A curriculum approach to coaching
Posted by Dean Holden at May 26th, 2013
by Ron Smith, 10 May 2013
A few weeks ago I was asked what I thought about having a curriculum for the season so that coaches would cover a set number of topics rather than just basing the coaching program on what happened during the game at the weekend. The question came from a teacher and in the school environment it is customary to have a curriculum to work to each week throughout the year. So in a school environment a curriculum is fine because the students might not play together in a team, but that’s not the case with club teams.
My initial thoughts about a curriculum based approach reminded me of a period at the AIS when we tried to follow a set program instead of basing the coaching program on what we thought was the most important and relevant to improving the performance of the team. Ultimately that decision was about which players needed help to improve the team’s performance in attack or defence.
For example, if we had problems defensively during the weekend’s game but our timetable meant we were due to work on Crossing and Flank Play during the following week, it created a conflict between what we thought we ought to do and what we had planned to do and therein lies the problem. We eventually gave up trying to follow the curriculum we had designed. The question is did it really make any difference to what we covered throughout the year?
We knew that during the course of the year we would cover the broader topics of defending and attacking play and that we would start with defending with a new squad. The reason for starting with defending was because we thought it was easier to do and gave positional structure to the team from which attacking play developed.
Once we had some basic structure in defending we started on attacking play. Most teams regain more possession in the back third so our attacking play always started with playing out from the back and over time we continued developing play in the middle and final thirds of the field.
Once we had established basic structures in defence and attack we would then go into more detail to fine tune understanding and performance. It’s possible to get into detail because of the accumulated repetition and subsequent learning that takes place over time.
So once the basic structures were understood the coaching program was based on observation and assessment of the players’ performance in matches.
So where did we stand in terms of a curriculum? We knew basically what we would cover during the year in terms of strategies for the team and repetition was achieved as a consequence of practising to improve aspects of the performance be it in attack or defence.
In terms of the basic techniques of passing and receiving, they were practised every session in warm-ups, technical training and game training, so they didn’t require special attention. What did require attention were the habits of keeping the ball out of tackling range, emphasis on receiving the ball with the inside of the foot and facing opponents, etc.
Other techniques were covered by building them into practices as and when the sessions demanded it, e.g. Improving play in the final third would involve wall passing, crossing and chipping techniques so they could be introduced during the warm-ups, the technical component of the session and obviously in the tactical component as well. So in a way, we covered everything that we knew we wanted to according to our curriculum but it wasn’t in a predetermined order, it was covered when it was appropriate to improve the team by improving the players’ performance.
Having said that, it is possible to have a curriculum approach within the technical component of the session so you know which techniques you will concentrate on at any given time during the season and use the tactical component of the session to work on aspects of play that need attention, based on the previous match performance.
The “Game” component of the session can be used to emphasise the theme for the week, e.g. Improving defending in the back third or you might allow it to be the time when players focus on their personal “goals” such as staying on their feet, keeping the ball moving, getting in behind opponents, etc.etc.
Football is based on passing and receiving. Players perform the same techniques week in week out, year in year out so I don’t really think anything is covered according to a timetable. What ought to improve over time is the quality of performance and understanding of when, why, where and how things are done.
Another problem with a timetable approach to coaching is the age and ability of the players. I’ve seen some eleven year olds who were far more advanced than thirteen year olds in a football sense, so it’s difficult to put labels on what to do and when with players.
Players need to be organised into good practice situations, which is one of the reasons I’ve made my website, to share that knowledge. The coaching that takes place should be appropriate for the players involved, regardless of age.