Part 4: From parent to coach. Setting up effective training sessions

Completing my FA Level 2 certificate in coaching football last year really helped me improve my training sessions as is a technical award and focuses a lot on delivering technical information to players. I also drew a lot of information from the FA Youth Award modules and by reading many excellent books by experienced coaches.

The level 2 format for coaching sessions is split into three parts, namely Technique, Skill and Small-sided game (SSG). I wouldn’t dream of trying to teach the Level 2 syllabus here, but loosely speaking that equates to the following which I think is a helpful format:

Technique – Unopposed practice, so it could be running with the ball, but with no defenders. This is a good time to correct any technical points, and deliver the key coaching points for that technique.

Skill – These are games that give the player a chance to test the technique above, but with opposition.

SSG – a 4×4 (+2 goal-keepers) game, which is a match scenario. On your Level 2 assessment you are not allowed to add conditions to this SSG, but I do sometimes at my club.

If I am confident that the players are competent at a particular technique, but I want to work on the (when/where) to use it then I will often just deliver a Skill and SSG, although if you are planning to take your Level 2 qualification, you will be expected to follow all three phases.

So, having created your learning environment and your playing philosophy, you now need to plan a coaching session. I would strongly advise that you don’t just turn up with the balls, bibs and cones and ‘wing it’ as ideally the players should follow a syllabus of learning that you have carefully planned, and that runs in a logical order.

My advice on designing a good training session for younger kids would be as follows:

Clear, single learning focus. Ensure that you design each coaching session around one, clear learning focus and only coach that focus during the session. It is easy to get carried away, picking up on all manner of coaching opportunities not related to your session, but I think it is better to stick to one, clear learning focus throughout the session.

Identify the key coaching points. I like to try and pick out three key coaching points that I will reinforce and design my sessions to deliver, but sometimes it needs to be more than three of course. Be clear in your mind what the key coaching points are before you arrive at training, and make sure you can communicate them clearly.

Vary the practices. Create a number of shorter games, rather than one or two longer games, and plan them so they can run back to back with very little downtime, so you keep the attention of young players. If you can, plan your area so that you can move from one game to another with minimal changes to the cones, goals etc.

Avoid lines. Avoid the ‘old school’ coaching techniques that see boys and girls in long queues waiting for their turn, unless you can balance the game so that time they are waiting in line is short, and just enough time to recover.

Try to add an element of competition. Young kids, and especially boys are often very competitive, and are likely to raise the intensity of their efforts if you add an element of point scoring or winning to the games you create.

Keep it simple. The simpler the game is to set up, understand, and play the less time you will have to spend explaining and demonstrating and the more time you will have for the players to play.

Is there enough repetition for each player? Simply put, if players have enough repetition of the right technique, and give it 100% of their attention,  then they will improve so it is important that your session delivers as many opportunities for the players to practice the learning focus as possible.

Is it relevant to the game of football players will experience? It is very important to set games up that are as close to the game of football as possible. Standing in line, waiting to smash a ball at goal is not a realistic practice for what players will see in a game, so try to build a practice that allows players to see the pictures they will see during a match.

Can you increase/decrease the difficulty for each player? You will design a session to a set difficulty based on the average in your group of players, but within any group you will find that some players find it too easy and others might find it too difficult. It is important that you can adjust the difficulty for those forging ahead and those lagging behind. If you don’t, the players forging ahead will have a limited learning experience and will get bored quickly and those falling behind will get frustrated at not finding success. The example I used in a previous blog was a 4v4 game of three-touch football to encourage players to get their head up and pass. In that scenario, you could challenge a player forging a head to only use two touches, and afford a player who was struggling four touches.

Prepare questions. Do you have some good, open-ended questions to ask the players that are designed to make them think about the learning focus, and which will hopefully lead them towards finding solutions for themselves? An open-ended question is one that can’t be answered with a simple yes or no. So for example, if your learning focus was decision-making on the ball, you could simply say, ‘when you receive, get your head up, and decide if you should pass, shoot or travel. Play.’ That is the command style of coaching. Or, you could use the Q&A style and ask them ‘what is the first thing you should do after receiving the ball?’ If they know the answer is to get your head up, great. If they don’t you might follow up with a question such as ‘In order to make good decisions, what information do you need? What do you need to know?’ Hopefully by now the cogs will be turning and you will get answers such as ‘where my team-mates are. Where the defenders are. Where the space is. Where the goal is etc. The more the players have to think in order to get to the answer, the more they will remember and understand, so I think it is worth taking the extra time to ask questions and lead players to the answer, rather than leading with the answer yourself.

Role models. It is often helpful I find to highlight a world football star who excels at the learning focus you intend to deliver that day. Players can relate to the stars they see on TV, and I will often even send a YouTube clip around for the boys to watch a few days before training that highlights the skill being mastered. So if you were practicing dribbling, you might highlight Messi, or if it was running with the ball maybe Ronaldo would be the star you use. As you get to know your players, you will know there favorite teams and players and this can help influence which stars you highlight as role models.

When and where might you use the learning focus? Showing a seven year old how to dribble is great, but showing them how to dribble and helping them to understand when and where they might use that skill in a match is the real trick I think. Teaching a set of separate skills, and expecting the kids to work out when and where to use them is optimistic at best, so try to include scenarios that ask the players to make decisions as well as execute a skill.

Thanks for reading, and while I enjoy writing, blogging can feel a little like talking to yourself at times, so if you found anything useful or have an opinion on anything within these pages please do reply and join the conversation.

Please like my Coaching Youth Football page on Facebook –

And please also follow me on Twitter – @YouthCoachMike

All five in the series can be found here:

Part One: From parent to coach. Introduction.

Part Two: From parent to coach. Creating a great learning environment.

Part 3: From parent to coach. Your playing philosophy

Part 4: From parent to coach. Setting up effective training sessions

Part 5: From parent to coach. Match-day management


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