10 Tips for top practices

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              YOUR PHILOSOPHY

The starting point for any coach and team is to be clear about the style of football you want your team to play.

We all have a choice about how we want our team to play in order to perform and ultimately win.

A coach will choose between:

The PASSING GAME: a short passing game based on players with good movement and skill with many goals from open play


The LONG BALL PERCENTAGE GAME: Long balls are hit into areas in hope that a percentage of these will be successful. This style is based on players who are big, strong, athletic and fit and most goals are scored from set plays including long throws. There are many headed goals as the ball is in the air so much.

To best develop players, entertain people and make the game enjoyable this style needs to be the ‘Passing Game.’ Once you have adopted this philosophy it needs to be communicated to your players. This will underpin and help explain everything you do in your practices, e.g. play lots of small sided games to replicate the passing game style.

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Ask your players questions and listen to their response. By allowing players to have an input they will take more interest in the practice and further analyse their own performance. If sessions are enjoyable and players’ opinions are respected, individual players and the team as a whole will improve.

Research (Ryan and Deci) has shown that when asked what makes sport enjoyable, players want three things; firstly, to feel part of a team; secondly, to learn skills and tactics; and thirdly, to have autonomy in games to use these skills and tactics!

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             PLAY GAMES

The game should not be seen as a ‘reward’. Players want to play games - games are where, if coached and set up correctly, most learning takes place. Use practice games to develop tactics. Let the game be the teacher.

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              APPLY THE DADS TEST

This makes sure a practice replicates the game:

- Decisions? Are players making decisions in game-like situations?

- Active? Are players active, as they would be in a game?

- Direction? Are there defenders and attackers, like in a game?

- Space? Do you vary the space and numbers as players would face in a game?

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             MASTER THE 21 TACTICS

Learn the 21 tactics of the game and incorporate them into the following 5 areas of practice:

  • Individual – have a ball each - coach skills individually with each player having a ball.
  • USE 3’s practices. Putting players into 3’s makes organising practices easy as well as providing a defender and attacker etc. 3’s practices are very effective for developing skills in real game situations, e.g. attacker, defender and keeper (have lots of small goals). 3’s works well for short corners, throws, overlaps, underlaps, crossing, third man run.
  • Play lots of small sided games - with rules changed e.g., SHOT on Goal within 5 seconds (develops use of TRANSITION), Two goals to score in on width of pitch (develops SWITCHING)
  • Play a half pitch game - 6 v 6/7 v 7 (work on SHAPE)
  • Use the GAMECOACH system - Play an 11 a side game and apply rules to practice tactics... BUT don’t stop the game. For example - you are working on:
  • Short corners - RULE: a team gets a corner, instead of a throw, if the ball goes out adjacent to the penalty area and the defending team can only send out one defender.
  • Overlaps - RULE: for offside’s, throws or free kick in a team’s defending third, the game is re-started with a free pass from two points in full back area with a pass to a player on the ‘chalk’ and a potential overlap.
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Players cannot improve their technique if they don’t have the ball – playing the STYLE the PASSING GAME = lots of passes, playing out from the back and through midfield, defending to attack develops not only movement and decision making but technique.

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              DON’T STOP GAMES

If the practice is constantly stopped and you talk to players for too long, players lose interest and are wasting valuable time where they could be having more touches of the ball. If you do stop a game - ask questions! Direct the questions at the team, not just one player, to get them all to think. You can give great feedback by refereeing and talking to players about their decisions in the game without stopping the game.

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If it’s not working OR you have been doing it for too long change it.

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Don’t criticise players who are trying to do the right thing but make mistakes. Congratulate them on their decisions.

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             USE THE BALL

Try and do fitness work with a ball and mentally encourage players to play under pressure.