Coach Development: Watching Oxford’s academy coaches at work

As part of my ongoing development as a football coach I’d decided I wanted to go and watch some of Oxford United’s academy coaches at work so that I could see how they ran a session. I wanted to see what they coached, how they coached and how they interacted with the kids.

So, following an email to Oxford’s head of youth development I was told I could go along and watch the U9s & U10s being coached on Monday night. I arrived and introduced myself to the coaches before retreating to the sideline with my notepad and pen in hand.

I was told the U9s were newly formed and there would only be a small number of players training but that the U10s would be going through a proper session. My notes and summary of the sessions I observed are below.


 Session 1: SSG

  • 9 players
  • Coaching point: Body shape when passing (open – don’t allow body shape to allow opposition to know where you’re going to pass it)
  • Allowed “dribble in” to play, rather than pass
  • Limited to 2 touches (not effective)
  • Added “spare man” for team in possession

 Session 2: Passing in 3’s

  • Players passing between each other in confined area
  • Coaching point: Be aware of other teams

 Session 3: Passing from A <> B <> C

  • Player B coached on receiving ball with body open, rather than with back to C (if receiving from A)
  • Coach demonstrated a number of times – including player moving towards ball when receiving
  • Coach also worked on the players needing to be ready to receive the pass and ensuring the pass had the right weight


The under 10s session was an enjoyable one to watch as the coaches had a larger number of players to work with and you could see it was a session aimed more at player development than player discovery/assessment (as with the under 9s).

 Session 1: Warm up

  • A circular area of approximately 20 yards x 20 yards was set out with white cones
  • The players began by running in and out (note: not through!) of the cones before progressing to running through the cones and to finally side-stepping between the cones. This demonstrated coverage of the fundamental movements as part of a warm-up.
  • The coaches then had the players making figure-of-eight movements between two cones and the coaches would hold a number of fingers up which the kids would have to shout out as they went up – i.e. to introduce movement whilst keeping their head up
  • The players then had to hop between cones, run backwards through cones and were then put in to pairs.
  • When in pairs the players were tasked with shadowing each other and at random intervals the coach would shout “Can you lose your player?” at which point the “leader” would need to move to a sprint whilst moving through cones to try and lose his “marker”.
  • <– Ball introduced –>
  • With a ball each, the player were then asked to dribble in a figure-of-eight movement between the cones and had to do this with both their stronger and weaker foot
  • This progressed to dribbling through different cones, with the coaches challenging the kids to run through as many as possible
  • Finally, the coaches introduced two defenders or “blockers” who were asked to tackle players whilst the players attempted to dribble through the cones

 Session 2: Attacking in pairs / Movement

  • The coaches laid out an area of approximately 30 yards x 30 yards with a goal/goalkeeper and a square of cones at the opposite end to the goal (red & blue in the diagram)
  • The players lined up about 10 yards out from the cones
  • Two players would start on the near cones and the player on a particular cone was informed that he was the decision maker (in fact, it was always the player on that cone who made the call for the remainder of the session)
  • The player would then decide if the pair were going to check or switch (check meaning running to the cone nearest the goal and back (blue to red to blue in the diagram), switch meaning switch with the player on the other cone (blue to blue))
  • Once they’d made a call a server (green dot in the diagram) would then play in a ball and the two  players would play one or more passes before having an effort on goal
  • After each player had a go the coach introduced two defenders (pink in the diagram) and this is where a number of coaching points were raised, such as:
    • Movement between the two “strikers”
    • Body shape of the defenders when defending
    • When to make the pass & when to dribble
  • The next progression was for the receiving players to return the ball to the serving player before then doing a switch/check and then receiving the ball a second time before playing
    • Coaching point: Quality of return to server, i.e. concentrate on pass before making move
  • The final progression was to introduce two wide-players (brown in the diagram). This created a 5 v 2 situation for the defenders and gave the attacking players a wide-option to use. The coaching points made here were:
    • If the defenders engaged with the receiving players (at the blue cone), could the receiving player check out and then come to receive the ball to make space
    • Quality of pass out to wide players
    • Finishing (i.e. coaches were “replaying” situations but with the strikers making a better choice of shot)
    • Use of serving player to support the attack
    • Use of “strikers” movement to take defenders away and create space for supporting player to shoot


The under 10s session kept me glued to it throughout. I could see how they were incorporating the fundamental movements in to the warm-up and at no point did any one part of the session last to long – there were no instances of the kids losing concentration.

I also observed how the coaches worked in unison. One would run the session whilst the other would set it up or talk to the kids who were waiting to play (in the latter game) – this ensured that one coach could focus on the key points for those “active” players whilst the other could keep the other players organised.

