5 Key Points to Consider

A common question we often get at Football DNA is how to keep the session fun and engaging for players. In reply to this we decided to share the following piece with the aim of your players never asking this question again!

1.) The first point on how to keep the session fun and engaging for your players, you need to be fun and engaging. There are lots of different practices and ways of working but ultimately the behaviours you model will reflect on the environment you wish to create. Therefore my first tip to make sure this happen is make sure you are doing all that you can to make a fun and engaging environment.
2.) Varying your sessions and types of games and practices you put on for the players is essential, make them guess what is happening when they arrive at training. The more repetitive and similar your sessions are the more monotonous it will become for the players.
3.) Provide them with the appropriate challenge. Keeping individuals engaged will also come to making sure they are stretched when they need to be but as well giving success when they need it as well.

“The Goldilocks Rule”

A great way to look at it is the ‘Goldilocks Rule’ where you find the balance between failure and boredom. Of course players need to fail in order to learn, however, you must give them enough opportunities to get success as well.
4.) Let them play. Have you been on a coaching course where the session has been continually stopped? Or played under a coach where they don’t allow you to play? Frustrating right! The FA have been encouraging at least 70% ball rolling times in sessions, which is a great way to start to make sure that you’re not stopping your session too much! Perhaps ask someone to time the amount of times you stop it and see how much it adds up too.
5.) My last main tip is to make sure your sessions are player centred. Make sure that you’re doing all that you can to meet each individuals needs, putting their learning and development at the forefront of your mind. Make your sessions fair and equal by giving everyone an opportunity.

They just want to play the game. 

Let the game be the teacher, familiar phrase? I remember the controversy that this statement once made and how people’s perceptions of what we were encouraged to do as coach was simply to stand back and watch a game. This is simply not the case. However children play football to PLAY FOOTBALL. Therefore you must make sure children get lots of opportunities to play games in your training sessions, ultimately that is what they have joined your club or environment to do!
Here’s some further ways which may also help you link what you want to teach and answer the question how to keep the session fun and engaging for your players:

1.) Principles of Practice Design 

Direction – by making your practices directional it will enable you to apply some of the principles from the game to your practice. In addition it will help players to link the learning to the game as well.
Definition – by defining what area of the pitch you are using I.e. ‘finishing outside the box’ it helps provide a context for the players to where/how it links to the game. Consider the age group you are working with and what areas there are on the pitch.
Decisions – create sessions which make players have to make decisions. Isn’t that what happens in a game? This helps ensure the techniques they are learning can be demonstrated through visual triggers.
Difference – by providing the players with a different theme it will provide them with a different focus. Having a theme for the games will encourage the players to try what you’re focusing on. Consider how you can use professional players or teams to inspire the children and what you want to see from them in your practice.

2.) The Ingredients 

Pitch type – vary the type of pitches to give different returns. Make a note, what does a circular pitch provide for my players? What does a narrow but long pitch provide for them? 
Player distribution – consider how the players link to the system that you choose. I.e. you’re playing as a number 9, you’re playing as a CB. 
Parameters – make sure that you clearly show the areas of the pitch the players can play within or have to stay in (zones). 
Constraints – restrict, relate and reward. The 3 R’s can support you in allow a game to flow whilst helping the players to demonstrate what you want them to practice. Restrictions may provide you with opportunities for them to repeat a technique or pattern (for example the GK must play through the CM before the game can start). Relating the challenge to the position will help challenge and embed learning. A way you can do this is by providing them with a challenge ‘think about how you can play forwards’. Rewards in games can really encourage what you want to see, an example of a reward might be ‘if you break a link with a pass or a dribble it’s worth two goals’

Developing FUNdamental Movements

Dr Istvan Bayli got me thinking when I read his book on Long Term Athlete Development.  It talks about ‘Early Specialisation’ where a child can focus on that sport too often too early. Now, whilst there are some sports where early specialisation is clearly beneficial, football has been considered one that shouldn’t be specialised too early. Do you ask your children to play football to become footballers? Or play tennis to become tennis players? If you do, I challenge you on that. The sports should be used for fun and enjoyment in a child’s younger years, but also to help them and their bodies move in different ways. This is summed up perfectly in the image below:
Therefore, it’s essential that you provide children in the younger age groups plenty of opportunities to explore movements and develop their FUNdamentals. To apply this think about your arrival activities and ‘warm up’ as a play ground. Use games that children would play in the play ground, challenging them on using different movements to play the game that you have set.
A great of doing this and developing the football skills is by creating movement games which also incorporate the ball. An example of this may be playing tag where the players tagging don’t have a ball and the players avoiding being tagged dodge their opponents with different types of movements.
As you progress and the children become older and more aware of how to move their bodies, give your group or individuals more complex movements and challenges to stretch them further.

To Conclude,

Hopefully this blog has given you an insight for the next time you plan and deliver a coaching session and you don’t get the dreaded question: Can we play a game? There are so many ways we have identified in this piece on how to keep the session fun and engaging for your players! Go and give them a try and let us know how you get on! For help structuring a session see this blog here: https://footballdna.co.uk/planning-structuring-coaching-sessions/