The Secret of Planning – part 3

Planning step 3 – Season Planning:

“Fail to plan, plan to fail”

The coach having identified and prioritized their game style, tactics and skills must now organize their season coaching plan in order to coach the team to play in the style they wish. The key to this planning is for the coach to systematically ensure that the tactical and skill fundamentals are developed and coached to the team in a logical and easy to learn manner and that the team are also mentally and physically prepared. Most coaches break down the season into phases that look like this:

Pre Season

Early Season

Mid Season

Late Season

Post Season

Pre Season- This is where the players come in for preparatory training and coaching this period is usually 5 to 7 weeks before the competition starts. Here the coach is establishing the base for the season by making sure the players fully understand and can operate within the Game style.

(a)  The general elements

(b)  The tactical requirements

(c)  The skills needed

The coach also prepares the players physically to enable them to have the stamina, endurance, speed, strength and mobility to play this way for 90 minutes.

The coach must not forget the mental aspects of team play and in pre season establishes the morale, rules and expectancy of the players interacting as a group on and off the pitch

Early Season- This is the first third of the competitive season. The coach will still be assessing the players measured against the Game style.

It must be said here, that the coach at all phases of the season must be aware of the general club and league administration requirements.  As part of their planning the coach should appoint competent back up staff to ensure the team is administered efficiently.

Some of the work will be re-establishing tactics and skills that have not been properly bedded down in pre season; the rest of the work will be further developing the Game style blueprint.

Success will be measured in different ways depending on whether the coach is a development coach where player development is more important than results (although results are all important and impact on the confidence of the players) or a senior first team coach where results are all important (but where winning without style is still a negative)

The coach will also be ensuring the players are maintaining and increasing their physical capabilities according to their strengths and weaknesses and the requirements of the game.

The coach should be giving regular feedback to players on their physical performance.

Regarding physical training for younger players, it is usually assumed that up to ages 12-14 if the practical playing sessions are sufficiently realistic and well planned then no extra physical work should be necessary. 

The coach will also be working on the individual psychological requirements of their players in relation to their individual performances and their role in the team on and off the pitch.

The importance of the coach in relation to motivating the player and helping the players motivate themselves should not be under estimated. Regular feedback to the players in this aspect is vital.

The coach should always be checking with his assistants to ensure the administration and organization of the team is as efficient as it can be. Even at grassroots junior level a team that is well-organized saves coaches and managers from unnecessarily wasting time and resources.

Mid Season- This is the middle third of the competitive season. This is the make or break time for the team and the coach. This is where; if the blueprint is right the team will be playing according to the vision of the coach and putting on the performances.

Once again the coach will be adjusting and improving the style of the play of the team whilst looking to further extend the player capabilities both tactically and skilfully.

It is useful here (and in fact at any stage in the season) to get a colleague or friend to do a scouting report on the team to give feedback to the coach in order to give a fresh perspective.

The coach`s Game style breakdown will always be first point of reference for assessment of the players tactical and skill match day performance.

Physically the coach will probably breakdown this phase into 2 parts. In the first 2/3rds of mid-season the coach will maintain the intensity of the physical work the players require to produce top class performance.

In the last 3rd of this period the coach will change his/her focus on to maintaining the fitness base established in the players to keep them fresh and avoid burn out. So during the mid-season phase coaches will usually be required to improve and then maintain fitness.

Psychologically, as always the coach should be giving individual feedback to the players to aid their improvement. The coach must always be monitoring the confidence of the player to provide feedback and support.

It is also important to maintain the team spirit to develop a strong work ethic, self-discipline and camaraderie amongst the players on and off the field. With younger players using the team to develop and support good values as well as teaching children how to relate with their peers and adults (the coach) is an important function of the coach.


Late Season –This is the last third of the competitive season.

It is in this phase that the coach must keep their work interesting and challenging. This is the “business end” of the season – where the team will be in one of the three situations.

1)    Challenging for honours in the top third of the league.

2)    Fighting to avoid finishing in the bottom 3 teams and may be relegated.

3)    Mid table and needing to maintain playing momentum.

Whatever position the coach should constantly work to improve all facets of individual and team play to squeeze the full potential out of their players.

