The Coach`s Toolbox by Roger Wilkinson


The Coach`s Toolbox  

by Roger Wilkinson 

One of the greatest challenges facing working coaches is how to make their work progressive, realistic and, more importantly interesting for their players over the course of the season. 

Here we identify for the coach a variety of tools they can use to deliver sessions. These tools will help the coach to develop in players the skilful habits and tactical awareness that clever repetitive coaching produces, while at the same time presenting the players with stimulating practices and challenges.


The Session Breakdown

In any realistic sessions, teaching the game will always include at least one or two of the following types of practice in one form or another:

Small Group Work

This is where the clever coach uses square, rectangular and occasionally circular areas (grids) in which groups of players intermingle and develop skills.

The players in possession of the ball, although they may not be confronted by active tackling opposition still have to solve the problems about their space, time and direction and how it is affected by the movement of the other players in the area.

This means the players must move with their “EYES UP” to enable early detection of problems in maintaining possession. This will require the player to do one of the following, increase speed, change direction, turn out and back, stop and /or shield the ball to keep possession.

The small group grid areas can vary from 30m x 30m to 10m x 10m depending on

a)      The number of players

b)      The ability of the players

Small group work gives the opportunity for the coach to introduce quasi opposition or more realistic opposition that challenges the skills the players are acquiring by increasing the pressure on time and space.

Small Area Work

Here the coach introduces opposition in a game related form to test the skills the players have learnt in the small group work.

The coach can introduce the opposition in a graduated fashion. This allows the players to test their skills realistically but at the same time ensuring the players achieve and feel success at the stage of learning they are at.  

For novice players the small area work might be as simple as 5v1 in a 25m x 25m square. For advanced players the numbers might be 3v3 in a tighter area such as 10m x 10m.

Small Sided or Full Sided Games

These provide the game situations where the coach can confirm to the players where, how, when and why the skills and tactics coached in the previous part of the session are used in the real game. They also allow the coach to assess if they are programming their work correctly and at what stage the players have reached in the long term development plan. If the coach is programming their work effectively each session or part of a session should follow on from previous sessions and be a preparation for future sessions.


Session Adaptations

Within the coach’s small group, small area and game work they may look to add one or more of the following adaptations to the practices:

Safe Areas

The coach can create on the playing surface coned Safe Areas which allow the player to retain possession of the ball in a less pressurized situation.  Safe Areas can be used for the player to develop a skills base and gain tactical understanding.  They are an important tool in helping the young player to develop the vision to find and exploit space. The coach can cleverly use safe areas in the playing area to create “half positions” and “holes” for players to understand how to use and exploit.

Semi Shadow Play

Here the coach can use the 11 a side experience to enable the players to understand the tactical requirements of the game.  Semi Shadow Play develops tactical understanding in a gradual way that gives success by overloading the side in possession whilst still playing realistically from end to end.  An example of semi shadow play could involve playing a game that involves 8 versus 8 with 3 floating players who are positioned to play for whichever side gains possession of the ball. This creates a realistic continuous game from end to end rather than the usual “shadow play” where the players attack one end and then walk/run back to their positions to start the exercise again. 

Thirds, Fourths, Fifths and Channels.

Small sided and full pitches can be divided across the pitch from touchline to touchline into 3rds, 4ths and 5ths or up and down the pitch  from goal line to goal line into channels to provide players with the experience of how to make correct decisions in specific areas of the pitch according to the time and space available.  The coach can use these areas to help the players understand how to move to maintain positional and team shape. The coach can use thirds, fourths, fifths and channels to develop the players understanding of rotation and mobility.

Area Sizes

By increasing and more importantly reducing practice area sizes the coach can increase and decrease the requirements of the players. Experienced coaches will increase the practice area when dealing with novice players to allow more time and space for the players to experience success. The coach can then slowly decrease the area size to improve and refine the skills of the players.

Coaches can also use squares and rectangles specifically sized to force the players to perform skills and tactics in tight areas to over learn and produce advanced play that can be transferred straight in to the real game.

Rebound Surfaces

These are a great resource when developing skills and individual practices for players. Rebound surfaces are invaluable at the foundation stage of skill learning and can be used for football homework, individual one to one coaching or group practices.

Coaches can encourage the use of rebound surfaces to make up two, three or four sides of a square to accelerate various passing and receiving skills.


Time in Practices

When using Small Group practices, Small Area practices and Game practices the time used in each sector can be increased or decreased according to needs of the players. The coach when programming their work will decrease time in the small group and small area work and increase time in the game practice as the players become more proficient.

Delivery tools

Within any part of a session the coach may look to use some of the following delivery tools


It may be self evident but the use of the coach’s voice to motivate, encourage, inform and organize the practices is a vital tool in successful coaching methodology.

Guided Discovery, Question and Answer and Command Style Coaching

The use of various coaching styles is crucial in the coach giving information and providing correct and lasting improvement for the players. Knowing at what development stage to prioritize the coaching style used is vital for the coach.

Young players going through their skill foundation stage will need the coach to pre -dominantly use guided discovery because their experience and understanding will be limited. That will give the player the experience base to be able to respond to questioning.

Command style can be introduced to more experienced players. The best coaches use a mixture of all three in a session to maximize success.

No question should be asked that the coach does not know the answer to.


The really great coaches use imagery to accentuate their coaching points knowing full well that increases the player’s ability to understand and retain important information.

Coaching Position and Vision

It is self evident that the coach should position themselves so that they can observe all of the players and the areas used in the practice to maintain contact with the players and to observe all aspects of the practice requiring  help and input.

Novice coaches (like players) can become “ball watchers” and overly concentrate on action taking place immediately around the ball. Learning to observe all actions in the practice on and off the ball is vital.


As can be seen there are many tools in the coaches armament that enables them to deliver realistic ,themed sessions over a series of practices that enable the players to learn in a sequential fashion the authentic skill and knowledge to improve them and make them more effective in the real game.

If you have any views, comments or questions about this article please contact


2 thoughts on “The Coach`s Toolbox by Roger Wilkinson

  1. Hi I’ve just stumbled across this blog and am pleased I did! I am learning alot from the articles you have posted.

  2. Great post and real insight into why at times my coaching has been successful and why at other times it has fallen on deaf ears…

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s