Wasting valuable coaching and development time –The Twelve Commandments

By Roger Wilkinson

I remember John Cartwright making the point to always remember that players, no  matter what their level or experience, come to training with expectations, hopes, ambitions and trusting that the coach is going to inspire, teach and improve them. Those sentiments were thrust in to the forefront of my mind when I recently watched an age group women’s international team work in one of the countries we were running courses in.

The young ladies had been brought together for a long weekend as part of their international preparation. We watched the morning and afternoon sessions on the second day. Both sessions opened with the fitness man who spent 30 to 35 minutes on stretches, different forms of running and turning, jumps, lateral, backwards and sideways movements interspersed with drinks.

For the second part of both sessions they divided in to two groups. Each group formed a circle with the players keeping the ball whilst two defenders in the middle tried to tackle or intercept in order to change with the player who gave it away. This carried on for a further 30+ mins.

For the last part of both sessions the coaches moved straight on to a coached game for 25 mins. In the morning two coaching points were made. In the afternoon no coaching points were made at all. In both games the girls played with passion and enthusiasm however possession was surrendered recklessly and the players decision making at times was illogical and naïve…….yet in all honesty the coaches made little to no effort to guide the players discovery.

The girls were keen, active, enthusiastic and did everything the coaches asked of them. Some showed real ability but I seriously question whether they came out of the day having learned anything from the sessions.

I did a quick analysis of what was provided and what the players got out of the session.

They became great at warm ups because the majority of practice time was based on that. They had a care free time playing the “piggy in the middle” game. They played a couple of games that kept them occupied for approx 50 mins in which time they were given two  hints and tips but otherwise nothing other than random insights they picked up for themselves in the game situation.

What they didn’t get out of the session was a clever well thought out warm up with a ball that introduced and rehearsed the skills and tactical ideas that would be presented further in the practice in line with the gamestyle. They did not get coaches subtly introducing greater requirements and challenges throughout the practices to develop the players to their full potential.

There was no extension to the first part of the session that introduced directional, realistic game situations with a gradual introduction of opposition.  Subsequently there was little understanding amongst the players of their roles and responsibilities within the gamestyle and no link to the final part of the session, the game.

The final part of the session did not then allow the players to link their earlier learning in to the game to help them play it more effectively. Never during the match did the coaches assess and guide the play to produce the game style they were searching for.

On reflection I tried to be subjective and less judgemental – perhaps they’d really worked them hard the day before?

But then surely If the players were brought in for a weekend long training camp the work would be structured to maximise coaching time on both days? Remember, that this was an International training camp where quality time together is rare and should always be cherished.

The coaches had a responsibility to those, enthusiastic elite young teenagers to maximise the effectiveness of every minute of practice time.  In fact don’t all coaches have a duty to programme and prepare their sessions to ensure they give quality coaching for every minute of every session to their players no matter what their age?

I found the whole experience very thought provoking and it made me think about how we as coaches can ensure that we maximise all available learning time. Here is a list of “commandments” that I aim to adhere to for all sessions.

1. Spend valuable time formalising and detailing my playing philosophy (gamestyle).

2. Take time to programme my sessions in six to eight week blocks for the season whether for kids or senior pro’s. Why 6 to 8 weeks?…….because in my experience that’s how long it takes for the players to take the detail and understanding from short term to long term memory.

3. Make sure that each session is a follow on from the previous session and preparation for the next.

4. Before each session by clever use of question and answer quickly assess the understanding from the previous session to remind easily relate it to the aims of the current session.

5. Make sure that I use every part of my session from Small Group to Small Area to Game to gradually and easily link the skill and tactical understanding of the gamestyle.

6. Ensure every player is involved in the session at all times. So they are always involved with decision making when on the ball and learning the signals of the game i.e. where and how to support and conjoin with team mates when not in possession.

7. To coach in a way that is easy for the player to understand. By introducing coaching points in logical sequence, using language that paints a picture for the players and that also gives key reminders. By using my voice to motivate and inspire the players to work and improve their game.

8. Use question and answer, observational assessment and goal setting to gage the players increase in ability and understanding.

9. At the end of the session set the “football homework” for the players to work on in their own time

10. Allow a couple of minutes to de brief the parents on the “football homework” – if working with younger players.

11. Set a culture within the squad based on ethics, honesty, hard work, dedication, responsibility and cooperation.  Maintain expectations that players are punctual, courteous, helpful and respectful to everyone involved in the session. In modern society it’s even more important that they not only become better players but better people.

12. Continually re assess my knowledge and search for new innovative coaching skills to make my own coaching more effective and so maximising my development impact on the players.

So I will keep in the forefront of my coaching philosophy to always remember that players come to training with hopes, ambitions and aspirations no matter what their level or experience.  I want to make sure I am always the best coach that I can be and that those players can rely on me not to waste their valuable development time.

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5 thoughts on “Wasting valuable coaching and development time –The Twelve Commandments

  1. Great blog again roger and very helpful for young aspiring coaches like myself. I remember when I first started playing for a local team when I was nine and experienced simiular unimaginative coaching methods. It wasn’t until I was 16 where I was shown engaging sessions that had a certain theme throughout. Who was coaching me at this point? Roger Wilkinson. I still to this day, wonder what I might of acheived if had the same coaching methods from the age of nine (Between 7 & 9 I believe to be the most important stage in a childs devlopment).
    Unfortunately their are still coaches at grassroots level, who persist on using unimaginative DRILLS with no theme or vision of how they want their kids to play. Every junior club across the country should have a simular set of standards to abide by, To ensure our kids don’t become the next wasted line of talent.

  2. Clubs need to start recruiting for qualified, experienced people rather than relying on a volunteer just because they are handy and keen.

    Grassroots clubs could put some of the money they put into end of season events with medals for all or the cost of sending volunteers through courses for the sake of having them ‘qualified’ into paying some level of hourly rate for ‘intentional’ coaches.

    With imagination and some flexibility we could have a ‘Director of Coaching’ to set an least an outline programme and oversee the less experienced coahes to ensure that they are delivering game related practices. You will still need the parent helper/volunteer and with giudance you will find the ones that REALLY want to be a coach. Then you can deal with real coach development within a club environment whilst making sure that the children are getting a progressive learning environment.

    This profile works in the USA – why not here?

    It doesn’t have to be a working salary but at least something that makes sure a coach isn’t out of pocket merely because it is grassroots they are dealing with.

    Parents pay for lost of other sort of ‘teaching’ (Golf, dancing, piano, swimming, gymnastics etc) so why should football be different?

  3. Its a shame that players have been let down like this in a small country of only 4.5 million (where the national sport is not football). Every player need developing to their maximum ability. The coaches need to be even more mindful of their responsibilities when working with supposedly the best players at their disposal. When they return to their respective clubs the behaviours the players have learnt at the highest level can trickle down to the other players all of whom, in such a small playing roster, are eligible to represent their country.

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