I could also see how the U10s coach was very effective at pausing the session where a poor pass was made or wrong decision made and then challenging the player to correct it, before starting again (is this level 2 type stuff??).

So all in all a very useful way to spend an hour on a Monday night and I’ll certainly be going along to watch more sessions in the future!


Coaching Day 18: The numbers game

I wanted to continue with the theme of developing the players to give them confidence in 1v1 and 2v2 situations so tonight I used the numbers game in order to achieve this.

The session as usual started with a warm-up which usually starts with the players dribbling across the pitch, doing right-foot only, left-foot only and then combining to dribble whilst moving the ball from one foot to another. In addition to this we also work on their turning by getting them to turn with the ball on the blow of a whistle and then progress in to a fun game (we used bulldog tonight).

When the session moves on we split the players in to groups of two or three and work with anything from 6-10 players each. I had a group of 6 and then 7 players with which to play the numbers game tonight and I found it worked really well.

I’d marked out a pitch and then explained the game to the players, then session then progressed as follows:

  • Began with just 1v1, ensuring each player had an equal number of goes
  • Encouraged players to take on their opponent rather than just blast the ball at the first opportunity
  • Awarded double points (to much excitement) if a piece of skill or trick was used to beat a player
  • Increased players by calling out 2v2 or 3v3 situations
  • Threatened to deduct points if they kept moving the poles which were being used as goalposts!
  • Then offered 5 points (to much excitement) if all players touched the ball and a goal was scored when it was 3v3

Whilst the game isn’t complex it certainly works well for players at an under 8 age-group. It keeps them engaged and entertained, they get excited by the small changes to the rules (progressions) and it helps develop their dribbling & ball skills. The two increases in points (for skill & each player touching it) saw a very positive change in their approach to the game. The offer of 2 points if they used a skill or trick saw them trying to do this regularly whereas prior to this they’d been largely trying to outpace the other player.

The 3v3 games had seen players being quite selfish before the introduction of 5 points if each player touched the ball. Once I changed the rules the teams were working very hard to get each player to touch the ball before scoring, and they were doing it to good effect. I also cast my mind back to this time last year when I ran a small sided game and dictated “each player must touch the ball to score” which didn’t get a positive response – change this to “if each player touches the ball you get 5 points” and you get a much more positive reaction!

So, a simple game tonight but it worked well, the players enjoyed it and it helped develop their ability in 1v1, 2v2 & 3v3 situations.

Poll: At what age should our young players be taught how to pass the ball?

A couple of reasons for the poll here. Firstly, I wanted to see how they worked and looked within the blog. Secondly, the topic is one which I’ve seen discussed on Twitter recently and it seems that certain coaches are very keen to teach passing at an early age whilst others steer well clear until later in a child’s development, so I thought I’d open it up via a poll/discussion.

Coaching Day 17: Skills corridor with goals

Tonight’s session

  • Energy levels: Medium
  • Concentration levels: Moderate
  • Behaviour: Poor
Joke’s aside – tonight was one of those sessions where an influential minority have the ability to bring down the group – and by bring down I mean influence the group to misbehave. Generally our squad of players are pretty good but tonight, for some reason, we had one of those nights where a higher than average number of players seemed either tired & grotty, fed-up or intent on mis-behaving and as a coach this provides you with challenges.
It’s a challenge to keep the group’s attention when you’re trying to explain the next game, it’s a challenge when you have to spend time encouraging or paying attention to players who’re mis-behaving (rather than helping to improve those who are paying attention) and it’s a challenge to try and prevent the player(s) from adversely influencing the rest of the group.
I’ve found that ignoring a player who’s mis-behaving works quite well in terms of stopping the other kids from being influenced by it. If that doesn’t work then I’ll try to find the trigger which snaps them out of it but if they aren’t listening then it’s off to sit on the side of the pitch (if behaving badly).
Anyway, to tonight’s session. Having worked on 1v1 last week I wanted to focus on ball work and skill development tonight so I’d been thinking about different sessions which I could try – using YouTube and blogs to also provide inspiration. In the end I decided to amend the skills corridor game from the Youth Award Module 1 and use that.
Following our usual warm-up routine we split the players in to two groups and I had a group of 8 to work with.
Setup (apologies for quality of image!)
  • The white cones set out the perimeter of the skills corridor
  • The players started behind the goal and would dribble in to the corridor (1)
  • I asked the player to try a trick or skill in the corridor (2) and then demonstrated a turn for them to try when they reached the third cone (3)
  • Once they’d performed a turn I asked them to try another skill or trick on the way back (4)  before shooting in to the goal
  • I then progressed the session by adding two cones (light blue) and asked them to try and skill and take it round those cones before shooting
  • Finally,  I added a defender (5) to operate in the area and asked the players to beat the defender with a skill before shooting
It worked quite well and the players were trying a number of different tricks and skills whilst in the corridor. Some points I made/observed during the session:
  • I encouraged and praised the skill or trick attempted, no matter how adventurous
  • Without thinking about it, the session progressed from unopposed to semi-opposed and opposed which felt quite natural
  • As some of the players started becoming a bit bored I added challenges and awarded double-points for completing the challenge. For example, I demonstrated moving the ball past a cone by rolling their foot over the ball and said they’d get double points if they could score a goal doing it. This meant they all wanted to score double points and reinvigorated the session.
The players surprised me with their inventiveness during the session and despite the usual requests of “when are we having a game” I felt it was a worthwhile exercise as you could the players improving as they progressed during the session. That is, for some player simple turns were becoming more effective whilst others were doing turns with more speed.
I’ll continue to focus on 1v1 and ball mastery in the coming weeks but would welcome any ideas or suggestions for sessions which cover these competencies at this age-group (under 8).

