before dribbling?” 

STEP principle 

Manage the difference within your group by using the STEP principle: Space/shape, task, equipment, players. Examples might include:

  • Space/shape – use a narrower area for those ‘forging ahead’ to make receiving more demanding. 
  • Task – in the ‘four-goal game’, one point for passing through the gated goal, two points for running the ball through it. 

Free play 

Allow ‘free play’ to see what they’ve understood and what they can apply in game-related situations; this is also another opportunity to offer praise by ‘catching them in’ rather than ‘catching them out.’


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