The Fun in Practice

By John Cartwright

The playing of a small-sided game at the end of a training session is popular at all levels.  Following on from sessions of a physical type or of tactical or skill practises, the small-sided game can offer an enjoyable and constructive conclusion to a training period. However, the use of the small-sided game merely as a ‘treat’ or ‘sweetener’ to players, as is often the case, should be carefully considered.


In my opinion, each training session should be a continuation of sessions previously carried out and all practice should be a stage in a planned route towards a designated playing vision. Too often coaching sessions follow no pre-determined direction with little or no coordination between them. Using the small-sided game to simply inject ‘a bit of fun’ as a ‘fill in’ at the final part of a session is not the best use of coaching time. The final stage of a session offers the coach an opportunity to bring his/her work to a ‘rounded’ conclusion. The small-sided game at this time allows the ‘threads’ of the session to be neatly pulled together; it provides  a completeness to both actions and understanding  for the players in a competitive situation; and it gives the coach an opportunity to assess his/her players and see whether or not the session’s objective(s) has been achieved.

No, I’m not suggesting that training sessions should be gloomy or glum affairs. It is the responsibility of a coach to inspire and stimulate his/her players by providing sessions that are enjoyable, understandable, achievable and  progressively organized.  Even physical sessions can be less off-putting and more enjoyable for players if the work is presented in subtle ways! To have real fun when involved in a sporting context, the participant needs to have acquired a high playing standard. To superimpose fun just to stimulate involvement in youngsters is fine but there has to be a genuine objective to activities that allows fun and learning to blend. The saying states, ‘all work and no fun makes Jack a sad boy’; but it can also be reversed to state. ‘all fun and no work makes Jack a slacker’!.

The use of the word – FUNdamentals with the emphasis on the first syllable, is a clever way to draw attention in combining  basic learning with enjoyment. However, the use of any words in an exaggerated form is no remedy for faulty practice methods; inappropriate practice carried out with the ‘broadest of smiles’ will not produce the talented sports’ person!  The most obvious way to have fun is to do something you enjoy doing. If playing football is your passion, it seems only logical that you will enjoy practising football if practice bears a close resemblance to the actual game.

 Even in the ‘autumn’ of life, many like to take part in some form of kick-about.  Playing the game still has an inviting and empowering hold over those who have enjoyed the ‘rough and tumble’ the camaraderie, the ups and downs of victory and defeat, the travel etc. all are important in the love for the game, but it’s playing that, despite age and infirmity, we all would love to be able to do.  Yes, its playing that puts a smile on your face and a determination in your heart to play it better at every opportunity. Playing football is what kids did in the street, debris and school playgrounds and whilst they were playing they were practising without realizing it, they didn’t need words or even coaching, all they needed was a small flat area; any type of something to kick and enough players for a game – and they enjoyed it, HOUR AFTER HOUR — they had FUN!

PREMIER SKILLS is all about putting that REAL FUN back into football. PRACTICE – PLAY is the FUNdamental ingredient of their coaching methodology. Realism to the actual game has been carefully constructed to provide appropriate practices for each age-related level.

Give our youngsters the chance to experience of Practising whilst Playing and………………  LET THE REAL FUN BEGIN!!


4 thoughts on “The Fun in Practice

  1. Having grown up in the 70s/80s playing football, not street football, but out in the parks where there was a lot of room to play, I can see from my own experiences how important having a great coach around could have helped me play to a higher standard. I never played for a club until I was 10 and I never had a days coaching that had anything to do with the game. Shuttle runs, sit ups, leap frogs were all part of my training every week, then we were allowed to play a game with the coach shouting all the usual, “spread out, try harder” etc but nothing that really had anything to do with proper coaching. That was the norm back then, managers did not need to do a course to run a team, but to be honest I still see many coaches today who have done FA courses, still having kids do laps, shuttles and finishing off with a game if they behave. To be fair though, many more do at least let them play, which is better than doing a fitness sessions designed for the royal marines.

    I do not remember many parents watching us, my own, only ever watched me once, but to be honest that never bothered me, it was not about the adults, it was about playing with my friends and competing against other teams. The absence of adults helped me enjoy the game far more than many of todays children, who sometimes will have to endure many negative comments from the sidelines.

    Now I do not have any bad memories playing for my local youth club, I enjoyed the game immensely, but as with most things, if you can excel in something you tend to enjoy it more. If I had premier skills coaching when I was a young lad, I am sure that I could have played at a higher standard than I did, thus enjoying the game even more.

    Having a coach who is coaching the game in a logical way is of course very important, but all that coaching could go to waste if a coach is unable to connect to the children in their care, unfortunately this can be very common even at our academies.

  2. Absolutley agree Dave

    I was a very average player in the playground but at the age of 14 I saw Holland in the 74 World Cup and that team awakened something in me. What really struck me was how comfortable they alll were on the ball and how they just seemed to enjoy the ball for it’s own sake. At 14 I had no deep appreciation of the ingredients that made for this style of football but I started to drift deeper in games and try to slow things down. This was hard because the other kids would always want to “get it down there” and eventually around my early twenties I became dissillusioned. If I had known where to find a John Cartwright I would have stayed in the game. I just needed some tweeking because I really wanted to learn and I was dedicated to practice.

    Now as a coach of 15 years experience I get most frustrated with players who have more natural balance and co ordination than me but do not listen and do not want to practice.

    My approach to the small sided “fun game” is to do it first. The kids turn up and they are straight into a match. The ones who are early get more match time ( great incentive to get there on time). After 20 /25 mins I usually go in and critique the game. It goes like this

    Boys last week when you played Home Base we played with patience and precision but now we’ve gone back to the Cavalry Charge. Let’s put this right…….

    and so we move into a more structured coaching session involving some form of realistic keep ball practice game ( such as Prisoner )where good decision making is the prime skill under consideration. Then I always go into a Home Base game ( which the kids know in school as Monkey Rush )where I coach.This is about 35 mins . Finally we do a 5-10 min warm down of kick ups/ Coerver/ type activity which is Homework to do on their own during the week. Obviously making these “ball skills” the last element in the session means the parents and kids have that fresh so I can ref homework next week and we can see who has actually done homework.

    This means that every Sat morning the kids always “get a match”. ( in my opinion you will lose kids without that element and at the end of the day we are running a business; we have to be customer sensitive ) but they are then more receptive to the coaching because the coaching addresses what they could’nt do in the match.

  3. When are we going to understand that it’s not competition that creates poor playing quality, it’s how cleverly competition is introduced over the development years that makes the difference. Abroad, they feed competition in carefully during devlopmental years; here we thrust competition down kids’ throats…..instead of baby milk and rusks, we serve steak, egg and chips, two slices of bread and a cup of tea!! No wonder our game’s hard to digest.

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