steps to designing effective practice

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1 22 23 steps to designing effective practice How do you decide what coaching practices to deliver? And what process do you follow when designing the practice? Here, FA Youth Coach Educator, Ben Bartlett, provides an insight into the stage process he uses to design effective coaching practices. "We must help coaches understand and rationalise why they coach and behave in the way they do rather than settling for mimicking others" With clubs and coaches dedicating significant amounts of time devising and defining playing and coaching philosophies it is crucial that the importance of effective practice design as the vehicle for these philosophies to be delivered is not lost. In my experience of coaching and coach education, I have witnessed many examples where the design and delivery of practice is based on imitation rather than any individual reflection or reasoning. If, however, we are going to be successful in achieving The FA s stated aim of Developing more innovative coaches who are excellent teachers of the game we must instead help coaches understand and rationalise why they coach and behave in the way they do rather than settling for mimicking others. One way in which coaches can begin to design more effective practices is to consider the use of a mental model from which their practice is planned. One definition of a mental model is a logically ordered framework of reference points which act to prompt the coach to consider each aspect of practice design. This process helps to ensure that each element of the design process helps contribute to the overall theme and objective. Using a mental model to devise practices can enable a much more personal, evidence based stamp from which a coach can structure their work whilst remaining within the boundaries of a national or club defined approach. Here, the intention is to define an example of a mental model, link it to a decision making process that a coach can follow to design practice sessions before providing some example of the demands - also referred to as game-related coaching challenges - that a coach can place upon the players within the session to support them to think about and learn within a game relevant environment. steps for designing more effective practices Base your work on research It is important to be guided by the latest research into player and skill development, ensuring all decisions around practice design and methodology are based on sound reasoning Develop a practice philosophy What are the guiding principles that inform your approach to designing practice? Choose a football focus What aspect of the game do you want to work on? Is it part of a club syllabus, a particular game-related problem or part of performance preparation? Select a pitch type and organise the players The use of big, small, wide or narrow pitches can implicitly help the players develop around a certain session theme Add parameters Different types of pitch markings can help set guidelines to support the practice theme Set the demands How are you going to instruct, challenge or brief the players to work? Is your challenge designed to restrict, relate or reward?

2 24 25 The following four ideas are the guiding principles from which I structure my practice: Direction The design of the practice should allow the teams or players to attack to score in a particular direction using some kind of goal. The focus for the players may be a traditional goal, an end zone, a target player or other type of target point. By designing practices in this way ensures the principles of attack and defence remain fundamental to the practice. Directional practices which are based on these principles don t necessarily need to be opposed, as shown in the diagram below. In this practice example, both teams can use combination play across and between each other providing interference without a threat to the ball. This example also includes mannequins through which the players look to find their target player. 1 Base your work on research Before we begin to design practice sessions, it is important to be informed by the latest research, giving us sound reasoning for making the decisions that we do. Professor Mark Williams, skill acquisition expert at Brunel University, has proposed that the practice experience of a developing young player over a period of time could be constructed within three elements: Theme in possession Playing through midfield Parameter Thirds - Horizontal 2% 31% 43% Deliberate Play Individual Practice Team Practice = goalkeeper = mannequin = movement of ball = movement of player Goalkeeper must return the ball back through a different pair of mannequins they received through Recognise when to play between the opposition's back four Any pass between mannequins to goalkeeper = 1 goal Deliberate Play may include 1. Self directed practice 2. Games for understanding 3. Small sided games 4. Arrival activities These are done for the inherent fun of playing. Try to limit/ eliminate interventions. 