Planning Soccer Practices: A Coach’s Perspective

How do soccer coaches plan soccer practices

Successful soccer coaching can seem intimidating.  You can become overwhelmed by the amount of information available.  With this in mind, what are the best tips to help soccer coaches be successful? I decided to find out How do soccer coaches plan soccer practices?

How do soccer coaches plan soccer practices?

Successful soccer coaches have a clear plan that is organized meticulously to allow for a smooth delivery and a clean flow of activities.  Each activity will pose different challenges for the performer and involve different pressures.

Planning Soccer Practices: A Coach's Perspective

Let’s start with planning.  To start planning effectively, you must have a good knowledge of the game.  You must understand the main moments of a soccer match.  A lack of understanding in these areas can lead to poor session planning and an imbalance between the moments of the game being coached to the players.

Planning The 4 Main Moments

There are four main moments of the game that soccer coaches can plan for. These moments are the in possession moment, which means your players have possession of the ball.  There is an out-of-possession moment which means that the opposition has the ball.  The other two moments are known as transitions.

The transitions are the other two moments of the game.  You have either just won the ball and you are transitioning from defense to attack or you have just lost the ball and you are transitioning from attack to defense. The in possession and out of possession moments can be combined with both transitional moments because each time the ball is turned over a team must perform one of the above transitions.

Once you understand the basic moments of the game you can begin to plan sessions around these topics. A good tip for soccer coaches who are starting would be to design sessions around the in and out of possession moments because the transitions will naturally occur anyway.

Once you have a moment of the game to work with the coach can then think about what they want the objective of their session to be, so if they were working on the in possession moment they could have an objective of improving the team’s ability to keep the ball.  So in summary the coach will pick a moment and then decide on the objective for the session within the moment of the game.

Working this way will help the coach stay focused on a moment of the game and a topic for the session as opposed to a coach jumping between different moments of the game and different topics each time they coach.  This also helps with the planning element because the coach can begin to break down the session objectives into chunks of information to communicate to the players to aid their understanding.

Session Formats

Now you have a basic idea of the game moments and some sort of objective within this topic you can now start to think about a session format you would like to use.  There are many different types of session formats but for simplicity and clarity, we will stick to three basic types. The three formats are unopposed activities, semi opposed activities and full pressured activities.

Session Formats

The first format is unopposed drills which means the activity would focus on repetition of the skills required to play the game, for example, drills that could be included in this section would include ball mastery, receiving techniques, dribbling, passing, and turning. 

This type of format is useful for teaching skills and refining techniques without the pressure of opponents.  It can get boring for players to spend too much time on this element so be mindful of how much time you spend if using this type of format.

The second format is semi opposed drills.  This is where opposition is added to the practice but it but there should be an overload in favor of the game moment being worked on, so if working on in possession moment there would be more attackers than defenders. Alternatively, if you were working on the out of possession moment there would be more defenders than attackers. 

The semi opposed format increases pressure on the players and encourages them to make good decisions around the session topic. If working with attackers they will get to practice keeping the ball under limited pressure or if working with defenders they can practice pressuring, covering, and supporting each other.

The final format a soccer coach can use is full pressure drills.  This is where the numbers would be equal and the pressure would mirror that of the game.  This format can be used for one versus one up to the full game of 11 v 11.  Players will have to make decisions under high pressure and high physical demands.  It will help players see how a game will challenge their ability and skills to compete with others. 

Beginners to the sport will find this part of the session hard and may complain about people not passing to them or that they never get to dribble etc.  You must spot this and ensure you try to get the balance of this type of practice correct based on the player’s ability levels. You may have to mix up the teams or add conditions to the practice to help the beginners gain more involvement.

Take note that players are ultimately there to play the game. It is important to ensure that as a coach you dedicate enough time to this each time they train.  I would suggest around 25 minutes per hour of training should be game-based.  This will leave around 35 minutes for some unopposed, semi opposed, or full pressure drills.

I have included a table that summarizes the moments of the game and session formats with some example content:

Session FormatsIn PossessionLose PossessionOut PossessionWin Possession
UnopposedBall Mastery, Dribbling, TurningBlocking, Intercepting, ScreeningClosing down, Body shape, Reaction drillsForward Passing, Running with the ball, Timed Attacks
Semi Opposed3 v 1
4 v 2
5 v 2
Train reactions to defend quickly1 v 2
2 v 3
3 v 4
Train reactions to attack quickly
Full Pressure1 v 1 up to 11 v 11 drillsDefending counter attacks1 v 1 up to 11 v 11 drillsCounter attacking
A summary of game moments and session formats with some example session content for each format and moment.

Putting it All Together

First and foremost when planning any session coaches should first choose a moment of the game they want to coach and an objective for the session. This will then present to you the topics that you need to work on within the training session. For example, if you chose out of possession then you would be working on defending, your objective could be to develop individual defending and small group defending.

The coach would then decide on what detail the players need to be based on the game moment, session objectives for the practices.

The coach needs to consider the ability level of the performers when planning practices to ensure they pitch them at the right level.

The second aspect of the plan involves breaking up the time you have available into chunks that are split between different session formats mentioned previously (unopposed, semi opposed, full pressure). 

Generally speaking, less experienced players will spend a little more time working on unopposed and semi opposed stuff in comparison to more advanced players who could practice under more pressure.

From my own experience, two to three different session formats are a nice number to work with before you move onto the games element of a training session.  I have provided an example below for a one-hour training session.

A one-hour session based on the in possession moment for beginners could be broken up as follows. 15 minutes unopposed work on receiving and first touch activities.  This could be followed by 20 minutes in semi opposed activities such as a 6 v 3 possession game. The final 25 minutes of the session would be full pressure drills working on small-sided games of 2 v 2 up to 4 v 4 dependent on session numbers.

If the players are older and more experienced then coaches can increase the amount of time in semi opposed and full pressure activities and reduce the time for unopposed activities.  This should help to keep things competitive and challenging.

I have presented a table below to help the coach establish the key detail required to plan effectively.

What moment of the game am I working on?
What is my objective for the session?
What do the players need to know? (individually and collectively)
How much time do I have available and how will I split my time?
What session formats will I use to plan my session?
What is the ability level of the players?
Some questions coaches should ask themselves when planning sessions

If soccer coaches can answer these questions before delivering any sessions they should have a clear picture of what they would like the players to learn, how the session will be structured, and the timings for each activity.  If you know the destination, you can see the journey.


In Summary

This article looks at the effective planning of soccer practices. Understanding the moments of the game is important because it helps you understand what you are going after in terms of the topic for the session. Covering everything in one session can be confusing for the players and create information overloads.

Once you establish a theme and topic you can start to think about the types of drill you want to include, think of these in terms of pressure, limited to no pressure, semi opposed pressure, and full pressure. Coaches must pick the correct level of pressure to help the players learn and understand.

The final aspect of this process would be drill selection to best represent the topic along with suitable timings attached to each drill. Try to ensure that you stick to timings and don’t spend too long on one topic.

Related Articles

This is the first article of three I have decided to look at planning effective coaching sessions.  I will aim to provide detailed insight to help coaches formulate and deliver effective sessions.

You can find article two on communication here and article three on hitting the ground running here

There are a few essential skills required to be a successful soccer coach.  One of these skills is being prepared and organized with a clear objective-based session plan. When you first start soccer coaching you will generally plan on pieces of paper, envelopes, post-it notes, etc.

As you progress you will begin to become more thorough and use session plan templates to support your work. These session planners are important as they become pieces of work that you can keep coming back to and refining each time you deliver.