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First up, here are some essential ingredients. Whenever you design a session, try to:  

  • use small-sided games  
  • prioritise fun 
  • get creative.  

These elements help maximise learning and encourage your team to fall in love with the game.  

Once you’ve got the basics down, the next step is to tailor your sessions to meet the needs of your players. The STEP framework (Youth Sports Trust, 2002) can help you do this, and it focuses on four key areas: space, task, equipment and players.  

Here, Claire McDougall-Robinson, FA coach development officer, explores how to use this framework in your challenging practice. 


First, consider how much room you need for your session. It might be that space is limited, and you have to adapt your plans accordingly. For instance, if you have half the pitch size you need, you could focus on one goal and work on challenging in and around the box. Or, if you have a small area, you could still play your game – but everything would be more condensed. As a result, you’ll probably see lots of ball turnover and opportunities for your players to practise tackling.  

Of course, it’s good to use area sizes that are relative to the player’s game if you can. This provides an appropriate physical test – as they’ll cover the right areas with and without the ball. For example, if they play mini-soccer at 7v7, use an area that allows similar distances between players. If training looks similar to matchday, the challenging skills they pick up here can easily be transferred to the weekend’s game.  


Varying tasks keep players interested. However, too much change can disrupt their deeper learning. So, always give your team enough time to try out a practice. When you think they’re ready to progress, consider how to vary the difficulty to suit their individual needs. But remember to keep things fun.  

When defending, it’s essential to help your team to challenge and intercept. But it’s also vital to work on their ability to retain the ball. After all, you want to keep possession after a successful tackle. A simple way to practice this is to allow both sides to attack a target (e.g. goal or end zone). This introduces transition and replicates an actual game.  


To put on a great session, you don’t have to use loads of equipment. Sometimes less can be more. Even if you just have a football and some cones, you can still deliver a fantastic activity.  

If your facility has lines, try to integrate them into your sessions. This can help players with pitch geography, positioning and decision-making. For instance, they can be a useful tool when defending out wide. Players can use them to restrict their opponent’s movements and force them away from goal.  

You could also use your cones to create end zones or a target area. As teams protect them, they’ll have the opportunity to practice scanning, intercepting and challenging.  

If you have a whiteboard, think about using that, too. It can help you explain the activity faster – meaning more time on the pitch to play.  


Some coaches always use equal sides – but how about trying an overload? After all, teams often attack and defend when they’re outnumbered. Giving players a chance to experience this will help their learning.  

When it comes to player development, format is another useful tool. Offering a variety of small-sided games will give your team more time to try things out. So, mix things up. For example, give some 2v1s a go. They’re a handy way to practice tackling in a realistic environment. Just think of that common matchday scenario: a defender dealing with two attackers out wide and trying to delay or dictate their movement. 


Understand how to build a tackling session? Take the quiz:

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