by Mick Smoothey
We design a coaching session in an effort to improve the way our team and the individuals within it perform. This is the nature of our job. The way we measure the improvement and the relative success of our session is through the scrimmage at the end. If there is no improvement in the way the players scrimmage then we have not been immediately successful in achieving our aims and objectives.

The following guidelines propose a method of session planning where the coach works backwards from the scrimmage to the warm up. The idea is that we are always working towards a clearly defined goal.

Before planning a session the coach should have a very clear idea of what aspect of the teams play he or she wishes to improve and should then visualize them successfully performing that skill in the scrimmage at the end of the next session. The coach can literally play a perfect videotape in their ˜mind’s eye’! Improved performance in the scrimmage / game is the main goal and should be the measuring tool for successful coaching. This goal should be shared with the players at the beginning of the next session thus involving them more actively in their own learning.

The penultimate activity will normally take the form of a conditioned (restricted) game or functional activity which will maximize the opportunity to reinforce the theme of the day in a game like setting e.g. movement of the front two attackers. The nature of this activity will depend on the age and ability level of the players but should lead smoothly into the scrimmage as a bridging activity. Its relevance to the game must be apparent to the players. It may involve organizing the field area (in terms of size, placement of goals, number of goals, channels etc.) to facilitate the repetition of a particular theme, or it may involve placing the players in specific roles relating to team formation. This is an important part of the session which is often overlooked because other activities have over-run. It should be remembered that ˜everything goes back to the game’.

The preceding technical/tactical activities should ensure maximum activity, and quality feedback from the coach. This feedback should be specific to individuals whenever possible but to the whole group if relevant. As educators we must decide in each unique situation which method we should use. As with the later stages of the session the players need to be exposed to quality demonstrations so that they take away a very clear, visual imprint of the correct techniques. This is far more important than what you say to them! Remember, ˜a picture paints a thousand words’.

In this model the final aspect of planning will be the warm up and this should be designed to lead into the technical/tactical practice and should introduce the first couple of coaching points. If a coach specifically wants to conduct a ball- each warm-up then the first activity after the warm-up needs to be very sharply focused on the theme of the day, otherwise the players are going to be confused about the objectives.

By planning the session with a clear end in mind, (defined by performance in the game situation) there will be pace and a clear purpose to each activity. It will also be easier to evaluate the success of a session clinically. Simply put, if there is no improvement in the scrimmage then we have not been immediately effective in realizing our objectives and our planning for the next session will need to reflect this.

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One Response to “Planning a Session at the Youth Level: Beginning With the End in Mind”

  1. Aron says:

    Not sure if I am personally a big fan of this method. I do like his point about the game at the end of practice being the greatest evaluator or how much our players have learned in a practice. If I started with a game, I might use an exericse that would help fix a problem versues working totally back to the beginning

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