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A young girl receives a pass during a small-sided game at a Wildcats training session.

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.

Siobhan Hodgetts, FA Women’s High Performance Centre coach development officer, explores how to use this framework in your receiving session.

When planning your receiving practice, start with an area that replicates the pitch they play on for matchday. Realistic distances will help them link their learning from training to the big game. Plus, it naturally brings out those real game moments. The key situations and positions in which they routinely receive the ball.

But if you want to work on something specific, altering the pitch size can help. Make the area small and narrow to give players the experience of receiving the ball in tight spaces under pressure. And if you want to give them exposure to receiving longer passes, make the area long and wide.

Players need to be able to receive the ball in different ways. So, does your session design encourage this to happen? Like changing the size of the pitch, the task you set affects the learning that takes place.

If your task is narrow in its focus, it can limit outcomes. Sure, it can be helpful to work on one technique. But you can get players to do that while keeping their options open. Just incentivise the focus. For instance, when players receive the ball on their weaker foot and play it forward to set up a goal, it counts as two. They can still use their favourite foot to do it. But the reward of more goals encourages them to try something else.

Also, players don’t just need to practise receiving to feet. The ball often arrives at different heights and speeds. For instance, they need to learn how to control a ball that’s dropping out of the air and how to receive a pass using their thigh or chest. Utilising throw-ins and encouraging players to try different passing techniques can help.

If your players are struggling, you can adapt your sessions by using the equipment at your disposal.

Here’s an example. You’re working on receiving to play forward, but they keep losing possession quickly. So, they’re not getting much repetition of your session focus. To help, use flat markers to build safe zones. Players can move to receive the ball in here and be unopposed for a few seconds before an opponent can enter. This gives them a taste of success as they have time to practise receiving the ball and looking for a teammate.

There will be trade-offs. But using equipment wisely can help you provide sessions that meet the needs of your players. So, think about how goals, zones, gates and more footballs can impact your players’ learning.

Unopposed practices help players hone their techniques. They’re particularly useful for introducing new skills to younger players. But implementing this correctly is important. Having players waiting in line for a turn to receive and pass before joining the back of their queue is not engaging or ideal. Instead, put them into pairs or threes. Then get them passing, receiving and moving in their small groups.

Players also need to practise receiving the ball in a realistic environment. One that looks and feels like the game. To do that, get them involved in small-sided games, like 2v2s, 3v3s and 4v4s. Being opposed gets players used to receiving under pressure. And doing this in training means they’ll feel more comfortable doing it on matchday.