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A coach watches on from a distance to observe training.

Consider your set-up

The first step when observing training is to ensure your players are enjoying themselves and you’re giving them a chance to learn. Ask yourself:  

  • Are the players safe?  
  • Do they understand what to do? 
  • Is the organisation of the session appropriate?  

Once you're clear on that, begin observing whether:  

  • the players are enjoying the session  
  • every player is meeting the objectives  
  • all players feel included.

Have a clear focus

Football is a fluid game. A lot is happening; if you try to observe everything, you can observe nothing. 

To help you with this, specify what you will observe at different stages of a game or training session. 

It's important to give your training a clear focus. Design practices for a skill you want players to improve, then observe it in action. The STEP framework (Youth Sports Trust, 2002) can help. 

Once your players perform a skill, break it down using The FA's six core capabilities. These are scanning, timing, movement, positioning, deception and techniques. Doing this can help structure any reflections or feedback. 

In this video, Sharon Muxworthy explains how she uses STEP and observations to adapt training sessions.

Don't jump in as soon as a player makes a mistake. Take a breath and allow them to have their own reflection time. Then, give them a few attempts at the skill. 

Here, Danny Fenner explains how he implements 'the hat-trick' rule in training. 

Matchday can bring your training sessions to life. It allows players to be brave and show off their progress with the skills they've been learning. 

To help with this, try to link the themes from your most recent training session to your next fixture. Linking the two enables you to focus on specific skills and the success of your practices.  

Remember, emotions are high on matchday, and you can't intervene often. Praising what your players have done well, rather than highlighting mistakes, is essential. This positive feedback will motivate them and their teammates to keep trying new skills.

A lot can happen on a matchday and at training. No matter how focused you are, you might only remember some of what you see. 

To help jog your memory, write down anything important on a notepad, printout of the pitch, or whiteboard.  

Keeping voice notes is also a great way to remember information. You can keep observing as you record them, so there is less distraction. 

With all these techniques, it's important to keep it simple. You can't pause a match, so whatever you do, remember to be present and make sure the players are safe and having fun.

Involve everyone

Celebrate parents who want to have input in their child's team. Tell them what you have been working on and why. Then, ask them to observe it on a matchday.  

You can even give them a tally chart to count occurrences and make notes. 

Engaging parents helps them feel involved and gives you an extra pair of eyes on the sideline. 

Use your subs, too. You can ask them to observe the opposition and consider: 

  • how they're scoring goals  
  • how they're conceding goals  
  • how they're creating chances 
  • how they're conceding chances. 

They can then bring this information into team talks or use it on the pitch, which is also great for improving their communication skills.  

Want to learn more about observation skills? Check out this article on how to get better at observing your team.