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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.   

Adam Dunleavy, FA coach development officer for the Women’s High Performance Centre in Nottingham, explores how to use this framework in your passing session.

When setting up your passing session, be mindful of the space you’re using. This ultimately affects the learning and experience your players get.  

To use space effectively, consider your intended outcomes. For instance, an opposed practice in a smaller area could be an ideal starting point if you want to work on passing under pressure. But keep in mind that less space also means it’s more difficult to pass out of trouble. So, you may want to adjust to a bigger area to allow players opportunities for success if they’re struggling. This also lets players work on making longer passes, too. 

Also, think about if it’s realistic to their game. Make it age and stage appropriate by replicating the pitch they play on at the weekend – or a specific part of it. This helps transfer their learning to matchday.

We want to develop problem solvers. But if we limit options or provide solutions all the time, players will struggle to solve problems on their own. Avoid constraining them to a specific approach and let them decide how best to play the game.  

For instance, when working on passing, coaches often add rules to restrict shooting until their side makes a set number of passes. Instead, incentivise passing through a scoring system. For example, the number of passes made in the build-up to a goal is the number of points awarded for scoring. This promotes repetition of the skill. And, importantly, gives players ownership of when to pass.   

Don’t forget to encourage them to try different techniques in your sessions, too. This prompt doesn’t force them to use certain passes but will get them thinking about what’s possible. 

Lots of footballs allow for lots of opportunities.  


After all, no one wants to see practices where players are queuing up, waiting for a turn to pass a ball.   

You could put them in small teams, then provide each with a ball and the opportunity to pass through gates. All while navigating around the other sides doing the same. This provides interference, which causes chaos. Meaning more decisions and more learning taking place.  

But whatever you do, ultimately, the more time they have the ball at their feet to give passing a go, the better.  

No matter what level you coach at, matchday can be broken down into loads of small-sided games. So, think about the pitch geography and the duals that take place. Use this as a guide to create realistic scenarios in your practices. 

A lot of the time, you’ll notice overloads across the pitch, too. Think of a 2v1 out wide as a pair of attackers look to combine to get into the box. Or three defenders playing out from the back while being pressed by a forward or two. 

Ultimately, the more we can expose our players to the challenges of the game, the better they’ll be able to problem-solve on a matchday.  

Plus, small-sided games help players work on our six core capabilities

So, using practices with overloads and small numbers are relevant to the game and aid skill development. Why not give them a try?