How do Good Coaches Plan Training Sessions?

A good coach has a clear objective and plan in place before every training session, understanding what it is they want their players to come away with.

Whatever sport it is that you coach, it is important that your training sessions are planned. That means understanding the abilities of your players, where they are in terms of development, what you want to achieve individually and collectively, the numbers you are expecting, and the equipment you will require.

Regardless of the level operating at, whether that be at grassroots or elite, good coaches prepare the same way right across the board.

Avoid Reactive Coaching

If you are coming off the back of a disappointing defeat at the weekend the natural urge is to spend the entire session addressing what went wrong, right? Of course, it is, but that means that your sessions don’t flow and anything that you focused on in the previous week is forgotten.

Good coaches plan sessions in blocks, progressing through areas of the game and allowing players the opportunity to grasp ideas and concepts, practice and put new skills to the test. Constantly reacting from what happens from one game to another, basing the entire hour (or however long the session is) means that there is no philosophy in place.

That doesn’t mean not allowing for the time within the next session to focus on areas of development highlighted within the last fixture. It would be remiss for any coach to notice the same issue in several games and not address it in training – but how do you do that whilst remaining true to your values and planned training blocks?

Tailoring your sessions so that you can incorporate areas you want to focus on from a fixture within a framework is key. Parts of the session can be dedicated to reviewing and working on areas that you feel require work while maintaining the overall learning objective.

Don’t Try to Coach Everything at Once

A trap that many grassroots coaches fall into is trying to coach everything at once. Using football as an example there are numerous parts of the game at play in any phase of play that can be broken down into on and off the ball. As tempting as it is to coach both the attacking and defending side at once, good coaches accept they can do it all and concentrate on the areas they want to focus on.

In the context of football, that might be not coaching the defending team and exclusively coaching attacking players as your learning objective centres on build-up play and shooting. Further down the line, though, the same session can be delivered with you as the coach flipping the focus of the session on its head and coach defending players instead.

Assistant coaches are there to help, and that doesn’t just mean collecting balls to keep the session flowing (though that is a major help). If you have a squad of 18 players turn up to training, delivering a session to keep every player engaged on your own is going to be difficult if not impossible. Use your assistant to take groups of players – which is useful if the session you have planned is best delivered with a small number of participants. Split your training area into two or three areas (space permitting) with players given better attention by their coaches.

Include Assistant Coaches

As we have already touched upon, assistant coaches are invaluable, and they do make life so much easier. They must have an understanding of the planned session to allow them to assist your delivery as best as possible. This will allow your assistant coach to explain to players anything they are struggling to understand without taking you away from delivering the session.

Bouncing ideas off your assistant coaches is a healthy practice. Every coach will have their ideas and your assistant is no different. Collaborating and incorporating their ideas will increase the standard of the session, as well as helping your assistant to improve as a coach by using their ideas – rather than having them standing around idle.

Results Driven

Depending on the environment you are coaching in, results may well be important. At grassroots level, it is the continued development and enjoyment of the players that are important while senior level sports are highly competitive. The long and short of it is that you may need positive results to retain your position as a coach.

That means that the approach to coaching differs from a grassroots coach, that can plan for the long-term. When results matter, coaches adopt a far more short-term attitude and, with that, often deliver more reactive training sessions.

Even Pep Guardiola will deliver a reactive training session, looking to right the wrongs of the weekend before, but he will always stay true to his core values. Noted for his possession-based football, Guardiola’s sessions will always demand players to retain possession and play lots of short, quick passes to each other. That philosophy runs right the way through Manchester City and as a result, it is etched into the club’s DNA.

Good coaches always retain their outlook on the game, instead of chopping and changing their style from one week to the next. Without any continuity and consistency in training, players will fail to develop individually and as a team.

Prepare for Failure

Rarely will you deliver a session where everything goes as you hoped. There will likely be something that happens that causes you to go away and consider how you could have delivered it better…and that’s a good thing.

Every good coach will approach a session with a contingency plan they can go back to for if/when things don’t go right. It could be due to the number of players that turn up to training, meaning you have too many/little for the session you planned, you find the session is too easy/difficult or something else. Don’t beat yourself up when things don’t quite go to plan, but be ready to adjust your session – good coaching requires a lot of adapting to be successful.

Review, Review, Review

Though not technically part of your plan, reviewing your sessions will give you a reference point from where to start for your next session. Make sure to record what went well, what didn’t go so well, how your players were engaged and any other noteworthy points that will help you to make the next session a better one.

It should only take five to 10 minutes to write a comprehensive review – you don’t need to go into excruciating detail. Two or three action points reflecting on the success of the succession, player engagement, and coach behaviour will suffice.

Planning a session, especially for grassroots coaches who volunteer, can be difficult and when things don’t go well it can be easy to feel disheartened. Without a session plan, however, chaos is almost certain and your players won’t develop as well as they might with a clear and well-thought-out strategy in place.

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