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The Coaches Notepad

Seven Stages to Practice Design

by Ben Gast 24 Jan 2022 1 comment

Why is Practice Design Important?

Practice design is a naturally complexed and difficult task, but it is however one of the most important skills a coach must have. Our practice design is essentially our ability to design practices that are able to develop our players and teams. Practice design is a complex skill that involves more than just ‘putting on a session’, but actually looks at the needs and requirements of the individuals and the team.

A coach should really look to create their own model of ‘practice design’ that looks to include some of the things that are most valuable to the coach. Whenever a session is put together a coach will be overloaded with ideas and thoughts, these can cloud judgement and make decision making difficult. A process is important in order to simplify the way in which we construct a practice.

The ‘process’ does not have to be the same for every coach, but a process is important for every coach. When putting a process together you must be aware of many different things, for example your environment. What is the desired outcome, are you a performance or development outcome. Do your players play in a professional league or a grassroots league. What is expected from the directors, supporters of the club? In addition to this, what kind of national culture do your players play within, even these factors will have a significant impact on your coaching demands.

Other factors such as player ability, time, space will also play a part. Equipment is also important as well as when the session occurs within the training week. With this huge information overload, we are going to try and provide an easy to use structure that can simplify the way sessions and constructed and save you time when thinking about what needs to be included within your practice. Below is seven simple rules to session design

1.Relate to the real Game

Firstly we must have a practice that relates to the game in some capacity, for example if you are creating a passing practice. Are the areas the player receive the ball, realistic to how they would receive it in game situations. This challenges us as coaches to adapt our practice to increase the dynamic between practice and game. We know that this is very important for skill acquisition that the task relates to the game, so that the player can transfer learning from practice to game.

2. Start With Why?

It is important to ask the question ‘Why’? This means evidencing your practice. If you are looking to create a practice, why are you creating it. For example you might create a possession practice, your ‘Why?’ might be your teams lack of possession or your lack of control of the ball. However, can you support your beliefs with more valuable sources of information. This might mean video evidence showing where you players struggle in possession of the ball. It might also be the use of statistical analysis, with stats such as possession stats, this will all provide evidence to your practice design.

3. Repetition v Realism

Third in our list is Realism v Repetition, this is an important factor that will need many different layers of thought. The more repetitive a practice is, the more players will be exposed to repetition and this naturally creates a greater technical opportunity because players will spend a greater time in possession of the ball. They will see increased touches of the ball and be exposed to greater time in possession. However, this comes as a sacrifice as these smaller practices often have less players involved and less realism as they look less like the 11v11 game.

The opposite occurs when a practice has a high amount of realism, this practice will look more like a game of 11v11 football and will include less time in possession of the ball. This will though include opportunities for players to play within realistic moments of the game and begin to understand the challenge of playing within the 11v11 game. How you as a coach chose to manipulate this scale is completely up to you but players must be exposed to both in order to develop skill and then understand the game in its simplist form.

4. The Importance of Transition

Transition is a huge moment within our game and a huge moment for us a coaches. This is because without transition the practice only occurs within one dimension of the game, in possession or out of possession. By adding transition into your practice, you naturally force players to move freely from both moments of the game, this allows for many different things to occur. It tests the players ability to perform a set task when they are moved out of that moment.

For example if you are working on a session that involves moving the ball into the feet of the nine, you won’t know if its truly understood until they are forced to perform it when the opponent is not organised and they have regained the ball from a transition. This isn’t suggesting that every practice has to include transition, but a high majority should, to ensure that realism is included.

5. Coaching Takeaways

When planning a session it is important know ‘Why’? as previously mentioned. However, once you know ‘Why’ you should be able to start to workout ‘what’. This means what you want to take away from the session. So for example, if the session is about attacking in wide areas, because you want your wingers to provide assists, then the what is the aim you must get from the session. In this example it might be that we must get our wide players to use the full width of the practice. When coaching it is important to simply it, so we can have three aims from the session, for this practice it might be as follows.

  • Wide players to use width of pitch
  • wide players must look to get to the touchline to upgrade their cross
  • can we get three players to break into the box and look to socre

However, you are probably sat there thinking, thats a lot to try and get out of one session. You would be right, but we can start to organise our objectives. For example we might have one objective that we must get, this is the foundation to our session. The others might be objectives we would like to achieve ,and the third is something we could get. This way we have a realistic expectation of what we think the hour and half could provide.

6. Where to Coach?

How and where you coach is one of the hardest skills within coaching. For many coaches their interventions can be very random, this means they sporadically appear within the practice, and coach randomly as they seen moments. For more skilled coaches they have process that they try to follow in order to be effective within a session. For example, an easy to use term is to coach on the ball, then around the ball, before finally coaching away from the ball. This means you have provided a little bit of structure as to where you are going to coach within the practice. Starting on the ball and moving further and further away, this is as if you are decrypting the level of importance of the information you share.

7. Adapting and Progressing

Arguably the most important factor for a coach to implement is challenge and progress. A coach must be able to provide a practice to the players, allow the practice to challenge said players, and then apply changes to the practice to manipulate the challenge. This might mean that the practice is simplified or complicated or even just changed to ensure that the problem they are trying to solve is achievable and relevant. The ability to adapt the practice is very important, not every practice will finish the way it started. This can be for a vast amount of different reasons, but importantly the coach must be able to adapt the practice without removing the challenge.


In conclusion these 7 steps to practice design should be a useful tool to any coach when looking for help to guide their session design. Of course this model will need adapting to suit you as an individual, the process will not work for everyone, but should hopefully give you an insight into the kind of variables that elite coaches and elite coach educators consider when putting practices together. The level of detail is vast but can provide a simplistic structure that allows for great sessions with huge learning opportunities for players and coaches.

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1 comment

03 Jun 2022 Kayondo Isaac

Hello to everyone am kayondo Isaac here in Uganda (Africa) seeking for sponsorship and help to fulfill my dream of becoming a great coach in the football world.

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