How to coach an unexpected number of players
You’re expecting 14 players at a session, but only 11 turn up. What do you do? Rob Ward, U9s grassroots coach and FA Youth Award holder, gives some top tips for adapting to uneven or smaller than expected numbers at football training.
Grassroots coaches rarely get the ‘perfect’ number of players at a training session.
With under nines, for instance, maybe you’d like 14 players to take part, to replicate the 7v7 matchday format. But chances are, sickness, family commitments, or other activities often get in the way.
All is not lost, though. Here are six strategies to adapt a session to deal with uneven or smaller than expected numbers of players...
Set the scene
Have 13 players shown up instead of 14? Stop them complaining about unfairly sized teams by working the imbalance into the session.
Set the scene by saying something like, “It’s the FA Cup Final and the blues have just had a player sent off.” Then challenge the teams to create a strategy to deal with the scenario.
This adds excitement and gets the players thinking for themselves too.
To develop players’ skills, small-sided matches of 1v1, 2v2 and 3v3 are fantastic. But odd numbers create an opportunity to practise handling 2v1 and overload situations.
Not only do these scenarios teach valuable lessons, they’re also realistic. Players will often face 2v1 situations in matches.
Most grassroots teams have a mixture of abilities in the squad. You can use uneven numbers to cater to that.
To challenge the players who need it, place more pressure on them through a greater overload. For players who usually experience less success, put them on the bigger team for a taste of triumph.
Try small-group practices
Training lots of players? Try breaking the session into three smaller practices using a carousel strategy. Players spend a set amount of time on each practice and rotate around.
If you have an assistant coach or two, get each coach to guide one of the practices. If not, give your players the opportunity to take leadership for the activity.
Smaller group practices mean more time on the ball for each player. And that results in more enjoyment and more development.
Never cancel a session
Only have one player available, willing, and wishing to develop as a footballer? Don’t hold them back because others can’t attend.
Smaller groups or individual sessions can be great fun. Plus, they let you pay closer attention to those who have turned up.
Have a ‘go-to’ solution
Too few players to run a session? Why not turn to Wembley Singles?
The beauty of the game is that it can be played with as few as three players. They experience lots of realistic attacking and defending scenarios. All while enjoying themselves.
Unsure about your numbers for training? Wembley Singles makes a handy arrival activity too.