How to create an effective training session


Coaches at all levels have to develop the skills to plan a practice session to effectively prepare their team for matches. United Soccer Coaches courses provide a good framework that coaches can utilize when considering what to practice, why the main topic of the practice is needed, and what methodology best presents a systemic approach to reaching practice goals to prepare their team.

It is assumed that coaches are cognizant of safety factors involved prior to every practice such as making sure the goals are secured and checking to be certain the field surface is ready for training.

Step 1—Select the Topic

Youth-level coaches can select their topic from their adjusted seasonal plan. If the team needs to work on dribbling this week, then the practice plan should include dribbling. Possibly alerting the team to worry about “how fast Nicole is as the opposing striker” or “what team will be the next opponent” is not important. More experienced playing level coaches base their practices on observation of the team’s last match:

  • What did the team accomplish in the last match and where did they fall short?
  • When does the team play their next match?
  • Who is the next opponent and what challenges do they create for their team?

The focus of the practice session should be as specific as possible. The more clearly a coach defines their goal the clearer it will be for players.

The coach should consider the following questions when choosing what topic to select for a training session: Is the focus of the training session on individual exercises, groups or blocks (backs + GK, midfielders, attackers) or team (11v11 or a small-sided exercises that mimic the team shape)? Should the focus be technical or tactical? What players are involved from your team, the opposing team? How will the coach start and restart the exercises to get maximum repetitions? Don’t try to accomplish too many targets during the practice; generally, two to three is usually good.

Step 2—Organize the Equipment

Once a coach has decided on the focus of the practice, the organization of practice equipment is important—soccer balls, cones/disks/flags, vests, portable goals, etc. Practice should begin with areas already defined, soccer balls ready, vests ready for the team, and which players will be in which group during the starting practice exercise.

Remember the Mechanics:

  • Are the exercises appropriate to topic?
  • Exercise details:
    • Number of Players
    • Restrictions
    • Number of Touches
    • Amount of Time
    • number of Goals
    • Number of Balls
  • Proper use of space (approx. 10yds/Offensive Player)
  • Practice spaces—don’t share boundaries
  • Logical progressions—increase pressure incrementally for technical topics, complicate the environment as the practice progresses
  • Coaching position—generally outside

Step 3—Create a Learning Environment

What makes up a learning environment?

  • Players learn better by doing, not just hearing
  • Teach don’t talk; coaches should not lecture
  • Show what you want vs. telling what you want; remember: retention is 70% visual

Step 4—Select your Coaching Methodology

  • Progressive Technical—build pressure from none to full as quickly as possible
  • Progressive Tactical—possession, direction, counter direction, two directions with full pressure from opponents
  • Functional Technical or Tactical—in the area where the players are located in a match
  • Phase Play—play between two of the thirds of the field
  • Shadow Play—adding opposition as play proceeds

Step 5 – THE Practice Warm Up:

» About 15-20% of allotted time related to topic

» Rehearse—physical and psychological preparation for the practice

  • Team is ready to go at full speed when completed

Main Activities:

  • About 45-50% of allotted time; usually 3-5 exercises

Concluding Activity—Game:

  • About 30-35% of allotted time

» Implement topic in match environment

  • Games with restrictions as needed


Warm Down:

  • About 5% of allotted time – stretch, low-level activity, reinforce coaching points

Coaching Actions During Practice Exercises:

  • Don’t forget that “catching the good” is an effective way to reinforce correct play and choices
  • Identify the problems and the teachable moments
  • Freeze the action
  • Correct the mistake with effective demonstration or review a correct picture
  • “Painting the correct picture” focused corrections (30-second rule – remember: the longer a coach talks the less players listen)
  • Rehearse—coach the player, not the exercise
  • Restart with success “WHEN – ON”

Remember that feedback—the single most important variable in skill learning—must be valid, precise, and specific vs. non-specific and focused on performance.

The following is from Bill Beswick, a sports psychologist in England.

Successful Coaches

Successful coaches take players out of their comfort zone, individually and collectively, to somewhere they have not been before—REACH THE POSSIBLE!

A Good Coach:

  • Coaches the Whole Player
  • Is Organized—Sell vs. Yell
  • Has Focused Practices
  • Has Challenging Practices
  • Has Players Set Individual Goals
  • Allows Freedom to Fail
  • Facilitates Learning
  • Balances Work, Rest, Relaxation
  • Balances Praise/Criticism
  • Has Players Take Responsibility
  • Establishes 2-Way Communication

Good Luck!!!

Reprinted with permission from United Soccer Coaches.  Originally appeared in the November/December 2020 issue of Soccer Journal.

By Brad Carlson

I joined MOTI Sports in January to help in a sales consulting capacity during our USC Annual Conference show in Chicago in 2018.  I am the former Coach of Orono High School for 35 years and hold a USSF Class B License.  My professional background is 40 years in the capacity of manager of a retail grocery store and extensive experience with accounting and book-keeping.