Steven Poacher

STEVEN POACHER: Planning is everything

I HAVE been asked the same question on numerous occasions recently by people who are getting into coaching for the very first time, particularly at underage level, and it is very simply ‘have you any advice for me?’

Well, apart from buying yourself some very thick skin and a crash helmet, I always reiterate the same message – ‘it’s simple, start with a piece of paper and a pen.’

Whether it’s the school, club or county, one thing remains the same, when you sit down to think about any training session, what should you do? Get that pen and paper and start to plan.

Before anything else, effective planning and preparation is the key to success. Failure to plan a session is literally planning to fail, you go into a session blind with nothing planned there is a very strong chance that session will not go well.

You have to have a plan on how you see the structure of the session, what the focus is, what you want the players to get out of it, the time management of the session, using and incorporating all your coaches… the list really is endless.

There are some key points you should take into consideration when initially planning a session:

1) Timing of the session:

This could be the time of the year, whether it is pre-season, early season or peak season will all be relevant to the planning of the session.

A mistake a lot of coaches make when planning the first pre-season session, they think it should be the hardest session, when in fact it should be the complete opposite.

Players should be eased back into these sessions with gradual progression. The other aspect of timing should be the length of the session, this will vary from 45 minutes to 90 minutes depending on a number of factors.

2) Age of the group:

A massive bearing on how and what you plan will be the age of the group. For example, an u-14 session is not going to take the same level of planning as a senior inter-county team’s session, and should contain a completely different theme and element to the session.

Bear in mind, particularly from u-14 down, it’s skills, games and fun they really want. Let the youngsters play and be free and leave any structured tactical gameplay to u-16 level up.

3) Focus of the session:

The session could have a skills-based focus, a game- based focus, a footballing conditioning focus or a tactical gameplay focus.

With a skill based focus, it could be an indoor wall and a ball type session, particularly at underage level where the emphasis would be solely on the technical proficiency and execution of the skill.

The session could be games based with a particular focus, you might have lost a lot of break ball in your previous game and you might want the session to take the focus of a break-ball game.

You could be using the opportunity in pre-season to work on a little conditioning and you could have planned your session with the focus of covering ground with the football.

4) External factors or other elements:

Weather could be a big factor in your planning, if it’s a really cold time of the year, you want all players active, you don’t want any standing around and this may also impact the time of your session.

Facilities will play a part, don’t forget this time of year, not all clubs are blessed with full floodlit pitches and you may have to be innovative and creative with your planning depending on what size of pitch you have and how effective your lighting is.

Time could be a factor, you might only have access to a pitch for 60 minutes, therefore careful planning of warm-ups and maximising your time is vital.

Most club teams, both underage and senior, are fully back into their pre-seasons with some of the competitions already started.

Regardless of what level you are coaching at, preparation is critically important and being organised and prepared will help massively with your session.

I designed a session template sheet this year and I find it very beneficial. Block for notes for session focus, warm-up, skills, games and conditioning, also a few blank mini pitches you can draw out your session set up.

It’s worth having and at the end of the year, I keep them all in a folder and you can regularly reference it for later in the season or even for the start of next season. What a resource.

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