Coaching Day 16: 1v1s

We returned to training last week with our players a year older, the coaches a year wiser and both appeared energised from a summer break. We have a fixture list this season as we’re now at the under 8 age-group and I had thought that might mean we’d have a squad of 14-16 players but we actually ended up with our usual 20-21 players.

As mentioned in a previous blog I’m planning to do a lot more 1v1, 2v2 and ball mastery this season having had last year to get used to the players, settle as a coach and learn a bit more about coaching this age group. I therefore used this as the basis for the session last Wednesday and our session ran like this:


  • The players lined up along the side of our mini-soccer pitch with a ball each
  • They dribble across the pitch with no conditions
  • They they dribble across the pitch under the following conditions:
    • Right foot only
    • Left foot only
    • Both feet (e.g. dribbling by moving the ball from left foot to right foot and back to left foot)
  • We then introduce a defender and the players dribble across the pitch, trying to avoid the defender. If the defender makes a tackle the tackled player becomes a defender. This continues until only 1 player is left and we repeat 2-3 times.
We then split the groups in half with each coach taking one set of players. As I wanted to start using 1v1 games to develop dribbling, turning & comfort on the ball I used the following game…
  • I had a mini-goal set up with 1 player in goal
  • I had 7 outfield players who I rotated between being either a defender or attacker
  • Coaching points:
    • Encouraged the defending player to make sure they played a good pass to the striker
    • Encouraged the attacker to take the defender on
    • Encouraged the defender to keep their eye on the ball (otherwise they have a tendency to hack at U8!)

The game worked well. I took brief time-outs so I could have a quick chat with the attacking team and got them to think about how they could beat the player and also spoke to the defending team to emphasise the importance of a good pass and to get them ensuring they watched the ball.

The only downside was that there were times where the inactive players lost concentration and this is something which is difficult to avoid unless each player is actively taking part in the session. I kept the rotation happening quickly to keep any waiting to a minimum.
I also had an interesting occurrence whereby a player started to cry when it was his turn. “What’s wrong XXXX?”, I asked. “Why do I always have to play against YYYY?”, he said. Player YYYY is quite a good player, both technically & physically and I hadn’t noticed that player XXXX had been paired with him each time and had no doubt not had much success which caused this frustration. I changed it around so he had a different partner and he was happy to continue but this was yet another reminder of the importance of fairness to players of this age and the need for me as a coach to be aware of who is/isn’t having success during a game.
Whilst we were doing this the other half of the players were playing a 4v4 game which allowed them the obvious benefits which come with an SSG, such as lots of touches & dribbling/passing/shooting opportunities. It was just a shame I couldn’t observe the two groups to see if there was any difference between the group who played the SSG before 1v1 and those who played after, i.e. did the group after attempt more dribbles or have more success?
We then ended with a game which we always use as an opportunity to coach & encourage the players within a match situation.

Looking for a new kit? I know a company who can help…

I’m going to make a habit of plugging companies on this blog but I wanted to repay a recent favour by publicising a business who recently provided a fantastic service to our football club as we desperately looked for a new kit.

Having been let down by another company, I was put in contact with Bolam Premier Sportswear and they were excellent from start to finish.

They were able to:

  • Quickly provide a list of possible kits which matched our club colours
  • Meet our requirements around a sponsor and club logo
  • Provide quotes and timelines for delivery (and meet them)
  • Make a last minute change which required a redesign of the sponsor logo
The company contact (Kevin) kept me up-to-date throughout this process via email and phone which ensured I had confidence we were in good hands.
So, if you’re in need of a kit and want excellent service look no further than Bolan Premier Sportswear – highly recommended!