One of the most important influences on individual skill progression is the coach's ability to plan activities that are both practical and flexible. The below "Top 10 Considerations" should be a part of your overall planning process.
In the beginning of the season it may take an hour or so to put your plan together. But after a while you will be able to organize your thoughts during the day and spend as little as 10 - 15 minutes. It is highly suggested to have a preset a period of non-interrupted planning time on the night before your event.
Among other traits, a successful coach is one that demonstrates a strong ability to lead the team with confidence. A good quality plan will help you along this path. See more on this at the "Coaching Success" page. Try to keep it simple and stick with known good activities. A known good activity is one where everyone has fun while developing their skills.
There are a lot of resources available to assist you with determining how to instruct youths or what activities are designed to improve particular skills. Use them to your advantage. Feel free to talk with other coaches or watch them run their practice. You'll find techniques and strategies WILL vary greatly, pick the ones you feel work best with your style of instruction. If you want to bounce ideas off someone or get a second opinion, call your Age Group Coordinator (AGC) or Club Head Coach.
In almost every case, the key to a successful practice session is the player and coaches ability to have fun. We cannot over state the significance of making a plan that is fun for everyone on the field. For more on this, see "Fun For Coaches".
Top 10 Considerations:
What are the weather predictions?
How many players will be at practice?
What happened in the game last weekend?
Does my plan include adequate time for warm up & cool down?
Will the players have fun?
Will the coach have fun?
Will the activities require a lot of talking, set up or lines?
Can I find a way for everyone to be challenged?
Does my plan get the players moving and keep them moving from start to finish?
ARE THE ACTIVITIES AGE APPROPRIATE?
The Weather: It is easy for poor weather conditions to negatively impact your practice session. Player motivation and attention levels drop tremendously fast when its hot, cold or wet out there. While it's true that Soccer players have a reputation for playing in all types of conditions, implementing this way of thinking can be quite challenging for the coach and will propose serious obstacles in your practice plan. This is especially true at the younger age groups.
If you've done your foot work in the beginning of the season then everyone will hopefully come prepared with the right gear for the weather. See "Weather" and "Equipment" for more information. But as in all situations, there will always be at least one or two players who have trouble adjusting to the weather conditions so be sure your plan takes this into consideration. You need to make sure all players are challenged and having fun.
Another aspect of poor weather is the potential for field closures by THPRD or your decision to cancel due to field conditions when you get to the field. Remember to always leave the field in the same or better condition as when you got there and there are NO MUD BOWLS because it will ruin the fields in a way that will make the field permanently closed. A field that is permanently closed means you could lose your practice time slot, or games scheduled on that field will be moved to a different area or time slot which will impact tens if not hundreds of families in the league.
In most cases, your decision to cancel will occur when you get to the field and see if it's playable or not. Make sure your team parents know not to drop and take off without confirming with you first. It's a good idea to tell the parents up front that drop off and pick up take place on the field - not in the parking lot. They need to park and come on to the field and discuss leaving with you first before they take off. At the end of practice, they need to park, come onto the field, and at the very least make eye contact with you so that you know the player is leaving with the right person. See "Safety and Security" for more on this.
The Amount of Players: Too few players limits the type of activities you can do during practice. Instructing basic ball handling techniques (passing, dribbling, etc.) is OK with a small group. However, for example, if you want to instruct defensive strategies when being attacked inside your defensive 3rd then you'll need enough players to make up your defense and offense. It simply cannot be done without enough players.
Here is where flexibility in your plan will work to your advantage. Since players are bound to show up late, or miss practice without advance notice, it is a good idea to have more than one plan. If your primary isn't working, switch to your back up. The important thing is to focus on your priorities of 1) Safety, 2) Fun, and 3) Skill development.
Last Weekends Game: Games are not a time for instructing. It is a time for players to experiment with what they've worked on in practice and to make mistakes. You will most likely see both individual and team items that need to be worked on. Coaches can use game time to help determine what needs to be worked on that week in practice.
Warm Up & Cool Down: Players of all ages should spend some amount of time doing warm ups in the beginning and cooling down at the end. The amount of time and type of activities will vary within each age group (younger less, older more). A couple items to consider is the player's heart rate and body temperature. Activities in the beginning of practice should be low rate / low temp, progressively increasing throughout the session and returning to slightly elevated or normal before departure. Consider strategically placing your water breaks to change the pace when resuming practice.
Warming and cooling activities can be automated and with little to no supervision by the coach (older players). When you get the players into a routine of start & end activities they will pretty much do them on their own and provide you valuable time to meet with parents on the sidelines.
Example: Arrive early and lay down cones before the players arrive. In the beginning of the season, instruct each player on preset activities to perform upon arrival and to not wait for you or others. Within a couple of practices you can have each player moving, warming up major muscle groups, improving coordination and building ball handling skills all on their own. When you're ready to move forward with practice, transition quickly into a fun event as a reward for their positive attitude.
All coaches should be moving their teams into the realm of Dynamic Stretching and Agility Training. We hope to have more on this in the future. For now, I would suggest you simply search for "Dynamic Stretching" on the net and check out the videos. Coaches can attend our summer coaches training day which typically has a Sports Fitness instruction put on by professional trainers.
Player / Coach Fun: The level of fun in sporting events will directly influence individual and team skill progression. It is important to not get bogged down in drills and forget about why we are participating in recreational soccer. On another note, it is understandable, and perfectly OK, to spend a considerable amount of time working in areas that need improvement. In some cases, getting gritty on the field is the best to way to move the team (or player) over a hump on the road to improvement.
One of the more challenging tasks for the coach is to find a way to balance the need between getting gritty and having fun. The best situation would be to have fun while getting gritty. If you can find a way to make this happen then you'll be well on the way to success. See more on this on the "Conduct for Players" and "Conduct for Coaches" page.
Excessive Talking by the Coach, Long Time Set Up, and Lines: Try to plan your events with smooth transitions between activities. If following the plan to build heart rate & body temperature throughout the session, your break time for water can be strategically placed to change the pace when resuming practice.
Try to develop a way to instruct by demonstration rather than verbal. Players will learn more as they're trying it themselves and remember it's OK to make mistakes (coach and player too). Spending too much time setting up cones, or having activities that require players to stand in line waiting their turn should be avoided as much as possible.
Players at all ages (for various reasons) have attention span variables that will limit you're ability to verbalize instructions. You may find improved results by instructing incrementally rather than showing them the entire big picture at one time.
For example, let's say you want to work on passing in a give & go situation. You could build your entire practice around this one topic. There are other options to use instead of setting down cones, giving a speech, demonstrating, and asking players to give it a try. Try taking a progressive activity approach you will end up at the same place and have fun along the way. You could start off with some variation of sharks & minnows which gets players dribbling down the field, water break, transition to relay races where a player dribbles around a cone an passes back to the next player, then finally move into the give and go. Put a goal at the end and ask them to try and score on you too.
Remember to get them moving and keep them moving - avoid lines as much as possible.