During the course of a 3-month season, some teams are able to improve great lengths. Other teams make very small progress. Why is there such a difference and how are certain teams able to progress so much in so little time?
Sure, the players might be a special group. Yes, maybe the coach is super knowledgeable or experienced. Perhaps those teams practice more frequently together than others… All these factors do have some impact, but there is one factor that makes even more of a difference than: planning.
Planning does so much more for the quality of player development than anything else. Even if we have a special group of players, if we don’t plan well, we won’t get the most out of them. Even if we are very knowledgeable as coaches, if we don’t plan well, we won’t be as effective as possible. And even if our team practices together more frequently than others, if we don’t plan well, that extra time is wasted.
Take any two teams and compare them in regard to any of these three factors. If Team A has more special players than Team B – or a more knowledgeable coach or more frequent meetings – but Team B’s coach spends more time effectively planning, Team B will inevitably make more progress than Team A.
Planning Each Session
Part 1 of this series is about planning each individual session. For each day of practice of each individual team, a session plan must be thoroughly planned and thought through.
How Session Planning Helps
Taking time to plan a session helps us gather and organize our thoughts. It gets our brains going and “in the zone.” Just like preparing for a big speech or presentation, planning, thinking through, and visualizing a practice session ahead of time allows us to execute better. When we are in the moment of coaching, we are more comfortable (whether we realize it or not) and more “on the ball” (see what I did there?) after having planned out the session. It’s as if we have been there before (even if we really have been there before).
Even If We’ve Done It a Million Times
Even if we’ve run a session or activity a millions times, we still need to plan it out before conducting it on a particular day. It might not take as long to plan since we know the activities well, but there are still several factors to be thought through. Not every team is the same, and not every day is the same – we need to plan each individual session specifically for the team we are coaching and for the specific day or season. If we don’t plan for a session, we're simply operating on auto pilot, which doesn’t effectively deal with unexpected or unique situations.
Consider All Factors
Session planning is not just coming up with activities and planning how long to do them over the course of the practice. We have to consider all factors and be prepared for the unexpected. Again, each team and each day is different, and we must plan for all these factors. Depending on the specific situation, we will have to make minor adjustments to our session and/or activities to be most effective for each team on each day. Some factors we must consider:
- What is the topic for the session?
- How many players will be there?
- What if someone comes late or leaves early?
- How might we adjust for odd/unexpected numbers?
- What’s the space we will have? Will there be a match-sized goal?
- What are the primary learning outcomes for the season?
- What adjustments need to be made to make this session relevant to or reinforce themes from the previous one(s)?
- What aspects of this session does this team especially struggle with?
- What are the dynamics of each of my players? Will there be challenges in grouping/pairing them?
- How can we adjust the activity for players who are exceptionally exceeding or falling behind the others’ performance?
- How big of a space should be used? Should it be adjusted to make the activity easier or more difficult?
- Where should restarts come from? How?
- What are the possible progressions for each activity?
- What are the possible regressions for each activity?
- What is the work to rest ratio for each activity? How will this be regulated?
- Approximately how much time do we want to spend on each activity?
- What does success in each activity/progression look like? How do we know when we are ready to move on?
One Factor to Rule Them All
Coaching points. Just like planning is the most influential factor in developing players, coaching points are the most influential factor in the effectiveness of a session. Again, even if we’ve coached a topic or conducted an activity a million times, we need to plan and write out all of our coaching points for each session – yes, physically write them out. I promise you, it makes a world of difference. By writing them all out, we start to get thinking about the session, what we want, and how we will get it to happen. As our brains get working, we often think of higher level thoughts and more detailed coaching points we wouldn’t have otherwise thought about. It also moves this information to the “front” of our minds so we are ready to pass on the information to our players. Some details to consider when planning out coaching points:
- What does successful execution look like? – Draw out the scenario(s)
- What does a breakdown/possible coaching moment look like? – Draw them out
- What are the technical components?
- What are the tactical components?
- Why should our players do each of these coaching points?
- When should they do each of them? – what are the visual/verbal/physical cues?
- What questions can we ask the players to get the point across?
When It’s All Over
The final step to planning a session is the reflection afterward. How did it go? Did the players improve? What adjustments should we make for next time? How effective were we as coaches? Make some mental notes – or better yet, write them down – and keep them handy for planning the next session.
Click here to read Part 2 of this series, and click here to read Part 3.