Coaching Day 21: Prior Planning Prevents Poor Performance


Last Wednesday’s training session was something of a learning experience for me because of the phone call I received 15 minutes before the start of the session. Those of you who read the blog regularly will be aware that two of us run the session and that we usually start & end the session with the kids together but split out in the middle for 15 minutes of sessions with half of the players each.

So, as I’m arriving home last Wednesday afternoon and thoughts are focussing on making the best use of the 15-20 minutes where it’s just me and 7-8 players I receive a phone call. “Hi Simon it’s Phil’s wife Kerry, he’s broken down and isn’t going to make training. I’ll bring the balls down, is there anything else you need?”. “The cones, bibs and a whistle if his is around” came my reply. As I put the phone down I must admit to feeling a bit panicked – from planning for 20 minutes I now had to plan for a whole session with 18-20 7 year olds and no support.

I arrived 5 minutes before the session (work doesn’t allow me to get there any earlier) and the first thing I did was to make sure that one of the parents was going to be around for the duration of the session. I needed to have someone there to be a second pair of eyes and asked one of the parents just to help if (when) any of the kids were injured or started to cry so that I could try to keep the session going one of the parents duly obliged and assisted a couple of times during the session.

I had a few ideas on what I could do with the session because, whilst I hadn’t planned for a whole session I have enough experience now to know what games you can use with a larger group of players but I decided I’d go through the warm-up and go from there – using the kids mood as a factor in deciding what I’d then move on to do later in the session.

Before we started the warm-up it was evident that the kids were hyper which, in all honesty, appears to be the norm this season. I expect this is due to a) their age and b) the fact that most go to school together. I gathered them together at the start and explained that Phil (the manager and usually “bad cop”) wouldn’t be there so I’d be running the session – I also explained that I’d be telling Phil who was well behaved during the session with Saturday’s game(s) in mind.

For a warm-up each player had a ball and I started with the kids dribbling from one-side of the all-weather pitch to the other, using different surfaces of the foot to dribble and trying out turns etc before progressing to a sharks v minnow type of game. This further expanded to other types of dribbling and passing combinations (inc work in pairs) and kept the players reasonably engaged whilst keeping them warm and giving them maximum time on the ball. There were a few kids who were playing up and were no doubt mindful that the manager wasn’t there but I made an effort to ignore them and keep the session going which ultimately saw them join back in rather than continue to be disruptive.

In an hour session we spent the first 20-25 minutes doing ball work with the players being encouraged to express themselves by trying different turns & tricks. A lot of our players are often very keen to show me their tricks, turns or skills they’ve learnt or tried and I take this as a positive. I hope it reflects that I encourage & praise their efforts and show a real interest in what they’re trying – I also try to help them correct their technique every now and then which they’re receptive to as it usually improves their success rate.

Whilst the first 20-25 minutes had kept going it had certainly been a challenge trying to get their attention, explain any progressions or changes in what we were doing and there were times where it was organised chaos. However, how can one person and 19-20 seven year old bos & girls not be??

Once the first part of the session was complete I decided that the best way to keep the session successful was to move to a game but I got them together after a quick drinks break and explained that some of the behaviour wasn’t very good and that I expected better behaviour during the game – once again using Saturday’s game as a reminder.

The game I believe was the best step to take during the session and in the circumstances. The game ran well, the players did a number of things which allowed me to praise them and I was also able to take time to talk to certain players for short periods to ask them a question about what they’d just done or congratulate them on something they’d done really well (and explain or ask if they knew what it was they’d done well).

At the end of the session a number of parents (who’d watched) were complimentary of how I’d kept the session together and managed the kids at certain times (i.e. explaining the behaviour I expected) and thanked me for running it despite Phil’s absence – which was nice.

There are a number of learning points I took from Wednesday night, such as:

  • I need a plan for running this size of session in future
  • The plan needs to include elements which perhaps allow a parent to become involved without too much explanation required
  • The kids did respond well to me talking to them about behaviour and I should probably have intervened a couple more times than I did
  • It was enjoyable having full-ownership of the session, although it was incredibly hard work
  • In all it was a very useful experience
There are elements I need to improve as a coach; the warm-up needs to be better and avoid dribbling in straight lines and with better planning I could have avoided the need to move straight in to a game so I’m glad I had this experience to acknowledge these and write this post.
Finally, based on what I’ve written above I’d love to hear from other coaches, especially those who’ve worked with similar age groups and to be challenged on some of the above, e.g. what sounds good, what looks strange, is there anything you strongly disagree with?
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About Simon
Grassroots Football Coach

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