The lockdown period has been one that has challenge all parents, players and coaches to find ways of keeping their children engaged and playing football. The return of the Premier League and football across the world has certainly provided some sort of fill for the void that has been created in any football families lives, but it’s not the same as playing. In this blog, I’m going to explore some top tips for coaches and how they can lead coaching sessions whilst following the guidelines set for the government on social distance coaching sessions. The approach I’d recommend to coaches is as follows: “Be safe, have fun and let them play… The social sweat”

“Being safe”

Small coaching sessions can now take place with one coach to six players whilst maintaining two meters of distance and also remaining non-contact. For more information on these rules that have been in place since June 1st 2020, please visit: http://www.thefa.com/-/media/thefacom-new/files/get-involved/2020/football-restart-guidance-1-june.ashx

So, how do we approach training whilst maintaining the rules that have been set out by the Government? Firstly, it’s important to remember that the child and their families safety MUST come first, as well as your own too. To reduce the risk, coaches should be in contact with all players parents/guardians to ensure that those children don’t have any underlying health issues such as Asthma which can be common amongst children which may put them at more risk. Therefore, for any sessions I would strongly recommend to coaches to consider whether small group training is the most appropriate approach, or whether this is something the children can do with family members or by themselves? To safeguard you as well, I’d recommend all coaches check their own insurance as you may be liable for any incidents that occur whilst the players are under your care too.

Now, that’s a few of considerations out of the way, if you believe small group sessions are the way forward for you and your players – let’s explore some tips on small group sessions and how you can make the of this time with your players.

It’s important to acknowledge the impact that the lockdown may have on a young persons physical and mental well-being. Prior to lockdown there were alarming figures that children between the age of 5-11 (23% of boys and 20% of girls) get the required 60 minutes of daily activity each day. Therefore, as coaches, particularly during this time I believe we can play an important role to help increase the level of physical activity the children are involved in each, in between their school work and other leisure activities. With this in mind, combined the limitations most have had from being able to get outside of their homes and socialise, I cannot express how important play is at this time.

https://www.gov.uk/government/news/number-of-children-getting-enough-physical-activity-drops-by-40

Use the STEP Principle

An approach coaches may wish to take to training is applying the STEP principle when designing their sessions. I’ve adapted this principle to help support you in some areas you may wish to consider when designing your practises for your players:

Space – are you able to create multiple areas for players to practice within each having their own area rather than sharing an area?

Task – can the players take turns? Or can they repeat the exercise in isolation within their own area? Can you also limit them touch equipment with their hands as well?

Equipment – can equipment be used on an individual basis? For example, players having their own football, cones?

People – can you limit the number of people working in groups? Are you able ensure all practise is outside whilst maintaining social distancing?

“Have fun”

Talking with your players to find out what ideas they have to make sessions fun is a brilliant way of connecting with them whilst also enabling them to take responsibility for their own learning. It’s more than likely the players have got some stories or ideas they’d like to share, or a new skill that they’ve learnt whilst in isolation and practising by themselves – so why not give them an opportunity on shaping their programme whilst we are in the situation we are in? Whether you ask them to draw their favourite session they’d like to share with the group, or lead teaching a new skill – this is a great way to get children thinking each week of how they can share with their peers.

Another top tip to make sure the sessions are fun are to look at playing playground games. Here are some fun games that the children can play:

Races in Pairs:

Organisation: Set up an area with three lanes, with a player from either team on opposite ends. The players have to get to the line in the middle and back, one at a time – the first team to get there and back wins. Players can play this game with or without the ball.

STEP: Adjust the size of the area and/or the length of the task for the players. You may also wish to add equipment for the players to go over/through such as hurdles, ladders or cones.

Body Parts:

Organisation: Set up a grid, with a player in a box each with a ball. The coach stands on the outside or the middle of the area with a ball each too, performing different ball mastery skills. Once the coach calls a body part, the players must put that body part on their ball.

STEP: Change the complexity of the ball mastery as well as the number of body parts the players have to touch too. You can also call ‘change’ where the players have to travel with their ball into the middle of a new square.

Statues:

Organisation: Set up a channel for a player each, with each playing have a ball too. The players have to travel from one side of the area to the opposite side, the first player to do so wins. When the coach turns around, the players must stop their ball before they coaches see’s them. If they don’t stop it in time, they must return back to the start. This game can be done with or without footballs.

STEP: Make the area longer and increase the speed in which you turn around as a coach. You can also challenge the players with different ball mastery tasks to get across to the opposite side as well.

“Let them play”

Fun should be at the forefront of your sessions and it’s so important that every child walks away with a big smile on their facing already looking forward to what’s happening in their next session.With no fixtures coming up anytime soon, there’s no need to rush delivering topic based work – as we still don’t know when or how the return to games programme will look. Therefore, let’s use this time to create a playground environment the best that we can – particularly with so many children still yet to be back at school. It’s your responsibility as a coach to provide an environment where the children can feel like they can play and have fun.

Here are a few great games you could play that could be adapted during this period:

Football Tennis Game:

Organisation: Set up an area for each player to be within. Their is one ball and is played as a game of tennis, however, this is multi-directional and players can play into any players box. If a player isn’t able to control the ball or play the ball and goes outside of the area they lose a life, or the opposition gain a point. The ball is able to bounce one in each area and players are allowed as many touches as they like.

STEP: Increase/decrease the number of bounces or touches that are allowed in each area. Also, you may make the areas bigger/small too. Increase the number of footballs too.

Split the Defender Game:

Organisation: Set up a grid with two defenders in the middle and four players on the outside with a ball between them. The defenders are not allowed in the same space as one another and also cannot tackle the outside players. The players on the outside have to keep possession and look to play between the two defenders. If they lose the ball, both them and the player to their right swap with the defenders.

STEP: Change the size of the area and also the number of defenders in the middle. You may also change the number of players on the outside as well as a limit on how many touches they can have too.

Line Tag:

Organisation: Set up a grid with players on each of the lines. Each player is to have a bib in the back of their shorts, however, only the defender is to wear it at one time. The defender has to attempt to be on the same line as any of the attackers in order to score a point, if the defenders are able to do this they drop their bib and another attacker puts on their own bib to be a defender. Play with or without footballs.

STEP: Add equipment for players to go over/around, as well as adapt the size of the area based on the players needs. You can also have the defender without a ball, the attackers with a ball or the opposite way round to vary the challenge too.

To conclude..

In order for the children get the most out of these games, they must be given time to play without stoppages and lost of breaks during the sessions. Therefore, make the games a social sweat! Get the players interacting with one another, but also make sure every child leaves your sessions with a sweat on! It’s widely covered now we should allow children in our sessions to have as much ball rolling time as possible, this is the time as a coach to really practice working on this to limit the amount of times you stop the session to give out coaching points, explaining practises etc.We must create our sessions to be safe, fun and play driven. We should aim to make all players leave the session with a sweat on but also feeling like they’ve been able to connect with their friends once again.

For 25 more social distance training sessions you can DOWNLOAD OUR FREE RETURN TO TRAINING GUIDE HERE: https://mailchi.mp/footballdna/return-to-training-guide.

You can watch all 25 videos on our website too: https://footballdna.co.uk/sessions/session_category/covid/