Planning Training Sessions

One of the first things they covered on the FA's youth module courses was practice design. A little bit of thought in advance can make a massive difference to how successful your session is. Some things to consider...

The Key Coaching Points:

What are the 2 or 3 key points you're trying to get across in the practice? Overloading your players with too much information will lead to virtually nothing being remembered. Keep focused on the key things you want the players to take out of the session and keep reiterating them. This may mean a couple of points for the team as a whole, with some further specifics layered on for some individuals. Remember - you don't have to get everything across in one session.

Size of area:

Think about the topic you're covering. Running with the ball or long range passing are going to need a larger area than short passing for example. It's not always obvious... a short pitch would actually suit long range shooting brilliantly because every player on the pitch is likely to find themselves in plenty of situations where they can practice shooting, even the defenders. Select the size and shape of the area to suit the topic and the number of players you have.

Number of players:

Sounds obvious, but knowing how many players you're going to have turn up makes a massive difference to the planning of the session. You'll always have the odd difference due to illness or whatever, but having a rough idea is helpful if you want to plan effectively.


If you want to cone off areas that's fine but you don't want to constantly be picking up and putting down cones for new parts of the session, leaving the players doing nothing for ages every time you set something new up. Can you set everything up at the start? Flat cones are brilliant because they don't restrict play and can be left in place. You can start with several areas marked with different coloured flat cones, each colour relevant to a different part of the practice. Quickly pick one colour up (or get the kids to do it) and you have a new space marked out for the next part.


Something I noticed on the first day of an FA course I did was that the coach had a bunch of footballs right next to him for every session and as soon as the ball went flying miles off the pitch he would fire a new one in. It kept things moving, the players had to respond to a ball coming in from somewhere else and the whole session flowed better. Having one football out and waiting for someone to get it every time it goes off doesn't allow for a flowing session. Your assistant can be on ball collection duty to ensure you don't run out or you can take a break every 10 minutes and get the kids to collect the footballs that have disappeared off the pitch. Oh and write your team name on your footballs to avoid others pinching them!


Sounds obvious, but wear a watch and keep an eye on the timing. I remember a session where I'd intended to spend 30 minutes on technical practices and follow that with a couple of matches so the players could put what they'd learned into practice. It was only when parents started turning up to collect their kids that I realised we had 5 minutes left to play the match and we missed the part I really wanted to do - putting the technique into practice where it mattered, in a game. It was also the part the players really wanted to do!

Proper Planning:

Taking 20 minutes to draw up a brief session plan or even just a few notes and sharing them between the coaches by e-mail or whatever beforehand makes a world of difference. Getting half way through the session and thinking "what shall we do now" is unlikely to result in a session the players enjoy or that leads to real improvement for the team. Take a look at the info we've included on long term vs short term planning if you're interested.

Session Format:

There are loads of ways you can structure a training session. Nothing is right or wrong. If you haven't run a lot of sessions before, take a look at some of the examples of full sessions you'll find on this site or elsewhere online and perhaps try a few of those. You'll very quickly start to come up with your own ideas for what works and what doesn't with your players. A couple of fairly traditional ways to structure a training session are:

Technique, Skill, Game

This was the format they used when I did the FA Level 2 course. The idea was to introduce a particular technique in the following format:

  • Technique (unopposed practice - e.g a shooting exercise might involve a ball played in that a player had to control and then shoot at goal).
  • Skill (opposed practice, where the same or similar was happening, but with the addition of one or more defenders, so in our shooting practice, perhaps 2 players combining to beat one defender and get a shot away).
  • Game or match (where the same topic was focused on. Could be a regular or conditioned match - in our example we would try and ensure players got as many shooting opportunities as possible, but it would be a match, making the learning "game related")

Whole / Part / Whole

The idea here is to start with a match (a "whole"). The kids generally love playing matches and they probably have lots of energy to burn off when they first arrive at training. You briefly introduce the topic and then get them playing straight away, perhaps giving individual challenges to particular children during the game. After 10 / 15 minutes or so, you then break the practice down into your technical practice (the "part"), where you do your "drills". Once you feel the players have understood the topic, you go back into a match (the final "whole"). The idea is that by spending some time on the technical practice in the middle of the session, the players are now better prepared to implement those skills in a match and will be able to see a marked improvement from the first match they played. This was the approach the FA preferred on the Youth Module courses.

Adapting on The Fly:

Don't be scared to adapt a session half way through if it isn't working out as planned or if you or the players come up with an idea for how it could be improved. The really good coaches are able to see when what they're doing is going awry and change accordingly. A couple of ideas...

  • Players finding it too easy? Make the area smaller, decrease the number of touches or time they're allowed, change the numbers on each team or the players on each team...
  • Players finding it too hard? Enlarge the area, increase the time or number of touches allowed, introduce a neutral player to play for the team in possession to create an overload, change the numbers on each team or the personnel, introduce conditions or limitations to give players more time, cone off areas as "safe zones"...


If you have the time, it's really worth jotting down a couple of thoughts after the session. What went well? What didn't go so well? What would you change for next time? The FA encourage this and it can be enormously helpful for you when it comes to planning future sessions. Ask the kids at the end what they enjoyed / didn't enjoy so much. Some of what they say can be really revealing.

Using Video:

With parental permission (essential - you absolutely have to get this if you're videoing) you can video training sessions and it can be hugely useful for you in terms of seeing things from a different persepctive. If you're interested in doing this, Ian K has a telescopic camera mount that you're welcome to borrow so you can get a birds eye view - it fits a standard GoPro camera. The players can benefit enornormously from seeing their game from this perspective, especially with regard to movement off the ball.