By Roger Wilkinson
I was watching a tremendous coach the other day. It was interesting the way that every aspect of the practice seemed to seamlessly lead into the next. I analysed the ingredients of his performance that made it so special and these are some of the key factors that I identified.
Managing the group
The team he worked with were well presented, they were attentive, well turned out and keen to learn. They greeted the coach and their fellow players on arrival and then went in to a warm up zone to knock up against rebound boards for a couple of minutes before starting. It was obvious that he had set up a strong culture and the players knew exactly what was expected in practice and behaviour wise.
Key factors – Players have to know what is expected of them, their responsibilities and how they fit in to the group on and off the field. It’s self-evident that before coaching and learning can take place the culture must be established.
Introductory part of the session
He quickly reviewed the outcomes of the last session and then explained the aims and objectives of the current session and then went straight in to the practical work. Every player was involved and he guided the players discovery by introducing the coaching points in a sequence that added one skill on to another. He was very bright in using demonstrations and clever imagery to enhance the players game understanding.
By progressively closing down the area size and space, adjusting the numbers of opposition and increasing the speed of the work he ensured the players were challenged and showed improvement. He used the first session warm up to inculcate in to the players high level skill.
The special knack he seemed to possess was that whilst coaching he was constantly assessing the player’s improvement and introducing new aspects of the work at the right time when they displayed competence and understanding. The players always looked comfortable in adding skills and understanding to their game. I think it was because his coaching position was a couple of metres back from the pitch which enabled him to view and assess all aspects of the practice.
Key factors – Know the detail of the work. Coach in sequence. Guide discovery with verbal imagery and realistic demonstrations. Work hard to assess the learning of every player so that when the time is right you can introduce new detail and challenges.
The middle practice of the session
At the start of this session the coach introduced opposition to make a 4 v 2 in a single 15m x 15m grid situation. It was clever the way he gradually introduced opposition so that the players would be able to recognise how to transfer their skills from the introductory session so gaining confidence and success.
The coach was gently reminding the players how to make their skill link in to the team work needed to protect the ball but gradually added on to the players the understanding of movement and support in order to link their individualism. What struck me was that it was so well thought out and delivered with easy to understand coaching points that the players had no problem linking the tactical work with the earlier developed skills.
The coach then added direction in to the game to make the possession more realistic. It was great the way the kids learnt how to develop positive possession keeping the ball until they created space to run through and create an overload in the other grid.
Key factors – When going in to small sided practices introduce the opposition in a gradual way so the players can be successful in confirming their learning and get success before increasing opposition. Extend the practice in to a directional game because it adds the important realism to the session.
The Final Practice of the Session
In this practice the coach played a game 4 v 4 plus 2 floaters .The floaters overloaded the team in possession to enable them to find it easier to successfully keep possession and to establish the skills and tactics the coach had developed in the first two practices. The work he had introduced in the first two parts of the session were so real in allowing the youngsters to play effectively with a great understanding of time and space. The coach worked really hard in developing in each player the tactical understanding of how and when to use the skills they had to conjoin as a team and use a football language to communicate their decisions. I was really impressed with the way he varied the tone of his voice and also used imagery to make an impression on the players.
At the end of the practice he intelligently used question and answer to re confirm all the key learning points he had coached.
Key Factors – Even in the game part of the session gently, in sequence, re affirm the skills and tactics that have been prepared in the previous practices. When preparing a session start from the end game and work backwards.
The coach was an experienced practitioner who had worked at all levels of the game. Every time I watch him I learn something new because he is always re discovering himself and discovering new aspects of the game. I just wanted to share some of the insights I learnt the last the last time I saw him.
Just as importantly the kids being coached were challenged, learnt, improved and enjoyed every part of the session. That’s probably because from the start every player was involved all the time.