“Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime” – Chinese Proverb

“You are 1-0 up in the Champions League Final with 5 minutes left!”

“It’s 1-1 on the last day of the Premier League and you need a win to avoid being relegated!”

What is scenario-based learning (SBL)? Put simply, SBL places the learner(s) at the heart of the decision making process through the use of engaging and interactive situations involving a problem of some type to solve. It’s learning in context which demands individuals to think, discuss and implement a strategy in which to overcome or achieve the objective being set.

The above Chinese Proverb is hugely relevant in learning environments, including football coaching and development. If we explicitly tell our players how to achieve their aims and avoid any challenges, we are without doubt doing them a massive disservice. However, through posing problems and providing our players with a sense of reality, we offer them opportunities to immerse themselves in real-life game situations. These affordances allow them chances to devise their own solutions, act innovatively and enhance their sense of teamwork in a safe and secure learning environment.
Here we provide 3 positive returns through the use of SBL along with examples of the types of match situations that players find engaging and exciting.

1. Minimise Planning Time – One of the huge challenges for grassroots coaches is finding sufficient time in which to plan their sessions effectively. Often they are volunteers with a full-time job away from the football club and are afforded very little time in which to sit down, consider the players and deliberately think through which activities to deliver in their training session.

We should never forget that players come to our sessions to play football, not to stand in queues and participate in complicated, elaborate practices taken from YouTube and aimed at professional players. As coaches, if we develop a library of fun and engaging game scenarios, then we will certainly minimise our planning time and have a series of problems for our players to solve.

Here are some example of scenarios you could use. In each of these, you can task the players with questions such as:
• What strategy will you use?
• What formation will you play and why?
• Is there anything that could happen that would change the way you’re playing?

a) Your team is winning 2-0 going into the final 10 minutes of the World Cup Final. However, the opposition have just been awarded a penalty.
Discussion points:
• An important consideration here is whether the opposition scores their penalty or not.
• If it’s saved, then the 2-0 lead is intact and the team may be more pragmatic in their approach and not be overly ambitious with their attacking intent but also appreciate that a 3rd goal will essentially end the game.
• If the penalty is scored however and the deficit halved, the team will have to really get their unit distances compact and try to close the centre of the pitch, forcing play away from their goal.
• They may decide to adopt a counter attacking strategy and reduce their space in behind, at the same time hopefully opening up attacking transition opportunities upon a regain.

b) It’s the European Championship semi-final with 6 minutes to and you are losing 2-3 having been 2-0 up.
Discussion points:
• The players will naturally be in an anxious state here and despite not physically losing their lead through play themselves, will feel some frustration in the scenario itself.
• As there is very little time left, some risks will need to be taken in order to try and create goal scoring chances and find the equaliser.
• This may involve leaving themselves 1v1 in the defensive zone of the pitch in order to create overloads either wide or centrally.
• The team may look at where they think the opposition have a weakness in some way and plan to exploit it through high ball speed passing (through, over, around the opposition?) and attacking runs into forward areas.

c) The score is 1-1 on the last day of the Premier League. You need to win in order to qualify for the Champions League and if the opposition lose, they get relegated. If they draw, they stay in the league.
Discussion points:
• This is an interesting scenario as it gives the team context for the opposing team as well. They will want to win for themselves but also because it means relegating their opponents!
• The players may consider how their opponents will approach the game. At 1-1, they are safe and may therefore decide to play more defensively and not risk spaces opening up behind their defence.
• Therefore, our team may have more time and space in front of the opposition and have to show patience to break them down.
• They may have to show patience in possession and look to switch play quickly or penetrate centrally the moment that a gap opens up somewhere in their midfield or defence.

2. Places Players In Pressurised Situations – Players of any age can benefit greatly from being exposed to manufactured (but safe) pressurised situations. Football is an emotional sport and by placing your players in match scenarios, we provide opportunities for them to develop their technical ability in a contextual environment with a score-line to consider.
Helping our players to improve their game insight is crucial to their overall development. When they are challenged to make decisions and solve problems under pressure, we offer our players fantastic opportunities to work on their emotional regulation and how to deal with difficult and challenging moments.
If framed effectively, coaches can link the scenario to the themes and topics worked on across the training session. For example, if the focus is counter attacking, one of the teams may be given the scenario that they are 1-0 up with 5 minutes left but have had a player sent off. Their tactical decision may be to defend deeper as they are underloaded, and wait to try and hit their opposition with quick and incisive counter attacks.

3. Positive Social Returns – For match scenarios to be used effectively, players will need to sit down and discuss their plan beforehand. It is important therefore, that the coach allows sufficient planning time and builds this into the time-frame of their session plan.

Through interaction between each other, coaches can observe and assess who the natural leaders are in their group, the ones who seem to enjoy taking the initiative. It will also help them to consider which players prefer to stay on the periphery of these discussions and are perhaps more reluctant to share their thoughts and may need additional support with their game understanding.

The players will have ample opportunities to follow the Plan, Do, Review model (as we do as coaches ourselves) to either be successful in their challenge during the moment, or to reflect positively in which to experience a greater level of success next time. As the game starts, try to not offer any explicit instruction from the side-lines and instead watch, observe and assess how the players are dealing with the situations themselves.

Makes notes on individuals so that you don’t forget any vital learning moments and this will allow you as a coach, to pose high-order questions and demand critical thinking from your players either during any breaks or once the game has finished. At this point afterwards, ensure that your players have sufficient time in which to consolidate their learning either together as a group or with you as the coach asking open-ended questions to guide their learning (“What went well?” “Why did you decide to adopt that tactic?” “What would you do differently next time?”).


The list of scenarios you could use are endless. Perhaps look at recent matches from TV which will spark huge interest from your players. No doubt they will want to choose their favourite player to be and this escapism can be a fabulous tool to spark their imagination and creativity. Better still, ask the players themselves for their own thoughts and maybe even give them this as a short SBL homework task. I am sure your players will conjure up some excellent ideas and therefore be even more engaged in the games at your next training session.