When I go back to my plans from eight months ago I have to smile and give my girls a lot of credit for getting much at all out of the sessions we had in the Spring. They really were all over the place. Even looking back at my training plans as soon as five months ago I still shake my head a little. Keeping at it, finding ways to make it better, training and research is showing itself in the most recent plans but I wished I had known what I do now earlier this year.
Soccer looks to be a simple game – throw a ball on the field with a bunch of players and do your best to score more than the other team. But it’s not. There’s a lot to teach and it’s easy to get caught up in the mindset that you need to cram as much into a 60 or 90-minute sessions with your players as possible.
“A good coach will make his players see what they can be rather than what they are.” – Ara Parseghian
Especially with younger soccer players like the ones I work with, 8 and 9-year-old girls, self-confidence can get shattered pretty quickly. Aside from overloading with too much information, if I cover too much, too fast I’ll start loosing them. And dismantling their confidence in themselves. Having a good training session plan does quite a bit to make sure that doesn’t happen.
At a high level, I find that there are three key components to a good session plan – pick a narrow theme, progression from technical to the game focused on that theme and give yourself enough time to do it.
Pick a Theme and Make it Narrow
So first things first – for each training session there needs to be a theme. Pick it, narrow it and stick with it for the session as best you can. For example, if your kids need work on the fundamentals of passing/receiving that should be your theme, but you’ll also need to narrow it. Focus on proper technique, two-touch receiving, controlling the ball, coming to the ball and so on. Maybe even throw some one-touches in there.
However, don’t be tempted to overload the session. Keeping with the same example, it’s probably a good idea to avoid teaching turning while receiving, combination play, directional first touch and passing to space.
And you want to be cautious about spending very much time on other topics. The focus should be on your theme throughout. It might not be a bad idea to remind your defenders to be patient instead of going right for the ball in some of the later small-sided games, but you don’t want to spend five minutes on the proper way to shut down an attacker. Stick with the theme.
Progression in Your Session
The U.S. Soccer National E License is an awesome course. It doesn’t tell you what to coach, but instead focuses on the how to coach. One of the best takeaways was the proper way to progress through any given training session (below).
For those reading the fine print, yes it does say “confidential” but this presentation is part of public domain so I didn’t seen any reason why I couldn’t share it. As a matter of fact, you can get the entire candidate guidebook online which is where this slide is from. Even if you haven’t taken it this is worth a flip through.
Basically progression goes from focusing on a specific technique without pressure and isolated (i.e. it doesn’t mimic a typical game scenario) to a full game scrimmage where the focus is on what was the theme for the session but in an actual game. Each stage adds more pressure and becomes more game-like.
So if we continue on our passing session example, the stages would probably look something like this:
- Stage 1: Paired passing focusing on the basics. No pressure and focus on technique.
- Stage 2: 3v1 Rhondos (keep aways) or 2v1 games to goals. Make rules to encourage the passing them. Pressure added a little here.
- Stage 3: Rhondos or 3v3 to goals where defenders are added after goals or time to increase pressure. Make rules where there needs to be X-number of passes before a goal is scored etc.
- Stage 4: Scrimmage w/keepers. Have the players try to employ the things they learned during the game.
The beauty about this format is that it is focused and your building on the player’s confidence throughout the session. Putting them in game-like settings. And, ultimately, letting them play the game which is what kids most what to do. If I had a dollar for every time I got asked “are we going to scrimmage next?” or “when will we scrimmage?” I would be a rich man. The players want to play and that should be the reward for every session.
Give Yourself Time to Plan Each Session
Finally, you need time to do it well. For those of us who are volunteer coaches this is perhaps our biggest challenge. There are so many resources, they can be hard to navigate, everyone is an expert and the messages can sometimes be conflicting. Plus it just takes time to do it right.
I think that’s one of the key reasons why my sessions have gotten better – investing the time. This doesn’t have to be all at once in crunch mode. Spread the time out ahead of the season and during breaks. Look ahead, keep researching, keep well-organized bookmarks, keep good notes on where your players are, talk to other coaches, etc.
What helps me is to start sketching out sessions well in advance. Look at the themes for your practices for the season. Begin bookmarking sessions you’d like to see. Keep a notebook. But figure out what works for you and your style.
Just make sure you don’t turf the planning till the last moment. If you do, more than likely you’ll be shaking your head after your sessions as well.
And keep it simple. It is much better to have a session be a tad to simple than too complicated. The later will demotivate you and your players. You don’t want your players to walk from a session thinking they just can’t do it and they’re not good enough.