How to connect with players before a training session
Want to get football training off to the best start? Then tell your players the aims of each session before you dive in. The FA’s Lawrence Lok explains why this is important, what it looks like, and five ideas to engage your players.
Explaining session aims is a fantastic way to connect with your group
Young players are already familiar with the approach from school. Here’s what it looks like there...
At the start of each lesson, the teacher gives an overarching aim. They also list several specific measurable statements linked to that aim. The teacher and learners can refer to these statements during the lesson, to see what progress is being made.
The statements are usually set at different levels so everyone can experience success. This also makes it clear to learners what they must do to improve further.
Why does it work for football training?
Using the same approach in your sessions helps players understand what they’re trying to do and how it can be achieved. This lets them take control of their learning.
As a coach, it helps you plan too. By assessing whether the aim has been achieved, you know when it’s time to move the learning forward.
Plus, you can see how each player is progressing through the measurable statements – also known as differentiated challenges. This lets you can tailor your approach. You might want to use an individual challenge to stretch a player who’s doing well, for instance. Or give extra support to someone who’s making less progress.
Finally, you can use the session aims as a chance to recap what was covered in the previous session, reigniting the curiosity that built up last time.
How to make it appropriate for a training session
Remember, while it’s important to cover the aims, you don’t want to spend too long on it. Ultimately, the ball should be rolling for at least 70% of a session. Plus, we don’t want players to feel like they’re at school.
With that in mind, here are five ways to introduce aims while keeping players engaged...
1. Use an interactive whiteboard
Try writing out the learning aim and differentiated challenges on a whiteboard at the start of the session.
Players can read them when they arrive. Then they can think about which challenge to try first while playing in the arrival activity. At any point in the session, they’re free to put their initials next to a challenge when they feel they’ve achieved it.
As the coach, this lets you see how your players think they’re doing. You can ask each player specific questions too, about what they’ve achieved or are working towards.
Think about including a space on the whiteboard where players can write:
- coaching points that helped them achieve each challenge
- questions linked to each challenge
- new challenges for themselves or others to complete.
2. Try out technology
Using a tablet or similar device opens up even more possibilities. You could:
- show your players an interactive view of the session plan as they arrive
- show any video clips of the practice they’ll be doing, to make it even easier for players to visualise what’s being asked of them
- show video examples of professional players performing skills related to the session topic.
Because tablet devices are mobile, you’re not restricted to using them just at the start either. Why not use apps during the session as well, to help players analyse and reflect on their learning?
3. Print your session plan
Start with a printed copy of your plan on the wall or attached to your tactics board. When players arrive, they can read the session plan before starting the arrival activity.
This saves time when you start the session, as everyone already knows what they’re working on.
4. Involve the parents
Consider how you can get your players’ parents to help. When sending out matchday information at the start of the week, could you text or email your session aims too?
On the drive to training, parents could discuss the theme with their children, so they know what will be covered before the session starts.
5. Take inspiration from the professionals
Instead of simply saying, “We are working on shooting,” creatively involve your players in spelling out the aim. This will build curiosity into your session.
For instance, try linking your aims with your players’ idols. Hold up a picture of Harry Kane or Leah Williamson. Then ask, “Looking at the picture, what do you think we are working on tonight?”
Build on their responses, and start asking technical questions like, “What ways do they score?” or, “What type of runs do they make?”