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Coach speaks to his players

In football coaching, a challenge is a task that encourages a player or team to problem-solve to achieve a certain goal. Used well, challenges engage and motivate players, while helping with their learning. 

Here are 10 ways to design player and team challenges that make a real difference... 

How well do you know the players in your group? Do you know who can use their weaker foot? Or who is more accurate with their short passing than their long passing?  

Player challenges work best when designed for individuals, so get to know everyone better. Start by working out their strengths and where they can improve. 


Observation is the best way to understand your players. Challenge yourself to do more watching than talking in your next session or game. By stepping back, you'll be surprised at what you notice.  

Take notes too, as a starting point for creating individual challenges.


It’s tempting to make all player challenges about improving weaknesses. But you can use them to work on strengths as well. 

Got an excellent dribbler? Challenge them to get even better at dribbling. Identify what’s unique about each player and help them further improve that part of their game.  

Challenges don’t always need to link to the technical and tactical side of the game.  

Imagine that you’ve got a player who’s quiet both on and off the pitch. They don’t mix with the rest of the group. Why not try a communication or leadership challenge to boost their confidence?  

To take it one step further, challenge another player with great team-working skills to integrate the quiet player more.


So, you’ve got an idea of your player or team challenges. Now try designing a practice session that lets players work on their own individual challenges in a group setting.  

This task isn't easy, but it's possible with creative planning. Game-like activity is the best approach. Make clever use of player positions, pitch sizes and formations. 


Don’t rush things. Players might need six weeks or longer to work on the same challenge. Switch up the challenge too often, and players will miss out on opportunities to solve the problems that it creates.  


When working with younger players, always link training sessions to matchday.  

Ask players to continue to work on their challenges during a game. And support them in doing that. Don’t let the scoreline distract from what you're trying to achieve. 

8. Vary player positions

Provide different challenges by experimenting with player positions. Think about the challenges of each position when deciding where to play someone. 

Want to help a player with their receiving skills and awareness? Try playing them in central midfield where the pressure’s on when receiving. Or play them as a central defender and encourage the goalkeeper to play short to start attacking moves.


9. Swap between age groups

Playing individuals in different age groups can work well too.  

Imagine that you've got a player who needs to develop their physical qualities. Or who needs to better understand when to take lots of touches and when to play quickly. Maybe they'd benefit from playing in an older age group where time and space are challenged.  

Can you think of any other challenges that different age groups offer? 


10. Ask for your players’ opinions

Finally, remember to seek input from your players. Challenges aren’t a one-way street. 

Ask them what they think they need to improve, or what they’d like to work on in training and games.