The Importance of Session Planning

This month we hear from Mark Haining, Oxfordshire’s County Coach Developer, who provides lots of useful hints and tips around session planning for coa

The life of a volunteer coach is both challenging and time consuming. The constant juggling of demands on their time from work, family, team administration, player selection, team management, committee meetings, parents meetings…to name but a few areas.

One of the main challenges for all grassroots coaches is finding the time to plan for their training sessions and manage their daily life. Whilst wanting to do their very best for their players and giving up an inordinate amount of their own free time, planning can sometimes be the sacrifice for some coaches in favour of just putting a session on.

However, the impact of not taking the time to plan can even leave the best intended sessions, well short of what the players need and ultimately it could prove to be a bigger waste of precious time, when sessions don’t really work.

An essential part to planning is reflection and planning for that as well! The FA is reinforcing this key theme through the range of new coaching courses and through the England DNA and CPD workshops.

The “Plan – Do – Review” model is an essential tool for coaches that will enable a clearer picture of what each training session looks like, what worked, why it worked and what changes may be included for the next session.

Focusing on the “Plan” of “Plan-Do-Review”, coaches should consider the following:

• Have a clear learning focus/objective. Determine what it is your session will help the players get better at. For example, playing out from the back. Ask yourself why they need to get better at it and picture what “success” at this learning focus would look like for you. Be careful to remember that what success looks like for you and what your players are actually capable of may well be two different things! Make sure your expectations of them are realistic and relevant to the player’s age, maturation and ability.

• Try to plan to help individual players within your team as well as the team itself. Put your session into context for these players. This might be linked to any one of the areas in the FA LTPD 4 corner model (Technical, Physical, Psychological, and Social). For example, I may add a player (e.g. Ben) to the technical corner with the explanation that Ben needs to get better at opening his body before receiving the ball to allow him to play forwards. If Ben was one of my defenders, this may link to my learning focus of playing out from the back. It might be that I have another player called Harry. I may list him in the social corner because I want him to try to help the player he receives the ball from and the next player in the direction he is going with his communication (this might be because Harry needs to communicate more with those around him).

• What areas of the pitch are you going to use? This may be limited by what you have at training. How many players do you have in your squad? How many will actually be at training? What equipment do you need? A simple drawing or outline of what each part of the session will look like.

• Challenges and questions for your players that may help them work things out in the practice and that link to the thing you want them to get better at. For example, if our learning focus is playing out from the back, I would want to design a practice that will allow players to know how/when/why to create space before they receive the ball. My challenge for the defenders might be, try to recognise when the GK or another defender might/does get the ball. Where can you go that will make it harder for the other team to cover you and will allow your team mate to lend you the ball? My question to the players would then be around when are you going to move, what if you can’t play forwards? What might you do then? How many touches will you need when you receive the ball? What will you need to be aware of before you receive the ball? Planning for these things will allow you as the coach a deeper understanding of the detail of the session. The planning of this detail, will allow you to better help the players.

On the attached example session plan, you will see an observation of session section. This is an area of work we focus on with aspiring Level 3 coaches, which can be easily adapted for you and your sessions. The idea is that it allows you to plan for the myriad of things that happen in any given training session and then reflect on what you intended to do and against what actually happened.

The final part of the session planner is another reflection aspect to your training event. It looks at what went well (WWW), even better if (EBI) and changes for next time (CFNT). This in-depth review of the session will allow you to develop a clearer understanding of what it is you do very well and why and things that you might want to develop and why. In turn, this will hopefully have a knock on effect with the way that you coach and support your players and hopefully encourage more creativity in both your coaching and the performances of your players.

A final and crucial note on the subject of session planning is this. Planning allows us to build up a knowledge base of how, why, what, where and when in relation to our players and the environments we coach in. Identifying these things will allow us to take the inevitable deviation off plan that does not tempt us down the road of moving away from what we are trying to learn and simply replacing it with something that we know the players like but do not necessarily need. Plan B simply becomes a lot easier and reflecting on both plan A and B will inform our next session plan in a more positive way.

I think it is very important to re-emphasise my initial point in this article. Talking from experience, I fully understand and respect the time challenges for all grassroots coaches. The detail of content I have presented here is highly likely more aspirational than achievable every week for some coaches. However, just as we should be doing with our coaching of players, we need to remember we should be planning to improve them over the long term and that along the way, their improvements will peak and trough.

Careful planning for our sessions will allow us to help them manage these variations and hopefully give us the confidence to move off plan in order to support them if required. The more time you can make for planning the more your players will benefit, it really is as simple as that.

Mark Haining, Oxfordshire FA County Coach Developer.

To find out more about observing Mark in practice at one of our FA Licensed Coaches Club events or Coaches Academy please email James Shiplee on 01993 894403 or visit our course page where you can register for events.

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