How to plan your next season effectively
Posted by Dean Holden at June 11th, 2013
by Pavl Williams, June 2013
As the summer break approaches, my thoughts are turning to how I will prepare for next season.
Following the advice from Southampton FC Academy Coach Anthony Limbrick, and conversations on Twitter, I think it would be worthwhile explaining what components go into these thoughts. So below is a loose framework for how I will plan my grassroots season:
Long Term Player Development
Firstly I need to understand where my players ought to be in their long-term development plan. Players can’t possibly learn everything at once so this is the 10-year view.
Taking a LTPD-approach recognises that players will have peaks and go through plateaus in their development, so it reminds me that there’s more to how a player has been performing than what the recent session looked like.
I will think about each of my squad individually and build up a picture of where each player is in their respective technical, tactical, physical and emotional development. I can compare to notes from last year and set some targets for next year.
I’ll discuss these targets with players throughout pre-season.
The LTPD plan is also where my personal coaching philosophy and thoughts about playing styles, roles on the field and principles of conduct are most well-defined. If I can get the foundations that each season is built upon strong, then I don’t experience any problems trying to build upon them later.
Once I have a clear idea of what I want my season to achieve I can think about what building blocks I’m going to need to offer my players to help them get there.
At this stage the blocks can be quite vague or can be very specific, and they can vary in size from the very large “improving shape in possession to aid ball retention” to the very specific “get Beck to check his shoulder when asking the goalkeeper for the ball”.
I try to keep major themes (usually whole team concepts) down to 3 or fewer per season.
Once I have some major themes and some smaller specific goals I think about how they can be logically structured across the 10 month season and form my season plan.
At this stage I need to take summer holidays, pre-season, bad winter weather, January exams, spring fixture congestion, study leave and so on into account.
Units Of Work
Next I will think about how the major themes can be delivered in 4-6 week ‘Units of Work’, during which each session will have the same underlying theme and share the same primary learning objectives.
When I piece the Units of Work together I should have a logical progression throughout the season and all of the outcomes from my LTPD and Season Plan should be covered.
If there are any gaps then I will tweak the Units to accomodate. This might mean two 6-week blocks become 4-week blocks to accomodate another Unit. Or it might mean I change the primary objective slightly to accomodate a wider range of outcomes.
There needs to be some flexibility built-in to the Units of Work so that I can move more quickly if the players are ready to progress, or I can spend more time on areas where the players are struggling to develop.
I will have a rough idea of some of the sessions and practices that I want to include in certain Units of Work, but at this stage I won’t design the entire curriculum in one go. As I said, I want to have the flexibility to adapt my sessions to the players’ needs as the season progresses.
However when I start a new Unit of Work I will design the sessions I intend to use across the four to six week-long block.
I like to strike a balance between ‘keeping training fresh’ (by introducing new practices and game variations) and ‘teaching the skill not the session’ (by using the same reliable practices in consecutive weeks). Therefore I tend to use the same or similar practices for at least two coaching sessions in a row, and occasionally for a whole Unit of Work. It might take a session to introduce 3 variations/progressions, then I’ll carry on from that end-point in the following week and add another few progressions.
Activities & Small-Sided Games
I am usually restricted to 60 minute long sessions. Because time is tight, I either use a Whole-Part-Whole approach, in which a focussed skill-development practice intersects a conditioned Small-Sided Game, or I combine my technical information with the warm-up so that players start the session with a ball, get lots of focussed repetitions and then move quickly into realistic opposed practice.
When I come to design the activities themselves I save time – naturally – by using Technical Warm-Ups, Skill Development Practices and Small-Sided Games from The Coaching Manual’s video library.
Because they’ve been tweaked over many sessions by professional coaches they normally work well exactly ‘as delivered’.
However, any coaching practice is only a template upon which you can add your own imprint. Aside from the obvious concessions I need to make for odd numbers and different facilities, I also think about how I can adjust the outcomes to better serve my own players’ specific ability levels.
This brings us to Individual Challenges. At the planning stage I might be able to guess which players will excel and which will struggle but I don’t know for sure until I deliver the session.
Therefore I will note down as many different options as I can think of for differentiating the wider activity and for challenging individual players.
An example for the whole group might be ‘move the goals further away from the end-line’ whilst an example for an individual might be ‘can only score with their first-touch’.
Finally, I will take a few minutes to consider what different coaching styles I might use to make a particular coaching point within the activity.
If I intend to give a group demonstration, I need to know what the picture I am looking for is, and what it ought to look like. If I am going to allow time for experimentation and guided-discovery I need to think about how I will measure player’s progress and how I will prompt different ideas.
As I intend to test and re-enforce my players’ learning throughout and at the end of the session I also need to think about what questions I might ask could be.
Ultimately, planning goes much further than sketching where I place my ‘balls, bibs and cones’.
It takes me from a 10-year timescale to a 0.5 second timescale and helps me provide more effective interactions and deliver better activities and sessions to my players. This makes the extra couple of hours over the summer, and the extra few minutes each week more than worth the effort.
<Please check out The Coaching Manual website here as it looks like there is a ton of information. (Not sure how much is free vs. pay) – DH>