Why a balanced diet is key to session planning

The purpose of a coaching session should be to help players learn and develop skills and movement patterns through self- organisation.

The constraints-led approach is a framework for understanding behaviour and can help inform practice design.

When trying to establish what contributes to an effective practice, it is useful to consider four principles:

  • Representative design – how realistic is the practice?
  • Affordances – what does the practice encourage players to do?
  • Repetition without repetition – are players producing similar actions?
  • Intentionality – how aligned is the practice to the overall aim?

It can be helpful to think of these four principles as dials which can be constantly adjusted.

One challenge is that players may not always want a practice which is realistic, affordance-driven, offering various repetitions and is aligned to the overall session aim. The skill of the coach is to understand and adapt to the context they are in.

For example, take an unopposed shooting drill. Players often enjoy them as they get the chance to score – but the coach knows it lacks representativeness, affordances and possibly repetition without repetition, as players are repeating almost identical movements.

It is the practice equivalent of junk food – it is good in the moment but it is not great for you in the longer term.


“The skill of the coach is to understand and adapt to the context they are in…”


As a coach, there is skill in understanding when to give players ‘junk food’ practices and when to feed them a ‘healthy meal’ because you know it is best for their learning.

One top tip is to design practices where players still get the same enjoyment from shooting but work it into a practice which is more effective – rather like hiding vegetables in meatballs.

An unopposed shooting drill is like ‘junk food’, says Ben Bell – coaches should work it into a more effective practice

For example, instead of doing unopposed shooting, introduce more realistic affordance- driven practices, so players are still learning. This is the equivalent of vegan burgers and homemade chips – it appears to be junk food but is better for you than the alternative.

Continuing this example of unopposed shooting, practices I have found that solve this problem are 1v1s where both players attack the same goal – whoever has the ball is attacking, of course, but if the defender wins the ball they become the attacker. An alternative would be 2v2s, where players work in pairs trying to score.

Referring back to the principles, these practices offer more realism but aren’t fully representative due to the lower numbers and the fact the defending team attacks the goal behind them if they win the ball.

However, it is affordance-driven, as players are invited to create opportunities to shoot – it also offers lots of repetition without repetition, due to the dynamic nature. This forces players to develop skills and encourages them to devise solutions transferable to the performance environment.

As with any diet, it is important to find a balance between junk food and healthy meals appropriate for the context.

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