2 Individual Practice may include 1. Squad sessions where players focus on individual objectives 2. Small group sessions where players focus on individual objectives 3. Practice done on players own/at home etc. 4. Pre-hab programmes If we accept this model, it may be helpful to be considerate of the ways in which we plan, record and apply this over an entire development journey and how this may translate to each season, each block of work and even each individual session. This approach can provide a reference point for our longer term planning and support us to structure our coaching sessions, ensuring each session and period are one page or chapter within a cohesive, longer story. Have a Practice Philosophy Team Practice May Include 1. Activities focused around team objectives 2. Activities focused around unit objectives 3. Match preparation In edition of The Boot Room the concept of Teaching Games for Understanding was discussed and in edition 8, the focus was on Skill Development. Returning to these concepts and the relevant underpinning evidence forms the basis for my own practice philosophy. Definition A practice should be constructed within the area of the pitch that it would occur on match-day. For example, if the session theme was playing through midfield, (see above) the practice would be delivered in the midfield area of the pitch, if the session was defending around the penalty box, the set up would be constructed around the box and so on. This approach helps the practice have a visible link to the game of football. Decisions Within the practice the players should have a cognitive challenge with decisions to make, problems to solve, triggers to read and situations to perceive. By building these ingredients into a practice the execution of any technique is coupled to some kind of visual trigger such as the movements and decisions of the opposition or teammates. Difference Practices should provide opportunities for players to practise the session theme in a range of varying circumstances such as running with the ball over both short and longer distances. Additionally, the practice should allow the players to practise different themes within the same practice, for example Josh practises marking and intercepting whilst James practises passing forward. Whilst these four things aren t strict rules that coaches must apply to their work, there is a clear rationale from which, in principle, a coach can apply to practice.

3 Choose a football focus Once you have looked at what research can tell us about effective coaching practices and also developed some ideas about your own practice philosophy it is important to fit the framework you are developing to a football theme. Coaching session themes develop from lots of different sources. You may work at a club or organisation where there is a coaching programme or syllabus with weekly coaching topics. Alternatively, you may work in a performance environment where preparation for specific opposition provides the theme. Or, similarly, the detail of your session may arise from a particular issue the team or an individual are currently finding difficult. A Programme Theme: playing forward A Particular Problem: we are finding it difficult to defend crosses Performance Preparation: breaking down opposition who defend late in a Players After selecting the pitch type, I would consider the best way of organising the players: Even-numbered teams can provide a variety of challenges particularly when the teams are placed into team shapes which create out-numbered circumstances in different parts of the pitch. For example 7 v 7 matched up GK v GK as shown on the previous page. Out-numbered teams, as articulated by Joe Sargison in issue 9 of The Boot Room, can provide a hostile environment for practice. For example 4v7 with the team of four defending the goal or 5 v 8 with the team of five attempting to keep possession from the eight. Sometimes odd numbers arriving for training can be an opportunity not a problem. Using the parameters The different parameters can be used to lock players into certain areas of the pitch. For example, if you are using horizontal thirds, the defenders and forwards may be restricted to their own third whilst midfielders are able to move freely. Likewise, in a session using vertical thirds the full backs and wide players may be locked into wide areas. Alternatively, the parameters may just act as guidelines for the demands you place on the practice, for example: use the central circle to set up attacks. 4 "Every practice should have an element of direction ensuring the principles of attack and defence are fundamental to the practice" Design Pitch I work from four pitch types which the players become familiar with and understand. This familiarity helps reduce the time the players spend trying to learn how the practice works and instead increases the time for them to practise and learn. Additionally, the considered choice of pitch type can implicitly help the players develop around the session theme. A big pitch is useful if you are looking to test defending skills or if you want to create space between units to play through or behind the opposition. Similarly, big pitches are effective at generating full game pictures with realistic distances. A small pitch is a great way to test touch and release skills along with the associated speed of thought and decisions to really put the players under strain to stay with the ball. Narrow pitches challenge the players to play forward as there is limited width to play around the opposition. Narrow pitches help the players practice themes such as playing through the opposition and breaking the block. Using a wide pitch (a pitch wider than it is long) can provide a focus for switching play, attacking and defending in wide areas and crossing and finishing Additionally, if the goalkeepers are available for the full duration or part of the practice, it is important to consider what you want them to practise and how you are you going to build them into the session. For example, you may set up a v 5 possession practice with the goalkeepers acting as additional support players. The team of try to keep the ball and use the goalkeepers to do so allowing the goalkeepers to practice playing with their feet as they receive back-passes before having the opportunity to save counter attacking shots when the team of five regain possession. 