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The Player Development Difference Maker: Part 2

Part 1 of this series focused on planning a lesson plan for each individual session. For anyone who has taken a coaching course before, it may have seemed a bit obvious, as that is one of the first things we learn at courses. Here’s something that might not seem so obvious, but is arguably much more important than planning for each session: creating development plans. Development plans – both seasonal and yearly - are the backbone to player development. Development plans set the course and path upon which players are going to grow. Without development plans, we are simply conducting a bunch of random sessions each day, which slows down the progress of our players. What is a Development Plan? Basically, it’s a schedule of what topics we will teach for each session throughout a season and the primary concepts we want our players to learn throughout the year. So instead of brainstorming random topics each day or creating sessions based on the last game’s performance, we plan ahead of time what each session’s topic will be. Why Are Development Plans So Important? Development plans create the structure for our players to make systematic progress toward a particular goal. Each session builds on the last one, allowing our players to advance a step further toward the season’s targeted learning outcomes after each practice. If we do not have a progressive, structured development plan, our sessions will not relate or build upon one another effectively. And although we might be conducting great individual sessions, our players’ development is stinted because each session does not relate to one another. Children learn in phases and can only retain and comprehend a certain amount at a time. If we only teach something to them once, they won’t remember it in the long term. If we only practice a topic once, they won’t retain it in the long term. So if one day we work on the scissors, then the next day striking, and the next day 1v1 defending, followed by receiving, followed by V turns, and so on, they will struggle to retain any of it. After first learning a topic, players need to keep practicing it to retain it. If we move on to something new the very next day, our players will not get the necessary repetition needed to improve the first topic. Children need to learn something, then take some time to “master” it before moving on to something new. It’s just like in school: each grade in school has certain learning outcomes for the year (e.g. 3rd grade learns multiplication, more complex sentence structure, and local history). And within that year, there are smaller milestones or learning outcomes – such as learning to multiply 3’s before 12’s. Throughout the year, students learn various units - focusing only on one topic in each unit (like learning 3’s in multiplication). Once they have practiced it several times and have shown a certain degree of competency, they move on to the next step in the progression (such as multiplying 4’s). This allows them to make steady, concentrated progress toward the end goal of knowing all the multiplication tables 1 through 12 by the end of the year. Planning a Session Based on Game Performance This is a waste of time. If we plan sessions based on something we struggled with in the previous match, we will never make real progress. Why? Because there is no systematic progression. Think about this: Have you ever finished coaching a game and thought “We did really well at dribbling, but our passing was awful.” So you work on passing in practice that next week. Then after the following game, you think to yourself “Well, we definitely improved our passing, but this time our dribbling was terrible.” The cycle never ends. Because all we are doing is randomly bouncing around between topics, our players never master any of them and will only do well whatever they most recently learned – never making real, long-term progress. Creating a Development Plan The first step is to determine what learning outcomes we want our players to have at the end of the season or year. The number we choose depends on the frequency with which we see our players. If we only practice once a week for ten weeks, we will likely only be able to choose one or two learning outcomes. If we have two practices a week for ten weeks, we can likely choose two to four learning outcomes. From here, we must choose the sub-topics for each learning outcome. These are the steps we take toward mastering the learning outcomes. For instance, if a learning outcome is to be able to beat players on the dribble using four different moves, we must choose which moves we will teach and in what order. Once this is accomplished, we have to put the sessions in order. Usually, it is best to begin with the simplest sessions or sessions whose topics can be integrated into the others. For instance, if our learning outcomes are beating players on the dribble using four moves, striking the ball, and turning using three turns, we might make our first two sessions on dribbling to beat a defender using the feint move before we move on to the scissors and before we work on striking or turning. The feint is more basic than scissors, and improving players’ touch by dribbling will help with striking and turning, and dribbling is easy to incorporate into a striking or turning session. Here is a model development plan to illustrate this progression:

Implementing Development Plans in the Game As we know, our players are going to struggle with multiple concepts during the match. So if we create a development plan and are only focused on a certain topic, how will we improve the other areas in which we are struggling? We won’t. At least not right away. During a game, if we are at a point in our development plans in which we are working on dribbling to beat defenders with the feint, then that should be our primary focus in the match. No need to coach the other topics. In the short-term, we will have to simply struggle with them. However, by focusing on our topic in the game, our players will truly begin to master it, at which point we can move on. Then in a following match, we can hold our players accountable for the new topic, as well as dribbling to beat a defender with the feint. Over time (years), our players will learn and master all the necessary topics to become complete players.


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