Some basic coaching principles can be used to help coach’s structure practices effectively. Many coaches have problems with their practice design and just need a nudge in the right direction. In this article, I will present a very useful set of ideas coaches can use to aid their practice design.
What are the four main concepts of effective practice design?
Effective practices are directional, deliberate, decision based and differentiated. Each one of these concepts will provide the challenges players need to develop their soccer skills. Soccer coaches who design practices in this way should see good performance returns from their players.
Practice design can be a minefield for coaches, so I decided to present a logical overview of this topic with some basic ideas to help coaches understand that practice design does not have to be complicated.
Practice design does not have to be complicatedCoach Dave
Directional practice refers to practices where players are attacking in one direction and defending in another. Directional practices are good because they mirror the basic concepts of the game in terms of attacking and defending.
Directional practices do not always have to be towards goals players could be attacking or defending, end zones, mini goals, target players, or combinations of these things. For example, one team scores by passing into target players but they defend an end zone.
Coaches should use these types of practice regularly. The game of soccer is directional so it makes sense that players should practice this way. I would recommend at least two aspects of your overall practice to be directional. I often start many of my practices using a directional possession game. Then finish with a game at the end which is also directional.
Directional practices don’t always have to be opposed in terms of equal numbers playing against each other with one ball. Coaches could use unopposed directional practices as part of technical work which is semi pressured in terms of two or more teams on the pitch with a ball per team and they have the same aim of working the ball into a target player, a goal, or an end zone, then moving the ball back in the other direction.
The use of unopposed directional practices is useful for developing confidence to try certain techniques, types of passes, combinations, and build-ups, with moving opposition in the way, but not actively trying to win the ball. The coach can then add pressure constraints once the players are performing techniques to a good level.
Pressure in these unopposed circumstances can be increased by adding challenges, so teams have to work the ball into certain areas a set number of times against the clock or in a race against each other. In this way, the teams have then thought about performing the combinations at a higher intensity but still without opponents trying to take the ball off them.
Deliberate practice refers to practices being set up to work in a certain area of the field to work on a certain moment of the game to practice that moment for when it occurs in a real game. For example, if a team was working on pressing from the front then the team pressing would be pressing a team on a half-pitch to cover the areas they would in a game.
Alternatively, if a team was working on combination play around the 18-yard box then the practice would be set up in this area to allow the team to work on combination around the 18-yard box.
This type of practice will help players see the picture of what you’re trying to achieve as a coach so practically it is a great thing to be able to set practices up in the areas they will occur on the field.
The issue with this type of practice is that, unless a team is lucky enough to have their field of play or they are not sharing with anyone then a team may only have limited space to set up practices for example they may only have a half-pitch which limits midfield area practices or they may only have a quarter of a pitch which limits coaches option to practice crossing and finishing.
The point here is that coaches need to collaborate to plan the playing space so that everyone gets to work in the areas they need to work in to deliver practices that are deliberate to the players who may play in that area of the field.
If this is not an option then coaches need to provide context about the practice to the players. They must explain or ask the players if they know what the practice relates to, where it may occur on the field, which players would be involved. If possible show them a visual such as a video or use a tactics board to show the context of your practice. At least this way players can get a basic grasp of the deliberate nature of your session topic.
Decision Based Practices
Decision-based practice refers to practices that involve lots of decisions around themes of coaching where players have to spot visual cues to decide on a technique to use at a given moment of a game. For example, coaches may use two against one practice to get players to spot the correct moment to dribble or pass based on the position of the defender. If it was a defending practice then players would have to decide on the correct type of approach, to press or to hold when they were outnumbered.
The most important thing is that players have to think and make decisions for themselveswww.letsgocoach.com
If the practice was one against one and the topic was defending, then the players would have to decide on whether to close down or hold their position, they will have to decide on the correct body shape to take up and the direction they wish to force the attacker. Finally, they will have to decide on the correct moment of when to try and win back the ball.
Each one of these are decisions players will constantly have to make and regularly building decision-making activities into the drills your design will help to enhance the players to make good choices under the pressures of the real game.
The main idea here is that the coach designs practices which allow the repetition of the decision to be made then get the players to practice this decision under the guidance of the coach. The coach in these circumstances should then use questions or challenges to provoke the players into making the correct choice at the right time to be successful in the situation they are in.
