Advanced Coaching – Developing the Individual. Part 1.

Blog 1 – Designing the Individual Programmes

When working in a team sport environment as a coach, you are obviously trying to prepare the team as much as possible, but it’s how you improve the individual within the team, that ultimately improves the team. Obviously, the focus at different age groups will be slightly different, whether it leans to more development or performance, but ultimately it’s important to remember that everyone is improving, or trying to improve irrespective of age and level. Within youth soccer there are many different names to describe these individual programmes, individual action plans, individual learning plans, individual development plans. I like simplicity so individual programme is just right.

So, what are individual programmes and how are they developed? The first port of call, in players playing the full-size game (U13/14 upwards), has to be a positional job description. This clearly outlines the essential requirements from a technical / tactical / physical / psychological perspective of each position. For example, in football (soccer), a centre back will have the following essentials to be successful at their position: Heading, stopping the turn, interceptions, shuffling / cover / support, stepping in (in possession) etc… Before any individual programme is developed for any player, an assessment of the players performance against these positional requirements are the starting point. From these characteristics, it’s the players strengths and weaknesses that then determine the players’ programme. If a quality is a strength, you want to make it a super strength if it’s a positional essential. If something from the JD is a player’s weakness, then that will most likely limit that players performance, so it must be addressed. The only time an individual programme will not be based off the positional essentials, will be in the early ages of development. This is due to wanting all players to develop an all-rounded technical profile and sample many different positions early on. An individual programme in this sense will be based of the aims of that phase (movement to receive, receiving skills, running with the ball / dribbling, 1v1 attacking / defending, passing etc…). So, the individual programmes are more generic when the players are younger, and get more specific to the position, and more detail as the player progresses closer to 1st team level.

The next piece of the puzzle is then designing the practicalities and implementation of these individual programmes, which can vary and be more difficult depending on resources and staffing structure. I think it’s very important to start with the ‘worst’ case scenario where there is one coach and a squad of 20+ players. Obviously, this has its logistical challenges, but does not mitigate you implementing some great individual development programmes within your sessions. The first one I speak about quite passionately is having ‘clarity’ amongst both staff and the player. Ensuring the player fully understands the job description of their position, and what is an essential part of their position is the first starting point. This info can be done in a unit meeting, or even a team meeting where the job roles are defined and explained to the players. Then the player needs an individual understanding of what it is they need to work on within the job spec. This will give them focus and ‘clarity’ on what they should work on the most within their training session. So, even if you put on a very basic generic session of an unopposed passing practice, multi-directional possession and SSG, the players being able to focus on their programme and development points will shine a light on that side of their game, and naturally improve them after time. Players must remember that EVERY session has relevance to them and there is always something in it for them.

The next two points still working within limited resources go hand in hand. The main way in training to ensure players get their individual outcomes are to design your sessions that look like the game. This is why personally, I love phase of plays, specific functions in part of the pitch and 11v11 games or equivalent in other sports. This along with the concept of the right match ups, or ‘sparring partners’, where you design the teams’ sessions and teams. The example I gave on the podcast was wanting to improve a wingers 1v1 attacking and the relevant detail within it, you wouldn’t put them up against a poor 1v1 defending full-back, as the challenge will be too low to improve. The only exception is if the wingers base level is so low, you need an equivalent defender to ensure enough success is there. It is the art of the coach then to decide how much success / failure is appropriate for optimal development. These sparring partners all over the pitch will naturally ensure each programmes are being worked on and improving, as long as the player is aware of what they need to work on. The better quality of all players over the pitch, the better quality of individuals and training and success you’ll have as a team.

The next layer of individualisation within teams is having lots of different coaches to work with different units. So in football (soccer), they’ll be a coach focussing on and responsible for the defence, midfield and attack. This allows for what we call unit session on the pitch within the training session where players ion this unit work on specific aspects of their game. I spoke about full backs in the podcast, and working on crossing with them. If you play a phase of play / game, you might provide the full back the opportunity to cross 6-8 times as an example, which is in line with the realism of the game. However, if you work on this aspect of performance in isolation you’ll be able to do 20-30 crosses in a short space of time, as well as the centre backs getting some practice around dealing with wide crosses. As time progresses you could have forwards working on their movement and timing of movement into the box within the same practice. So unit’s can be combined and practices progressed to opposed. However, the main thing to remember here, is the detail you provide them has to be higher and there. That’s why these clinics are so good with a smaller ratio of coach to player. Alongside the clinics it is important the unit coach reflects on the work that is being done with the players, to ensure the feedback loop of development in constant. This is where I see the video analysis being a utilised tool. I spoke about in the podcast about the obsession of watching the game back as part of analysis, which is important, but that’s the test for the players. What about watching the training (process) and reviewing not only the players performance working on their individual programmes, but also the coaching detail and sessions, do they allow for enough opportunity to develop the individual? This provides essential accountability to both the player and coach in improving their goal.

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