Session planning checklist


Whenever I am designing a training session for my U8 team, I try to rate it as I go along by asking myself a series of questions about what I have produced. A coaching checklist if you  like, to make sure that I am on-topic and delivering the best sessions I am capable of.

An hour a week is nowhere near enough time to deliver the learning I’d like, but it is all I have, so I feel that I need to maximise the contact time I have with the players.

I read a lot and attend courses in order to learn and develop myself, and to see if my checklist needs updating or amending. My current ‘session success checklist’ looks a bit like this:

Is there a clear learning focus?

Is it relevant to the game of football players will experience?

Is the session easy to understand and easy to play?

Is there sufficient opportunity for repetition of the learning focus?

Is there an element of competition to motivate the players?

Is it fun for the players to play?

Is there enough scope to increase/decrease difficulty as appropriate?

Does it progress from technique, to skill, to SSG smoothly?

Have I got questions I ask the players to make them think about the learning focus?

Have I identified a star who excels at this skill so I can reference them as a role model?

Can I explain the key technical factors clearly and simply?

Can I paint a picture of when and where this skill might be used in a game?

I may have missed a few, and you may agree/disagree with these and/or have your own checklist points. I’d love to hear about that!?

How do we turn more parents into positive coaches?

A tweet by @ContactCounts today highlighted another example of negative youth coaching, and it inspired me to write something on this blog because 140 characters is never enough! 😉

I think we have a huge problem in England with regards to coaching young children the beautiful game. Parents become coaches of their kids team, often with little or no training, and there is no doubt in my mind that they do so with the best of intentions. However, too often they end up creating negative environments for the very kids they set out to help.

When a parent becomes a grass roots coach for the first time, they are often drawing only on their experience of football s a player and a fan to help them. So lets take an example:

A 38-year-old dad and his 8-year-old son find themselves involved within a local grass roots club as coach and player respectively. Dad was in a kid’s football team in 1986, but most recently his footballing experience has been playing for the local pub team on a Sunday morning, and watching the Premiership on TV.

Coaching in this country has evolved considerably since 1986, and getting young kids young to run laps of the pitch should be a thing of the past when viewed through the progress the coaching world has made, but Dad hasn’t seen these changes as he has not been involved in kids football for nearly 30 years. Twenty years of Sunday league football and a lifetime of watching football on TV has been his education for the role he now steps into. He subconsciously paints pictures in his mind of what a coach should look like. I have just seen Jose screaming from the sidelines in Chelsea’s match at QPR for example. How often have you heard about Ferguson and his ‘hair-drier treatment’? Perhaps the manager of his pub side also told him week-in, week-out to ‘be stronger’ and ‘to want it more’ and to ‘put it in the mixer’ along with many other Sunday league cliché’s. Is it any wonder then that many new coaches start to act like the shouty, pointy and negative examples we have all seen?

Coaching kids is not like coaching adults, and I believe that understanding that difference should be the number once quality sought by any club looking for a youth team coach. The FA Youth Module courses are great at teaching us that creating the right environment in which children can learn is so vital, but a very small percentage of volunteers ever get the chance to attend them for many reasons including cost, time, and availability of courses.

I have read extensively on this subject, in both football and neuroscience books, and it appears that the top sports coaches all agree that a positive learning environment is key. I have myself seen many examples in my own coaching where a child has improved because of praise, and I firmly believe that praising good effort leads to more good effort from children far more than critising poor effort. Shouting and screaming to try and rectify mistakes is counter-productive with children it seems, yet too often we see that mode of communication employed on the touchlines of youth football the country over.

We wouldn’t as parent stand for it if our kids teacher screamed at them for getting a maths question wrong, so why do we think it is OK for a football coach to do that if they select the wrong pass in a game that is supposed to be fun?

Finding answers to this problem is not easy. As a grass roots club, you don’t exactly have a long list of candidates banging down your door to volunteer, so ‘beggars can’t be choosers’ is a saying that springs to mind. Those that do volunteer often have a family and a full-time job, and so spending any more time than a Saturday morning on improving their coaching is difficult.

I also think that just as the kids need coaches and parents to be positive role models, the coaches need to see positive role models from the professional game. Could the FA ask the leading managers and youth team coaches of the game to endorse the Youth Modules via video interviews, and talk about how what the Youth Modules teach is implemented at their professional clubs? If the academy managers at the top 10 clubs gave a short interview for arguments sake, about how positivity and environment are vital components of any pro-academy then maybe that would have a positive influence on new coaches who watched that? It must surely at least be food for thought?

Finally, there seems to be a disconnect between the thoughts shared by coaches on social media, and the actions seen in parks across the country. The majority of coaches on social media will agree and expand on the view I have shared here, and that is great if new coaches look to social media to educate themselves. Yet when we go out on match day, sadly we see a large number of coaches shouting a multitude of instructions to a group of kids, who are trying to concentrate on the game, while often being given conflicting advice from the other side of the pitch by parents. So where are all the coaches on social media who agree that shouting instructions constantly is good for the players? The debate seems very one-sided online, and maybe if the shouters were willing to come forward and try to prove their way is best, we could all learn something together and improve grass roots football for the next generation?

Please do comment so we can get this conversation going, and if you reply, please RT so everyone knows there is a new comment to respond to. Thanks.