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A coach walks onto a grass pitch holding some cones and a bag of bibs.

Arrive early

This isn’t the be-all and end-all. But if it’s possible, it really can help. 

Getting to training early allows you the time to set up arrival activities for your players. That way, they can start playing as soon as they turn up rather than waiting around, becoming cold and bored.  

This is especially important if you share facilities with others. We’ve all been there when a team uses up every last second of their time on the pitch before your session begins. Turning up early gives you the chance to adapt plans. And you can think about how to get your team active as quickly as possible in the space that’s available. 

Utilise player-led activities and your venue

Looking to kick off your session quickly? Giving players ownership to set up an activity and utilising the equipment that’s already there will help. 

Here, Ben Hardaker and Sarah Lowden discuss what this could look like. 

It’s important your practice design, space and area size marry up with what you’re trying to work on. Different area sizes encourage different outcomes. So, when you’re setting up an area, keep the planned returns in mind. Looking to give players plenty of touches on the ball? A smaller space will do that. Wanting players to practise running with it? A bigger area will help. Check out this article to find out more. 

It’s also important to consider the format your team play. Playing in a similar-sized area to the pitch they play on at the weekend will help them transfer what they’ve learnt in training to matchday. 

A tip to help you space out your areas: if you know the dimensions you need, one stride will roughly be a yard. 

The space you have available will dictate what’s possible. But ideally, you don’t want your players to constantly wait around while you set up new areas. Being creative in the way you set up your session and use equipment can help. 

Here, Ben and Sarah explain how you can save time to create smoother transitions between activities.

The STEP framework (Youth Sports Trust, 2002) is a great tool to use. By amending the space, task, equipment or players, you can freshen up an activity, increase or decrease the challenge they face, and keep your team engaged. 

In this video, Ben and Sarah discuss including STEP in your planning and how it can be used. 

Don’t be afraid to use uneven numbers

It’s not unusual to find that you have unexpected numbers at training. For various reasons, you may find that players turn up late – or not at all. This is out of your control. But what you can do is adapt to the situation. 

Sure, you may have planned a practice that ideally needs 12 players. But if 11 turn up, that doesn’t mean you throw away your plan. Don’t be afraid to play 6v5 instead of the planned 6v6. 

Practices don’t need to have even numbers all the time. In fact, having uneven numbers can help. After all, your players will face scenarios where they’re overloaded and underloaded on matchday. So, it will help their development if they experience this challenge in training. 

Step back and observe

So, your players are taking part in a practice. Now, it’s time to step back and observe what’s going on. Let them play and look out for how they’re coping. Then, use what you’ve noticed to influence your decisions when it comes to progressing the activity or making any interventions

Here, Sarah and Ben talk about the importance of observing.