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10 tips from coaches who have taken their first tentative steps back onto the training pitch

Following the recent easing of Covid-19 Government restrictions, coaches and players will soon be returning to the game we love.


We’ve taken the time in lockdown to have online contact with coaching colleagues in locations around the world. Although the rules and measures around social distancing can be slightly different in each country, the key to getting players back on the field has SAFETY at its core.


Some of our colleagues have taken their first post-lockdown steps onto the pitch and have revealed some interesting insights. Not least was that even with much mental and practical preparation, the little things usually taken for granted, really need some serious consideration before heading out for your first session. And that it was really easy, in the midst of a session, to overlook distancing – wait until you give it a try!

Here’s ten of their tips:


1. Inform players in advance, to come dressed in their kit ready to train. There’s a fair likelihood that changing rooms will not be open. Similarly, leaving training with no chance to change, have warm clothing in cooler climates.


2. Have players bring their own clearly labelled drink bottles – the more distinguishable the better.


3. Have players who arrive early stay in their cars until 5 minutes before training starts to avoid group gatherings.


4. Parents and carers should be encouraged to remain in their cars to avoid social gatherings during training.


5. Have an area set up in advance with marked out 2-metre zones for each player. Try different coloured marker cones. Each player uses their area for their drink bottle, any belongings, and it’s the place they can go to at each break.


6. Plan sessions that have no player to player contact. Technical practices can be adapted and controlled to ensure players are remaining 2-metres apart. There are 100's of familiar practices that with imagination and adjustments can be challenging and relevant.


7. Minimise the handling of equipment. With planning, the session MUST be set-up and organised in advance.


8. Encourage the use of hand sanitiser e.g. at drink breaks.


9. Ensure everyone (players, parents and coaching staff) is aware that distancing will be implemented at all times – 2-metres recommended.


10. Be prepared and implement a staged departure for the players. As each player is released instruct them to leave promptly to limit social gathering.


Onto the actual training session. Each of our practices has the VARIATIONS acronym as a prompt. We’ve adjusted this slightly and offer the following:


(V) VARY THE FOCUS

Most sessions can be adapted to have a specific focus based on the Four Corner Model by changing the emphasis and outcomes.

Technical – to improve ‘pure technique’, players may practice using deliberate step by step actions (skill acquisition) without pressure of opponents. Practices like ball manipulation moves, passing, dribbling and turning can all be done without players coming into contact with each other.

Tactical to improve Tactical Awareness coaches may use signals which the players must recognise and respond to quickly, such as moving to different coloured cones or to react to another player’s action such as where they move the ball or a ‘trigger’ where the opposite player must race to a line.

Physiological to provide a physiological aspect to the session, increase the intensity by adding in conditions to challenge speed of reaction. An example of this is where two players might mirror each other, with the leading player trying to wrong foot their opponent before sprinting to an end line.

Psychological/Social – to offer a psychological/social aspect, allow the players to have their own input into the rules of the session.


(A) AREA

Plan each practice and mark out clear boundaries. For example, consider setting up 5x5 squares where the players have their own designated personal space and a ball each to practice juggling or ball manipulation exercises within their boundary. Another option is to mark out a set of 10x10 squares - each square has no more than four players performing a set passing and moving sequence.

(R) RULES

Change the rules where players are challenged with less touches or passing in small groups to see which team can finish a set activity quickest e.g. first team to make 20 passes etc.

(I) INCLUSION

Engage the players in modifying the practices. Provide options they can choose to encourage ownership. Consider what a player can do as an individual challenge – for example juggle the ball in a designated area. More advanced players might be given a sequence - thigh, thigh foot, foot etc. while less technical players might simply be asked to beat their best score.

(A) ADD OR CHANGE EQUIPMENT

To make the practices more competitive use bigger goals, smaller goals, more goals to add variety and keep interest.

(T) TIME

Reduce or extend the time to perform actions e.g. how many passes in 20 seconds, get a shot at goal within 30 seconds.

(I) INVOLVE PLAYERS

Provide feedback in the drink break or change of activities without interrupting the game. Use player role models. Use question and answer (guided discovery) to ensure the players are understanding the learning outcomes.

(O) OBSERVE

Take a step back and account for the success of the session. If the players need to be challenged or it’s not working, then change it. As it is for coaches, it’s really easy for players to revert to usual conditions so be prepared to remind of these changed circumstances, often.

(N) NUMBERS

When session planning, try to keep players in smaller ‘pods’.

(S) SCORING OPPORTUNITIES

With the obvious limitations to play attack v defence, adding a goal to score into will help to make the practice competitive and enjoyable.