5 Parameters Once the pitch size and number of players is decided, I use four methods of pitch markings to restrict areas or to set guidelines to support the practice theme: Horizontal Thirds An effective reference point to help the players play through the thirds, develop their movement between the lines and to recognise when to join the attack. Out of possession horizontal thirds can act as a reference point when trying to win the ball back using early/ mid/late pressing techniques. Horizontal Thirds Vertical Thirds Vertical Thirds Supportive of wide play, overlapping, crossing, switching play and defending wide areas as the pitch is marked or sectioned length ways Halved pitch Halved pitch Similar to a standard football pitch linking well to recognising different ways to play in your own half and the opponents' half both in and out of possession Central circle Probably my favourite pitch marking as it generates more of a 30 degree perspective of the game than horizontal or vertical thirds. Additionally, if coaches wish to restrict players to areas it still provides an opportunity for defenders to advance to the half-way line. Central circle

4 28 29 Theme out of possession Demands Once the pitch and parameters have been decided and the players are organised, there are a variety of different ways in which a coach can instruct, challenge or brief the players to work. The examples in the diagram below show how a coach can structure and build tasks for teams, units or individuals to practice. Parameter Early press Halved pitch Must win ball back in opponents' half to score Mid press Thirds (Horizontal) 2v1 in their third (their favour) 3v4 in mid third (our favour) 2v2 in our third (equal) Locked into zones Late press Halved pitch Win ball back in own half and finish within seven seconds of regain to score Defend wide areas Theme In Possession Thirds vertical (pitch wider than it is long) 1. Playing Forward Narrow pitch central circle 2. Changing Speed of Attack Locked into channels 2v2 in wide areas 3v3 central must score from a cross Recognise when to press in opponents' half Use a team strategy to apply pressure and regain in the middle third 8v Establish a counter-attacking strategy against a team with 2 additional players Try to spot when to show inside and when to show outside Parameter Thirds Horizontal 3. Attacking Wide Thirds Vertical (pitch wider than it is long) 4. Combination Play Halved pitch small Must play through central circle to set up attacks All forward passes into next third must be 1 touch Must enter wide area before scoring a goal Must use a 1-2 (3rd man run, round the corner, overlap etc.) before scoring Recognise when to play between the opposition Try to inject speed into attacks (if it s the right thing to do) Use wide areas to set up attacks FB Recognise when to join the attack Use quick combinations in the opposition half Win ball back in opponents' half and score = 3 goals Win ball back: mid third and score = 3 goals; attacking third = 2 goals; defensive third = 1 goal You are 2-0 up Play a 5 minute game Win the game using a late defending tactic GK every cross claimed = 1 goal Full backs/wide midfielder every regain in final third = 1 goal Any pass/dribble between opposition Unit = 1 goal However many 1 touch passes used in attack = that number of goals when scoring (5 x 1 touch passes = 5 goals) Goal from a cross = 2 goals Goal from overlap/ underlap = 3 goals 1-2 = 1 goal 3rd man run = 2 goals Round the corner = 3 Goals The three ways I build challenges in order to link to the theme and to allow the players to practice within both the pitch and parameters selected are: A traditional way to constrain practice is to restrict the ball contacts, movements and/or decisions a player or team can make. Adopting this method is an effective way to ensure lots of repetition of the session theme, for example you must play forward when you receive. This method can, however, reduce the realism of the practice, restricting opportunities for decisionmaking and chances to learn from cues and triggers as the constraint enforces only one type of response and not always the appropriate response to the unfolding situation. Challenging players to relate a particular task to the situation occurring such as Recognise when to play forward - is an effective method to help support players to build situational awareness and respond to what is going on in the game. By using the relate method, the coach plants a seed about the desired outcome without making it mandatory. The intention is that the players relate the task to the situation. This very much