Category Archives: Training Sessions

How to Save a Training Session Gone Bad – Have a Plan B

For the last week you poured over other club session plans, blogs, Twitter and if you have to spend another night combing through Google for a decent YouTube video on how to do a proper shoulder charge you’re going to scream! But that’s OK, because all that hard work has allowed you to put together the best training session for your young soccer players.  It flows, the progression is perfect and you have all the questions you’ll ask the players to have them tease out the key coaching points for the evening.


Of course, when it comes to the night of the session it doesn’t play out quite like you imagined it.  The players just don’t seem to be “getting it” and you spend a lot of time explaining it.  Or maybe what made perfect sense to you by the glow of your computer screen sudden has you wondering “how is this supposed to work” when you’re trying to do it.  There are lots of reasons why, but this will happen to you at some point and from time to time – the session is dragging, the players aren’t getting much out of it, and you feel what precious little time you have with the kiddos slipping away.


Very frustrating.

And totally normal.  It is going to happen from time to time.  From my experience, when this happens it is because the activities that I picked are too complex for the girls at that point in time.

The solution?  Have a Plan B.  Heck, having a Plan C will come in useful from time to time too. Here’s an example from one of the last sessions of the Fall.  I pulled the below activity from the FC Chelsea Development Center Booklet.

FC Directional

Looks like a good one!  Not too tough and teaches some good concepts – we were focusing on directional first touches.  I gave some very basic instructions, had the girls get started and started walking around.  What I noticed was a lot of confused 7- and 8-year-olds.  We started going from group to group to help give some extra explanation and tips, but I realized we were burning a lot of time explaining.

Not good.  I know by now that the longer I talk has a direct correlation to how not-so-good the session is going.  I want the girls to build confidence and learn new skills and this was achieving neither.

So I went with Plan B…


Same idea, but less cones.  Player 1 passes the ball to Player 2 who directs the ball with their first touch to the left of the cone where they pass it back to Player 2 with their second touch.  Player 1 then does the same thing.  They got it!  Just making it a little simpler did the trick.

Even though I was happy they were getting it, we spent long enough on the first that I could tell the girls spirits were still a bit down.  Plus it was really cold and they weren’t moving enough to keep warm.  Didn’t help with the moods.

Time for Plan C – I announced we would be scrimmaging for the remainder of the practice.  Cheers went up!  Mission accomplished.

Practices will not always go this way.  The good news is the more you do, the better you’ll get at picking the right sessions for your players and how to adjust on the fly.  Hey, even coaches with a lot of experience, and who actually get paid to coach, always have something on their sleeve because this happens to them too.

And, the more I coach, the more I realize that one of the things that makes  really good coaches, well, really good are because they can handle things when they don’t go well.

So buck up, don’t fret and come to your training sessions prepared.

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3 Tips For Developing Training Plans that Build Skills/Confidence

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).

US Soccer Session Progression

From U.S. Soccer National “E” License guidebook.

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:

  1. Stage 1:  Paired passing focusing on the basics.  No pressure and focus on technique.
  2. Stage 2: 3v1 Rhondos (keep aways) or 2v1 games to goals.  Make rules to encourage the passing them.  Pressure added a little here.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

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10 Tips for Developing a Good Training Session

My guess is that, while there are a few clubs that have well thought out practice sessions developed for each age group, there are a lot clubs that do not.  I’m talking grass-roots clubs.   In an all-volunteer club you are dealing with borrowed time and there’s just not that much of it.  Even if you do have some material to work with, there are likely some gaps.This means you will need to do some homework when you put your training sessions together.

While I can’t tell you where to go for passing sessions or the best place for rondos, there are some guidelines I use when I pull mine together.  I find that the more of these tips I hit, the better the session.  I’ve got ten of them.

10 tips for developing a good training session:

  1. Lot’s of touches on the ball.  I don’t know of there is a magic number here, but I try to aim for as close to 1,000 as I can get.
  2. No lines.  The girls should be active the vast majority of the time.
  3. Physically demanding.  While I don’t want to kill them, these practice sessions should be enough to get them in shape for the games.
  4. All activities with a ball.  When I say “physically demanding” I mean intensity with ball work and small-sided games.  No laps, suicides, etc.  Just keep it moving.
  5. Progression in your sessions from simple to scrimmage.
  6. Activities should mimic what the girls will see in a real game.  Limit cone work and add pressure.
  7. Uses as few cones as possible.  This might sound silly, but getting your practice area setup so you’re wasting as little time possible moving around your cones between each activity can make a big difference.  I try to setup the whole field at once and I don’t want it to look like a cone manufacturing plant exploded there.
  8. Simple.  It’s not like I can go out and do a test run on a variety of plans/activities on a random group of players to work out the kinks.  I need to be able to understand it, “see” myself coaching it and feel my girls would do well with it just from reading it.
  9. Age and developmentally appropriate.  In addition to be right for them at their age, it should also be not too easy or too hard for them.  There are some areas where they are stronger than others, plus there are definite gaps.  So the activities need to be calibrated for where they are.
  10. Make sure it’s fun! If you follow most of the other tips, this is more likely to happen than not.


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