In this blog we will discuss some Key Tips for Return to Training! As we approach a return to play for grassroots football in the UK, it’s important we consider the best approach to make sure we provide a safe, fun and positive learning environment for our players. The most recent guidelines will allow competitive football to return in the form of pre-season fixtures, festivals and small sided games. Whilst this is extremely positive news to the well-being of young children that have been without competitive sport for a number of months now, it’s still important that ensure the return only takes place once it is safe to do so. For more information please visit:

http://www.thefa.com/news/2020/jul/17/grassroots-guidance-for-competitive-football-restart-in-england-170720

‘Return to play, exactly what it says on the tin’

When looking at an approach to training I cannot stress the importance of making the sessions fun. I was asked the other day, will we need to put fitness sessions on for our players? For me, this isn’t the priority and we should be largely focusing on reconnecting team mates together and providing them a fun environment for them to play football. Create a ‘jumpers for goalposts’ approach for your sessions. Make it informal, make it play-led and make it fun. Following on from months in lockdown, children will need to thrive again of social interaction and play which they have been depleted of in recent times and as a coach you have a responsibility to facilitate this making sure this is your environment. Therefore, my advice for the best way of approaching a return to play is exactly what it says on the tin and let them play!

Photo by Haywood Magee/Picture Post/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

‘The power of human connection’

Spend time connecting with the players. A great opportunity has arisen for you to get to know your players more, create windows to have conversations with them about what they have been up to, how have they been during this period, what would they like to do in football in the next few weeks? The power of human connection is priceless and now is the time to work on these skills in your environment. As a coach, facilitating these interactions between you and also amongst the players are invaluable. But what happens if it interrupts and effects my session plan? Perhaps you’ve got the session plan wrong… the session plan should be geared to create opportunities for children to laugh and interact whilst having fun and playing. As I’ve said previously, don’t take too much of a structured approach. Children leaving your sessions with a smile on their face and sweat on their forehead is all you need to aim for right now (see my previous blog). In terms of parents and guardians, use others to manage the games and practice whilst you spend some much needed time to catch up with your parents and connect with them again. With understanding their situation and how their experience has been, it will help you to understand and how you can tailor your environment to meet the needs of each of your individuals. Likewise, it will also help you to gauge if there has been any issues that you may need to be aware of as well. Connecting with your parents will be important not only for you but also for them. It’s a great opportunity for you to talk to them about how you will be approaching the return to play and what they and the children can expect from your environment for the foreseeable future.

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‘Enriching their games programme diet’

There’s been no better time to be able to adapt your games programme to suit your players needs now more than ever. So what does that look like? Well, firstly, be creative. Look at your facilities and find ways of creating formats and games that are different to what they’ve been involved in already. When working with younger players, you don’t need to create a ‘pre-season’ plan preparing them for 7-a-side football. If they have 30 7-a-side games in a football season, they’re getting this already to their games diet. You as a coach now have a brilliant chance to enrich their games diet with other types of formats that they wouldn’t usually have access to. My advice would be to contact other clubs that are nearby you and start to share your ideas on how you can approach games over the next few weeks.

Please see below some ideas for different small sided games that you may wish to consider for your players:

– Overload / Underload which consists of playing a period or with your team having a player less then the next period with your team having a player more.

– 1 v 1/2 v 2 Tournament by organising multiple games with players moving up pitches if they win and moving down if they lose. A perfect setting for increasing players volume of touches and maximising their contact with the ball.

– 2 v 2 to 4 v 4 to 8 v 8 games set up three different size pitches, initially with players playing a series 2v2 games then moving into 4 v 4. The next period they would move into an 8v8. This format is brilliant for varying the challenge and pitch size for players.

– Powerplay is when a game is being played, however, when music is played the goals are worth double. In this format you’ll see the intensity and excitement of the children boost once they hear the music.

– Club games (playing with the big kids) why not as a club start looking at your own internal games programme exposing younger age groups to play with the older players and/or mixed age groups games