Sessions should be challenging, enjoyable BUT also realistic to the demands of the Game style blueprint.

The coaches previous work on the tactical and skill aspects and how successfully they have been established in the player will be crucial, whatever the league position, at this stage of the season.

Physiologically the coach is concerned with maintaining freshness in the players at this stage the majority of physical work will concern itself with speed and sharpness and avoiding burn out.

Psychologically the coach will need to work in different ways depending on which of the 3 league positions the team is in:

(a)  If challenging for honours it is important the players do not get too excited or over motivated on match day but instead focus on doing their jobs and concentrate fully throughout the 90 mins.  It is just as important to maintain this calm and concentrated approach in training.

(b)  If the team is mid table then the coach might want to set specific targets for the players and the team, it might be worth introducing a reward system to make the end of the season more challenging for the players. The key in this situation is to create enthusiasm in the team to train and complete.

(c)  If the team is at the bottom end of the league then the coach and the team are fighting to achieve a more respectable position. The players confidence will be paramount as, without doubt, they will be having doubts about their ability. Here it is important that the coach concentrates on the positives and not the negatives.

Post Season – It is important to close of the season effectively. First of all by individually giving feedback to players and assistants. Then by having a team meeting where the team can officially close the season with tributes and thanks being given and received and players being told about future playing opportunities.

Every season for the coach is a learning experience for the next season.

The post season for the coach is most important,  it is a time to reflect on their game style, player selection, planning, coaching, team organization, team motivation, team fitness and general administration. To gain insights from the positive aspects of the season and to learn what to avoid from the negative aspects of the season.

Here is an example of pre Season planning in all aspects.


Week 1: Govern the ball-Technical requirements running, passing, take-overs, screening, turning, and tricks.  Tactical requirements in the back third, middle third, front third and whole pitch tactical requirements. “The blue print” for playing through the thirds. Defensive basics to win and then play.

Week 2: Introduce rotation through the thirds, attacking and defending. Establish individual responsibilities throughout the Game style blueprint. Work on benchmark balls. Establish defensive support play. Introduce set plays.

Week 3: Work on going forward and retaining possession. Runs with and without the ball. When to play round, when to start again. Playing into space inside box -“playing in “. Working in front of and around the side of the penalty box. Work on general finishing. Set plays. Defensive closing down and support.

Week 4: Use a full pitch to work on defensive shape including individual responsibilities and group responsibilities. Full pitch on attacking shape, creating space, 1st and 2nd runs, cross field and diving in runs and spins. Set plays.

Week 5: Play games against overloaded teams. Change pitch shapes. Extend defensive responsibilities. Introduce high tempo play. Individual responsibilities within the game style. Set plays.


Week 1: 400/300 meter runs, introduce circuits, hill running.

Week 2: 400/300m runs, circuits, hill runs.

Week 3: 300/200/100m runs, extended circuits, hill runs.

Week 4: 300/200/100m runs, extended circuits, hill runs.

Week 5: 100/70/50/20m runs, circuits.


Week 1: Team ethic, individual responsibilities, team morale and self-image.

Week 2:  Team ethic, Individual responsibilities, team morale and self-image.

Week 3: Team and coach feedback, individual player and self assessment and group bonding.

Week 4: Team target setting, individual player target setting and group challenges

Week 5: When are we working as a group? When are we working as an individual? Identify future goals.


Week 1: Training times-Transport, equipment, storage, training kit, i.e. balls, bibs, cones and physio requirements

Week 2: Reference previous week. Pre season games organised.

Week 3: Training kit handed out to the squad. Pre season games organised. Check with physio re: injured players.

Week 4: Hand out fixture list for the season. Check league administration and physio report

Week 5: Ensure squad numbers are indexed for the league. Give out tickets and parking passes, physio report.

What do you want to achieve at the end of this period?

Team to be drilled and trained into their game requirements, including set plays. Team has achieved a high level of all round fitness. Team has a sense of self-image.

What have you achieved?

Team has 90% understanding of game style, fitness is good, team spirit developing.

Part 4 of the Secret of Planning looks at session planning


Part 4 of the Secret of Planning will be posted soon!

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