Should you follow a session plan or your gut?

I always remember, in my early days of coaching, when I was struggling to cope with delivering sessions, a very experienced academy coach said to me: “There are no failures, just experiences and your reactions to them.”

It’s a great piece of advice and one that applies to my current right hand man. He works very hard at getting the right sessions and delivering them but he gets very nervous and, if the kids haven’t quickly understood what he wants them to do, he moves right on to another drill and tries that.

Understanding is vital to every session, both for the coach and the players – often it takes time for the players to get the session you are delivering.

Alex Ferguson pointing at his watch

Keep an eye on the time but don’t let it dominate your session

The importance of being patient

We were well into the session last week and I could see the players looking at one another slightly lost.

“It’s not working, Dave,” said my colleague. “You said it was a 15-minute exercise, but time’s almost up and they’re not grasping it.”

I told him to bear with me. I quickly identified two players that were clearly struggling and offered them some extra encouragement and advice.

Sure enough, within 30 seconds, they began to “get it”. And more than that, they started having fun. The session quickly started working and they wanted to carry on, because part of the fun was “getting” the session.

10 minutes later they were making it look easy, which was exactly what I wanted.

“Okay,” I shouted, “it’s a wrap!” And guess what? They didn’t want to stop. Some players began to move onto a small-sided game, but a good number were still running the passing sequence.

I initially planned this as a 15-minute warm-up, but it had ended up filling the majority of the session! I’m always amazed when coaches tell me they ran a session with 15 minutes of “this”, then 20 minutes of “that”, and another 10 minutes to finish, because that is what it told them to do in the session notes.

Sure, following that principle helps you keep control of your session, but it won’t allow you to develop your players with any spontaneity. Don’t keep looking at your watch just because it says 15 minutes in your session notes.

Instead, watch the players and use your own coaching experience to judge what to do next. Trust me, the results can be fantastic.

I send out lots of soccer drills and small-sided games and I’ll often provide guidance on how long an exercise should run for. But please, take it as guidance only. There are no hard and fast rules and nobody’s going to jump down your throat for not sticking to the schedule.

If the kids are having fun and if they’re learning and developing – just roll with it!

Try this 6v6 session to hone creativity make sure you give your players time to experiment with what they have to do so they “get” the idea and enjoy it.

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