The Advantages of One To One Coaching

By Roger Wilkinson

I remember Bobby Charlton recalling how when he was a young player at Man Utd the assistant manager Jimmy Murphy would take him out on the pitch at Old Trafford and work on his long and short passing. Similarly Niall Quinn spoke of his time at Man City and how Howard Kendall would take him into the small gym under the stand at Maine Rd every afternoon to practice heading. Both paid tribute to improvement that one to one coaching made to their game.

My own experience suggests that one to one coaching is invaluable for players of all ages but can be crucial in the foundation stage of learning the game for young players from 5 to 9 yrs of age. One to one coaching can help establish not just good habits but “great habits” as a valuable addition to realistic group coaching.

Below is a list of ideas, skills and methods that will help a coach become effective working one to one with players.

  • One to one coaches working at this level have to be intuitive and knowledgeable to cleverly identify the key skills that need to be implemented in the early years learning stage.  These skills will then allow the child to gain the ability to work easily and effectively in group practices and games.


  • The coach needs to understand the hierarchy of introductory skills e.g young kids at 3 or 4 years of age can run with the ball in a basic uncontrolled fashion but have trouble stopping and controlling the ball.  So running and stopping; leading on to running and turning; leading on to running with sharp changes of direction or turns and stops will be the first type of practice, specifically to provide a base to the players skills and individualism.


  • The skill of the coach is to increase the proficiency and skill of the young player by gradually challenging them further through the use of cones, opposition (the coach will have to act as opposition) and the reduction of space in the practice area.

  • The coach should also understand how to overlay other crucial key points in the same session for example: encouraging the players to shout their skills BEFORE producing them – this ensures the players develop the great ability of being able to “play ahead of themselves” – as a natural part of their early learning.


  • The one to one early years coaching phase can also correct the biggest blight of the English player which is players who can only effectively use one foot.  IT IS VITAL THAT THE COACH ENSURES THE PLAYER USES BOTH FEET EQUALLY IN THIS EARLY LEARNING STAGE SO THE PLAYER KNOWS NOTHING DIFFERENT AND WILL LEARN TO DO ALL SKILLS USING RIGHT AND LEFT EQUALLY.


  • The coach can also develop clever coaching techniques to ensure the practice is as realistic as possible, despite the fact the young player is working on their own. Examples of creating realism in one to one coaching could be: the coach walking around the practice area putting their hands up and making signals for the player to see and acknowledge – this encourages the player to “get their eyes up”.  Or by stepping into the playing area and becoming a defender to challenge and improve the player’s ability to understand the time and space needed to beat defenders and protect the ball.


  • When working with really young players the coach should break up the practice in to bite size segments making it challenging and interesting by introducing forms of competition – “Let see how many turns, tricks and runs you can make in a minute.” “How many successful controls and passes can you make out of 12”.


  • If a young player is struggling with something the coach needs to understand how to “down chain” the skill and simplify the work until they get success. Then the coach can introduce more complexity and speed in a gradual way to ensure progression. The frustrated generalisation “come on you can do better than that” with young players is a real turn off and doesn’t help.


  • Coaches should encourage the young player to use their imaginations and work at game speed to make the skill acquisition as realistic as possible.  In the early years work it is important that the coach controls the speed and accuracy of serving to ensure success, particularly when introducing controlling balls in the air. Note: When introducing foundation heading the ball should also be light and repetitions conservative.


  • Although it is termed “one to one”, If possible it is an advantage if the coach has 2 players to work with in the same session so that it allows rest time from intense work and also helps the player learn by watching and copying the success of their partner or even learning from their mistakes. As they get more proficient the partner can also be used to provide more realistic opposition.


  • As soon as the player is competent introduce rebound surfaces in combination with free work. The rebound surface is great for improving the first touch and quick feet adjustments great players require. Through the use of a rebound surface, players will also develop an appreciation for the weighting and timing of passes. Another great aspect of rebound work is that the players can then go and practice the skills they have learnt in their own time.


Those “early years” of coaching learning the game as in other disciplines like English and Maths are vital in allowing the young child to develop a strong skill base and help them reach their true potential.

One to One coaching as indicated by Bobby Charlton and Niall Quinn can be used with players of all ages and abilities to enable them to play more skilfully.


7 thoughts on “The Advantages of One To One Coaching

  1. Roger, a fantastic article that I shall sure use this comming year in support of our younger players.

    We are going to try different coaching methods this year and are going to coach our 5 / 6 / 7 / 8 /9 in age groups with around 6 coaches for 40 say U5 players, we are trying to remove some of the emotion associated with the game and focus much more on the activities associated with skill acquisition.

    We have a second front that we shall have to battle with that of parents with education regards the learning process for young players.


  2. Neat, my wife thought I was going too far in finding a local college player to tutor our 6 year old, but it sounds like I am on the right track.

  3. Many years ago,back in the fities in fact,as kids we would go down to watch the local team,Huddersfield Town,training on an open playing field and get their autographs afterwards.As they trained,usually mind-numbing stuff like lapping the pitch,we played our own games in areas away from them and often when they had finished they came over and joined in our games for a few minutes and they often gave us hints and pieces of advice.It was ironic that they had endured one or two hours of gruelling physical monotony but they were only too keen to pass on help and advice to us and often on a one-to-one basis.I recall that a number of those players from that era later went on to become good coaches because gradually an air of enlightenment was beginning to blow over English football as some players realised that the foreigners were not doing all the endless pitch-lapping as they were and there was a better way.I think that the one-to-one approach was the start of the new enlightenment but the approach seemed to get lost as coach education became centred around teams and groups.Roger Wilkinson is right to re-introduce this approach and I have found his videos on the subject extremely helpful.

  4. David – I obtained 2 videos on one-to-one coaching done by Roger Wilkinson some years ago from someone I know in New Zealand.I think that they are now available in the UK and I think that they have been produced in DVD form. I think you can obtain them from companies like Forsport or you could write direct to the Premier Skills office.

  5. Really enjoyable article and I’m glad you raise the point as I much prefer working with small numbers of players.

    Interesting point re: both feet. I agree but I also look at Lionel Messi, who almost never uses his right foot!


  6. Simon
    Good point about Messi and there is no doubt he is a great player but just think how tremendous he would be if he was truly equal with both feet!!I remember on a FIFA course working with Raymond Diaz the left footed successor to Maradona a great player who had just finished playing and was taking his badges.In the Demo I needed a right winger and Raymond volunteered I said that I needed a right footed player and that he was “all” left.He indignantly brushed past me and grabbed the bib and said “I choose to favour my left!!” He played right side and he solely used his right foot and was brilliant so maybe Messi is the same ilk!!! He is a truly great player

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