Players will be making decisions in every practice they are involved in but when using decision-based practices another key concept is to try and isolate the decisions into a few choices under the same topic so success and failure can be analyzed easier.
For example, a drill that is 2 v 1 in favor of the attackers towards a goal would have three basic decisions for the ball carrier, option one is to dribble it towards goal, option two is to use passes to get to goal then shoot and option three would be to set up a teammate or score yourself.
Using decision-making drills regularly in practice should help the players transfer this into the real game. Decision-making practices also help to improve a player’s confidence to make the correct choices in a game based on the pictures you provided for them in practice.
Differentiation involves coaches allowing players to practice the theme in a range of different circumstances under different types of pressure, several different times. The coach will receive feedback through their observations of the players in these circumstances then they can challenge players based on their ability and needs.
For example, let’s say the theme was dribbling, the coach may have set up a 1 v 1 dribbling activity and noticed that a few players in the group are good at 1 v 1 dribbles when faced up but not so successful when dribbling and the defender is behind them. Therefore the players could be split into groups to practice the 1 v 1 faced up and the 1 v 1 with pressure from the back.
Another example would be having a set theme then ensuring that players get to practice under a range of different pressures some players are under limited pressure so the defenders are maybe stuck between gates and the dribbling players just have to pass through the gates where another pair of players may be ready for full pressure so the full pressure players will play 1 v 1 in the same area as the other players and try to dribble through different color gates to score.
Each one of these ideas is a way of increasing or decreasing the pressure on a player based on their needs.
Another way of differentiating a practice could be based on the size or distances the players have to cover to perform the session theme so if the player working on dribbling had an end zone to attack and they were successful at this, the next challenge for them would be to attack a smaller area, so they may have two gates to attack in a small zone rather than an end zone.
The key message behind differentiation is to challenge the players based on their needs and adapt conditions or rules in your practices to give the individual what they need.www.letsgocoach.com
Each of the concepts described above is not so many things you must do as a coach they are just aspects of coaching to think including when designing activities for your players.
These concepts can be combined and mixed to suit the needs of the players they coach but coaches should be mindful of the ability levels of the players to ensure their use of them is not too complex. Any practice that a coach designs using the principles above should be true to the game, if you cannot see clearly where the situation would occur in a game then you probably should not include it in your session.
Remember good practices naturally create the repetition of actions needed, so that the players can practice the theme of the session in the area of the field which needs the work.
Finally once a coach has developed their sessions and ideas around the concepts above then they can begin to think about what type of constraints they wish to apply to practice. The practice designs mentioned above combined with constraints such as rewarding can enhance the quality, engagement, and enjoyment in your coaching sessions.
Find below a table summary of the practice design considerations discussed in the article above
|Concept||What it is?||Examples|
|Directional Practice||Directional practice refers to practices where players are attacking in one direction and defending in another||Games with goals, target players, end zones or both|
|Deliberate Practice||Deliberate practice refers to practices being set up to work in certain areas of the field to work on a certain moment of the game||Defenders defending the box, attackers scoring in the box|
|Decision-Based Practice||Decision-based practice refers to practices that involve lots of decisions around themes of coaching where players have to spot visual ques to decide on a technique to use at a given moment of a game||A 2 v 1 to goal, a player in possession can decide to dribble, pass or shoot based on the defenders’ actions|
|Differentiation||Differentiation involves coaches allowing players to practice the theme in a range of different circumstances under different types of pressure, several different times.||Practice 1 v 1 facing a player, some players play full pressure and some under limited pressure based on their needs, progress it as the player improves|
What if I don’t use each concept? You do not have to include every concept in each session, some of your practices may be more suited to directional and deliberate actions whereas others may require more decisions and differentiation. Remember it’s your practice, these are just tools to support you.
When should I start using these concepts? Right away, choose one concept and apply it to your coaching, look at your plans and see if there are places where any of the concepts could be included.
Find below links to similar articles on this site:
- 8 Tips For Successful Soccer Coaching
- HOW TO COMMUNICATE BETTER IN SOCCER: 8 TIPS
- How to use Constraints in Soccer Coaching
- Becoming a Soccer Coach: How To Be Prepared