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A young girl runs forward with the ball and towards the box, with three opponents near her, during a training drill.

Know your outcome before designing football drills

What’s one of the first things coaches need to consider when it comes to practice design? The outcome.

So, rather than putting on a practice and then working out what returns you want to achieve from it – have a clear purpose. Just think about what you want players to get out of it. It’s a simple starting point that allows you to design more effective practices. Also, the outcome then becomes your observational focus.

For instance, if you want players to work on turning in tight spaces, design a practice that uses interference or opposition in a small area. Then, observe how they turn under pressure.

Insight to help you design football practices

Want to dive deeper into this topic? Then, work your way through this video.

The practice spectrum lists four types of practices:

  • unopposed

  • unopposed with interference

  • overloaded

  • matched-up.

Each one brings different returns.

Unopposed and unopposed with interference practices work more on technique development. The players get the chance to practise the mechanics of an action.

Overloaded and matched-up practices allow players to implement the skill they’ve been working on. Here, they have opposition and decisions to make, so it’s more realistic and relevant to the actual game.

So, think about which one suits your player’s needs when you’re designing practices and sessions. If you have players with different abilities, parallel practices can help. You could scale the challenge they face by having different practice types on each of the pitches.

Check out our practice spectrum explainer article to find out more.

Football, like some other sports, is an invasion game. What does that mean? Well, it simply means players need to attack – invade – their opponent’s territory and score.

So, how can you make your practice design follow these principles? Ensure you have drills that are directional, include opposition and have scoring systems in place.

If you include these principles in your practice design, your sessions will be more relevant. And your players will benefit. They’ll experience creating space, getting past an opponent, and supporting teammates. All actions that the game needs.

Another way to design effective practices is to create ones that link to matchday. After all, training should prepare players for what they’ll experience in a game. And matchday is an opportunity for players to apply what they’ve learnt.

Knowing your outcomes and making them your focus – the first point in this article – can help with this. If you want to help players with a particular skill, design practices that work on this. Then, on matchday, observe and give feedback on how they did.

Another way to create practices that link to matchday is by replicating the conditions they may experience. This makes it more realistic for them. You can do this by creating practices that use:

  • areas similar in size to what they’ll play on

  • the same size goals

  • scenarios they’ll face in a match

  • the format they’ll play – like 5v5 or 7v7.

For more insight on linking practice to matchday, read this article.

Ultimately, understanding your players is the best way to design effective football practices.

So, get to know what they want from your sessions and think about what they need. What do they enjoy? What are their super-strengths, and how can they develop them further? What areas could they improve on? Then, design practices that can help with all that.

Have some adaptations in your mind, too. Think about how any constraints, our Four Corner model or the STEP framework (Youth Sports Trust, 2002), can allow practices to better meet your players’ needs and wants.

And remember, it’s ok to recycle practices. If they do all the above – and offer players realism, relevance and repetition – they’re worth using again.

Jermain Defoe: realistic finishing drill

Tap play to discover what former England striker, Jermain Defoe, said was his favourite finishing practice and why he liked it.

What to consider when working with different age groups

No matter the age group you coach, find out why your players play football. Whether it’s for fun, a social thing or for fitness – design your practices with their motivations in mind.

And make sure the drills you create are easily adaptable for how many players can take part. Having unexpected numbers at training is common, so flexible practices will make things easier.

If you’re working with teenagers, understand that, at this age, they’ll go through puberty and have growth spurts. This may affect their availability, mood and performance. So, think about how to tweak your practice design to support them physically and mentally.

If you work in disability football, be aware of your players’ needs. Then, tailor your practice design to help them. Think critically about how you can use STEP to help. You may also need to include more breaks or create a safe space for players to use.

Things to remember to help you with practice design

A graphic showing five top tips to help coaches with practice design. Have a clear objective so you know what you want to get out of the practice. It's ok to recycle practices and tweak them slightly. You don't have to reinvent the wheel. Design practices that are enjoyable and meet the needs of your players. Think about the different practice types and what returns they can provide. Where possible, provide practices that offer realism, relevance, and repetition.

Further learning

If you’re interested in this topic, check out these resources to learn more:

You can also take the key information from this article away with you by downloading this PDF.