supports a trial and error coaching style (see edition 7 of The Boot Room on the spectrum of coaching styles). When supported by effective questioning the players can start to review their decisions which in turn helps the players make sense of the situations they find themselves in. - Tell me about some of the times you played forward? - What things helped you to play forward? - Why did you find it tough to play forward in those situations? - What can you try that may help you to solve that problem? It is important however to recognise that using the relate method may mean less repetition of the session theme (as players don t do it every time). However, it is an effective mechanism for supporting the development of genuine understanding as players begin to recognise when to do something. Coaches can use the idea of a reward in order to encourage aspects of play linked to the session theme. For example, to encourage an early press you may use a halved pitch and task the players to win the ball back in the opponents half. If they do so they are rewarded with 3 goals. The reward method can act as a middle ground between the restrict and relate methods as the players aren t mandated to perform a certain action but are likely to have a good go as the reward is greater. This can also take on the form of game situational challenges. For example: you are winning 2-0, there are 10 minutes left, win the game using a late defending tactic. An example of using the step process to design practice What do I want the players to practice? Defending Outnumbered Why? It s in the syllabus, we ve been finding it difficult this? The team in possession can move freely through the thirds with the team out of possession locked into their positional thirds (defenders in defensive third etc) this will generate outnumbered situations as the team in possession move forward to support attacks this? Recognise when not to press the ball. Supporting questions to include: in what situations might I not press the ball? What things that I see tell me to hold my position/drop? If I m in front of the ball, when might I recover to press the ball? this? If you prevent a goal/shot on goal when the other team counter attack it is rewarded with two goals. This rewards effective defending when out of balance

5 30 31 There can be value in blending the restrict, relate and reward approaches into a session or using a different demand with different individual players. The practice below shows how: Research shows that young players benefit from a combination of deliberate play, individual practice and team practice Theme in possession Changing the speed of attacks Parameter Thirds - Horizontal All forward passes into the next third must be played using one touch Try to inject speed into attacks (if it is the right thing to do) The number of one touch passes used to create a goal is the number of goals awarded (For example: 5 one touch passes to create a goal = 5 goals) The blue defenders and the goalkeeper are restricted to pass into the middle third using one touch The midfielders have a related task: recognise when to inject speed into the attack The forwards have a reward task: the number of one touch passes used in setting up a goal is rewarded with an equal number of goals This combinatory approach to coaching supports coaches to use a variety of methods blended together in place of using only one approach. This process of devising and delivering practices outlined here is one that I am still practising and one that I am a long way from perfecting. What the process has taught me is that these methods appear to be an effective tool for player development. It has been clear that the more thought and detail afforded to the construction of the challenges, the less deliberate, immediate instruction and feedback is required, an approach which research suggests is the least effective way of providing feedback. One possible reason for this is that the design of the practice and the demands placed upon the players support individuals to practice in context and generate their own feedback whilst providing an environment from in which coaches can, if appropriate, ask questions, provide feedback and apply additional tasks that genuinely link to the game of football. The building of the mental model explained here certainly isn t complete and one that will continually evolve in line with the needs of the players and the game. A wise man who encouraged me to approach my work through a considered mental model has subtly guided me towards a path that has supported the building of a formula and strategy which hopefully runs deeper than a practice or play book. Those wishing to read further may wish to look into the work of Mark Williams, return to PCW Van Wierignen s work on Perception-Action Coupling and reference previous editions of The Boot Room. "It has been clear that the better the tasks, the less deliberate, immediate instruction and feedback is required" Ben Bartlett is a FA Youth Coach Educator working with coaches and players in academies and centres of excellence. Ben s previous roles include FA Regional Coach Development Manager for the East, Technical Director for Women's and Girls football at Chelsea FC and nine years in a range of coaching and development roles at Colchester United.

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